Alan Stubbs believes Hibs have banished their wobbly period just in time to ensure a positive climax to the season.
The Easter Road side followed up their Scottish Cup semi-final victory over Dundee United on Saturday by defeating recently-crowned Championship title winners Rangers 3-2 in an exhilarating encounter in Leith last night. Niklas Gunnarsson’s second-half strike – his first for the club – effectively counted as the winner as Hibs, who had won only one of their previous eight league games, closed to within three points of second-placed Falkirk with a game in hand.
Stubbs is confident that his side have turned the corner. “We seem to have come through our blip now,” said the head coach. “We’ve just had two great results but I think we’d been showing signs over the last number of weeks that the performances are starting to get back to where we need them to be. We just need to keep building. I have said all along it is not about our form in March it is about our form going into April and May. There have certainly been real positive signs over the last few weeks.”
Last night’s match was effectively a dress rehearsal for the Scottish Cup final, but Stubbs insists the outcome will have no bearing on what happens at the national stadium next month.
“For us, it was just about three points,” he said. “You could see with the team Mark [Warburton] put out that he wanted to win the game, but it had no relevance to the cup final. All it means is that over the course of the season two teams have played each other four times and they’ve both won both their home games.”
Hibs’ prospects of catching Falkirk in the battle for second place have been enhanced by the victory over the Ibrox side and Stubbs is eager to see his team win that battle in order to ensure they avoid having to come through an additional two-legged play-off against Raith Rovers within days of the regulation season concluding.
“We’ve got three games to go and we’ve kept it alive,” he said. “The difference between finishing second and third is ten days where we can potentially give the players a little bit of a rest.
“We’ve had a constantly heavy schedule in March and April and we’re going to do it again in May so if anything the players are immune to it. I think their bodies have all adjusted to it. We’re trying everything possible to enhance the recovery process.”
Stubbs opted to keep faith with Mark Oxley in goal last night despite his deputy Conrad Logan producing a man-of-the-match performance at Hampden on Saturday. Oxley had a nervy night in which he was at fault for Rangers’ first goal, scored by ex-Hearts midfielder Jason Holt, and questionably positioned for their second, a long-range strike from Barrie McKay. The head coach was defiant in his defence of the Englishman, who was jeered by a section of the home support after Holt’s goal. “I came out the day before and said who my No.1 was,” said the manager. “If you are going to look at that, there wasn’t just one keeper who made a mistake tonight.”