Alan Stubbs has backed his young side to keep their cool in the white-hot cauldron of Ibrox this afternoon as Hibs and Rangers battle it out for Championship supremacy.
The Easter Road head coach was forced to act as peacemaker as tempers flared following Dominique Malonga’s last-gasp winner against Queen of the South, a match between second and sixth in the table.
But today Stubbs insisted he had no worries about his players’ temperament in such a high-stakes encounter, Malonga’s goal having taken Hibs level at the top with title favourites Rangers.
He said: “To my mind today will be lively, intense, very noisy. You have two good teams who are going at it for one outcome and it could be fiesty.
“However, if you look at our record from a disciplinary point of view, it’s very good. So I have no qualms about the players. They are very diligent, focused and aware of the consequences of things that can affect the game.
“Yes, the squad is young in terms of age, but in terms of mental strength they are beyond their years some of them. They are very sensible apart from one or two, but even they have shown huge strides in maturity since I walked in the door.”
And Stubbs was adamant his side will have a go at Ibrox, describing the game as “a free crack at Rangers” given Mark Warburton’s team have to visit Easter Road again in early March.
He said: “It’s a free hit, we will have a right go at them. We are going to test them and they’ll test us because it’s two good games. We have seen that from the games apart from the Petrofac Cup tie. They were close games, there’s no denying that. But there is no pressure on us.
“For me it’s a free one because in the worst case scenario we could have been 14 points behind Rangers if things hadn’t gone to plan. The fact we could be three points ahead of them is an unbelievable turnaround by us.”
While Rangers have stumbled recently, taking just eight points from a possible 18, Hibs have extended their unbeaten run to 17 matches even though Stubbs believes they’ve had a dip in performance in the past couple of weeks.
He said: “We are just focusing on what we are doing because we are doing it right at this moment in time. We are getting results. We are churning them out. We are getting results in different ways.
“We have won games well, we have played some really good football, we have stumbled across the line in one or two of them, we have scrambled one, we have fought hard to get one.
“I think that tells you everything about the group. You need to do that in any season. You can’t play a game of football when you blow people away for 36 games. It is impossible. You are going to have little dips. I think we’ve had a dip and we have still managed to win.”
Stubbs also believes the nature of Hibs’ win over Queens only hours after Rangers had lost to Falkirk will have dealt Warburton’s players a blow.
He said: “If they were looking at Soccer Saturday and the results coming, watching the clock ticking down they’d be thinking they’d managed to get away with only dropping a point.
“And then suddenly to see that flash up – and it would probably have been one of the last ones to flash up – it does make you think ‘oh for...’ .
“I would have done if it was Rangers who had scored late on. It does have an effect. People talk about pressure but for me when you talk about pressure it is because you are starting to think about failing. So we don’t talk about pressure, we talk about succeeding.”
Stubbs hopes to have both Dylan McGeouch and Marvin Bartley in his squad, the midfielders having returned to training during last week after injury forced them to sit out Hibs last two matches.