Alan Stubbs today admitted Hibs will probably be installed as favourites to lift the League Cup after Ross County’s shock 3-1 semi-final win over Premiership champions Celtic.
The head coach was at Hampden yesterday to begin building up his dossier on both potential opponents just 24 hours after his team had defeated St Johnstone 2-1 at Tynecastle in the other semi-final.
And having also beaten Aberdeen and Dundee United en route to his first final appearance as a manager at the national stadium on Sunday, March 13, Stubbs believes that record will undoubtedly lead many to tip his Hibees to take care of a fourth side from the top flight.
Adding to that line of thinking will be the fact Hibs defeated the Staggies in Dingwall in the same competition last season before losing on penalties to Dundee United, but Stubbs insisted Jim McIntyre’s side will be as tough as any to beat.
He said: “I’m sure people will have us down as favourites, but I know Jim really well – we go back a bit. We did our Pro Licence together and I know it will be just as tough as St Johnstone.
“Ross County have brought in some good new players and I think they are a better team than they were when we played them last season. But we’ll have plenty of time to have them watched and learn all about them.”
The Staggies’ win also gave Stubbs the bonus of having Celtic loanees Liam Henderson and Anthony Stokes available for the clash. Had the Hoops made it to the final, both players would have been ruled out as they couldn’t play against their parent club, but now both will be free to take their place in the Hibs XI.
“We have a good squad of players,” said Stubbs. “It would’ve been a blow for them more than me if they were going to miss out on a major final, but that hasn’t materialised and that’s a good thing.
Stubbs admitted reaching a final only 18 months after he took over following the debacle of a relegation which threatened to tear the Edinburgh club apart is a sign of the rapid progress which has been made in such a short space of time.
He said: “Without the support of the board, Rod Petrie, Leeann Dempster, all the people involved, I do not think we would be in this position. I am thankful for it, for us to get to a major final.
“We had a tough time before, but since I have come in the board have been so supportive as to what I wanted to do, what I wanted to implement, different ideas. Without that support you do not make progress as quickly as you want to.
“We’ve got to a major final. We have done it the hard way, we’ve beaten three Premiership teams and we are going to have to beat another one in the final.”
Hibs fell at the penultimate hurdle in last season’s Scottish Cup, losing 1-0 to Falkirk but, as he had predicted, the bitter memories of that day helped drive his players on after Saints’ Joe Shaughnessy had cancelled out Jason Cummings’ penalty opener, with John McGinn claiming the winner 16 minutes from time.
He said: “I just emphasised that there’s no looking back when you get to a semi-final. It’s a cruel way to go out of a competition, I’ve had a couple of experiences of it myself.
“The one thing you do not want when you walk off the pitch is the thought in your mind ‘what if, could I have done more’.
“I think the players stood up to be counted we have beaten a really good team.”
Stubbs, however, insisted no-one would be losing sight of Hibs’ main priority this season – promotion – with all thoughts immediately turned to tomorrow night’s Championship clash with Morton at Cappielow.
Asked about Sunday’s return to face Capital rivals Hearts at Tynecastle in the Scottish Cup, Stubbs replied: “We have a bigger game tomorrow as far as I am concerned. That’s why we have a good squad. We are going to need every one of them.
“I know there would be disappointed players who did not start against St Johnstone. They’ll be happy for their team-mates, but disappointed with me. I can take that all day long. I have big shoulders, I have to make decisions, but they are going to be needed.”