Alan Stubbs has insisted his players still have plenty to play for this season despite letting the League Cup slip through their fingers.
While promotion has always been the top priority, a return to the Premiership via the play-offs now the most likely route for Hibs given they trail Championship leaders Rangers by 17 points, the Capital club had approach Hampden with high hopes of lifting Stubbs’ first piece of silverware as a manager.
But a last-minute goal from Ross County’s Alex Schalk after Liam Fontaine’s strike on the stroke of half-time had cancelled out Michael Gardyne’s opener sent Stubbs, his players and some 30,000 fans who had travelled to Glasgow, home bitterly disappointed.
Now Stubbs has the task of lifting his players for Wednesday night’s trip to face Inverness Caley in their quarter-final replay but, the head coach insisted, they will be ready for that challenge.
Asked if he was worried what effect this setback might have on his players, Stubbs said: “They have nothing to be ashamed of. I feel for them. It’s never a nice thing to experience, losing it in the way they have done but unfortunately that’s the cruel side of cup finals I’m afraid.
“They are, as you would expect, really disappointed but they have so much still to play for. This was a big disappointment, it would be wrong to say otherwise especially in front of our fans who were magnificent and turned up in numbers.
“Whether the headlines are about us losing the game, I think our contribution was that we could easily have won it.“
And although he insisted Hibs had played their part in the game – pointing out how County boss Jim McIntyre had changed his formation for the match – Stubbs conceded his side had also contributed to their own downfall.
He said: “I am not going to stand here and criticise anyone. We have done great to get back in the game and I thought overall even though Ross County looked a threat on the counter I thought we looked in control of the game. At times we just did not really create enough clear opportunities. We had some opportunities but not enough.
“I think you have to look at them, the fact they matched us up having predominantly been 4-4-2 they changed system and can say they have done well because ultimately they have won the game.”
After falling behind to Gardyne’s 25th minute goal, Stubbs admitted Fontaine’s equaliser had given Hibs a huge lift, no more than their first-half exploits had deserved, but admitted his players didn’t make the most of the second half possession they enjoyed.
He said: “I did not think there was an awful lot in terms of clear chances. “There was a lot of possession and second balls in the middle of the pitch but we did not really capitalise when we were in the final third enough really.”
And Stubbs felt as much for the thousands of Hibs fans who had backed his side, saying: “I was delighted, but it doesn’t surprise me.
“They have been fantastic since day one; we’re just disappointed we could not send them home victorious. It was not to be I am afraid.”