Alan Stubbs has warned his Hibs players they will have to overcome their highest-quality opposition of the season if they are to extend their six-game unbeaten run and reach the semi-finals of the League Cup.
The on-form Easter Road side go into tonight’s home quarter-final against Dundee United buoyed by an impressive sequence of results which includes away wins at higher-ranked opponents such as Ross County and Rangers and a home draw against rampant Championship leaders Hearts.
There has been some debate about whether or not there is much difference between the top teams in the second tier and the majority in the Premiership this season, but Stubbs is adamant that the Arabs, currently third in the top flight, are a more formidable side than any they have faced already this season. As a result, Hibs’ head coach believes it will probably require their strongest performance of the season to secure a place in the semi-finals, which take place early next year.
“We’re already on a good run but it’ll look even better if by the end of tonight’s game we’ve almost beaten Hearts and beaten Ross County, Rangers and Dundee United,” he told the Evening News. “We know it will be very difficult but it’s a chance to really measure ourselves on how far we’ve come against our toughest opposition to date. I think we’ll have to step it up even from the performance on Sunday to get through this tie.
“I think United are a level up from the likes of ourselves, Rangers and Hearts. I don’t think anyone could really argue with that. They’re sitting third in the Premiership and were second a few days ago. To be there at this stage of the season, they’ve obviously got lots of qualities.”
Apart from Rangers, who made it to the semi-finals last night, Hibs are the only non-Premiership side left in the League Cup.
However, Stubbs believes his team are capable of making an impact at the business end of the competition.
“While we’re in it, we can win it,” he said. “We’re in the last eight of the competition and we’re at home, so we’ve got a chance. It won’t be easy for us, but it won’t be easy for Dundee United either.
“Come the last stages of any tournament, the bigger teams are usually there. It’s no coincidence that that’s the case here. We’ve done okay to remain in with the big boys this far, but whether we can go from doing okay to doing really well will be decided by tonight’s result.”
Hibs will have to do without Dylan McGeouch, the man of the match against Hearts, who is suspended tonight. Liam Craig and Sam Stanton are the leading contenders to replace the on-loan Celtic midfielder, and Stubbs has challenged whoever gets the nod to seize their chance.
“We’ve got players, especially in the midfield area, who have not been in the team recently who could easily have been in the team,” he said.