AFTER a desperately poor run of results, Hibernian go into this evening’s home game against Aberdeen just four points ahead of the play-off place.
Not so long ago the talk at Easter Road was about a challenge for the top six: now it is about how much trouble Terry Butcher’s team is in.
Lewis Stevenson, however, believes that his team have never really been out of trouble. According to the midfielder, even when they were looking up, and aiming to overtake St Johnstone to get into the top half of the table, Hibs knew they still had a lot to do before feeling safe from any threat of relegation.
“If you were at one of the other teams you would have to think you could drag us in,” Stevenson said. “People have been talking about that for the last couple of weeks, but I’ve never seen us as out of trouble all season, really. We’ve never been that far ahead. We’ve never had that big a cushion. So it’s been on us the whole time. We’re still in a better position than other teams – we’re still seventh, we have four more points than Partick Thistle. That can change quickly, but we just have to take each game as it comes and pick up as many points as we can.”
Having taken what might be perceived as a gloomy view of his team’s season, Stevenson insisted that he did in fact remain hopeful, having seen enough positive signs in recent games to believe that Hibs can get the points they need over their remaining six games to steer clear of danger. “I’ve been on bad runs before and this isn’t great,” he admitted of a sequence of results in which his team has now won just once in their last 12 league matches – against Ross County in mid-February.
“But there have been games where things could have gone a different way. On paper the run looks really bad, but if you actually look at each game some of them have been not too bad. We’ve also had some really bad performances during this run, but we also know we have enough quality in this squad to get ourselves out of trouble.
“The ideal situation would be we pick up points quickly, but if other teams pick up points as well that could be difficult. We don’t just want to stay up, we want to finish the best we can. We can do all the talking, we can say as much as we can, but it’s going to come down to the games and we have to do the best we can to pick up points.”
One worrying thing for Hibs is their failure to pinpoint what precisely has gone wrong. Butcher’s arrival from Inverness towards the end of last year sparked an improvement in results for a while, but all that came to an end after an especially good spell over the festive period.
“When he first came in we went on a good run and we were hard to beat,” Stevenson added. “But I don’t know what has happened over the last few weeks. Whatever we have done has not worked. We still have six games to try and make it happen, and hopefully against Aberdeen everything will click into place.”
A look at the league table suggests Hibs will have their work cut out to get anything tonight against opponents who can go three points clear in the race for second place, thanks to Motherwell’s defeat by St Mirren on Saturday. But Derek McInnes’s team, for all their virtue, have shown hints of running out of steam over the past week or two. Although they are unbeaten since January, they have drawn their last three matches.
Whatever happens this evening, Stevenson is sure the improvement made by Aberdeen from last season to this is something that his own club can learn from and, he hopes, emulate. “We would like to go on and do what they have done,” he added. “That would be ideal. Aberdeen have been the benchmark for most clubs this year. We’ve played them twice and been beaten twice, and to be fair, on both occasions it was pretty comfortable for them.
“Apart from Celtic they’ve have probably been the best team I have faced this season. So we have to look at Aberdeen. And hopefully next season we can go on and do what they have done.”