Football players will tell you there’s a fine line between winning or losing any game, no matter who the opposition might be.
Little things count, moments that can turn a game one way or the other and, insists Hibs defender Lewis Stevenson, at present it’s those split-second incidents which have cost him and his team-mates dearly in recent weeks.
Take, for instance, the Dylan McGeouch thunderbolt which left St Mirren goalkeeper Jamie Langfield grasping thin air, only for the ball to crash back off the woodwork, the Irn-Bru Cup tie at that stage finely balanced at 1-1.
There were no excuses, of course, for the sloppy defending which gifted the Championship basement outfit victory but, mused Stevenson, how might the game have gone had McGeouch’s shot not been that crucial inch or two out?
Stevenson watched the entire 90 minutes from the bench, named as a substitute having missed the previous game against Dundee United after picking up a one-match ban after being sent off as Hibs drew 0-0 away to current league leaders Queen of the South eight days before.
He had no complaints at manager Neil Lennon’s decision, disappointed yet fully recognising that in his absence others had done well enough to hold their place in the team.
But, again, he could only reflect on what might have been, like any player shown a red card contending it was a harsh decision, adamant that had he and not Queens midfielder Dale Hilson gone over as they tussled for the ball he’d have been awarded the foul rather than a second yellow.
Pointing out it was only his second sending off – the other in Paisley more than four years ago – in a career which now spans 330 games in a green and white shirt, Stevenson said: “I felt if I’d fallen over rather than their player I would have got the free-kick.
“So it was disappointing to get the second yellow, but wee things like that going against you can have repercussions.
“The game was scoreless and that’s how it finished, but how might it have gone had we had all 11 men on for the final half-hour.
“And then it’s resulted in me missing a game and then losing my place. These things happen, but I had no complaints at the manager’s decision to put me on the bench for the Saints match. Jordon Forster had come in and done well against United while Paul Hanlon, who’d gone to left back, can probably play anywhere on the pitch and look comfortable.
“And, in any case, I don’t think my form had been as good as I wanted it to be so now it’s up to me to take the chance again when it comes.”
Stevenson will certainly hope that day is tomorrow when he returns to Kirkcaldy to face Raith Rovers in the final match of the first quarter of the season, seeking to end a run of four games without a win, one which started with a shock defeat by Ayr United, the Championship newcomers fighting back to snatch a 2-1 win but only after Marvin Bartley had been sent off, the Hibs midfielder’s red card rescinded a few days later but, by then, the damage had been done.
Stevenson said: “That’s another example of something going against us. We feel it could quite easily have been four wins but looking back we know we can do better.
“Perhaps games have changed by little things but we also know we haven’t been taking our chances and that there’s been a lack of concentration at times which have cost us.
“But we are still a point better off than we were at this stage last season and if we can win tomorrow, the last game of the first quarter, then I think we can say it’s been a decent start.
“The one thing about the St Mirren defeat was that it didn’t cost us anything in the league. Promotion is obviously the priority this season and anything else would be a bonus, but we did want to win the cup so it was disappointing to be knocked out.”
With Hearts and Rangers no longer in the Championship, Hibs have been made firm favourites for the title, although Stevenson contends the notion that Lennon’s players will run away from the rest is somewhat fanciful.
He said: “That expectation is always going to be there, we are the team everyone expects to win the league, but winning games is hard enough and the title even harder.
“It’s going to be tough so it’s up to us to knuckle down and get back to winning ways.
“We feel we’ve done enough to pick up more points than we have so far. Perhaps some might say we’ve passed up the chance in recent weeks not only to be out on our own at the top of the table but to put a bit of distance between ourselves and some other clubs.
“We’re disappointed, but we are sticking together and the best way to do that is by winning games again.”
If five straight wins heightened expectations – some even making what now seems a far-fetched suggestion that Hibs could negotiate the entire 36-game campaign unbeaten – it should be recalled the Capital outfit made a shaky start to last season only to embark on a stunning sequence of results which saw them lose only once in 28 games.
Admitting he’d dearly love to replicate that run, Stevenson insisted: “I think things have still to take shape.
“No-one has managed to get themselves on a good, long unbeaten run, we are all dropping points. Raith Rovers made a good start to the season but, like ourselves, have slipped a bit in recent weeks.
“But Stark’s Park is a hard place to go and we’ve had mixed results there. They’ve got a new management team in with Gary Locke and Darren Jackson and they’ll be looking to get some form back.
“Falkirk stuttered a bit at the beginning of the season but have picked up recently, but lost to Ayr in the Irn-Bru Cup.
“People look at games and say they should go this way or that, but once you are out there things can happen and it’s not always necessarily the better team that wins on the day.
“People tend to forget we’ve all got three times as many games as we’ve played so far to go. We’ll take each one of them as they come along, but knowing that if we win the majority of our games then, hopefully, we’ll realise our target of promotion.
“There’s still a long way to go and I don’t think you can start to see how things are panning out until we get to after Christmas.”