Stevenson: I’ve played in 30 derbies – anything can happen

Hibs players and fans rush to celebrate with Paul Hanlon after his dramatic late equaliser at Tynecastle last year

Hibs players and fans rush to celebrate with Paul Hanlon after his dramatic late equaliser at Tynecastle last year

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“It makes me feel more like 39 than 29,” jokes Lewis Stevenson as he learns Sunday’s Scottish Cup tie with Hearts will be his 31st Edinburgh derby.

The statistic, though, is just another indicator of Stevenson’s durability, already Hibs’ longest-serving player and one who is fast approaching 350 games in the green and white.

Lewis Stevenson's first derby was back in 2007

Lewis Stevenson's first derby was back in 2007

Down through the years the left-back has endured some lows – one too low to mention – and more than a few highs but, if one thing, those experiences have taught him is to simply 
expect the unexpected.

However, what makes the latest episode all the more intriguing is the fact Hibs go into it as the Scottish Cup holders, their victory over Rangers last May robbing the Jambos’ support of one of their most favourite taunts “since 1902”.

And Neil Lennon’s side also approach the game on the back of an unbeaten run of five matches against their most bitter rivals.

As far as Stevenson is concerned, however, all that counts for nought, insisting this fifth-round match will write its own episode in the history of such clashes.

“Stats are stats,” he claimed. “The past is gone and you have to focus on the future, what to do week in, week out.

“These are the best games to play in if you win and the worst if you are beaten. It doesn’t matter how you have played – the final scoreline dictates your emotions at the final whistle.

“There’s no middle ground. You are either on a real high or a real downer.”

However, there is little doubt Hibs left Tynecastle on a real high this time last year, Alan Stubbs’ players looking dead and buried as they trailed by two goals with only ten minutes remaining.

But goals from Jason Cummings and Paul Hanlon salvaged the situation before the striker went on to score in the replay against the club that had released him as a teenager, paving the way for that historic day at Hampden.

Stevenson, though, concedes that Hibs’ status as cup holders and the fact they’d beaten Hearts on the way will make Ian Cathro’s side all the more determined to hasten their exit although he admits to being a bit baffled at claims should the Gorgie side win they’d be “taking it back”.

Recalling how Hibs had done exactly the same to Hearts following their cup win of 2012, Stevenson said: “We won the cup last year and beat them on the way to doing so. They’ll want to get even but when we beat them after they’d won it. It was a separate occasion, it didn’t right any of the wrongs of what happened a few months earlier.

“The 2-2 draw at Tynecastle was probably the defining moment of last season but it didn’t win us the cup. We still had to go on to beat Inverness Caley – the holders at that point –, Dundee United and Rangers.

“But I felt we had played well that day even at 2-0 down and then we showed the character we had to fight for the draw and a replay.”

Stevenson admitted more of the same will be required against Cathro’s new-look Hearts, the pendulum having apparently swung in the Jambos’ favour given their recent resurgence with confidence-building victories over Rangers and Motherwell while Hibs go into the game on the back of a disappointing draw against Ayr United albeit they continue to lead the Championship table by six points.

He said: “When the draw was made, some people were saying we were favourites, we were flying and they were struggling a bit. They’ve picked up a bit recently while we had a poor result at the weekend which has levelled things a bit, probably brought a few people back to earth as they realise how tough it is going to be.

“We’re the cup holders and people will want to take our scalp. The monkey is off our back but, as I have said, last season is in the past.”

The change in mood is reflected in the odds being offered by the bookies with Hearts clear favourites but, to use a well-worn cliche, Stevenson insisted that on such occasions “the form book goes out the 
window”.

And to underline that statement he points to May 2009 when Hibs travelled to Tynecastle stripped of the services of the likes of Chris Hogg, Rob Jones, Sol Bamba, Denes Rosa, Colin Nish and Jonaton Johansson, resources stretched to the point then manager Mixu Paatelainen, out of necessity, was forced to populate his bench with untried younsters such as Blair Tolmie and Jordan Cropley.

Stevenson said: “I think everyone was expecting us to lose by at least four or five that night. We were totally written off.” 
A late Derek Riordan a penalty earned Hibs the win against all the odds, Stevenson pointing out: “That’s what happens in derbies. Hearts were probably a bit over-confident that night while we had nothing to lose.”

Although one or two of Stevenson’s team-mates will be tasting the atmosphere of an Edinburgh derby for the first time, most of them, including captain David Gray, Darren McGregor, Fraser Fyvie, John McGinn and Cummings, will have only those happy memories of last season. Stevenson insisted too that veteran striker Grant Holt will take such an occasion in his stride.

He said: “A good number of us have played in the derby while Hearts do have a fair few who haven’t. But, as far as I am concerned, it doesn’t matter how many or how few you have played in it’s what happens on the day.

“I honestly can’t remember much about my first one other than it came just a few days after we’d beaten Kilmarnock to win the League Cup and Hearts won it with a late goal from Marius Zaliukas.

“It was a typical derby, not much in it but I’d be lying if I were to say I can remember every detail.

“It’s two big clubs coming together, a massive occasion. Hearts having so many new players means we don’t know too much about them having not played against them before. But our backroom staff will have us as well prepared as we are for any game, they’ve come up with the videos for us to watch.

“Hearts will have done the same on us. I read Austin MacPhee (Cathro’s assistant) was at Easter Road last weekend but I don’t think he’d take much from it, he didn’t see us play as we can.

“However, sometimes it doesn’t matter how much preparation you do, it can all go out of the window when the game starts.

“It can come down to a piece of luck, a bit of individual magic or a catastrophic mistake. You have to deal with the pressure, you are looking for people to take any chances you create while trying to limit the number they get.”

Hibs make the short journey across the city, though, in a position few of their predecessors will have done for a good number of years, in having not lost in the last five while top scorer Cummings returns to a ground where he has scored five in his past four visits and has also been on the mark in his past four derbies.

Stevenson said: “It will be hard, but it’s a run we’d love to keep going. I’d love Jason to do it again, he’s been massive for us. But we have quality players throughout the squad so it isn’t just about Jason.”