Lewis Stevenson has no concerns about Hibs being afflicted by fatigue during their gruelling April schedule as he believes the standard of care the players receive at East Mains between matches will keep them in prime condition.
The Easter Road side will play every weekend and midweek until the end of the month, and this sequence may continue into May depending if they reach the Scottish Cup final and which round of the play-offs they end up entering. Hibs have already played 40 competitive matches this season, raising concerns over whether they will be able to cope with such a heavy run of games, but Stevenson is adamant that the players will be able to take the physical challenge in their stride.
“I wouldn’t say it’s daunting,” said the left-back. “It’s just a football match you’re playing at the end of the day. You try not to think about the run too much but the games will come round thick and fast so you don’t get much chance to dwell on what’s happening.
“When you’ve got all these games, it kind of takes over your life. We’ll probably be in every day for a month straight so my missus will probably have to find a new man for April! But if we win all the games and get what we want from it, it could be the best time ever.”
Stevenson has started all bar one of his side’s matches so far but insists he still feels fresh for the run-in. “I feel fine,” he said. “The management, the medical staff and the sports science people look after you. It’s not like old school where you’re running up and down hills for fitness. There’s a lot of science behind it. We’re always monitored to see how we’re doing. The manager knows when to give us a hard session and when to make it lighter. The games are the most important thing just now [fitness-wise]. We’ve done most of our groundwork in pre-season and at the start of the season and now it’s just a matter of ticking over.
“Sometimes before a game I might feel more tired than before another game earlier in the season but during a game adrenalin just takes over. I’ll probably feel just the same in the St Mirren game this weekend as I do in the last of this nine-game run we’ve got coming up. We prepare right and our diet and stuff is a lot better now. It’s just a mindset thing you have to deal with. As soon as the game starts you’re fine.”
Stevenson, 28, admits he feels the effects of a match the following day more than he used to as a youngster but explained that the recovery work undertaken at the training ground soon has him fighting fit again. “When you’re a young kid you can play a full game on a Saturday and then go again on Sunday for your school or boys club or whatever,” he said. “It gets harder as you get older though. When I was a young player, I never used to feel tired and when we were doing ice baths and stuff like that I’d be thinking ‘why are we doing this? I feel like I could go and play another game.’ But now I’m 28, the day after a game it definitely takes its toll.
“The recovery the day after a game is really important now so we’ll be in all the time. We do the ice baths, contrast baths, a lot of stretching and massage. Sometimes you feel like you’re coming in for a spa day. We also do a spin class. It seems quite easy but it does make a big difference. There’s method behind everything we do.”
In order to get through the nine games this month, the players will be allowed to stock up on carbohydrates. “When there’s so many games it gives you a license to fill your body – as long as it’s the right stuff obviously – because you’ll burn off a lot of calories,” said Stevenson. “At this time of the season you need to fuel your body so you can eat pretty much as much as you want because you burn off a lot of energy.”
Rangers could win the Championship title if they defeat Raith Rovers today and Hibs fail to win at St Mirren. Having been close to the Ibrox side until an unforeseen four-game losing streak before the international break, the Easter Road side are determined to at least prolong their rivals’ party for another few days.
“They’re going to win it unless there’s a drastic change, but we don’t want to lie down and gift them it this weekend,” said Stevenson. “We want to take it as far as we can. Overall this season they’ve deserved it. Second’s our aim now.
“We finished second last year and it didn’t work out well for us [in the play-offs] but you always want to finish as high in the league as possible because the league’s your bread and butter. If you want to get promoted, I think playing four games would make a difference compared to six, especially given the run of games we’ve got coming up this month. We’ve not got the biggest squad and we’ve been hampered a bit by injury so when we get to the play-offs, the less games the better.”