Hibs boss Alan Stubbs today insisted the constant questioning of his players’ “bottle” had simply made them stronger.
The Capital side’s character was once again in the spotlight after they’d lost the first leg of their Premiership quarter-final play-off against Raith Rovers but, Stubbs believes, they answered the latest criticism by overcoming that setback to win 2-0 on Saturday and set up a double header with Falkirk.
Asking why it appeared Easter Road was the only football ground at which tension existed, the head coach hit back at his players’ critics, saying: “I have said all along I’ve never doubted this team.
“Other people have questioned them, to me wrongly. I know what these guys can do, I work with them every day so for people to question their character, for me, is very strange.
“We, as a group, have had that for two years. The only thing we are concentrating on is ourselves. Sometimes we give people headlines, but what we need to do now, and we will, is to stay together as a group.
“No-one will break the bond of togetherness we have. I am afraid they can try all they like, it ain’t going to happen. The things that are said do not make us weaker, they make us stronger.
“I’ve never been to a football ground where there has never been tension – players have to deal with it. But for some reason people seem to think that there’s only tension at one football club.
“But the players were great, they answered a lot of questions. We move on, we have another two difficult games and, if anyone does not think there’s going to be tension in those type of games, then I do not know what they expect to see.
“There’s tension, nerves, pressure, excitement. We see that every week in the game.”
Although Hibs will have only three days between games, Stubbs was adamant his players have not only the stamina but the quality to cope, his options strengthened by the return of midfielder Dylan McGeouch, who stood out in his first start in two months having battled to overcome the groin problem which has dogged him for much of the season.
Acknowledging there had been a clamour in some quarters for an earlier comeback, Stubbs said: “I can understand that, but people don’t understand the facts behind it.
“We’ve had to be patient. If we could have started him before now we certainly would have done. We’ve not been keeping him for the play-off games. We wanted him back before but we weren’t in a position to do that.
“We’ve had to give Dylan the best possible chance.”
Stubbs admitted he was surprised McGeouch lasted 65 minutes before being replaced by Marvin Bartley but added: “It’s great that he did. It will have done him the world of good.”
Stubbs revealed the options now available to him meant he didn’t finally decide on his team to face Raith until a few hours before kick-off. He said: “I have hard decisions to make every week.
“The lads who have been in the team have done great. They lads are holding down their place because they are doing well. They are on their toes and they need to stay on their toes because there are players chomping at the bit to get back into the team.”