LEWIS Stevenson is convinced that the current Hibernian squad is the best at the club since his early years as a professional, and that they will soon prove their defeat by Inverness Caley Thistle was just a temporary setback.
Hibs visit Partick Thistle tonight in the Scottish Premiership’s last match before the short international break, and they are just a point ahead of last season’s First Division champions. But Stevenson saw enough good things from his team-mates in the unbeaten run of five matches before the Inverness defeat to be confident that they will soon be looking optimistically up the table again rather than anxiously behind them.
“I honestly think it’s the best squad we’ve had in years,” he said. “I know we need to do it on the pitch, and it’s easy saying that, but we have the quality here.
“When was the last time I felt we had a squad as good? Probably when I was younger and I was on the fringes, but people rated it as the best squad in years.
“We had Kevin Thomson, Scott Brown, Boozy [Guillaume Beuzelin], David Murphy, Steven Whittaker, Steven Fletcher. A lot of players who have gone on to the Old Firm and down south.
“We had a very good squad then, but I honestly think this current squad is as good as anything I’ve been involved in.”
Stevenson was not the only one to be surprised by Hibs’ 3-0 defeat by Inverness – nor, more specifically, by the nature of their performance. With Caley Thistle being at the top of the league at the time, Pat Fenlon’s team knew they would be in for a hard game even if they played to their best, but they simply failed to come anywhere close.
“I don’t know where it came from,” he admitted. “It wasn’t just the result, it was the performance too. It was two steps forward then ten back it seems.
“It was so disappointing and we were all gutted. It’s a long journey back from there anyway, but it felt even longer.
“It wasn’t good but we will be looking to bounce back [against Partick]. We know we can play better. I think we’ve been playing some of our best football in years lately and we want to get back to that. If we do then we will be fine.”
One reason for Stevenson’s optimism, and for the unbeaten run, was the new partnership up front between Paul Heffernan and James Collins. The latter had done little in his early weeks with the club to justify his £200,000 price tag, but he has thrived since Heffernan arrived from Kilmarnock on the last day of the transfer window.
“They both link up well and they’re both on the same wavelength. When one scores the other seems to score as well. But we’ve also got Rowan Vine, Rossco [Ross Caldwell] and Danny Handling, and they’re all fighting for a place so they will have to be on their toes.
“But they are doing really well. Even though we didn’t supply them much against Inverness they still managed to look dangerous.”
Stevenson has never played at Firhill for Hibs, but he expects a good atmosphere and is particularly looking forward to renewing his acquaintance with former Hibs team-mate Sean Welsh. “I’ve played there for the Under-21s. It’s a good pitch and it’s a nice, old-fashioned stadium and it will be a bit different.
“There’s a great atmosphere there, but night games are always good and, hopefully, we can put on a show. It would be good to get a win because, if we don’t, it’s a long time until your next game.
“If you do get a result, you can enjoy your days off during the break. But it’s going to be a tough game because they’ve got some good players and they’ve shown no signs of nerves.
“I know Welshy from his time here. It’s good to see him doing well. I felt so sorry for Welshy because he had a terrible time with injuries. He would get fit and then he would get another injury and it wasn’t just small injuries. He always seemed to get an injury that put him out for three or four months. I felt for him and I’m glad to see him in the Premiership and doing well.”