In ten years as a first-team player at Easter Road, Lewis Stevenson has probably seen every twist and turn football can throw at you. And yet, he recalls Morton’s last visit to Easter Road as one of the craziest nights of his career.
Two down at home to the Cappielow outfit in a League Cup clash with only ten minutes to play, goals from Joe Keenan and Dean Shiels appeared to have turned the tie in the Capital club’s favour, a belief strengthened when substitute Steve Pinau put them ahead only 30 seconds into extra time
But a hotly-contested penalty allowed Iain Russell to claim his second goal of the game from the spot before Morton won an equally dubious free-kick which saw Hibs substitute goalkeeper David Grof could do not better than knock the ball into the path of former Hibs kid Ryan Harding who fired home the winner just two minutes from time.
Such was the anger at those game-changing decisions that Easter Road boss Mixu Paatelainen was sent to the stand by referee Iain Brines to complete a miserable night for Hibs and their fans.
Stevenson recalled: “I remember there being a cracking atmosphere at the game because Morton had brought a good crowd with them. We looked as if we were down and out with only ten minutes left but then Joe and Dean scored and we thought the game had swung in our favour, even more so when Steve put us in front for the first time in the game.
“Andy had got hurt at the end of the first half so David, who was only 19, was on the bench as Yves Ma-Kalambay was away at the Olympics in China playing for Belgium.”
Unsurprisingly, Stevenson will be the only survivor from that night when the teams meet again tomorrow, with Hibs desperate to get their first three Championship points on the board after that opening day shock defeat at Dumbarton.
There has, naturally, been a lot of hand-wringing at the club’s East Mains training ground this week as head coach Alan Stubbs has prepared his players for the visit of ex-Hibs manager Jim Duffy’s side, who immediately proved their are not going to be any pushover this season having stepped up a division as they marked the unfurling of the League One flag by fighting back to take a creditable point from Falkirk last week.
Stubbs made his displeasure at a below-par performance known straight after the game and again as his players were called in for training the following day. Stevenson, now playing under his eighth manager at the club, said: “You always know when the gaffer isn’t happy.
“Some shout, some are quiet but you know and we all knew he wasn’t at all happy. There again, we weren’t happy either. We knew we were not good enough on the day. We were in on the Sunday and again on Monday when he went through a few things we had done wrong and what we need to do.
“I honestly don’t think any of us knew what had happened during the game. We felt it could have gone either way, they didn’t have many shots on target although you have to give Willie Gibson credit for a great free-kick.
“I thought we controlled the game but we huffed and puffed a bit and while they defended well we didn’t create too many clear-cut chances.
“But we can’t dwell on it, we have to get out there tomorrow, turn in a performance more like ourselves and get the win.”
And Stevenson believes the reaction to Hibs unexpected defeat would probably have been an eye-opener for new boys John McGinn and Dan Carmichael who were among the substitutes last weekend, the ex-St Mirren midfielder making his debut as he replaced Scott Martin for the final half-hour.
The 27-year-old said: “Without being disrespectul I wouldn’t think St Mirren or Queen of the South would attract such headlines for a defeat like that so they were maybe a bit taken aback. But it also underlines that this is a big club with big expectations. It wasn’t nice for anyone, but it was a big wake-up call for all of us.”
Stevenson believes Stubbs will get the reaction he’s looking for, while insisting the on-going Scott Allan transfer saga had no bearing on events last weekend.
He said: “We’ve had a good week’s training, the tempo has been good and everyone is looking sharp. We want to get the win – that can often spark a run of good results – but we know Morton will give us a tough game.
“They’ve go that winning habit from last season when they’d have won the majority of their games to take the title and they’ll be hoping that momentum can help them gain a lot of points early on.
“But we are at home, we want to make up for last week and that’s all we’re focused on, nothing else.”