Lewis Stevenson has insisted none of Neil Lennon’s players will be fooled into a false sense of security by the memory of their last visit to Rugby Park as they head for Kilmarnock today.
On the face of it the 3-0 scoreline looks as if it was a comfortable victory that night at the end of October for the Easter Road side.
But, admitted Stevenson, that bald statistic in no way tells the true story of those 90 minutes, Hibs ahead thanks to an early John McGinn header but grateful to both goalkeeper Ofir Marciano and the woodwork for preserving that lead until Simon Murray struck to allow them to breath that bit easier before Martin Boyle applied a touch of gloss to the finish with a third goal in the final minute.
“If it had finished 4-3 to Kilmarnock we couldn’t have had any complaints,” confessed the left back, pictured.
“I know 3-0 looks comfortable on paper, but it definitely wasn’t. They had loads of chances, hit the woodwork three or four times and Ofir made a few good saves to keep us in it.
“We were under no illusions, we know we probably got lucky that night.”
Hibs’ trip to Ayrshire was new Killie boss Steve Clarke’s first home match and despite the scoreline his side were applauded off the park by their fans, happy with what they had seen but probably totally unware of the transformation that was about to take place. Today Kilmarnock are the Premiership’s form side, boasting a record of seven successive matches unbeaten on their own artificial pitch, having forced their way into the top six and sitting only three points off fifth-placed Hearts with two games in hand.
And, conceded Stevenson, even Hibs’ 12-point cushion over Clarke’s side isn’t entirely unassailable although in a weekend which also sees Hearts travel to face Rangers and Ibrox and league leaders Celtic take on Aberdeen at Pittodrie tomorrow, he’s adamant Lennon’s players are intent on building on their own recent impressive form.
The 30-year-old said: “It’s nine points to the team behind us, but Kilmarnock have games in hand if we get beat and the teams behind us win then things can change very quickly.
“But if we want to finish in a European place then we are going to have to win most weeks and today will be no different. Killie are in a good position and it looks likely they will get a top-six place, so these are the games you need to try and win.
“We have done well against Rangers and Aberdeen which people will think of as big games, but this one is going to be just as tough.”
As impressive as Kilmarnock have been in recent weeks – their results at home including wins over both Celtic and Rangers – Hibs, too, have hit a rich vein of form, Lennon’s players having shaken off the disappointment of going out of the Scottish Cup to win four out of five league games since the winter break.
Stevenson said: “Not just results, but the performances have been good. There’s a bit of confidence in the squad, we know we have been playing well. I spoke to a few fans after the Aberdeen game and they said it was one of the best performances they have seen from us for maybe years.
“I think historically, after Christmas our form has not been good. We normally dip a bit after starting well but this season we have managed to keep it going and our form after the break has been good.”
And Stevenson is well aware that Lennon won’t allow standards to drop. “I’m sure the manager has plans and we are in a good position to finish in Europe, but there are lots of points to play for.
“However, if we can perform the way we did in the second half against Aberdeen then we will be a match for anyone.”