Lewis Stevenson took in the sight of thousands of Hibs fans rocking Easter Road and declared: “This is how it should be.”
The irony of drawing the biggest home gate of the season for the relegation showdown with Dunfermline wasn’t lost on the little midfielder.
But even so, he insisted that attracting a crowd of 15,281 for the SPL’s penultimate game had opened the eyes of some of Pat Fenlon’s signings as to what might be achieved if the Hibs support can be reawakened.
As the club’s longest serving player Stevenson has, of course, enjoyed a measure of success in a green and white jersey – named man of the match as Hibs lifted the CIS Insurance Cup in 2007 – and has suffered as much as anyone as the Edinburgh club’s fortunes declined over the past couple of seasons.
Hibs’ slide has been reflected in dwindling gates, recent weeks seeing many fewer than 10,000 turn up – less than half the capacity of the new-look Easter Road – as Fenlon’s side battled against the drop into the First Division.
However, the demolition of Jim Jefferies’ Dunfermline was the first time many of his team-mates had seen the ground anywhere near full, a sight Stevenson hopes will help persuade a number of them to agree to extend their stay in Edinburgh over the summer.
He said: “Some of the boys, especially the loan guys, had never seen Easter Road like that. They couldn’t believe it although I remember the days when it used to be like that.
“Hopefully, if we can play as we did against Dunfermline, we’ll bring the supporters back.”
It may, though, take a bit more persuasion than a one-off victory over the SPL’s basement outfit, Stevenson admitting that if he was a supporter rather than a player, he’d have thought twice at times about heading for Easter Road.
He said: “It’s been quite a while since I’d seen our fans like that at Easter Road, but I don’t think you can blame them. If I was a fan I’d have been hard pushed to go every week as we players haven’t given them a lot to shout about.
“But we did on Monday night and the fans deserved a performance like that from us.”
If the home fans had turned up in numbers, they did so with more than a hint of trepidation, comforted by the fact Fenlon’s side were in the driving seat with their advantage over Dunfermline five points, but equally anxious not to be heading to Inverness this weekend still requiring something from the game to ensure SPL survival.
Those worries, though, were dispelled in a devastating opening 14 minutes in which Hibs found themselves three up with goals by Matt Doherty, Eoin Doyle and Garry O’Connor.
Paul Hanlon added a controversial fourth minutes from time to wrap up a memorable night.
Stevenson revealed Fenlon’s players perhaps showed fewer signs of concern than were evident in the stands, saying: “I think you could say there was a quiet nervousness. We were focused on the result. We knew a draw would be good enough and that perhaps took a bit of a weight off our shoulders. The pressure was probably more on Dunfermline as they had to win.
“But as soon as we ran out and saw how many fans had turned out and heard the noise they were making, that gave everyone an extra lift.
“I’d thought there would be a big crowd, but not as big as there was. We’ve had smaller crowds recently and I think some of the boys were a bit taken aback, as they weren’t expecting 15,000.
“But it just goes to show what a massive club this is and hopefully if some of the boys who are here on loan at the moment have the opportunity to stay then that will help persuade them.”
While Fenlon’s squad has, perhaps, been overloaded with players enjoying a temporary stay at Easter Road, brought in with the sole purpose of ensuring Hibs remained in the top flight, Stevenson was adamant all have played their part in achieving that goal.
There had, naturally, been a few misgivings in some quarters as to how committed such players might be, but Stevenson insisted: “Every single one of the lads who has come in has brought a different dimension to the squad. They’ve been good to have at the club.
“Sometimes you wonder just how we found ourselves in the position we did, but all teams go through this sort of thing. Just look at some of the big clubs in England who have gone down over the years.
“But we have managed to stay up and hopefully this will prove to be a blip in our history and next season we can be fighting at the other end of the table.”
Stevenson agreed with Fenlon’s confession of feeling a touch embarrassed by the reception his players received, having finished – barring a 3-0 victory at Inverness on Saturday – second bottom of the league.
But again, he argued, the celebrations as the players applauded the fans from the pitch after the final whistle were proof of the latent support which needs to be stirred into heading for Easter Road on a more regular basis.
And, he insisted, all eyes are now on giving them something to really celebrate as he and his team-mates can now turn their entire focus on Hampden on May 19 and that historic all-Edinburgh Scottish Cup final against arch-rivals Hearts.
Stevenson said: “Obviously we have to give our supporters something more to shout about than just finishing second bottom of the league. Hopefully we can do that at the end of next week.
“It’s a massive game for both clubs, but it’s been at the back of our minds as we’ve been focusing on staying up. We’ve done that so now it is a case of going to Inverness, doing a professional job up there and then start enjoying the build-up to the final.
“We are looking forward to it and if we can produce a repeat of the performance against Dunfermline, then we have a great chance.”