Alan Stubbs, the new Hibernian manager, sent out an immediate message to Rangers last night by refusing to see them as runaway favourites to land the one automatic promotion place into the SPFL Premiership next season.
Bookmakers have the Ibrox club as 4/9 to win the Championship, with Hibs and Hearts leading the supposed chasing pack. But Stubbs, in his first Hibs press conference, at the club's training ground near Tranent, said he expects that Rangers - who have shown their resources by signing Kenny Miller and Darren McGregor - will be given a real run for their money.
Stubbs is believed to want the long-serving former Everton coach Andy Holden as his assistant manager and after discussions with Hibs chief executive Leeann Dempster yesterday he expects to be able to make an announcement over the weekend. "It's close," said Stubbs, who also revealed he has been called by more than 100 agents, as Hibs are known to be on the lookout for players. He inherited a squad of only 15.
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Despite the resources currently at his disposal, Stubbs is utterly confident that Hibs will be able to challenge Rangers in the months ahead. When asked about Rangers' status as runaway favourites he said: "If you're going on budgets then, yes. But I've been around the block in football and you realise that's not the be all and end all. Our budget will be competitive for the league we're in and we expect to give Rangers, Hearts and all the teams in the division a tough time. It's foolish to say it's all about Rangers, Hibs and Hearts because it's disrespectful to the other teams.
"It's going to be a tough league. There's no way we thought we were going to be in this league, but we are. There's no way Rangers thought they would be here and playing Hearts and Hibs this year in order to get up. Those who think it's a foregone conclusion are mistaken."
The former Celtic defender laughed when he reflected that his previous encounters with Rangers manager Ally McCoist tended to be on nights out rather than during games. "We've come across each other a few times, more out in Glasgow than anything," he said. "I've had a couple of conversations with 'Coisty' and we've met at coaching events and games, so there will be a bit of banter on the sidelines I'm sure, but most of all there will be a respect."