Alan Stubbs believes Hibs can no longer be regarded as a soft touch.
The Englishman’s side pushed Scottish Premiership leaders Dundee United all the way to a penalty shoot-out last midweek only days after coming within seconds of smashing Hearts’ unbeaten start to the season.
A lack of mental toughness has been a constant accusation hurled at the Easter Road outfit as they struggled over the past two or three seasons, culminating in relegation to the Championship.
Stubbs admitted, on becoming head coach following the sacking of Terry Butcher, that he faced as big a challenge in restoring a shattered morale as he did in building a squad capable of mounting a promotion challenge from a league also populated by their Capital rivals and Rangers. A six-match unbeaten run ended in a dramatic sudden death penalty shoot-out as United claimed their place in the League Cup semi-finals, having been pegged back three times by Hibs.
But, Stubbs insisted, that setback, far from denting the confidence which had been growing among his players as results improved, has served to strengthen their self-belief, as had their performance in the second Edinburgh derby of the season in which they were denied victory only by Alim Ozturk’s wonder goal deep into added-on time.
Accepting that while both results probably felt like “a kick in the privates”, Stubbs argued: “From a mental point of view I think you can take so much out of the two games. We’ve probably been told on occasions we’re not strong enough mentally, but I think in these two games we have put that to bed.
“I think the players can take a lot out of those games because they more than matched not just United but Hearts.
“That would give anyone belief and confidence to keep improving and that’s what we have done.
“When you are playing a team that is close to you as in where you want to be at the end of the season and a team from a different league, a league in which you want to be playing, and you perform the way we have done then you take huge amounts from those games and that’s what I feel the players have done.”
Meanwhile, crocked striker Farid El Alagui is ahead of schedule as he recovers from the ruptured Achilles tendon suffered at Alloa Athletic’s Recreation Park in August.
The French-born hitman underwent a new surgical procedure which it was hoped would speed up his return to action but although that day is still some way off, he is making good progress under the supervision of physios John Porteous and Kitty Mackinnon.
Stubbs said: “Farid is doing really well. He is probably just ahead of where we thought he would be although we will be taking our time and not rushing him.“He has his own individual progamme whcih he is keeping to but sometimes he wants to push on and the physios have to pull him back a little bit.”