Hibernian and Rangers lock horns again as season gets under way

By Richard WilsonBBC Scotland
Hibernian Fraser Fyvie tussles for possession with Rangers midfielder Nicky Law
The sides met seven times last season and will lock horns again on Saturday
Scottish Challenge Cup: Hibernian v Rangers
Date: Saturday, 25 July Venue: Easter Road Stadium, Edinburgh Kick-off: 12:30 BST
Coverage: Watch on BBC Alba; listen on BBC Radio Scotland; video and audio streams available on BBC Sport website

Hibernian and Rangers cannot shake each other off.

They met seven times last season, and the opening game of this campaign has brought them together again.

The clubs might have been weary at the repetition, but the competitive tension keeps heightening.

Even without the intrigue of Rangers' pursuit of Scott Allan, the two clubs were expected to be the two main contenders for the Scottish Championship title. Both are desperate to return to the top flight, so the dynamic is of a growing rivalry.

The Petrofac Training Cup is of little ultimate concern to either manager, since both will be judged on whether or not promotion is achieved, but the result and performance in the opening game of the season will feel vitally important.

Games between Hibernian & Rangers in 2014-15
Rangers 2-1 Hibernian aet, 5 Aug, Challenge CupRangers 1-3 Hibernian, 29 Sep, Championship
Hibernian 4-0 Rangers, 27 Dec, ChampionshipRangers 0-2 Hibernian, 13 Feb, Championship
Hibernian 0-2 Rangers, 22 Mar, ChampionshipRangers 2-0 Hibernian, 20 May, Premiership play-off
Hibernian 1-0 Rangers, 23 May, Premiership play-off

The teams remain work in progress, although Hibs ought to be more fluid and capable of better understanding.

Stubbs's side was the form team in the division from January onwards last season, but could not chase down the title winners Hearts and then fell short in the play-offs against Rangers.

So far, he has only retained the players he wanted to keep and replaced others who left - the new arrivals are: Marvin Bartley, James Keatings, Danny Carmichael and Antonio Reguero.

There is a sense of calm at the club, though, despite the need to deal with Rangers' transfer bids for Allan.

Hibs playmaker Scott Allan has attracted interest from boyhood heroes Rangers
Hibs playmaker Scott Allan has been the subject of two bids from boyhood heroes Rangers

Twelve months ago, Stubbs was trying to build a squad having arrived at the club in June to find meagre resources. It took months for the team to gel and perform to his expectations, by which time Hearts held a commanding lead at the top of the Championship and the aim was to chase down Rangers to try to finish second.

They achieved that goal, and should feel encouraged that it is Rangers who have spent the summer having to rebuild. Eleven players left the club when their contracts ended, while Mark Warburton and David Weir were confirmed as the new management team in June.

Seven signings have arrived since then - Wes Foderingham, James Tavernier, Rob Kiernan, Danny Wilson, Andy Halliday, Jason Holt and Martyn Waghorn - with further additions expected.

There are similarities between Stubbs and Warburton, in the sense that they are among the breed of contemporary coaches whose teams play progressive, passing football, with clear phases of play, attacking intent and an obvious sense of purpose.

Both like to work with young players, too, and both would clearly like to work with Allan this season.

The 23-year-old midfielder is still a developing talent, but grew in stature last season and often provided the creative spark for Hibs. A lifelong Rangers fan, who has entered the final 12 months of his contract, he is keen to play for the Ibrox club.

The difficulty for Hibs - who either cash in on the player now or lose him for free in the summer - is that the fans will be irked by the sale of such a key player to their main rivals.

Alan Stubbs and Mark Warburton
Alan Stubbs and Mark Warburton will also be vying for promotion

The issue will play itself out, not least if Allan formally requests a transfer, but both sides are still developing. Hibs will benefit from most of their players having featured in the Championship last season, so knowing the opponents, the surroundings and the demands of their manager.

Rangers must deal with the process of change, with Warburton altering the team's shape - to 4-3-3 - and tactical approach as well as the personnel.

Of the side that played Burnley in a friendly at Ibrox on Tuesday, seven were new signings and two - Barrie Mackay and David Templeton - barely featured at all in the last campaign.

Jason Holt will aim to shine at Rangers following his switch from Hearts
Jason Holt will aim to make an impact at Rangers this season

Warburton himself is new to Scottish football and the capabilities of the teams and players he will face this season. On the basis of their resources, Rangers ought to be the favourites for the title, but the same was felt last season and a well-coached and shrewdly assembled Hearts side found the kind of consistency and strength of mind that diminished their rivals.

Stubbs would have liked more new players; Warburton would have liked more time. The former is likely to play 3-5-2, with the wing-backs providing width, and a settled line-up; the latter will use 4-3-3 and a predominantly new team with players trying to gel with each other as well as the manager.

It makes for an intriguing opening spell to the season, since neither side will be fully up to match speed until the beginning of the league.

Having reached the play-offs, their respective seasons last term finished late, reducing the amount of time available for a suitable amount of rest and pre-season training.

Many of Warburton's signings have come from the Championship or League One in England, but Tavernier, Waghorn and Foderingham have yet to enjoy prolonged spells of successful first-team football, while Holt's time at Hearts stalled last year and he spent the second half of the season on loan at Sheffield United.

Warburton has signed young players who are hungry to make an impact. The team will be energetic, and technically sound, but the onus will be on the manager to show that his coaching and motivational skills can pull together a young side with a significant amount of expectation to cope with.

The Petrofac Training Cup tie will be competitive and hard-fought, and the outcome will be revealing but not significant to the outcome of the league campaign.

Even so, neither manager will want to be explaining a defeat in the aftermath, because time and perception would be useful allies as they continue to shape their teams for the demands that lie ahead.

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