Morton manager Jim Duffy says Hibs’ opening-day defeat to Dumbarton wasn’t as big a shock as some made it out to be.
Alan Stubbs’ men kicked off their Ladbrokes Championship campaign with a tepid display against their part-time opponents last weekend, goals from Gregor Buchanan and Willie Gibson – a Dominique Malonga strike sandwiched in between – handing the Easter Road outfit an early setback in their bid to win promotion back to the top flight at the second time of asking.
There was much surprise at Hibs’ failure to get off on the right foot at a venue where they enjoyed success last season, prompting some to question whether or not Stubbs’ players have the ability to keep pace with main rivals Rangers at the top end of the division this season.
But Duffy, who brings his Morton side to the Capital this Saturday – buoyed by a well-earned opening-day point at home to Falkirk – believes it’s Stephen Aitken’s Dumbarton who deserve the plaudits for their display and not what a below-par Hibs team failed to do.
“I think it would be direspectful to Stephen Aitken and his players if you were to focus on the negatives with Hibs,” Duffy told the Evening News.
“At the end of the day, it was a fantastic three points for Dumbarton so I wouldn’t say I was surprised by the result. Dumbarton have their own ambitions this year and each match they’ll be looking to get wins on the board. It’s very early on in the season so everyone starts from scratch. It’s maybe further down the line that a result makes you take notice and that some people maybe don’t forecast.”
Despite Hibs’ failure to collect the points, Duffy, who took the Easter Road hotseat in 1996 before Alex McLeish succeeded him two years later following the club’s relegation to the First Division, insists this year’s Championship will be a two-horse race between his former employers and Mark Warburton’s Rangers, the Ibrox outfit having defeated St Mirren 3-1 last Friday night.
“Hibs are definitely one of the favourites for promotion,” he maintained. “It’s as simple as that. There’s no question it will be Hibs and Rangers up there challenging and everyone else trying to get as close to them as they possibly can.
“On the back of finishing second last year, Hibs will be looking to go one better. They are a huge miss to the Premiership and that’s where most people think they should be but they are where they are and they’ve got to deal with that.
“It’s too early for that [to suggest Rangers have the upper hand already]. It becomes ridiculous when you see league tables after the first game of the season but it’s something that people tend to do but it doesn’t really have much bearing at this stage.”
Stubbs was openly critical of his side’s performance against the Sons, accusing some of his starting XI of “hiding behind” the ongoing transfer saga involving last year’s Championship player of the year, Scott Allan.
The Hibs midfielder has constantly been linked with a move away from Easter Road with Rangers having had three bids rejected despite the player himself having submitted a written transfer request confirming his desire to leave.
And, although mindful of any potential backlash from the men in green and white, Duffy says his team will approach this weekend’s clash the same as any game and go for all three points.
“Going to places like Easter Road brings to attention the level you are competing with,” Duffy explained. “Competing with a club like Hibs, who have a fabulous stadium, great training facilities and a great history, really brings that home.
“But it’s a task you should be looking to challenge yourself with and I think the players will do that on Saturday.
“We know it’s going to be extremely tough but we will be going there for the three points.
“We’ll go there and be as positive as we’re allowed to be but, if Hibs play at the very top of their game, then that should be enough for them to win the match. But football is not quite as simple as that – one or two players may be off form – so if there is anything like that then we’ll hope to capitalise on it.
“I can only concentrate on my team. How Alan gets a response and what he demands is entirely his prerogative and his job to do. I’m sure – like every week – Alan sets high standards as that’s the type of guy he is and a club like Hibs expects that. It is their first league game at home so they will be wanting to put on a performance to get that optimism back among the supporters.
“But we need to compete as much as we did last week against Falkirk and add a bit to that as well.”
Morton showed they could be a useful addition to this year’s Championship with a hard-working display in their opener against last season’s Scottish Cup finalists Falkirk.
Paul Watson had given the Bairns a 19th-minute lead only for Peter MacDonald to head in an equaliser on the hour mark to give the Greenock side a well-earned point.
But Duffy accepts last season’s League One champions must strive to improve if they are to remain competitive in the weeks and months ahead.
“We had to show a wee bit resilience and determination to get back into the game last week and we managed to do that after going a goal behind,” he said. “From my perspective, before any game you’re always wanting to win when you’re at home but, as the game unfolds, you realise a point is not that bad a result.
“They missed a couple late on but so did we before that. But overall, I looked at the ninety minutes and I think both managers kind of agreed that in general a point was probably a fair result.
“We’ve got to find our feet in this division and only once we’ve done that we’ll maybe get an idea of where you might be able to pitch yourself come the end of the season.
“We’re all in the same situation at this moment, trying to get a foothold in the league and get as many points as we can early on.”