Hibs boss Alan Stubbs has revealed he’ll seek to strengthen his defensive options ahead of next season after being forced to seat untried 18-year-old Aaron Dunsmore on the bench for the play-off matches against Rangers.
Injury robbed Stubbs of the services of Jordon Forster and Keith Watson before those crucial matches, leaving him with only four defenders in David Gray, who himself had only just come back from a hamstring problem, Paul Hanlon, Liam Fontaine and Lewis Stevenson.
And while many thought the replacement of Stevenson with striker Franck Dja Djede in the second leg of the play-off semi-final as Hibs tried in vain to overturn the Ibrox outfit’s two-goal advantage was a tactical move, Stubbs disclosed the left back had actually pulled his hamstring.
On the day it counted for little despite Hibs going for broke by throwing Fontaine and Hanlon forward as they desperately sought that breakthrough goal to turn up the heat on Stuart McCall’s side.
Stubbs knows Hibs’ lack of resources at the back would have been exposed had they managed to fight their way through to face Motherwell in the first of the Premiership play-off final matches tonight.
Admitting he’d tried to “get away with it” during a season in which Forster and newly-installed captain Gray were injured for long spells, Stubbs has now begun to reshape his squad with midfielder Liam Craig told he won’t be offered a new deal after two-years at the club,
Revealing his priority will be to convince those players going out of contract that he wishes to retain to follow Gray in agreeing new deals, the head coach will also be looking to revamp his squad “in certain areas” to give him greater options next season.
He said: “Injuries towards the end did affect us, they really did. They didn’t come at a good time for us with Jordon, Keith and Martin Boyle all out it did affect my options.
“We didn’t have any cover at the back, it was a case of fingers crossed. We’d tried to get away with it most of the season but it’s a long season and that’s why having a squad is so important. To ask the players to keep doing it week in, week out is a huge ask.”
No outfield player started more games than Stevenson, the club’s longest-serving player making 44 appearances only for that effort to take its toll in what proved to be Hibs’ final game.
Stubbs said: “I think most people thought he came off for tactical reasons but he’d pulled his hamstring. Lewis was Mr Reliable, Mr Dependable but now he needs to get a good break, a good rest.”