Lewis Stevenson senses that everything is going in Hibs’ favour at the moment. It is a welcome feeling for a player who, in previous years, has experienced the opposite side of the coin more often than he’d care to remember.
However, the ever candid left-back acknowledges that his rampant side can’t continue to rely on good fortune coming their way and must swiftly rediscover their poise if they are to maintain their remarkable 17-match unbeaten run against Rangers at Ibrox on Monday.
Stevenson admits his side haven’t been at their best of late, particularly in last Saturday’s 1-0 victory over Queen of the South when they scraped a contentious stoppage-time winner. This fortuitous triumph came just a week after nine-man Hibs somehow salvaged a battling point against Falkirk courtesy of a last-gasp Martin Boyle equaliser. These rousing results coincided with title rivals Rangers suffering a couple of demoralising setbacks against Morton and Falkirk. In between times, the feeling that the tide is with Hibs was further strengthened by the fact they were, surprisingly in the eyes of many, successful in appealing John McGinn’s red card against the Bairns, meaning the key midfielder is now available for Monday’s cataclysmic showdown between the division’s joint leaders at Ibrox.
“The two games against Falkirk and Queens could have gone totally differently,” said Stevenson. “We could easily have taken just one point instead of four. It’s mad how it’s worked out for us. Things are going for us at the moment but we need to start playing a bit better. If we play like we did on Saturday against Rangers, it won’t be good enough.
“I don’t know if knowing what happened to Rangers [at Falkirk] affected us but we certainly didn’t play well. It was the worst we’d played in a while, but we got the win, which is the most important thing. I’ve been on the other end of things when things are not going for you and it seems like wee decisions go against you but right now things are going for us.
“Two years ago in the play-off final [against Hamilton], we lost a goal with 30 seconds left. Now we seem to be scoring important late goals. It’s a stark contrast. You can’t put your finger on why it is, but it does seem that teams at the bottom of the league don’t get the same luck as teams at the top. It probably comes down to the old cliche that you make your own luck if you keep doing the right things, which is what we’re doing just now.”
The feeling that Hibs are a team with momentum under Alan Stubbs has ensured a positive vibe around Easter Road. “It’s a good place to be,” he said. “There have been times at Easter Road when you’ve been worried about running out and you’ve had the weight of the world on your shoulders, but now it’s a good lift you get. The fans stick with you right to the end now, as they did on Saturday when we weren’t playing well. Week in, week out, they’re supporting us now. It can sometimes be hard for them to watch us trying to break down teams in home games and although they do sometimes get frustrated, they generally stick with us. It makes a massive difference.”
Stevenson admitted it was hard to stay entirely focused on the Queens game on Saturday when he and his team-mates knew that Rangers were struggling at Falkirk in the day’s lunchtime kick-off. “The gaffer was watching the Rangers game in his room,” he said. “He was trying to keep the door shut because we had a game to focus on. You try to do that, but you still have a wee look and see what’s happening. When he came out, Rangers had just missed the penalty and he looked like he’d been through the wringer. He kept us calm though and he basically told us we had a big chance to put the pressure on. We weren’t celebrating or that. We had a big game to focus on and it would have been the biggest sin if we’d been celebrating the Rangers score and we didn’t win our own game.”
Having taken care of business last weekend, Stevenson is determined to keep the pressure on a Rangers team who have seen an 11-point advantage wiped out in just two months. Victory on Monday would take Hibs to the summit for the first time this season, although Stevenson insists that whoever wins on Sunday won’t necessarily go on to win the league.
“I don’t know how Rangers will be feeling,” he said. “They’re still top of the league so they might have taken that at the start of the season. Monday’s game won’t define the season. It’s just three points, bragging rights and a confidence boost for whoever wins but it won’t decide the title. It’ll be January, February, March and April when the results will really matter. They’re our direct rivals, so Monday’s game will have an impact, but we can’t get too hung up about it being the be all and end all, or that’s when nerves start to take over.”
Stevenson is as determined as anyone in the Hibs camp to win promotion this season as he feels he has a point to prove. “I said when we got relegated that I wanted to be here when we went back up,” he explained. “That was the lowest moment of my career, but I want to be remembered here for the right reasons – not for getting relegated.”
Stevenson is in a good place right now, both mentally and physically. He told the Evening News last season that he had never felt fitter than under the current managerial regime. It is notable when speaking to him now that he appears to have bulked up further, although, in typically self-deprecating fashion, he initially jokes that this is simply due to the fact he is wearing an extra-tight training T-shirt.
“I live my life a bit better now, eat better and generally do the things a professional footballer is supposed to do,” he explained. “I wish I’d done those things ten years ago. The manager and fitness coaches have had a massive impact on me – I feel a lot fitter. If I could give advice to a youngster coming through it would be about looking after yourself better. Through the years, you learn things. I know things now I didn’t know ten years ago. It’s just basic things I’ve cut out, but the main thing has been having the self-discipline to actually do it. Everybody here’s a lot fitter than in the past and it shows with the amount of late goals we’ve scored.”
The only slight fly in the ointment for Stevenson of late has been the fact that, as a result of the Forth Road Bridge closure, he has been unable to drive to work from his Fife home.
“It’s been busy on the trains – I can’t get near a seat – but I’m only on it for 20 minutes then Paul Hanlon picks me up at South Gyle Station,” he said. “I don’t get recognised on the trains – I don’t think anyone in Fife knows who I am. It’s actually been okay, I might keep doing it even when the bridge reopens.”