Lewis Stevenson hails return of 'Rolls-Royce' Joe Newell as Hibs captain speaks on Motherwell win and easing of injuries
and live on Freeview channel 276
But not even the 34-year-old Easter Road veteran was prepared for the rambunctious opening to his side’s Scottish Cup quarter-final victory over Motherwell on Sunday that saw one red card, two yellows, and Elias Melkersen’s first goal in green and white.
“It got off to a pretty frantic start – I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like it,” the stand-in captain said after the game.
"In the first half I thought we were doing everything well; we worked on rotations that hurt Motherwell and created a lot of good chances – probably more than we have in recent weeks.
"To lose that goal just before half time was a bit disappointing and it obviously had an effect on the second half.”
‘At least one red card was deserved’
The red card was shown to ‘Well defender Bevis Mugabi for a dangerous challenge on Josh Doig after just 49 seconds and Stevenson was one of the first on the scene to check on his protégé and, as skipper, have words with the referee.
"If you’re on the pitch you’re going to scream for it,” he insisted. “It was quite a bad one at the time and when you see it back but you have to be careful in this day and age.
"I think there was another one in that half that was just as bad [Jordan Roberts on Drey Wright] so maybe between the two of them a red card was deserved.”
The Hibs stalwart has seen his fair share of youngsters breaking into the first team but reckons the unpredictability behind Melkersen starting his first game since joining from Norwegian champions Bodø/Glimt gave the visitors an edge.
"He’s been great. He’s young, enthusiastic, still got a lot to learn but he was unbelievable and could have ended up with three or four in that first half,” Stevenson added.
"That youthful exuberance and positivity and also us being able to use him as a wildcard – Motherwell probably didn’t know what to expect and it maybe put the fear in them a little bit but they were two unbelievable finishes from him, the second was picture-perfect. He’s going to have a big future.”
The 19-year-old forward played a key role in Hibs looking much more dangerous in front of goal than they have done for quite some time. Eight shots on target out of 14 total attempts, 60 per cent possession to Motherwell’s 40, and nine corners backs that up.
Better in attack
Even Stevenson had an effort on goal shortly before Melkersen’s second, although home ‘keeper Liam Kelly wasn’t troubled too much by the long-distance effort. But the long-serving Hibee is cautiously optimistic that the first-half performance at Fir Park can be a benchmark for the remainder of the season.
Three of Hibs’ four subs were attacking players – Scott Allan, Christian Doidge, and Chris Mueller all entering the fray – while Shaun Maloney started with Ewan Henderson and Sylvester Jasper behind Melkersen, and Stevenson believes it had an impact on how Hibs played, although the man advantage certainly played a part in the opening 45.
"In Scotland, on the pitches, it is hard to play at times and we have to change our game up a wee bit but we still try to do the right things and always try to do what the gaffer says,” he explained.
"It’s worked in spells, but it’s probably been in the final third where we’ve struggled. Against Motherwell we looked a lot more threatening up top.
"We had a lot of attacking players on the pitch throughout the game – Chris and Scotty came on as subs, Sylvester and Ewan started, and Doidgey came on later for Elias.
"We could have done with the cushion in the second half that a third goal would have brought us but in the end we had to hang on and defend, which we’ve done pretty well recently.”
Newell motoring to fitness
Melkersen’s match-winning performance perhaps took some of the spotlight of Joe Newell, who returned in midfield for the first time since February 1 as Jake Doyle-Hayes missed out with a knock and despite having a heavily-bandaged knee, strolled the game in the middle of the park.
With Newell back in training along with Stevenson’s defensive colleague and pal Paul Hanlon, the defender is hopeful that having more bodies available for the run-in can help Hibs finish the season strongly.
There was a suggestion that the former Rotherham United man was brought back into action earlier than anticipated so to put in that type of performance won plaudits from the fans and his team-mates.
While Maloney has been effusive in his praise for the efforts of Campbell and Doyle-Hayes, who have been anchoring the midfield in the Englishman’s absence, Newell’s return to action added something in the middle of the park.
"You forget Joe was out for as long as he was. He’s a Rolls-Royce of a player, he’s got a bit of everything so he’s been a massive miss for us,” Stevenson agreed.
“We were really glad to have him back – obviously Jake missed out so it was a case of one in, one out – but Joe and Josh Campbell were amazing in the middle for us.
"Hopefully there will be a few more back soon and we’ll have a stronger squad going into the last bit of the season.”