Big-game experience will help Hibs at Falkirk, says Alan Stubbs
Hibs boss Alan Stubbs believes his players' big game experience will see them through tonight's nerve-shredding promotion battle against Falkirk.
The two sides are all-square going into the second leg of their Premiership play-off semi-final, the Easter Road outfit aggrieved they don’t have an advantage after referee Alan Muir refused to award them a clear cut penalty a few days ago.
But, insisted head coach Stubbs, that blunder had been forgotten although he insisted anyone claiming it wasn’t a penalty when Bairns’ skipper David McCracken handled the ball was “making themselves look stupid.”
However, while he admitted the incident had been a topic of conversation among his players, there had been no mention of it from the following mid-morning with all focus on tonight’s clash which, potentially could go to extra-time and penalties given four of this season’s five matches between the clubs ended in draws.
Stubbs is adamant that approaching the game determined to undo an injustice could prove counter-productive and has insisted Tuesday’s 2-2 draw won’t change his approach tonight. He said: “No matter what has happened, whether we had won the game or drawn it as we did, our full focus is going there and trying to win. So, from that point of view, little has changed.”
Batting away further speculation regarding his own future – with Blackburn Rovers the latest club to be linked to his name – Stubbs declared: “Falkirk is all I am talking about and, hopefully, after the game Kilmarnock on Tuesday, the Cup final and then Kilmarnock again.
“I’m 100 per cent focused on tonight after which I will hopefully be looking forward to playing in a charity match on Saturday, getting the players back in on Sunday and preparing for Tuesday.”
Tonight will be Hibs’ 53rd game of the season and their fourth in just ten days but, Stubbs insisted, his players have shown they can handle high pressure matches - a reference to their victories over a string of Premiership sides in making the finals of both the League and Scottish Cups.
He said: “We are entering the stage now where they are high-pressure games. Whichever way you want to look at it, there’s a lot riding on them. And when there is a lot riding on them, they do have an increased element of pressure.
“The fact we have played in some big games recently will certainly help the players to cope with the emotions which will be running high before and during the game.”
Hibs and Falkirk clash for the sixth time this season and for the 11th time in the past two years, Stubbs conceding the resulting familiarity leaves little scope for him or his counterpart Peter Houston to spring a surprise.
He said: “Falkirk have predominantly been a 4-4-2 or a 4-4-1-1- team. We’ve changed it and played various formations. I don’t think Falkirk can change too much in terms of personnel. They’ve got a settled side that has done very well. [Paul] Watson could come back in, [Will] Vaulks could come into midfield, but we’ll just have to wait and see.”
And if the match should be decided by penalties, Stubbs says he won’t be short of volunteers revealing “seven or eight” hands had shot into the air when Hibs’ Scottish Cup semi-final against Dundee United went that far.
“I think we have done all right with penalties,” he reflected, while revealing he doesn’t see any point in his players practising beforehand before adding: “We already know who is going to take them.”
And it would come as no surprise to learn that Hampden saint and sinner Jason Cummings will feature on that list.