Lewis STEVENSON has suffered a couple of bad breaks already this season and now he fears being hurt again when Hibs boss Pat Fenlon names his team for tomorrow’s clash with Kilmarnock.
Stevenson broke the big toe in his left foot in the first Edinburgh derby of the season, an injury which put him out of action for three weeks with the little midfielder returning for the last few minutes of Hibs’ dramatic fightback to claim a point at Celtic Park only to find himself idle again as the SPL was shutdown for the start of Scotland’s World Cup campaign.
Now Stevenson is fully fit again and desperate to play but having watched his team-mates clock up a run of four games unbeaten, one which has taken the Capital side to third place in the table, he admits he couldn’t blame Fenlon if he doesn’t make the starting XI.
He said: “I only got three minutes against Celtic and I didn’t even touch the ball so it’s something of a understatement to say I’m desperate to play. I was glad to get myself back involved in the squad that day but then the international break kicked in which has made the past fortnight pretty frustrating for me while the rest of the guys were looking forward to a few days off.
“The other side of the coin is that hopefully the break has allowed the toe to completely heal.”
If he should be involved tomorrow it would be Stevenson’s 150th appearance in a green and white shirt but he accepts that particular personal milestone is secondary to Hibs continuing their promising start to the season.
The club’s longest serving player despite still being only 24, Stevenson said: “I didn’t realise my next game would be my 150th. I think when I first joined the club I’d never have expected to play so many matches. It’s been almost like a dream to be a professional football player and to have played so often for a club of the size of Hibs, I’ve enjoyed every minute.
“It would be great to play tomorrow and hit that landmark but the boys have been playing well – the first half against St Mirren was probably the best I’ve seen us play in a long, long time – and they’ve put a promising run together.
“So I couldn’t really complain if the manager was to go with the same team tomorrow as played against Celtic, I know how these things work, I’ve been here before and all you can do is take a step back, wait for your next chance and hopefully take it when it comes along.”
Despite the pain of that broken toe, Stevenson played his part in Hibs’ comeback to take a point against Hearts in only the second game of the season, gritting his teeth as he sprayed a superb cross-field pass with his left foot for David Wotherspoon to play in Leigh Griffiths for the equalising goal.
He said: “I’d actually broken the toe a little earlier, I’d gone into a 50/50 tackle and jarred the toe. I thought I had done something at the time and although I was in agony I didn’t think it was a break. The pass to David was probably one of the best I’ve played but when we got in at half-time and I got the boot off the doctor said it looked like a break.
“But you don’t want to come off in any game and certainly not in a derby. I took a few painkillers and tried to give it a go in the second half but every step was so painful I had to come off.”
While adamant it is still too early in the season to start making judgments, Stevenson feels that at least Fenlon’s players have shown anyone who felt they might be easy-pickings again given their flirtation with relegation last season, that isn’t going to be the case.
He said: “I think after ten games you can begin to decide what sort of start you have made to the season and this is a hard league in which I feel every team is capable of beating each other.
“The one thing we have shown, though, is that we are no longer a soft touch. The manager has brought in a number of new players and they have all done well.”
Tomorrow’s match is followed by a visit from Inverness Caley and although he insisted no-one at Hibs was taking anything for granted, Stevenson revealed he and his team-mates were looking at successive home games as an opportunity to build upon recent achievements while remembering only two SPL games were won at Easter Road last season.
He said: “That was a dreadful record but we’ve drawn with Hearts, defeated St Johnstone here and also did well against a good Huddersfield Town side which means we are unbeaten at home so far.
“We are looking to build confidence and we have given ourselves a bit of a platform with our recent results and having two games at home gives us a chance to do exactly that. There’s a bit of a buzz about the place again, not just in training but when you meet fans who seem to be in a positive mood again.”
Having seemingly been a bit of a peripheral figure under previous managers John Hughes and Colin Calderwood – he’d played only 31 times in the two years prior to last season – Stevenson’s career has enjoyed something of a revival since the arrival of Fenlon last November, the Fife-born player making 25 appearances as the new manager rebuilt his team.
It was a run of appearances which triggered a clause in Stevenson’s contract guaranteeing another year at the club where he made his debut in 2005. He said: “The manager has shown great faith in me. He’s been great to work with and when given the chance it’s up to me to prove him right and hopefully I’ll get that opportunity again tomorrow.”