Hibernian v Dundee United: Semi-final bosses seek to arrest slump

By Richard WilsonBBC Scotland
Sean Dillon and David Gray
United and Hibs both go into their semi-final in poor form
Scottish Cup semi-final: Hibernian v Dundee United
Date: Saturday, 16 April Venue: Hampden Kick-off: 12:15 BST
Coverage: Watch on BBC One Scotland; listen on BBC Radio Scotland 810MW/DAB/online; live text commentary on BBC Sport website

Events at Hampden on Saturday will shape individual reputations as much as the fortunes of two teams.

The Hibernian and Dundee United head coaches are, after all, carrying a season's worth of assessments into the Scottish Cup semi-final.

They have both endured prolonged periods of frustration. Alan Stubbs and Mixu Paatelainen have struggled to contain the slumps that have overcome their teams at points this term - and the semi-final comes amid growing concerns.

Mixu Paatelainen and Alan Stubbs
Paatelainen and Stubbs were once team-mates at Bolton Wanderers

Mixu makes little impact

Paatelainen won only one of his opening 12 games in charge of United after succeeding Jackie McNamara last October.

There was still time to rescue the team's season but the recruitment in January was ineffective. The likes of Guy Demel, Florent Sinama-Pongolle and Gavin Gunning did not deliver the same impact as the signings Jim McIntyre made in January last year before guiding Ross County off the bottom and then to safety.

There has been no sustained revival at United. Sporadic victories in the past three months kept hope alive, but they have won only one of their past five games and still seem the team most likely to slip directly into the Championship by finishing bottom of the Premiership.

Reaching the Scottish Cup final would be a rare moment of relief from a desperately grim campaign but it will not remove the scrutiny from Paatelainen's work or calm United's troubled spirit.

Gunning left the club abruptly, while nine more players are out of contract in the summer. Others will seek moves if relegation is confirmed.

Paatelainen may want to grapple with the challenge of rebuilding United, and Tannadice chairman Stephen Thompson has said he believes his manager would be the right man to guide the club back.

It would take commanding leadership and a strong sense of responsibility for United to suffer relegation and maintain the status quo, though.

That would apply to Paatelainen, too, since the drop would shrink United's income and leave the club reliant on external investment. Soul-searching awaits and supporters, naturally, are disgruntled at every aspect of the club.

Stubbs waylaid

The collapse of Hibs' form has been more dramatic.

From the end of August, the team went 17 games undefeated, with all but two of them victories. Even after the run ended, with a 4-2 defeat by Rangers at Ibrox, it was another 10 matches before they lost again.

Yet since then, Hibs have played another 11 games and won only two of them, culminating in conceding a 2-0 lead to draw 2-2 with Falkirk at Easter Road on Tuesday.

The tendency has been to identify the loan signing of Anthony Stokes from Celtic as a contributing factor. Certainly, younger players may have become less assertive in the presence of such a high-profile figure, or elements of the team's play may have altered because of Stokes' style.

Yet Stokes cannot be the sole reason, not least because the defence's sudden loss of reliability was often down to individual errors at the back.

During the 17-game unbeaten run earlier this term, Hibs kept 10 clean sheets, but they have now failed to keep any in their past 11 games.

Even so, whatever the causes, they had to be identified and addressed by Stubbs. That has yet to happen decisively.

His reign overall has been positive, with the team performing consistently for long stretches, even if they have fallen short of automatic promotion twice.

If they reach the Scottish Cup final, it will have involved knocking out United as well as Inverness and Hearts, while United were also defeated in the Scottish League Cup, along with Aberdeen and St Johnstone, before defeat by Ross County in the final.

The general sense, then, is of progress, with Stubbs also leading his side to last season's Scottish Cup semi-final, which they lost to Falkirk.

Failing to win promotion would irk supporters and some are grumbling about decisions made this season, but Stubbs has carried out significant work at Easter Road and could yet deliver a timeless achievement in the Scottish Cup.

Either way, his body of work at Easter Road is impressive enough to ward off doubters. The situation is less clear with Paatelainen at United.