After years of plugging gaps in the Hibs team, Lewis Stevenson believes he’s benefited from finally establishing himself as a left-back in recent seasons.
For much of the early part of his career at Easter Road, the 29-year-old struggled to command a regular position, with managers taking advantage of his versatility by playing him in central midfield, left midfield, left-back or even right-back.
However, after spending the past three years playing virtually every game under Alan Stubbs and Neil Lennon as a left-back or a left-wing-back, he now finally feels he can be pigeon-holed in this position. Stevenson believes that being given a chance to specialise in one role has allowed him to flourish and generate greater consistency in his peak years.
“I probably am a left-back now,” he said. “I find myself in midfield in training sometimes and look around and wonder what is going on. It is a long time since I have played in the middle. I think my performances at left back have been decent enough so I have not been asked to fill in elsewhere.
“It was good when I was younger and I was able to fill in at different positions but part of me felt like that’s all I was really doing – that I was just filling in until someone else got fit and got back. Holding down a place at one position has probably been best for my career.”
Stevenson has enjoyed developing into an all-round full-back, capable of defending diligently while also contributing to attack.
“You are a defender, that’s your job, but you have to bring a lot more to the game than that,” he said ahead of today’s match with Ross County in Dingwall. “There will be games when we play wingers and I don’t need to go forward as much, and other games where we play a tight midfield and I need to go forward.
“It’s pretty hard to be the all-round full-back, you need to have a bit of both. I think it helps to have seen the game from a different perspective by playing different positions in the past because I know what midfielders are trying to do.”
Despite being deemed Hibs’ first-choice left-back in recent years, Stevenson recently found himself in the unfamiliar position of being dropped to the substitutes’ bench for away matches against Dundee and St Johnstone after a slack display in last month’s home defeat by Hamilton Accies.
Aside from a couple of occasions when senior players were rested by Lennon last term, Stevenson hadn’t previously been left out of the starting XI when available for selection since Terry Butcher was in charge in the second half of the ill-fated 2013/14 campaign.
The left-back was thrilled to be back in his usual berth for the home games against Motherwell and Livingston over the past week, but typically philosophical about being dropped.
“I always want to play but sometimes you have to take a spell on the side and the boys played well against St Johnstone and Dundee so I had no qualms about being on the bench,” he said.
Needless to say, Stevenson, deemed the model professional at Hibs, was in no mood to chap Lennon’s door and demand an explanation for his recent omission from the team. “No, I’ve never done that with any manager I have had,” he said. “You do your work on the training ground and that’s where you try to get back into the team.
“I had no complaints about not being in the team. The manager had to make changes after the Hamilton game and it could have been any one of us. It is not like I was being dropped for just anyone, it was a Scotland international full-back (Steven Whittaker) who was coming in.”
Stevenson isn’t the only regular from recent seasons who has found his place under threat this term. Fellow Scottish Cup winners David Gray, Liam Fontaine and Dylan McGeouch have all had stints on the bench recently, underlining the depth of quality now available to Lennon.
“There’s competition for places all over the pitch,” said Stevenson. “The number of international players we have got shows the strength of the squad. We have two Scottish internationals, an Israeli international and two Lithuanian internationals. Efe Ambrose is on the brink of a Nigeria call-up as well and Paul Hanlon is probably not far away from a Scotland call-up.
“When I first came in (in the mid-Noughties) it was a strong squad but I think this is as strong as we have had.
“There is competition for places but the squad is only as strong as our performances at the weekend.”