LEWIS Stevenson joined Hibernian’s youth academy in 2002 and, 13 years later, the full-back has crept into 50th place in the list of appearances for the club.
During his decade as a first-team player, he has seen Scott Brown, Kevin Thomson, Derek Riordan, Garry O’Connor, Steven Whittaker and Steven Fletcher flourish at Easter Road only to be sold off to the highest bidder.
However, while some of those sales were unavoidable, Stevenson believes that the board has learned its lesson and that Hibs will not cash in on Scott Allan.
The playmaker revived his flagging career when he arrived at Easter Road last year and he was in scintillating form during the 2-1 victory at Dunfermline on Saturday, a performance capped by a stunning solo goal.
Allan’s situation is complicated because he will become a free agent next summer, but Stevenson knows that Hibernian’s hopes of achieving automatic promotion depend on their most influential, and inspirational, player remaining within their ranks.
Championship rivals Rangers and Dundee United are among several clubs interested in signing the 23-year-old but Stevenson claims he can do better than either of those clubs. “I don’t see why he wouldn’t be the Championship’s Player of the Year again,” he said.
“There isn’t anyone near him in terms of ability. I know he’s been linked with certain teams but I think he could aim even higher than that. He’s scored twice in our two games and goals was maybe something he had to add to his game. It looks like he’s doing that now.”
Allan’s quality was evinced by Hibs’ opening goal. He collected a return pass from Dominique Malonga, looked up to assess the position of home goalkeeper Sean Murdoch and then curled the ball beyond his grasp from the edge of the penalty area.
“Scott played really well here,” said Stevenson. “He makes things happen all the time and I’m sure a few folk would have paid just to watch him do his thing.
“I’m glad that we’ve held on to him. It seems that we’re going to keep him for at least this season and he can make a big difference for us this year.
“To be honest, I didn’t worry that he might leave because the club is ambitious now and they know that we need to keep our best players.
“Scottie is obviously one of them and he’s going to be massive for us. He scored a fabulous goal against Dunfermline and he’s always looking to get on the ball and create openings.
“Most of our chances come through him but it was good for everyone to stretch themselves at East End Park. It’s not just about Scott – other people have to move to get him on the ball.”
The visitors’ cause was aided by the dismissal, after only 18 minutes, of Dunfermline left-back Jason Talbot for a dangerous lunge at Malonga.
Stevenson scored what proved to be the winner, with a composed finish from Jason Cummings’ cutback. “My goal was all right,” he grinned. “I’m getting a little more clinical in these situations and scored a few in recent years.”
Dunfermline survived several goalmouth scrambles to deliver a storming finish, with Faissal El Bakhtaoui scoring a consolation goal in the 85th minute. It was, claims Stevenson, the ideal preparation for Saturday’s Petrofac Training Cup tie against Rangers.
“The plan was to use the first round as just another warm-up game for the league but, now that we’ve drawn Rangers, we can’t approach it that way,” he said. “We’d originally thought it would just be another 90 minutes under our belts before the season really started but now we want to lay a marker down this weekend. It would set us up for the rest of the campaign so we want to be positive and get the win.
“This time last year we played them in the same competition at Ibrox and we played well that night, although we went down to ten men and eventually lost 2-1 after extra time. That gave us a few signs of what was to come from us and we were the better team in our next few games against Rangers.”
New Rangers manager Mark Warburton has had few opportunities to watch his side in action due to a surprisingly brief pre-season programme, whereas Hibs have the advantage of Alan Stubbs having bedded in at Easter Road.
“We know how the manager wants us to play now whereas it took us a while to get going last year,” said Stevenson. “Everyone has bought into the style of play and we know what we’re doing. Hopefully, that will help us to hit the ground running this time.
“Everyone who started against Dunfermline was here last year and there will be a few fresh faces too, which will add a spark. I don’t know what the situation is at Ibrox, whether they’ll take time to settle under their new manager. We just focus on ourselves.”