Lewis: Previous games mean little in play-off

Lewis Stevenson scored a fantastic goal when Hibs won 2-0 at Ibrox in February
Lewis Stevenson scored a fantastic goal when Hibs won 2-0 at Ibrox in February
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The league table, it is said, never lies, the 36 games played in the Championship a true barometer of how a team has fared through an entire season rather than the snapshots 
provided by cup action.

As such, Hibs have proved to be a better side than Rangers, albeit by only three points after the dust had settled on the final day of action.

Alan Stubbs’ players could also look to the fact they’d beaten their rivals from Glasgow three times against the two won by Rangers – one of those being a Petrofac Training Cup tie in extra-time – as further proof of their superiority.

But the two clubs begin on level terms again tonight when they come face to face once more in the first leg of the Premiership play-off semi-final which will determine which of them will do battle with Motherwell for the right to play top-flight football next season.

“There are good omens there for us,” admitted Lewis Stevenson as he viewed the trip to Ibrox where he and his team-mates have already enjoyed two victories. “But it’s totally different, the play-offs are over two legs and, while the tie can’t be won tonight, you can definitely lose it.

“We have to give ourselves a good chance coming back to Easter Road on Saturday for the second leg.

“You want to have a fighting chance at home and, if we can take a good result from tonight, then we’ll be happy. We will, though, go out for a win. I don’t think we could go and play for a draw.”

Hibs, of course, go into the match having enjoyed an 18-day break between matches, six of which were spent training in the sun of southern Spain, while Rangers were negotiating their way past Queen of the South, just managing to do so on a 3-2 aggregate.

The differing preparations they’ve undertaken has split opinion, those who believe Rangers will enjoy a momentum having continued playing while others feel a period to recharge the batteries, rest aching limbs and give injured players the chance to recover gives Hibs a slight advantage.

However, although he insisted that was a question which can only be answered early on Saturday afternoon, Stevenson said: “We feel refreshed and there were a few bumps and bruises that have cleared up. We trained hard over in La Manga so we still have an edge to us. Playing week in, week out does take its toll but, while we worked hard, the aches and pains have gone and we are probably fitter now. It’s been a long wait to find our who we’d be playing. Obviously, we had one eye on it, but we focused on our own preparations for what we knew were going to be two hard games regardless of who we’d be facing.

“I don’t think we always felt it would be Rangers. Having played both them and Queen of the South we knew it was going to be close and that’s how it ended up.”

Some may also say Hibs have an advantage in that, come Saturday’s second leg, Rangers will have played three games in six days but, again, Stevenson believes it’s a case of “wait and see.” He said: “Three matches in less than a week is hard going after a long season and I’m sure it will take its toll but they are professional players. They’ll be fit and we’ll just have to wait and see how it affects them.

“Stuart McCall said the carrot is too big for anyone to feel tired either physically or mentally and he’s right. Tiredness goes out of the window when you’re trying to get across that line in big games like these.”

Rangers midfielder Haris Vuckic claimed after his side’s win over Queens that the fact they’d won last time out at Easter Road had swung the penduluum in favour of the Ibrox club, a view with which Stevenson disagreed.

The left back said: “We didn’t play well that day. Rangers were the better team. But we’d already beaten them 4-0 at home and Ibrox has also been a good place for us this season. We played well in the Petrofac Cup although we lost but went back there and won 3-1 and then 2-0. We didn’t play particularly well in the second of those games but two flashes of quality got us the goals.”

Stevenson scored the second of those, the 27-year-old volleying home a rare goal from Fraser Fyvie’s pass after Scott Allan had prised open the home defence, with Scott Robertson netting after Jason Cummings’ initial effort had been saved.

He said: “The likes of Scott, Fraser and Dylan McGeouch are the key which can open any defence. We have quality right through the team. Scott has been outstanding this season and they’ll have to watch out for him but we’ve got players who can pick passes and people who can score goals”

Hibs’ previous trips to Ibrox have been against a background of discontent, Rangers fans protesting inside and outside the ground with boycotts leading to much smaller crowds than in previous seasons. But Sunday’s gate of 48,000 against Queens was the biggest of the season so far and might be surpassed tonight although only 950 Hibs fans will be in attendance.

Stevenson, however, played down the part the crowd might play, saying: “To be honest, I don’t take any notice of it. Once you get out there you focus in on what’s happening on the pitch, not off it. Ibrox is a good place to play and even better when it is full but, as far, as I am concerned, the size of the crowd doesn’t make much difference.”

What is different, though, is the fact the tie will be settled over 180 minutes and not 90, something Stevenson admitted he and his team-mates will have to bear in mind regardless of how tonight pans out. He said: “We want to be on top of things, not to be making any rash decisions. But you have to bear in mind that while you want to win, there’s a second game to come.

“It’s been a long time coming, but now the boys are champing at the bit to get out on the pitch.”