DANNY LENNON believes Alan Stubbs is moulding a formidable Hibs side, who are still capable of challenging Rangers for the Championship title.
The Alloa manager brings his part-timers to Easter Road on league duty this Saturday to face the club he started his playing career with.
Hibs go into the match nine points behind the rampant Ibrox side – albeit with a game in hand – and are ranked as 10/1 outsiders with bookies, who believe Mark Warburton’s team are nailed-on certainties to win automatic promotion to the Premiership. However, for all that Lennon has been impressed with a Rangers side who beat his own team 5-1 last month, he still thinks the Hibees can banish a sticky start and sustain a genuine challenge of their own.
“I don’t think it will be a one-horse race, certainly not,” he told the Evening News. “I believe it will be between Rangers and Hibs. Rangers are being spoken of in a positive manner, and I’m a big fan of the way they’re going about their business this season. We lost five goals against them, and they’ve also done that to the likes of Queen of the South and Raith Rovers. They will score lots of goals but, with their expansive philosophy, they could also concede.
“I definitely think Hibs can keep pace with them. You can’t ignore some of the good performances they had last season. Even in the Petrofac Cup game on the opening day of the season [which Rangers won 6-2], you could see the qualities both sides had. In the first half, Hibs were excellent and Rangers mediocre, and then vice-versa in the second. Hibs will push them all the way.” Lennon, who lost 4-1 at Easter Road in April in one of his first games as Alloa manager, has been highly impressed with the way head coach Stubbs has galvanised Hibs over the past 15 months.
“Alan’s assembled a quality squad there and I like his football philosophy,” said Lennon. “His team get it down and try to play through the middle of the park. He’s got good creative players and he’s got a good blend of youth and experience. When we were there towards the end of last season, I felt it was the strongest and best-balanced Hibs side I’d competed against as a manager.”
Alloa moved off the bottom last weekend after picking up their first points of the season with a 2-0 win at Dumbarton. Although the odds are stacked against his side making it two victories on the spin this weekend, Lennon is encouraged by the fact his club have made a habit of defying doomsday predictions during their time in the second tier.
“Hibs have won their last four home games in all competitions without conceding a goal so we’re under no illusions about how hard it will be,” he said. “But I go into every game with belief in my team. I’ve got a group of hungry players who are as honest as the day is long. A lot of people have been tipping us to finish at the bottom, especially after the start we made, but they’ve been saying that about Alloa year after year, and we just keep punching above our weight and proving people wrong.”