Lewis STEVENSON doesn’t mean to sound ungrateful. But he’s sure every Hibs fan will understand when he says he’d happily swap the trophy presented to him as the Supporters’ Association’s player of the year for three points.
The same goes for the captain’s armband he wore at Easter Road for the first time 24 hours earlier, Stevenson fully appreciative of both honours but, at the same time, conscious the over-riding concern is the collective good rather than personal glory.
The annual prizegiving at the Sunnyside home of the Supporters’ Association was a more subdued affair than in previous years, understandable given the predicament Pat Fenlon’s side finds itself in, an SPL relegation dogfight with only three points separating them from basement outfit Dunfermline and just seven matches remaining.
There is, of course, the glimmer of hope next month’s William Hill Scottish Cup semi-final against Aberdeen at Hampden offers, but as far as the League goes it’s been a washout, leaving the fans, as Stevenson acknowledged, a tougher task casting their votes this year.
The little midfielder said: “It must have been hard for them as no-one has really stood out this year. However, in saying that it was a great honour to be recognised in this way by them. I know, though, they won’t take it the wrong way when I say I’d have swapped the award for three points against Dundee United. It doesn’t take me to tell them it’s been a tough season, one which has been bitterly disappointing for us all. It’s certainly been up and down, only a couple of weeks ago things seemed to be going right at last, we’d got a few decent results and won a place in the semi-finals of the Cup.
“Had we managed to turn those draws against Aberdeen and St Mirren into wins we might even be talking about catching Inverness Caley instead of the fight against relegation being between ourselves and Dunfermline.”
In saying that, the 24-year-old insisted no-one should lose sight of the fact that Fenlon’s side still retain that advantage, although the Pars trimmed it by a point with a weekend draw against Dunfermline although they remain without a win at East End Park this season.
Even so, he admitted, the final few weeks of the season are going to be nerve-shredding, two games to go before the “split” in which Hibs will be seeking to widen the gap while Dunfermline under new manager Jim Jefferies will be hoping to at least cut it further.
While Hibs face Inverness Caley and Motherwell and Dunfermline play Dundee United and then Hearts, Stevenson said: “I think both of us have hard games before the split although we did go up to Inverness and win there earlier in the season for the first time. “Hopefully, that’s a bit of an omen for us. But we have to go into every game looking to win it. We can’t wait for it to happen, we’ve got to make it happen although we’ve been saying that all season.
“It would be nice to have a bit more of a cushion between ourselves and Dunfermline as the game between us after the split is going to be a massive match for both clubs. When you go into those last five games it can become a bit unpredictable.”
While in no way seeking to minimise the seriousness of Hibs’ position, Stevenson insists belief remains within the Easter Road dressing-room that Fenlon’s squad is good enough to escape the drop – but conceded actions rather than thoughts will ease concerns.
And, he insisted, the failure to produce the consistent run of form which would already have allowed everyone to breath that much easier wasn’t for want of trying.
He said: “People keep asking me what’s gone wrong but I think if we could put our finger on it then it would have been sorted by now. I know it’s been said time and again we have good enough a squad, but it’s not happening on a Saturday for us.”
It has, of course, been another season of change at Easter Road, Fenlon replacing Colin Calderwood to become Hibs – and Stevenson’s – sixth manager in almost as many years, the Kirkcaldy-born star admitting he’s witnessed plenty of upheaval since making his debut as a 17-year-old under Tony Mowbray. Constant changes in the managerial hotseat have led to just as many on the field with Stevenson probably having lost count of just how many players he’s shared a changing room with over the years while, the fluctuations of this season were probably highlighted by the fact he’d become the sixth to don the captain’s armband. With defender James McPake, who had led the team out since arriving on loan from Coventry City in January, injured, Fenlon turned to Stevenson, the player with the longest continuous service at the club, to do the honours against United.
It was a decision which took Stevenson by surprise. He revealed: “I didn’t know anything about it until Tam McCourt, our kitman, put the armband on my peg.
“I thought he was having a laugh because the only time I’d ever been captain of a team at any level was a few years ago in a pre-season game against Raith Rovers and that was only because I was from Kirkcaldy.
“It was another honour for me but, again, I’d happily have seen someone else lead us out if it had led to three points.”
Although he has emerged as something of a great survivor in a sea of constant change, the self-effacing Stevenson disclosed that even seven years on he has to remind himself being a professional football player was something he never thought he’d achieve. Reminded of his summer in Ireland as the “baby” of Mowbray’s pre-season squad, Stevenson said: “It seems so long ago but in some respects it also seems as if it was only yesterday.
“To be honest, I never thought I would be a football player. It was always at the back of my mind that I wanted to be and I played football all the time but I never thought I’d make it.”
A debut against Ayr United in the League Cup a few weeks after that tour of Ireland, part of the squad which travelled to Ukraine for the UEFA Cup match against Dnipro and man of the match at the age of 19 as Hibs lifted the CIS Insurance Cup in 2007 appeared to confirm Stevenson had done exactly that.
Even so, he revealed, he harboured his own doubts which were perhaps fuelled by the managerial merry-go-round which accompanied his formative years. He said: “I learned different things from each of them but it was difficult with the changes in style each wanted.
“But I do feel better now than ever before. I’ve always trained and played giving 100 per cent but maybe I used to think about things too much.
“Now I put things behind me much more quickly and I feel mentally and physically better than ever although I’d be happier with a few more wins.”