Alan Stubbs issued a rallying cry to Hibs’ players and supporters as he urged them to make today’s Easter Road showdown with Rangers an “I was there” occasion.
The Edinburgh side must overturn a 2-0 deficit against the Ibrox men in the second leg of the Premiership play-off semi-final this lunchtime if they are to prolong their promotion bid.
Stubbs knows Rangers are now hot favourites to progress, but he believes that, with the backing of close to 20,000 fired-up Hibs supporters, his team can emerge victorious and set up a two-legged shootout against Motherwell for a place in the top flight.
“I want this to be an occasion that fans will look back in years to come and say: ‘I was there, I was there when it was turned around’,” declared the head coach. “If you don’t believe it, there’s no point saying it. But I believe we’re firmly right in this tie. As long as we score the first goal, I don’t see any reason why we can’t overcome the scoreline.
“I will always have belief in my team. When you’ve got good players, that’s easy, because you know they’re capable of turning it around. I would be more worried if I had a group of players without the ability to turn it around. But these guys are capable. And they believe they can do it – I know that. We’ll give it our best shot, that’s all I can guarantee. I can’t guarantee any more than that. But we’ll be ready for the game, going all-out to come through the tie.
“It’s the easiest team talk of the season, we know exactly what is ahead of us and exactly what we have to do. The fans will play a huge role. We want them to come and really make it vociferous before the game. Then we have an obligation during the game to give them something to shout about.
“It is going to be a blend of them giving us something and us giving them something. It’s not just a one-way street where we expect them to come and be noisy and be intimidating and then we don’t play our part. Everything has to be put in the mix so it all comes together.”
Stubbs and his team can draw on plenty of occasions when deficits have been overturned. Twenty years ago, the Hibs head coach was part of a Bolton side that came from 2-0 down to Reading with just 15 minutes left to win 4-3 in extra-time in the English play-off final. Indeed, only last weekend, in the SPFL Championship play-off final, Alloa Athletic came from 3-1 behind after the first leg to beat Forfar 4-3 on aggregate.
“It doesn’t make any difference what level it is,” said Stubbs. “That Alloa game showed the nature of football. We have an opportunity to do that against Rangers. It can turn on anything – decisions, chances. We’ve seen lots of occasions where these things turn around. Liverpool, 3-0 down at half-time in Istanbul and they go on and win it [against AC Milan]. Manchester United a couple of years ago won at Sunderland and City were drawing 2-2 [against QPR] before winning the league in the last seconds. You can go on – Hibs last year, 2-0 up [against Hamilton] from the first leg and lost it. Why can’t it be roles reversed this year? It can be done, simple as that.”
In order to salvage the tie, Stubbs hinted that Farid El Alagui is set for a more prominent role today than he was afforded on Wednesday. The striker remained on the bench at Ibrox, but the head coach said: “We’ve been trying to manage Farid after his injury, but there’s a possibility he’ll play some part in this game.”