Youngsters have been getting all the praise but a veteran is leading the charge for third place, reports Alan Campbell

WHEN Hibs exuberantly defeated Celtic at Parkhead three weeks ago it seemed inevitable that the 3-1 scoreline would bring European football to Leith next season. It's a different story now.

Today, Hibs entertain the other half of the Old Firm, in an eagerly awaited league match at Easter Road.

Rangers have their own agenda, but the home side need a point if they are to keep their date with Uefa Cup football.

Since the morale-boosting win against Celtic, Hibs have toiled to a 2-2 draw at Motherwell and then passed up the best chance of all to secure third place when they lost 2-1 to rivals Aberdeen in front of a huge home crowd eight days ago.

Midfielder Stephen Glass, who had more reason than most to rue putting one over his former club, pointed out: "We're still very close to winning a European place. We passed it up last week, but we've got another chance now." One of many young players at Aberdeen who didn't go on to the great heights predicted for them, Glass has nevertheless had a season to savour at Hibs. Tomorrow, he will become even more of an elder statesman in Tony Mowbray's team as he celebrates his 29th birthday, but just like his less experienced team-mates, he has much reason to be grateful for the arrival of the manager.

"My time at Newcastle was big because of the 50,000 crowds every week, " he said, "but in terms of playing this is one of the best seasons I've had. The manager has given us the most freedom I've had on the park as a player. Other managers are quite strict and regimented about what you can do, but here he will trust the players if they take it on board what he says and grasp it." His legs may be getting older, but to the credit of Glass he does not cite Hibs' long season as an excuse for their faltering finish.

He came on as a substitute when the Edinburgh side played Vetra of Lithuania in the Intertoto Cup back on July 3, but he said: "You know how many games you've got to play, and you've got to build yourself up for that.

"The only trouble with playing in the Intertoto Cup that early was the manager didn't get a chance to bed the side in. Maybe it has been a long season, but I wouldn't like to use that as an excuse for what has happened in the last couple of weeks." Glass has been deployed in midfield for Hibs this season, but despite his calming influence, he is still waiting for further international recognition.

His only cap for Scotland was in a European Championship qualifier against the Faroe Islands at Pittodrie in 1998, and even that was a 79th-minute substitute appearance replacing Allan Johnston.

"I'm past worrying about that, " he said. "There are plenty of players who use the press to say they should be involved with Scotland, but I've never been one of them.

"I want to do the best I can at the club, and if that's good enough to get into the Scotland squad that's up to the Scotland manager. I can only look after what I do at Hibs." While strikers Garry O'Connor and Derek Riordan have been recognised by Walter Smith, Glass reckons another Hibs player should come into the reckoning.

"Stevie Whittaker has been brilliant every week, and he's possibly unlucky not to be in the Scotland squad, " Glass said. "There's not many fullbacks playing to the level that he has, and it's not just against the run of the mill teams. He's been very consistent at a high level." Today, at the end of a season in which they have scored 64 league goals but conceded 56, Hibs will be relying on their forwards finding the net to put the pressure on Rangers.

"It's up to the players to give our fans a lead, " said Glass. "They're probably getting edgy, but if we can play the way we have for the majority of the season, they shouldn't be too worried. We don't ever want a team to be coming here and celebrating. If we play well enough, Rangers won't be celebrating at the end.

"It's not a case of us looking elsewhere [to Pittodrie for the result there]. We know if we get a point, or win the game, then we will be finishing third. it will be a great season for us if we do." What the Hibs fans don't want to be hearing this afternoon is the sound of broken Glass.