Rangers may have left with only a point to show for their efforts back in December, but Lewis Stevenson believes that was the best performance of any away side at Easter Road this season.
The Hibs defender expects more of the same tonight as Steven Gerrard’s side return intent on taking the points which will keep their faint hopes of stopping Old Firm rivals Celtic lifting an eighth successive Ladbrokes Premiership title.
However, Stevenson and his team-mates have their own reason for wanting that victory – one which would maintain new boss Paul Heckingbottom’s unbeaten run of league matches and help cement the top-six place those three wins over Hamilton, Dundee and St Johnstone has brought them.
In what has been, overall, a bitterly disappointing season for a team which took the fight for second place to the penultimate game a year ago, Stevenson admitted finishing in the top half would, at least, turn it into a half-decent campaign.
“Our priority right now is to get into the top six,” said the club’s longest-serving player. “A few weeks ago that looked unlikely, but with three wins we’ve given ourselves a good chance.
“There’s plenty of points to play for. I don’t want to put a figure on it, but we want to get a lot of points. Five wins would be nice, four maybe.”
That may look like a somewhat fanciful notion for a side which, prior to Heckingbottom arriving to take over from Neil Lennon, had won just three of their previous 17 league matches.
However, in his own defence, Stevenson could point out how in the space of just ten days in December, he and his team-mates turned that miserable record on its head by beating Celtic before drawing home and away against Rangers.
A no-scoring draw in Edinburgh was followed by another stalemate at Ibrox, Darren McGregor’s late header cancelling out an Alfredo Morelos strike in the first half to earn another precious point.
Stevenson said: “At Ibrox we deserved to draw, but I think it flattered us getting a draw here. Rangers were the better team. It was one of the best performances an away team has put on at Easter Road this season so we know it’s going to be tough tonight.”
Not surprisingly, Stevenson singled out 28-goal Morelos as Rangers’ greatest threat but, he insisted, there’s plenty of other dangerous players, not least the James Tavernier/Daniel Candeias combo he’s likely to face on the Ibrox side’s right flank.
He said: “Morelos has been good, he’s always a handful. He works hard for the team and his goals have been good. Some people maybe touch on the chances he misses, but he’s always there and, speaking to centre-backs, they don’t enjoy playing against him as he’s got a bit of everything.
“The manager has spoken about the fact Rangers are very strong attacking down the right. I’ve had a few battles against them in the past and they are two top quality players who can hurt you.
“Their delivery is very good so we will have to try and nullify it.”
Ryan Kent is another worry for Hibs, the on-loan Liverpool winger well known to Heckingbottom who had him at Barnsley for a season but, revealed Stevenson, the new head coach has his players well prepared for matches with video analysis at the forefront as he’s worked hard to instil as much of his philosophy and thoughts on the game as possible in a short period of time.
He said: “We have short meetings with a lot of information and it has been good. You can take a lot out of it. I wasn’t a big fan of watching myself back, but you can learn a lot from it defensively and shape-wise in attack.
“It does give you more options, lets you see the game from different areas of the pitch. As a defender, it’s maybe not as exciting seeing yourself make a tackle or a block than it is a striker scoring a goal.
“It’s not as interesting for defenders, but tactically it is very important and our video analysis team do a great job. Before it was only one person with a camera and you had to fast-forward or go back through everything. It was a bit stop-start, but now the meetings are short and sharp and you still get everything you need.”
To that end, the good and the bad from the Scottish Cup defeat by Celtic has been highlighted, Stevenson admitting: “We must focus on our ball retention and decision-making. We thought we had defended well in spells against Celtic but our final ball and decision making in the final third needs to be improved.
“It is hard when the other team has a lot of the ball so when you get it you need to make the most of it. Sometimes you feel you need to create chances as soon as you get it but our best spells came when we made four or five passes.”