Alan Stubbs today hailed Hibs’ performance as they pushed Championship favourites Rangers all the way for 120 minutes at Ibrox, the Easter Road head coach insisting: “We can only get better.”
Although the Capital club were bundled out of the Petrofac Training Cup by Ally McCoist’s side, Stubbs was delighted with his players, claiming that, but for Danny Handling’s “harsh” red card, Hibs could have gone on to win the first-round tie. The midfield youngster, who had cancelled out Lewis Macleod’s early opener for the Glasgow outfit, was sent off by referee John Beaton 11 minutes from time for a challenge on ex-Hearts winger David Templeton, leaving his team-mates to face 30 minutes of extra time a man short. Rangers took full advantage, Nicky Law curling home the winner in the 101st minute.
But today, while disappointed to be out, Stubbs was adamant the “courage and guts” shown by his side had convinced him Hibs have nothing to fear as they set about trying to regain their top-flight status at the first time of asking when the Championship campaign kicks off with the visit of Livingston on Saturday.
Declaring that Hibs have come a long way in a short space of time following the traumas of last season, Stubbs said: “I thought when we were 1-0 down we showed a lot of character to keep going because after what they have been through it would have been easy to down tools and feel sorry for themselves. I felt they showed a lot of courage to get on the ball.
“We dictated the play at times, we were cool and calm in possession and to go to Ibrox, no matter what the Rangers team is at this moment in time, and dominate possession takes a lot of guts.
“The sending off changes the game. We were in the ascendancy at the time and I felt as if we were going to go on and win the game so from that point of view it’s disappointing. I thought the red card was harsh, more often than not a yellow card would suffice. But the referee sees it differently.”
Admitting pre-seson games can often give a false impression, Stubbs was delighted with the enterprising display which will give him, his players and the 1000 or so Hibs fans who made the journey along the M8 renewed hope for the months ahead.
He said: “Anything we would have done in this competition would have been a bonus. Our main bread and butter, our main focus is the league and we will go into Saturday’s game with a lot of confidence.
“Why should we fear anyone when we can play like that? The players deserve all the credit, I thought they were outstanding at times, they were brave and showed a lot of character especially after what has happened in the last nine months.
“They have turned it around in six weeks, we have come a long way in a short space of time and we will get better, that’s the most encouraging thing.”
Meanwhile Stubbs revealed Scott Robertson had suffered no more than cramp when he pulled up seconds before Law applied the killer touch.
The Hibs boss added: “He put in a real shift and I’m surprised a few more didn’t go down with cramp with the effort they put in. I’m very proud of them.”