Defiant Alan Stubbs is adamant Hibs’ promotion bid did not die at Ibrox last night.
The Easter Road side lost 2-0 to Rangers in the first leg of the Premiership play-off semi-final after goals in each half from home strikers Nicky Clark and Kenny Miller.
However, Stubbs, although visibly disappointed by a scoreline which he didn’t feel reflected his team’s enterprising display, is confident they can salvage the tie in the second leg in Edinburgh this Saturday lunchtime.
“I’ve got plenty of confidence that we can turn this around,” said the head coach. “The tie is far from over. The players believe it’s not over. They’re disappointed because they know they were in the game. Rangers scored at important times, give them credit for that. I’ve been here for a few times as a player and a few times as a manager. Say what you like, it’s a difficult place to come – and obviously the crowd were right behind the team. I felt we deserved something, in that we should have scored in the game. But we’ll see what happens Saturday.”
Stubbs felt Hibs played well and insisted the outcome could have been different had Jason Cummings not spurned a golden first-half chance when the match was still goalless. He felt Clark’s opener, a minute before the break, gave Rangers the impetus to go on and win the game.
“I’m obviously disappointed,” said Stubbs. “I thought we played our part in the game to have come out with something. But, in the end, for our chances, we didn’t work the keeper enough. We got into good areas, maybe rushed it a bit at times.
“I can’t fault the way my players played. They were right in the tie and Rangers just took their chances when they came. The timing of that first goal was important. And, before the you look at that, Jason’s opportunity was a big moment in the game – because we were on top at the time. He’s been great all season and he’s normally been snapping them up, but he didn’t. Then for Rangers to score before half-time is a blow. But we could have done better with the goals.”
Stubbs dismissed any notion of his side being intimidated by a pumped-up Ibrox crowd in excess of 41,000. “No, I don’t feel my players were intimidated,” he said, clearly irritated at the suggestion. “Not at all. To come here and get on the ball, play some of the football we did, that’s not a team being intimidated. I hear all the time that Hibs are bottlers. I’m sick of answering the question, to be honest. There has been a determination to win all the time. And I think they’ve played quite well.
“Look at some of our individual performances. They are very talented players. If we had scored at that crucial time, it’s a different game. That’s what happens in football. We’ve had opportunities. We haven’t come here and sat back, we haven’t had a doing. I’m disappointed with the result but not the performance of the players.”
Stubbs insists patience will be key in Saturday’s return leg at Easter Road. “In an ideal world, we’d like to score early on and put Rangers under pressure,” he said. “But Saturday’s game still has the potential to go 120 minutes.
“It’s not that important that we score in the first ten minutes. You’ve seen how quickly games change. If it takes up to sixty, seventy minutes, as long as we get that goal, then we’ll see how Rangers respond. But credit to them tonight. They’ve got a result. We’re only halfway.”
Rangers boss Stuart McCall hailed his team’s grit.
“We were gritty, determined – we had to defend well. You could tell in the last 25 minutes who had been on the beach for a few days and who had been playing hard football because our energy levels dropped.
“But we scored two really good goals so to come away with a 2-0, naturally I’m delighted.
“There is still a lot of hard work to go.”