Tam McManus believes Hibs will have to beat Falkirk on Saturday to finish second in the Scottish Championship.
The Easter Road side go into the final round of fixtures this weekend a point ahead of Rangers with a superior goal difference and knowing that they will finish runners-up as long as the Ibrox side don’t win away to champions Hearts.
However, McManus expects Stuart McCall’s team to triumph at Tynecastle and, as a result, feels Hibs will have to approach the Falkirk Stadium in must-win mode. “I can see Rangers winning at Tynecastle,” the 34-year-old former Hibs forward told the Evening News. “Hearts have won the league a good while ago and they just scraped by Cowdenbeath last weekend so I don’t know if they’re 100 per cent at it at the moment.
“If I was Hibs, I’d be expecting Rangers to win that game. They can’t expect any favours from Hearts. I think Hibs will have to beat Falkirk to get second place.”
McManus, who also played for Falkirk, will be an interested spectator for Saturday’s Westfield showdown between two of his former clubs. The Bairns are unbeaten in four matches against the Hibees this season, including the Scottish Cup semi-final earlier this month which was followed by a war of words between the rival managers after Falkirk boss Peter Houston objected to Alan Stubbs’ claim that Hibs didn’t deserve to lose. McManus believes the fallout from that Hampden showdown a week past Saturday will ensure a feisty rematch this weekend, but he fancies Hibs to edge it.
“It’ll be tough for Hibs because they’ve not beaten Falkirk this season but I expect them to win this weekend,” he said. “You sometimes get bogey teams in football that you just seem to struggle against for no particular reason. I had that myself at different times in my career. Hibs will obviously want to get revenge for the semi-final and after the comments made by the two managers afterwards, there will be a wee bit spice in the game. Falkirk won’t have another game until the cup final four weeks after this game, so they’ll play their full team as well which should make it a good game.”
Hibs learned earlier this week that, if they finish second, they will face an 18-day break following Saturday’s game before they face either Rangers or Queen of the South in the play-off semi-final. McManus believes two-and-a-half weeks without a game is far preferable to the alternative of finishing third and having to come through three gruelling two-legged ties.
“I would say a two-and-a-half-week break would be an advantage rather than a disadvantage,” he said. “It’s been a long, hard season so whoever finishes second will have a chance to rest up whereas whoever finishes third is going to have a really hectic schedule if they’re to get promoted. It’ll be really tough for whoever finishes in third or fourth to go up. You saw what happened to Falkirk last year – they ended up running out of steam against Hamilton – so there’s a big advantage to finishing second, definitely.”
McManus has been impressed with the way Hibs have rebuilt since the wreckage of relegation 11 months ago and believes that they merit a second-place finish for the way in which they have gone about their business. “I think Hibs deserve to finish second,” he said. “They were on a fantastic run until that defeat against Rangers knocked their confidence a bit and brought Rangers right back into it. Over the piece, behind Hearts, they’ve been the best team in the league to watch and they deserve to finish second. They need to go and finish the job on Saturday, though.
“At the start of the season, any Hibs fan would have jumped at the chance to finish ahead of Rangers. You can’t account for how good Hearts have been – they’ve been superb and have won the league at a canter. But if Hibs were to finish ahead of Rangers in second place, it would cap a really good season, especially with the turnover of players they’ve had since last year. Alan Stubbs has done a fantastic job. Alan’s building a really exciting young team and the fans are getting right behind the team again after a difficult time last season. It’s good to see the supporters with smiles on their faces again and the players playing with a bit less pressure. They’ve really impressed me this season.”
McManus spent eight years with Hibs in which he made more than 100 appearances before departing in 2005. He then enjoyed two spells at Falkirk in the past decade before hanging up his boots last year but makes no bones about the fact he’d rather Hibs won this particular battle between two clubs close to his heart.
“I’ll be in the Falkirk end on Saturday at the hospitality,” he explained. “I had a good couple of spells at Falkirk under John Hughes and then Steven Pressley, so I’ve got a foot in both camps. But I’ll be wanting Hibs to win on Saturday because they need the three points more. It’d be a perfect weekend for me at the end of May if Falkirk win the Scottish Cup and Hibs win the play-offs the day after.”
After a playing career which also encompassed stints in America and Ireland, McManus is now hoping to venture into coaching. “I’m in the process of doing all my coaching badges,” he said. “I’m going to Largs in two weeks’ time to start my B Licence. I’ve done a bit of coaching at youth level in America and I’m hoping to do some coaching in Scotland next season. It’s just a case of getting my badges and waiting for the opportunity.”