Ian Murray: Why Hibs can rely on Lewis Stevenson

Terry Butcher passes instructions on to Lewis Stevenson
Terry Butcher passes instructions on to Lewis Stevenson
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Lewis Stevenson’s emergence as a rampant wide-left player has perhaps been the most symbolic aspect of Hibs’ revival under Terry Butcher.

Since earning his first real shot in the first team under John Collins some seven years ago – he was given sporadic outings by Tony Mowbray – the ever-reliable 26-year-old has quietly gone about his business, plugging gaps in the team, bouncing back from setbacks with admirable resilience and generally winning over most of the seven managers he has worked under.

Stevenson was named Hibs’ player of the year in the underwhelming 2011/12 season, but only now, after being unshackled by Butcher, is he really starting to receive the type of fanfare and widespread appreciation he was afforded in the wake of his man-of-the-match display as a 19-year-old in the 2007 League Cup final demolition of Kilmarnock.

“You have to respect Lewis for what he’s done,” said Ian Murray, who spent four-and-a-half years as a team-mate of Stevenson’s at Easter Road. “To play under so many managers and keep his place in the squad speaks volumes for him. It’s taken him a while to get a run of games, but I think he suffered because of the managerial changes and also the fact he’s had to play in so many different positions.

“Some fans maybe didn’t appreciate him enough, but fans will only see Lewis once or twice a week on a matchday, while managers and team-mates see him every day, and Lewis is one those players that you want in your squad. He never causes any problems, he never questions managers’ decisions and he takes things on the chin, but when he gets his chance, regardless of how long he’s been out, he generally takes it.

“I remember Pat Fenlon made him captain for one game and I think Lewis would have felt a bit uncomfortable with that because he’s a quiet boy. Sometimes that kind of personality can be mistaken for not being mentally strong, but I think the way he’s gone about things over the past seven years or so shows that his mental strength is fantastic. He’s got a quiet determination about him.

“He’s renowned for his workrate, his versatility and his aggression in pressing the ball, but that shouldn’t overshadow the fact he’s a very good player as well. He’s a good passer and he can deliver a great cross. He might be all left foot, but he rarely gives the ball away. He’s a manager’s dream.”

Butcher is the latest Easter Road boss to be wooed by Stevenson’s qualities. The Kirkcaldy-born player, who had been operating at right-back in the latter days of Fenlon’s reign, was a surprise starter at left midfield in Butcher’s first game in charge at St Mirren in November and he hasn’t looked back. He almost brought the house down at Easter Road a week past Sunday when he scored only the second goal of his professional career against Kilmarnock and then he did further damage to the opposition in the following match when he won a crucial penalty against Hearts.

“Terry and Mo [Malpas] have obviously come in and given him a lot of confidence,” said Murray. “They like players like Lewis, who they know are going to work hard. You saw his value when he won the penalty against Hearts last week. He probably took the wrong option when he tried to take the man on because it was never on, but he never gave up on it and kept going until the boy [Jordan McGhee] brought him down. Hopefully, he goes from strength to strength and continues to play week in, week out, but it will be difficult because Terry will bring in his own new faces. Having been part of the squad that’s rejuvenated Hibs of late, Terry will always have a soft spot for Lewis, which should stand him in good stead long term.”

Stevenson has spent the bulk of his career flitting between the full-back positions and midfield, but Murray, himself a versatile player before becoming manager of Dumbarton, saw his old colleague predominantly as a midfielder.

“I always felt his best position was central or left midfield,” he said of the 5ft 7in player. “For me, his ideal position is in a three-man central midfield.

“He has always done quite well at left-back, but his lack of height is a concern there because I know if I was playing against Hibs I’d be telling my keeper to kick the ball to his side. No matter how good a footballer you are, if you’re small, you’ll get targeted for high balls. I wouldn’t have had him at right-back for the same reason. It looks like he’s managed to find himself a position in left midfield and he’ll do a job there.

“Lewis is never going to dribble and jink past people like a typical winger, but if you want a ‘steady Eddie’ who can stop the opposition from playing, keep the ball and maybe score a goal or two and set up a few, then he’s ideal. Every manager in the league would be crying out for a player like Lewis because of all the positions he can play.”

Along with Paul Hanlon, Stevenson is one of the few players to come through the ranks and establish themselves in Hibs’ first team since the much-feted golden generation emerged around a decade ago. Without the box-office appeal of illustrious predecessors like Derek Riordan, Scott Brown and Garry O’Connor, Stevenson’s main quality has arguably been his staying power.

“There haven’t been too many players who have come through the ranks and established themselves at Hibs since the Tony Mowbray years, but Lewis has been one of them,” said Murray. “John Collins liked him and gave him his debut, then Mixu Paatelainen came in and he probably wasn’t a Mixu type of player, but he still hung in there because the manager knew he could rely on him.

“It was much the same under John Hughes, but then Pat Fenlon really took a shine to him and it looks like Terry Butcher is doing the same.”