Lewis Stevenson says Hibs ready for Ayr
The mere mention of Somerset Park is likely to send a shiver down the spine of every Hibs fan, the haunting memory of a night of humiliation as a club then in the Second Division sent the Easter Road side crashing out of the Scottish Cup.
After a no-scoring draw in Edinburgh, Colin Calderwood took his players across the country for the replay, only to return beaten and humbled as Ayr United celebrated a night of giant-killing.
The television cameras were there to capture each and every agonising minute – at least as far as Hibs and their suppor- ters were concerned – the match televised live as broadcasters sensed an upset, their instinct paying off as Mark Roberts claimed the only goal of the game for the home side.
Strangely enough, Saturday’s repeat will be the only one of this weekend’s four quarter-final ties not to be shown live on television, an indication, perhaps, that no repetition of last year’s is anticipated, even if Ayr now operate in the First Division while Hibs, as then, continue to struggle at the foot of the SPL table.
However, Hibs manager Pat Fenlon, who will complete his dossier on his cup opposition tonight when he watches them in action against Livingston in Division One, is certain to urge caution on his players, conscious of the fact Ayr remain highly dangerous opponents on their own ground, as evidenced by their victories over Inverness Caley and Hearts in their march to the semi-finals of the Scottish Communities League Cup.
Fenlon was at Somerset Park to witness Brian Reid’s players defeat Falkirk in the previous round, beating the Bairns again at the weekend to underline an upturn in form and, no doubt, instilling belief among their fans that they’ll have another day to remember.
But while the crest on the shirts they’ll face will be familiar, Ayr will find themselves up against a totally different team. Paul Hanlon is likely to be the only survivor from 14 months ago when the match kicks off, such has been the radical transformation of the Easter Road squad over the intervening period.
The likes of John Rankin, Michael Hart, Kevin McBride, Liam Miller, Colin Nish, Derek Riordan, Graeme Smith and Darryl Duffy have all gone – as have a few others in between – a fact which, according to Hibs midfielder Lewis Stevenson, leaves Fenlon’s side unburdened by the sins of the past.
Stevenson himself missed last year’s debacle through injury, leaving him with much more pleasant memories of Somerset Park, the scene of his debut as an unknown 17-year-old as Hibs clinched a 2-1 League Cup win thanks to a double strike from Riordan.
Now boasting the longest continuous service of any at Easter Road, Stevenson has returned to this particular venue just once since that day in September, 2005, playing, and winning, in a friendly.
Nevertheless, he admitted today, Hibs will have to be on their guard if they are to claim a berth in the semi-final draw. “Aye, definitely,” he replied when asked if the pressure was on Hibs, adding: “Although I didn’t play last time I remember the numbness, the sense of disbelief at what had happened even although we were struggling a bit at the time.
“People will be looking for another upset so it’s up to us to prove them wrong. We know we have good enough players to go down there and win but we won’t be taking it lightly. Ayr had a great run to the semi-finals of the League Cup so we know it is going to be a tough game.
“But if we do the right things we’ll be confident of getting the right result.”
While Hibs could hardly be said, as their 11th place in the SPL table would suggest, to have improved over the intervening period, Stevenson believes there have been encouraging signs in recent weeks, Fenlon’s side having eked out a four-point advantage over basement outfit Dunfermline and, to most spectators, unlucky not to have beaten St Mirren at the weekend.
He said: “We’re another point ahead of Dunfermline but the great positive we can take is we created a lot of chances against Saints and had it not been for their goalkeeper Craig Samson, the outcome could have been totally different.
“We’ve been playing better in recent weeks than we have all season, even in being beaten by Motherwell at Fir Park we felt we had put in a good performance with our only real blip having been against Celtic.
“It’s a totally different team to the one which went to Ayr last year, there will be very few on the coach who were involved so the vast majority won’t have any thoughts, or probably even be aware, of what happened.
“I feel we’ve got the right mix in the squad now and we’re starting to hit a bit of form.”
Many of the new arrivals will undoubtedly feel they’ve taken a step back in time when they walk through the doors of Ayr’s ramshackle old stadium, its tiny dressing-rooms and the open terracing which will confront them as they run down the narrow tunnel.
But Stevenson claimed he’s relishing the moment. He said: “I love playing these games, it feels as if there are 100,000 people crammed in even if there’s only a few thousand. I enjoy such matches and hopefully I’ll enjoy this one even more.
“To be honest, I can’t really remember much about my debut down there nearly seven years ago other than being pretty nervous beforehand and that we won 2-1. It all passed in a blur and it’s so long ago it seems as if it almost belongs in another life because so much has happened since.
“When you come in as a young lad who most people don’t know it’s that bit easier. No-one expects too much from you but as you become more established the demands increase. Perhaps that’s where things went a bit wrong for me, trying to do things people said I should be doing rather than just concentrating on my own game.
“I’m doing that now and enjoying my football, although I’ll enjoy it even more if we can notch up a few more wins in the league and, of course, this weekend.
“A win would take us to Hampden. I’ve been lucky enough to play there in the League Cup final we won and to a semi-final in the Scottish Cup and I think players and fans alike love getting the chance to go there.
“But first we have a tough 90 minutes, Ayr have nothing to lose but hopefully if we play the way we know we can than we’ll be all right.”
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