Alan Stubbs believes Rangers could be ring rusty going into this afternoon’s Scottish Cup final because the Ibrox club haven’t had a game in three weeks.
Although Mark Warburton’s side have enjoyed a closed-doors friendly against a Tottenham Hostpur XI, they haven’t been involved in competitive action since the final game of the Championship season, one they ended without a win in their last four games having seemingly eased off after taking the title.
Hibs, on the other hand, had four play-off matches to maintain their edge although they suffered the bitter disappointment of having their promotion hopes ended by Falkirk, the flip side of that defeat granting them a free week in the build-up to Hampden as they bid to end a wait of 114 years for the cup.
Speaking of Rangers’ lay-off, Stubbs said: “I don’t think it’s ideal for a team. The schedule [between the end of the regular season and the cup final] is more geared towards a Championship team not being in the final.
“The fact you’ve had so many big teams in the Championship over the past two years has brought it all to the fore. If Mark had an opportunity to address it, he certainly wouldn’t have wanted a three-week gap. I wouldn’t have wanted it.
“He managed to get an under-21 game at Tottenham, who have a very good group of players, but it’s still not the same intensity as a league game. It’s a runaround for 90 minutes but in terms of real competition, you are not too sure whether the players are flying into tackles or don’t want to get injured – or whether the Spurs players were the same.
“No matter which way you go about it, it’s not an easy one to try and put a plan together. Three weeks is a long time to wait.”
While admitting he was still putting the finishing touches to his plans for today’s showdown, Stubbs claimed he probably knows what Warburton’s line-up will be, the Glasgow club without on-loan Hearts winger Billy King and former St Johnstone forward Michael O’Halloran, who are both cup tied while midfield sitter Dominic Ball is suspended and frontman Harry Forrester injured.
The Easter Road head coach said: “We know how we will approach the game, we’ve done quite a bit of work on shape. We know Mark’s philosophy is 4-3-3. It’s been a very good one which has worked for him most of the season. There’s a good chance we know what his line-up is, if everyone is fit.
“The games between ourselves and Rangers in the league are sitting at two apiece. We have played with a three against them and also with a back four and we’ve managed to win a game with both.”
Although Rangers are the bookies’ favourites, rated odds-on to win in 90 minutes, Stubbs believes it’s one not to be missed, predicting a cup final classic.
He said: “I think you are going to see two good football teams put on a show worthy of a Scottish Cup final. I think it has the makings of a fantastic game. It’s got goals in it, you have two teams who will look to attack. We will contribute significantly to a worthy cup final.”