Hibs boss: Home form can be key to promotion

Liam Henderson kicked off the soring with Jason Cummings and John McGinn later joining in. Picture: Jane Barlow
Liam Henderson kicked off the soring with Jason Cummings and John McGinn later joining in. Picture: Jane Barlow
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Goalscorers grab the glory and the headlines – always have, always will.

But as delighted as he was to see Liam Henderson, Jason Cummings and John McGinn claim the goals which propelled Hibs to a comfortable win over Alloa, boss Alan Stubbs insisted tribute must also be paid to those who carry out the less glamorous tasks for his side.

Pointing out that it was another clean sheet for a team which has yet to concede a Championship goal at home this season, Stubbs was adamant a rock-solid defence was the foundation upon which rebuilding Easter Road as a fortress can be achieved.

The mere sight of their own ground once appeared to strike fear into the hearts of those in green and white and, as Stubbs highlighted, a miserable home record spanning two seasons became a major factor in the troubles which beset the club.

However, only three league games were lost there last season – although Stubbs conceded too many were drawn – but maintaining an impressive record in the east end of Edinburgh will, he declared, lie at the heart of Hibs’ bid to win promotion at the second time of asking.

“That’s what we want to try to do,” said Stubbs. “When I came there was talk about Easter Road not being a fortress and how vulnerable the players were at home. That’s one thing we have addressed, our home form is very good and we are trying to improve on that.”

Supporters may have wondered if those bad old days were returning when Rangers hit Hibs for six on the opening day of the season and although in the great scheme of things the Petrofac Training Cup was of little importance it did raise a few questions as to what the immediate future might hold, particularly as it was followed by defeat at Dumbarton.

Since then, though, Stubbs’ squad has undergone a remarkable transformation, the return of a clutch of players from injury added to by the acquisition of a host of new faces – former Hearts left back Adam Eckersley the latest arrival – has given the Easter Road squad a strength in depth and balance.

The focus, of course, has been on the number of strikers Stubbs now has at his disposal, the head coach arguing you can never get enough of them but he now has intense competition for places throughout the team as underlined by the fact Hibs went into this game with the likes of Jordon Forster, Sam Stanton, Fraser Fyvie, Farid El Alagui, Henri Anier, Eckersley and Danny Handling all sitting in the stand.

Ironically, amid that wealth of front men two of the three goals came from midfielders although Cummings – last season’s top scorer in the Championship – did claim his fifth of the season as Alloa posted ten men behind the ball at every opportunity to frustrate the home side and stifle the front two until Henderson made the breakthrough a minute before the interval.

Noting the contribution made from the middle of the park, Stubbs said: “That’s part of being successful. Look at our biggest competitor [Rangers] and they have goals all over the pitch. We had goals all over the pitch last season and that’s one thing we keep emphasising to them that if, for whatever reason, one of the strikers has an off-day we need to chip in with goals from other departments.

“We have a very talented bunch in midfield. Dylan McGeouch has come in and really lifted everybody. John McGinn, I think, will just get better and better. He still has a little bit of naivety in his game, he can do something very good then he can switch off and lose concentration a bit. Then we have the likes of Fraser and Liam Henderson; we have riches of talent in there.”

But like his other defenders, Stubbs reckons the work carried out by Marvin Bartley probably went unnoticed by many, the former Leyton Orient player remaining quietly effective as he shielded the back four, allowing McGeouch, Henderson and McGinn and full backs David Gray and Lewis Stevenson the freedom to flood forward.

He said: “Marvin mops things up and gives others the licence to get forward.”

Stubbs agreed his side couldn’t have enjoyed a more straightforward win, one which quite easily might have been more emphatic – referee John McKendrick denying Hibs a clear-cut penalty after just 16 minutes while Alloa’s defence and centre backs Dougie Hill and Jason Marr were forced to work overtime as they tried to stem the tide.

“A good day all round,” he said. “First and foremost it’s important that you keep a clean sheet because of the attacking qualities we have in the team. We have goals in us but it’s important the boys at the back do their job as it gives the lads in front of them the licence to go and create opportunities.

“I think you have to give Alloa a bit of credit because they got behind the ball early on and obviously frustrated us. They worked really hard but it’s difficult to keep doing that, one lapse in concentration and we managed to get the goal.

“It then becomes difficult for them and in the end we could have scored one or two more. But 3-0 at home is a good day’s work.”

Stubbs will have to wrestle with the task of keeping so many strikers happy, Islam Feruz and Dominique Malonga introduced to the action as was Martin Boyle but, he insisted, that’s a problem he’s more than happy to have.

He said: “They cannot all play, obviously, but when they are in then as long as they are creating chances they will have opportunities. But for every team that’s probably the one position every manager wants competition and probably more strikers. We have for the first time a real healthiness about the striking options which is great. I can’t keep everyone happy but as long as the team that goes on the pitch keeps the fans, me and the board happy then that’s the most important thing.”

Feruz made his first appearance since arriving on loan from Chelsea, the 20-year-old having had a much publicised brush with the law during the week but Stubbs said: “We want him to do his talking on the pitch.

“It’s unfortunate, as a club we don’t want to be speaking about Islam off the pitch. It’s disappointing what happened but we will work with him, put an arm around him, try to help him, be open and honest with him.”