Alan Stubbs has insisted he doesn’t deserve any pats on the back – because he feels he hasn’t achieved anything at Hibs yet.
The head coach has been credited with engineering a remarkable turnaround at Hibs, the former Everton youth coach arriving at Easter Road to find a club at war with itself, the fall-out from that incredible downward spiral under his predecessor Terry Butcher which resulted in an ignominious lurch into the Championship. He also inherited a squad which barely contained enough experienced players to field a team, 14 having been released immediately at the end of the season while others weren’t long in following them through the exit door.
It was a mess, and it showed. At one stage early in the season as Hibs hovered just above the foot of the table all talk was not of challenging for a promotion play-off place but battling to avoid one which would take them even lower.
To make things worse, Capital rivals Hearts were quickly out of sight. But as Robbie Neilson’s side raced away with the title, Stubbs brought his influence to bear, Hibs slowly but surely clawing their way up and while there were one or two bumps along the way the signs of steady progress were there for all to see resulting, ultimately, in second place being secured.
Promotion, of course, has yet to be attained, Hibs awaiting the winners of the play-off quarter-final between Rangers or Queen of the South before, hopefully, taking on the Premiership side which finishes second bottom with Motherwell favourites to be that club.
And it is those final hurdles yet to be negotiated which prevent Stubbs seeking any plaudits. He said: “I can’t take pats on the back because I do not feel I have achieved anything yet.
“It’s not until we actually achieve one of our aims or goals, that’s when I’ll take the pat on the back but then I will move on very quickly.”
Admitting that moment will be if Hibs win promotion, the former Celtic and Everton defender went on: “We knew it was going to be very difficult when I was given the job. I think everyone knew that. The fans were very aware that it was going to be a difficult season, but they were realistic. They are football people, they are not soft. I think they are very much like Everton fans, they appreciate football, they have a very good understanding of football and they knew that it was going to be a really tough job.
“We were always playing catch-up from day one, to be honest. When you see a turnaround of so many players very rarely does it take shape very quickly. It does take time, it does take a bedding in period and when you look after the first couple of months the team slowly but surely improved.
“Unfortunately the horse, as in Hearts, had already bolted. We could just never eat into the lead they had and any slip-up was always going to bring pressure. From that point of view it was difficult but I think we have done reasonably well to be where we are. We have changed the style and the fans are starting to get the confidence back in the club now.”
Stubbs accepted anything Hibs might do would, inevitably, be measured against what was happening at Tynecastle but, he insisted, that didn’t faze him at all.
He said: “I was brought up in similar circumstances with Everton and Liverpool. When I was a young lad Everton were the dominant team when I first started to go and watch them. Then suddenly Liverpool became the more dominant club in the city so I have been brought up with that. It was not easy but it was normal for me to come into a job or a place where there’s two clubs in the same city.”
Stubbs has revealed in the past that he was “warned off” taking the job by a couple of well-known faces in football but, he disclosed, former Toffees boss David Moyes gave his move from Goodison Park the thumbs up. He said: “For this to be my first job in football some people would have said it was a very daunting one – but I didn’t see it like that. I saw it as an opportunity. One or two people said not to go near it but it did not deter me. David Moyes told me to take the job, he was one of the ones who said ‘take it’, that it was a good opportunity for me.
“I was determined and focused. I knew I could get it right, my belief is quite strong, I knew and believed in my own ability and it was just a matter of time to get everything moving in one direction as quickly as possible.
“It was a great opportunity for me. I have to say I never thought my first job would be at such a big club so from that point of view it has been a brilliant learning curve, a good opportunity and one I am thankful for.
“I’m thankful to Leeann [Dempster, Hibs chief executive] and George [Craig, head of football operations] that I came through the process. I think there’s a real mutual feeling there that we all made the right choice.”