Hibs’ title race will go to the wire, says Stubbs

James Keatings fires Hibs 1-0 up. Pic: Ian Rutherford

James Keatings fires Hibs 1-0 up. Pic: Ian Rutherford

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Alan Stubbs expects the Championship title race to go to the wire after Hibs last night closed to within two points of league leaders Rangers.

A second-half double by James Keatings was enough to secure a 2-1 win at home to Livingston as the Easter Road side made it eight wins on the spin and 13 in their last 14 games in all competitions. 
Hibs had been 11 points off the pace a month ago, but have rapidly eaten into the lead held by Mark Warburton’s team.

Stubbs, whose side came from ten points behind Rangers last December before pipping them to second place in May, insists he reads little into the league standings at this relatively early stage of the campaign. “I couldn’t care less about how the table looks,” said the head coach. “All I’m interested in is winning games of football. We’re doing okay, but we’re just going game to game. It’s great for everybody that we’ve managed to get within two points but what does that achieve? It’s achieving nothing at the moment.

“All we’ve done is narrow a gap. It’s going to be a good battle. I’m hoping we can take it to the wire. I think that’s what everyone wants. Falkirk have had a brilliant start and they won’t be far away but I think over the season our squads [Hibs and Rangers] will probably be the big deciding factor [in pulling away].”

Stubbs admitted his side weren’t at their peak last night, but felt they did enough to win the game. “We weren’t at our best but we created quite a few opportunities,” he said. “We knew we’d have to be patient in breaking Livingston down. They were having a bit of success early on. We rushed the final ball or didn’t take enough care in the right areas and I told the players that at half-time. In games like that you’ve got to be patient.

“The scoreline makes it look closer than what it was. Our game management towards the end could have been better. We took too many chances with long passes at a stage in the game when we should have been making sure we didn’t invite pressure. The main priority was to win the game and we did it. We did what we had to.”

Top scorer Jason Cummings missed several opportunities to score for the eighth game in succession, but Stubbs was pleased to see Keatings pick up the baton by making it five goals in two games.

“We know James can score goals,” he said. “It was unfortunate for Jason that his attempts went the wrong side of the posts. But it’s great to know that when one doesn’t score, the other one is popping up. We’ve got goals in this team. The one thing you’ll always get in this team is chances.”

Meanwhile Hibs striker Dominique Malonga was an unused substitute as Congo won 2-1 in the second leg of their World Cup qualifier against Ethiopia yesterday and progressed to the group stages with a 6-4 aggregate victory.