From man of the match in Hibs’ winning League Cup final team to a peripheral figure in a struggling Easter Road side looking to negotiate a tricky first-round tie at Motherwell tonight – how Lewis Stevenson must hanker for a slice of his experience of the competition in bygone years.
Stevenson, who starred as Hibs swept past Kilmarnock in a 5-1 victory at Hampden in March 2007, has played in just three matches this season and has been substituted in each.
His last outing was a month ago but, typically of such a grounded player – who, boasting the longest unbroken service to Hibs of any of the current squad has experienced the ups and downs of life at the club – he remains confident a first-team chance will come around again soon.
“It’s natural to be frustrated when you’re not playing,” said Stevenson. “You still want the team to win, especially when we’re going through a time like this. I’m wanting the team to start winning. It would take a big weight off everyone’s shoulders, not just those who are playing, and give everyone confidence all the way through the camp.”
Stevenson admits to feeling a sense of dissatisfaction at both his current non-playing role and the lack of impact he feels he has made in his rare starts against Celtic, Inverness and Kilmarnock.
“If you work hard during the week and then you feel, ‘What’s the point?’ when you’re not doing anything at the weekend when it matters. It’s disappointing but I’ve been here plenty of times before so hopefully I can bounce back. There’s no point in me getting myself too down. I know if I work hard I can get myself back in the team.
“I played the first three games of the season so I can’t really say I haven’t been given my chance. Little ten-minute spells in the game are really letting me down and that’s what you remember, which is disappointing. You always think you could have done more, but, especially in the Celtic game, I felt like I couldn’t do anything right. You know you’re going to be remembered for that. The rest of the good you do in the game kind of goes out the window. I know what I’ve got to do and I know I don’t become a bad player after just a few games.”
With fans’ favourite Ivan Sproule playing in Stevenson’s familiar left flank position and scoring against Dunfermline three days ago, the diminutive former Scotland under-21 internationalist stresses he will play anywhere just to get on the pitch again.
“I’m happy to play anywhere. I felt I did alright, especially in pre-season, playing in midfield. But they changed the formation and you just have to accept it and hopefully, given my chance, I can take it. I’m not the kind of person who goes and knocks on the manager’s door, so we’ll just have to see what happens. If it’s time that he needs to tell me something, I’m sure he will. I just try and take everything in my stride – I’m pretty level-headed.”
Tomorrow will signal six years ago to the day that Stevenson made his Hibs debut in a League Cup win at Ayr United. Since then, he has posted more than 100 appearances in green and white, and he hopes the cup competition will have a similar “kick-start” effect on Hibs’ league form as it did on his career at Easter Road.
“Hopefully we can go into it with a nothing-to-lose attitude,” said Stevenson of tonight’s game. “I don’t think anyone’s expecting us to go there and get a result. I think we have to go there and enjoy it. With the pressure of the league, we don’t need that looming over us for this game. It’s just a one-off game and hopefully getting a good run in the cup can keep us going.”
Whether or not his chance to play will come tonight, Stevenson says he has benefited over the last few days from a new face at training – that of recent arrival Billy Brown as assistant to Colin Calderwood. It’s not as if the 23-year-old player requires a fresh pair of eyes to impress – his motivation to play is clear – but the presence of an additional figurehead, and one that has impressed players so much, is a welcome boost to Stevenson and the Hibs squad.
“Billy coming in has given everyone a lift, it’s changed things a bit,” said Stevenson. “Everyone wants to prove themselves to him. Even just a different voice around the training ground . . . and he gives us different angles. He’s a welcome addition, everyone’s happy, and he always comes in with a lot of enthusiasm. He has a great pedigree, so hopefully he’ll be good for the club.”
Calderwood will be the man who makes the final call on Stevenson’s first-team chances, though, and pulling out the stops in daily training is not sufficient, says the midfielder, to increase his chances of first-team action. The midfielder recognises that the crucial time comes when he is handed an on-field role in Hibs’ battle to rise up the SPL table. He accepts that in the likely event that opportunity does not arrive in the next three months he will have some thinking to do.
“It’s only been three weeks since I played,” he said. “But, if it came to Christmas and I still haven’t been playing, I’d start to worry. Most of your work’s done in training, but it’s games where it really matters and that’s where you make a name for yourself. I need to start doing it there. You can only do that if you’re given a chance, but there’s no point in my getting chances and not taking them. I’ve only got myself to blame.”
If Stevenson sounds a little downbeat at what he describes as his self-sustained downfall from regular senior football, his positive on-field energy and a spark of the type of all-action display he produced not so long ago as a wide-eyed 19-year-old in the League Cup final might just be what Hibs require when they begin their assault on the cup competition this evening.