Hibs’ last meeting with Cowdenbeath offered Alan Stubbs’ side a little solace, Jason Cummings’ last-gasp winner highly welcome, coming, as it did, sandwiched between defeats by Alloa Athletic and Queen of the South.
Jimmy Nicholl’s players will no doubt take confidence from that afternoon’s performance as they prepare to face the Capital outfit for a second time – but today Easter Road star Lewis Stevenson insisted the Blue Brazil will find Hibs a totally different proposition two months on.
Gone is that early-season uncertainty with Hibs having finally, it seems, found their feet, their only defeat in their last seven matches being a sudden-death League Cup penalty shoot-out loss against Dundee United, the team that has since taken over as Scottish Premiership’s leading club.
But Stevenson is under no illusions that if he and his team-mates are to maintain their current impressive run of form then they have to treat tomorrow’s clash in the inhospitable surroundings of Central Park in exactly the same way as they did their previous two games, that epic 120 minutes against United and the second Edinburgh derby of the season in which it took a stunning strike from Hearts defender Alim Ozturk to deny them victory.
Their efforts in those two matches may have earned them scant reward, but the transformation which has taken place over the course of the past few weeks didn’t go unnoticed by the Hibs support who awarded them standing ovations in stark contrast to the reception they’d been accorded on too many occasions over previous couple of seasons.
Like Stubbs’ players, the fans appear to have bought into the new head coach’s way of thinking, the brand of football they’re witnessing far more pleasing on the eye than in the recent past although, Stevenson argued, victory tomorrow far outweighs the need for a swashbuckling display.
He said: “I think the fans are starting to believe in the team. They see we are going in the right direction and the last few games at Easter Road have been really enjoyable to play in.
“That’s the way it should be at home, but the fans haven’t had much to cheer about. They’ve been frustrated and so we’re glad it’s slowly turning. Hopefully we can keep them onside as they have a big part to play.”
Although Hibs trail Championship leaders Hearts by 14 points, Stubbs has steadfastly maintained that nothing has been won or lost as yet, adamant judgment should be reserved for the dying weeks of the season, a view shared by Stevenson who said: “We are disappointed we did not kick on earlier in the season but now everything is in place. We’ve played every team in the league, we know what we are up against and we are quietly confident.
“That’s been growing week-on-week and despite being disappointed against both Hearts and Dundee United I think we’ve taken a lot from those games. It took a wonder goal to stop us beating Hearts and then you could hardly distinguish which was the team at the top of the Premiership and the one in the Championship.
“By all accounts it was a great game to watch, but it was hard work to play in. It was one of those games you were just hoping the tempo would slow at some point but it never did. We’re in a good run of form, seven unbeaten if you lay aside that penalty shoot-out. There’s been a few draws we’d like to have turned into wins, but I am sure if we keep playing the way we are then there’s every chance we can do that.
“If you have expectations of finishing high up the table then you have to be winning games, not just at home, but away as well, no matter where it is.”
And to that end Stevenson insisted the unfamiliar environment in which he and his team-mates will find themselves tomorrow – a narrow, tight pitch surrounded by a stock car race track – will have no bearing.
As one of the few Hibs players who has first-hand experience of Central Park, part of the Easter Road side which survived a hard-fought Scottish Cup tie on the Fife ground three years ago, Stevenson said: “You have to play on a lot of different grounds so it doesn’t bother me at all.
“I played boys’ club football there when I was a young boy and living not too far away I used to go to watch Cowdenbeath play from time to time. Yes, it’s different, but once you are out there on the pitch you don’t concern yourself with what’s around you.
“The pitch is smaller than Easter Road, but it’s a good surface and we know that Cowdenbeath area a good side. They did well against us at Easter Road a couple of months ago, they sat back a bit into he first half but had a go in the second and caused us some problems.
“They’ve got decent players. It will be a tough game, but we are on a decent run and want to keep that going. We’ve earned a lot of plaudits from our performances against Hearts and Dundee United, but we didn’t get as great a reward from those games as we would have liked so tomorrow I’d happily settle for taking the three points at the expense of a great display.
“It would be nice to enjoy both, but we’d take the win any day of the week.”