ANYONE who thinks the Hibernian squad are taking it easy in the SPL has not seen them in training, Lewis Stevenson believes.
According to the midfielder, he and his team-mates are in a more competitive frame of mind than ever, and, with the Scottish Cup final coming up, have no intention of slacking off.
Stevenson was responding to remarks by Dundee manager John Brown earlier this week to the effect that Hibs had downed tools. Brown’s team need a better result at home to Hearts than St Mirren get at Easter Road this afternoon if they are to keep their hopes of escaping relegation alive, and Stevenson insisted that his own team would not be letting up against the Paisley side, who are ten points clear of Dundee with four games to play.
“Nobody’s chucked it, I can assure you of that,” Stevenson said. “The last couple of weeks, training has probably been the sharpest it’s been all year. We’ve still got a lot to play for. We want to finish top of the bottom six, so we’ve got as much to play for as anybody else.
“I know it wasn’t the best of games on Monday,” he continued, referring to Hibs’ goalless draw with Aberdeen, “but even though we didn’t play well, I can assure you everyone gave 100 per cent.
“There’s talk that everyone’s got their eye on the cup final, but that gives everyone an incentive. There’s only 11 places and there’s a 20-man squad: everyone’s got to fight for a place and you give as much as you can when you’ve got the chance. I knew even during the game it wasn’t the best of games, but I don’t think the conditions were great. It was windy, and both teams didn’t pass the ball as well as we could have. It was just one of those things.
“I thought we defended all right, and we created a couple more chances than they did. It wasn’t a great game for spectators – sometimes these things happen.”
This time last year, Hibs were still in danger of going down, so this season there is a very different atmosphere at the club as the countdown to the cup final continues. “Last year, because we were battling relegation, we had that distraction, so we couldn’t really think about the cup final – we had to think about staying in the league. It is maybe harder this year when people think we’ve not got a lot to play for, but you try to focus on the week coming and you try not to think of the final. It’s obviously going to be a massive game for everyone involved, but we’ll try not to think about it.
“We thought on Monday it would be more relaxed and we’d have a wee bit more time on the ball, but it felt the tempo was as high and they were pressing us as much as if it was the first game of the season. I don’t think any teams have taken their foot off the gas. I’m sure we’ve not.”
Hibs have won all three meetings with St Mirren this season, but Stevenson expects a tough contest this afternoon. “We’ve got a decent record against St Mirren this year, but they’ll be wanting to turn it around. The pitch is getting better and they like to get it down and pass.”
St Mirren striker Esmael Goncalves returns to the team today after suspension, but admits he still does not know if he will be waving goodbye to the Paisley club’s adoring supporters this summer. The on-loan Rio Ave 21-year-old has enjoyed a sensational short-term stint in Scotland since arriving from Portugal in January. But the former Nice attacker admits his future destination is uncertain.
Asked if he was preparing for his final four games in black and white, Goncalves said: “It’s the last four games of the season – after that, I don’t know. If the opportunity was there to stay, I’d like that because I have really enjoyed my time in Scotland. But all I know is that Rio Ave want to sell me. You never know what could happen. I’m not sure about another loan deal but if they told me to come back here I’d be happy.”