Neil Lennon explained that the current Hibs squad is so strong that big-name players like Lewis Stevenson will always be at risk of dropping to the bench if standards dip.
The left-back has been an unused substitute for the last two games – 1-1 draws away to both Dundee and St Johnstone – after being among four players to lose their starting place on the back of last month’s 3-1 home defeat by Hamilton Accies. Efe Ambrose and Dylan McGeouch were the others to pay the price for that setback at Easter Road, while Danny Swanson, who was taken off after 56 minutes of a frustrating outing against Accies, missed the match at Dens Park through illness.
Stevenson’s omission from the starting line-up has been particularly notable as he has been deemed a first pick at left-back in recent years, with the long-serving 29-year-old starting every match for which he has been available over the past three seasons, apart from two games last term – against Turriff United and Raith Rovers – when Lennon chose to rest the majority of his main men.
Stevenson’s left-back slot has been filled by Steven Whittaker, the versatile Scotland internationalist who had taken captain David Gray’s place at right-back earlier in the season.
With regard to the demotion of two-time cup winner Stevenson, Lennon was keen to stress that Hibs will always have a stellar cast of substitutes because of the array of quality at his disposal.
“We’ve got a big squad and we’ve got to pick a team,” the manager told the Evening News. “With this squad, we’re always going to have big players on the bench. Dave Gray sat out the first couple of games and he’s come back fresh and ready to go. We’ve got good players in a lot of positions.
“I’ve got lots of good players and Lewy’s a very important player for us but we’re playing well defensively and the way we’re playing at the minute, there’s no need to change things too much.”
Underlining Lennon’s point, the bench at McDiarmid Park on Saturday included two of Hibs’ Scottish Cup-winning starting XI - Stevenson and McGeouch - as well as two Lithuania internationalists - Vykintas Slivka and Deivydas Matulevicius - and Swanson, who was Saints’ player of the year last season.
Liam Fontaine is expected to be among the substitutes for this Saturday’s home match against Motherwell after missing last weekend’s trip to Perth with a minor ankle injury.