Don't write off Lewis Stevenson at Hibs yet - this legend still has so much to offer despite emergence of Josh Doig

Stalwart could be key for Hibs this season
Lewis Stevenson puts in the hard yards at East MainsLewis Stevenson puts in the hard yards at East Mains
Lewis Stevenson puts in the hard yards at East Mains

Callum Crane. Miquel Nelom. Faycal Rherras. Callum Booth. Sean Mackie to a certain extent. Steven Whittaker, even.

Lewis Stevenson has seen off plenty of competition for his favoured left-back berth in the last seven years or so, which is why the decision made by head coach Jack Ross to start 18-year-old Josh Doig in the left wing-back position for the opening game of the season against Kilmarnock last weekend set tongues wagging that the torch is being passed.

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Despite appearances to the contrary, Stevenson won't last forever at left-back and with the unassuming Fifer turning 33 in January, it makes sense for Hibs to start planning for the future and choosing an heir apparent in Doig suggests that the process is already under way.

Stevenson battles for the ball with Celtic's Jeremie FrimpongStevenson battles for the ball with Celtic's Jeremie Frimpong
Stevenson battles for the ball with Celtic's Jeremie Frimpong

If Stevenson’s iron grip on the left-back spot at Hibs is starting to loosen, the cameo against Kilmarnock as the side reverted to a 4-4-2 showed that he still has plenty to offer this season.

In 20 minutes on the pitch he kept Chris Burke quiet and threw himself in front of a Rory McKenzie shot to preserve Hibs' lead and ultimately ensure the three points.

If he’d managed to register an assist it would have been his whole Easter Road career in microcosm. Committed, hard-working, uncompromising.

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While plenty has been said about Doig's promise and his showing against Kilmarnock, Jack Ross could very well shake up his tactics for the second match of the campaign, dispensing with the 3-5-2 formation deployed against Kilmarnock and opting for a flat 4-4-2 or a 4-2-3-1 set-up when his side travels to Livingston this weekend.

There's every chance that Stevenson - who could reach 500 appearances in a Hibs shirt this season - will get the nod for certain games this season, starting with Saturday’s match.

The Tony Macaroni Arena has proved a sticky away ground for Hibs in the past few years. The Lions ran out 2-0 winners during the Capital club's last trip to West Lothian and previous matches have been tight, cagey affairs, often settled by a single goal either way.

Stevenson would be a natural pick for the left-back slot in a back four for a couple of reasons: he's faced Livingston before and has an idea of how they'll play under Gary Holt, and he's familiar with many of their starting XI. He's also played on the artificial turf at the Tony Macaroni Arena and as a result will be better placed to judge the speed of the ball and the bounce, among other things.

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Doig is undeniably talented but Hibs may want to ease him into action in order to get the best out of him rather than expecting too much from him too soon. Stevenson is also serving as a mentor to the teenage full-back, having first-hand experience of being parachuted into the first team at a young age.

There will be few players better placed to introduce Doig to first-team football and the expectations from fans and management alike than Stevenson.

In his Hibs career, 16 coaches - permanent or caretaker - have picked him. Not always at left-back; occasionally at right-back, left midfield, right midfield or defensive midfield.

It was telling last season that, having missed much of pre-season with an injury, he was rushed back to action. He had become so important to Hibs.

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While Stevenson has had better seasons, it speaks volumes that he was perceived as the best option at left-back despite there being several alternative options through personnel or formation.

In 34 games in all competitions last term Stevenson failed to register a single goal or assist; his first "blank" since the 2009/10 season when he played just 13 games.

While the evergreen left-back undoubtedly enjoyed his peak years under Alan Stubbs and Neil Lennon - seven goals and 29 assists in four seasons is a very decent return for a left-back and many of them came against current top-flight clubs such as Dundee United, Livingston, and Rangers - with a full pre-season under his belt he will still be a key member of the squad this season.

Time will tell if he can continue to contribute in an attacking sense, but a lot will hinge on how Jack Ross structures his team when he elects to start Stevenson.

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Ross has already shown his tactical nous with three formation changes during the opening-day win against Kilmarnock and his decision to bring Doig off for Stevenson when the youngster was tiring.

Hibs may be best served this season by Doig operating in games where more of an attacking threat is required and the back-three can take care of defensive duties, while Stevenson could deputise when wiser heads and a more defensive strategy are required.

Either way, Stevenson is a long way from the finishing line at Hibs. Given his legendary status of winning both the Scottish and League Cup, his work ethic, his approach to teamwork, his experience, and his mentoring of Doig, fans should be delighted to hear it.

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