Lewis STEVENSON today revealed how a clear-the-air meeting in the wake of Hibs’ dismal performance against St Johnstone has kick-started the Easter Road club’s season and allowed the players to start enjoying their football once again.
Manager Pat Fenlon called his squad together only hours after they’d been “bossed and bullied” by the Saints as they crashed to a 3-1 defeat earlier this month, giving each of them a chance to speak their mind.
And the showdown appears to have worked with Fenlon’s players having picked up four points from tricky away matches against St Mirren and Dundee United, only denied the maximum six by a dodgy late penalty call by referee Alan Muir at Tannadice on Sunday.
Now Fenlon has called on his players to make those results count with victory in tonight’s clash with Kilmarnock – their first home game since the Saints debacle – as they seek to cement their place in the SPL’s top six.
The defeat by St Johnstone came at the end of a run of nine league matches without a win although the cut-throat nature of this season’s SPL means Hibs remain sixth and within sight of second place despite that dismal record.
Now, though, Stevenson believes he and his team-mates can approach the remainder of the season with renewed confidence and belief, starting with the visit of Kilmarnock tonight, the first game in a double header against the Rugby Park club which concludes on Sunday when the teams meet again in Ayrshire vying for a place in the semi-finals of the William Hill Scottish Cup.
Stevenson, Hibs’ longest- serving player, said: “We’ve played well against both St Mirren and Dundee United and playing well helps as it gives everyone a boost, a bit of confidence and let’s us play with a smile on our face.
“We knew we hadn’t been good enough against St Johnstone but since then we have been a different Hibs.
“We had a chat after the game, the manager brought us in the next day, told us we had been brilliant for him but we couldn’t just stop now when it matters.
“He said we’d given ourselves a good platform but it would mean nothing if we fell away. We had to roll our sleeves up, that every game was a cup final.
“Everyone had their say. A few of the boys said their thing, things were brought out into the open that had been at the back of people’s minds and it’s been good ever since.”
Exactly what was said will remain between Fenlon, his players and the four walls of the dressing-room but Stevenson admitted the talks had “cleared the air”, adding: “I think everyone relaxed, having said their bit. I didn’t say much myself but the manager said we should be trying to enjoy games as much as we could whereas I think there had been a few games we’d all looked a bit nervous and stressed.
“It was a good chat and hopefully it will stand us in good stead as the last couple of games have been a lot better.”
Stevenson laughed as he trotted out that old football cliché of every game being a cup final but with games rapidly running out before the SPL split, every match is taking on that demeanour with virtually every side in the league battling to clinch their place in the top six.
Such a finish looked assured for Hibs not so long ago as they sat second and briefly flirted with the very summit following the remarkable transformation Fenlon had engineered in the opening few months of the season. But their disappointing run of results means the prospect of a top-six berth remains in the balance – as it does for each and every one of their rivals.
Stevenson added: “We’ve taken four points from two difficult away games but now it is important that we kick on.
“At the start of the season our home form was great but that tailed off a bit. We need to get it back and if we do then we will be pushing for the top six.
“It’s a strange league, though. It’s up and down, up and down.
“You’ll stay up there if you win and a lot of teams have been going on good runs so we have to try to stick with them.”
To that end, Stevenson insisted Fenlon’s players can’t allow their thoughts to drift to Sunday’s cup clash with Killie until the final whistle sounds tonight, adamant that both games are as important as each other to Hibs’ ambitions.
He said: “I’ve been asked if I had a choice of which one I’d like to win, but I don’t want to think about losing either of them – I want to win both.
“We’ve been in this position a couple of times playing the same team twice in quick succession. Sunday is massive but the league game is probably just as big a match.
“We’ll focus on tonight and then the cup game will take care of itself.
“And to be honest, they are two totally different games. Our team can change, their team can change. Formations can change. One is at home, the other is away.”