SACKING a manager on the back of a defeat to Celtic may seem harsh, but Alan Stubbs thinks that very well could be the fate of Hibernian boss Paul Heckingbottom should he lose to the champions in the Betfred Cup semi-final this weekend.

Stubbs, who won the Scottish Cup with Hibs as manager back in 2016, believes that the game at Hampden this Saturday evening is a pivotal one for Heckingbottom, and could make or break his tenure in Edinburgh.

If he wins and takes Hibs into the final, it could alter supporters’ perceptions of how good a job he is doing at the club, but a defeat to add to the current gloom and doom around Easter Road would only further fuel calls for his head from fed-up fans.

“You have to be honest, and I think Paul will be very honest and admit that this is a huge game for him,” Stubbs said.

“He’s obviously got the Livingston game first, but Saturday is a huge, huge game for him. It’s a pivotal game.

“Sometimes, the way things are, you go from one result to another, one headline to another – and you don’t feel there’s a way out.

“I don’t think Paul is thinking that way, to be honest. He will believe that the game on Saturday turns it round not just for the team – but how the fans perceive him as a manager.

“I think Hibs have a chance. But the way things are at the moment and the way Celtic are, in terms of their form, whoever was going to play Celtic this weekend would be underdogs.

“I’m not too sure whether Paul has underestimated the game up here. I’d very much doubt that.

“But I think he’s probably been taken by surprise by the opinions, by how the fans want the team to play. I think the biggest thing for Paul is the success of the club that he came into.

“He’s got a big job ahead of him. I really do hope he can turn it around but it’s going to be one of the biggest tests he’s ever had in management.”

Stubbs says that the Hibs players owe their manager a huge performance on Saturday’s game having let him down so far this season.

Heckingbottom oversaw an overhaul of the Hibs squad in the summer, and Stubbs thinks that those men he brought to the club have yet to repay his faith in them. And he points to a possible mentality problem within the squad having surrendered five winning positions in their last six matches.

“I think the players do have to give Paul something back,” he said.

“There has been a big transformation in the summer. He’s brought in 10 players, he’s picking them – and you have to look at the record.

“The record when they’ve gone ahead, not winning five out of the last six games, is a worry. That definitely comes down to the players’ mentality. It’s about doing the right things in a winning position.

“It’s probably not helping that Paul has been in the stands for the last couple of games. But there is only so much a manager can do.

“The responsibility lies with the players to do the right things and manage the game.

“I know he mentioned last week about the fans being used to going to Hampden and that’s maybe why they haven’t sold so many tickets. I just don’t get that one. I think he’s obviously just trying to keep the fans interested. I think he’s trying to play it down.

“Everyone knows why the ticket sales haven’t gone well – it’s because of the results.

“It always comes down to the players. Expectations have been very high since I left, when Neil (Lennon) was there.

“Now that Paul is there, the expectations are exactly the same – and he will want to raise them even higher.

“The only way to do that is to get back to cup finals.”