Hibs may be in the driving seat in the race to win the battle to avoid relegation, but midfield star Lewis Stevenson today insisted Pat Fenlon’s stars can’t afford to take their foot off the pedal.
The Easter Road outfit go into the final five “post split” matches with a seemingly comfortable seven-point advantage over basement outfit Dunfermline. Safety, though, as Stevenson insisted, has still to be assured.
To that end the Fife-born player steadfastly refused to enter into any sort of debate about the game which has had the whole of Scotland talking all week, next month’s historic all-Edinburgh Scottish Cup final when Hibs and Hearts will both head along the M8 to Hampden for what is being ranked as the biggest derby in the history of either Capital club.
Instead, Stevenson’s entire focus – or so he declared – is on tomorrow’s clash with Kilmarnock, the first of those fixtures which will decide Hibs’ fate.
Stevenson, who will go into the match having earned another year in a green-and-white shirt after his 30 appearances this season triggered a contract extension, is well aware that all most fans want to talk about is the showdown with Hearts but underlined his determination to ignore all the hype by revealing he’s happy to meet every request for a much-sought after ticket – so long as it’s for the Killie match.
And he’s certain that by kick-off supporters will share the resolve of Fenlon and his players to ensure Hibs will be enjoying SPL football next season before contemplating the big day out which awaits them on May 19.
He said: “First and foremost the most important game is tomorrow, the main priority being to survive and stay up. It was a great result against Aberdeen but by the start of the week it was forgotten about, the boys have all been pretty grounded and no-one has really talked about it.
“Perhaps it’s at the back of the mind, but we have a more important job to do in the League. In terms of the relegation battle we are in the driving seat but we cannot take our foot off the pedal. We must at least match Dunfermline’s results and take as many points as we can.”
Hibs fans will be hoping the relegation issue will be decided - in their club’s favour - before Jim Jefferies brings his side across the Forth at the beginning of next month but Stevenson, well aware strange results often occur at this stage of the season, refused to look even that far ahead.
He said: “We are seven points clear which is better than being seven points behind but we’ll take each game as it comes and at the moment our biggest match is tomorrow’s.”
Stevenson missed the semi-final triumph over Aberdeen, two yellow cards in previous rounds resulting in a one-match ban, leaving him hoping he can do enough to win his place in the team which lines up at Hampden, the little midfielder having earned himself the man-of-the-match award as Hibs swept Kilmarnock aside to lift the CIS Insurance Cup five years ago.
Admitting he found it tough to watch from the stand last weekend, Stevenson was, nevertheless, delighted to discover he’d played enough games this season to invoke a clause inserted in the one-year deal he signed last summer winning him a contract extension.
Twelve months ago his future looked less certain, the player having managed just 19 appearances last season under John Hughes and then Colin Calderwood. But since Fenlon took charge in November he’s become an ever-present, winning himself rave reviews from the Irishman who confessed to being delighted Stevenson will be at Easter Road for at least another year.
The player said: “I’ve been here my whole football career and enjoy it. To be honest, I didn’t realise I’d made the appearances required under the deal I’d signed. There were times in the past when I wasn’t playing and felt I might have to move on but it is strange how things can change in football - and I know they can change again. The one thing I know is it would have been hard to leave, Easter Road is the only place I have known, I enjoy being here and I cannot complain at all.
“The gaffer has given me a chance and he must feel I have taken it but I still know I have to try to perform every week because if I do not there are plenty waiting to come in.”