IN 207 appearances for Hibernian, where he has spent his entire career, Lewis Stevenson has scored only three times. The first was in February 2011, the second nearly three years later. The third, in stoppage time at Easter Road on Saturday, rounded off quite a rout of Cowdenbeath.
When the ball fell to him just outside the penalty area, his low shot wasn’t the cleanest, but it was strong enough to beat the wrong-footed goalkeeper and claim what is known in the game as a collector’s item.
“It was a strange feeling, a nice feeling,” says Stevenson. “You could almost hear the crowd laughing rather than cheering.”
Neither was he the game’s only un-usual goalscorer. Eight minutes before Stevenson got his, Callum Booth was rattling in Hibs’ fourth. The left-back, playing in his favourite position because Stevenson had moved to the right, crashed a shot over the line after Sam Stanton had squared.
It was an unusually productive day for the two full-backs. Like Stevenson, Booth had scored only twice before for Hibs. Their first goals for the club had been in the same game. Stevenson was asked if Booth’s latest strike inspired him, if it made him fancy his chances. “I never think I’ve got a chance of scoring,” he replied, deadpan.
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Against Cowdenbeath, everybody had a chance. Hibs netted twice in the game’s early stages, coasted through its middle third and, on recognising that the margin of victory could be as big as they wanted, hit three more goals in the last 17 minutes. It was as easy and routine a victory as Alan Stubbs is likely to preside over this season.
Paul Hanlon was the first to take advantage, knocking the ball high into the net after Robbie Thomson, the Cowdenbeath goalkeeper, missed a cross. Jason Cummings was the second, converting the simplest of chances after Dylan McGeouch and Scott Allan danced round their opponents as though they were mannequins. It was Cummings’ 12th league goal of the season, his sixth in five matches.
Either side of half-time, Hibs seemed to wonder if any more was needed, a thought process that brought about a lull in proceedings. During that hiatus, Cowdenbeath produced their best effort of the day, a Lewis Milne shot that never threatened the target.
Just when the home support were growing impatient for a third, Scott Robertson did the needful. The midfielder, who travels to training with Stevenson and Booth, swayed past a couple of defenders, stroked it into the far corner and set up a finale in which the roof caved in on Jimmy Nicholl’s hapless side.
All in all, it was a far cry from the tight games between these teams just a few short months ago. Hibs have come on a bundle since then, establishing themselves in the Championship play-off spots and finding the kind of form that Hearts have enjoyed all season.
“The confidence took a while to build, but I think we’re there now,” said Stevenson. “And it’s not just the 11 that are starting. The subs coming on are making a difference. There’s a lot of competition for places in the squad now. It’s keeping everyone on their toes.”
Stubbs was able to take off his two best players – McGeouch and Allan – so that he could give game time to Jordon Forster, making a surprise return from injury, and Stanton. Not only did the latter set up Hibs’ fourth, he almost scored with a low shot that Thomson turned round the post.
The victory was just what Hibs needed after two consecutive draws in the league. It moves them three points clear of fourth-placed Queen of the South – their next opponents – and within five of second-placed Rangers, whom they thrashed at Easter Road last month.
With a visit to Ibrox scheduled for 13 February, it is a useful time to be closing the gap on Hearts’ closest challengers. “They’re in our sights, but, after we beat them last time, we drew our next two games and they made the gap even bigger,” says Stevenson. “It just shows you. It’s not just the games against Hearts and Rangers you have to rise to. It’s the games at home against the so-called smaller teams.”
Too often in the past, Hibs have made hard work of those. On Saturday, they didn’t even break sweat.
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