LEWIS STEVENSON insists Hibs players shouldn’t be slaughtered for having one eye on the Scottish Cup final, as he feels thoughts of playing in next month’s Hampden showpiece can help them finish their SPL campaign with a flourish.
Dundee manager John Brown branded the Easter Road side’s performance in Monday’s goalless draw with Aberdeen “woeful” and suggested they had gone into holiday mode ahead of their eagerly-awaited clash with Celtic on May 26.
Stevenson knows the Dens Park boss was simply indulging in mind games to try and fire Hibs up for today’s visit of second-bottom St Mirren, who can confirm their SPL survival at the expense of Brown’s team if they win in Leith. Nonetheless, the little utility man, who played at left-back against the Dons, took the opportunity to explain that, with some 20 players battling for a cup final start, there’s no chance of anyone taking their foot off the gas in the next few weeks.
“Nobody’s chucked it, I can assure you of that,” he said. “The last couple of weeks, training has probably been the sharpest it’s been all year. We want to finish top of the bottom six, so we’ve got as much to play for as anybody else. 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.
“It’s quite easy maybe to go into holiday mode, but you can’t pick and choose when to raise it. You’ve got to keep it at a level, keep it there for the cup final. I know it wasn’t the best of games on Monday, but even though we didn’t play well, I can assure you everyone gave 100 per cent. I knew even during the game it wasn’t the best of games, but I don’t think the conditions were great.
“We thought on Monday it would be more relaxed and we’d have a wee bit more time on the ball, but it felt as if 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. You can’t blame [Brown] for what he’s saying. He’s maybe just trying to give us that extra motivation to prove him wrong and do him a favour.”
Stevenson admits that, although they are still focused on their league campaign, it is impossible not to allow the prospect of the cup final in four weeks’ time to permeate the Hibs players’ thoughts. “To be honest, 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,” he said. “It is maybe harder this year when people think we’ve not got a lot to play for, but you do try to focus on the week coming and 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.”
Stevenson has reason aplenty to keep his eye on the ball when he’s in the team as, if all four of Hibs’ first-choice defenders are fit for May 26, he may have to look towards central midfield for a cup final starting berth.
With Tom Taiwo, Scott Robertson, Kevin Thomson, Jorge Claros, Paul Cairney, Gary Deegan and Stevenson all able to operate in the engine room, competition over the coming weeks is going to be at its most intense. “Wherever I play I’ll try and make the most of it,” said Stevenson. “Sometimes you have to accept it if the manager goes with someone else, but I got a chance on Monday when Ryan [McGivern] was suspended. Now he’ll maybe be back and I’ll have to fight for another chance and another place. We’ll see what happens, but until that time when he picks the team I’ll be trying my best to get into it. Everyone’s trying to fight for a place. You could probably make an 11-a-side team out of the central midfielders. It’s a good thing – it gives the manager a headache, I’m sure.”
One player guaranteed a start at Hampden will be talisman Leigh Griffiths, who was this week nominated for the PFA Scotland Player of the Year and Young Player of the Year awards. Stevenson revealed that his team-mate took news of his nomination in typically humble fashion. “You’d be surprised, he’s quite quiet,” said Stevenson. “Folk think he’s off the wall, but he keeps himself to himself. He’s not boasting about his nomination, but quietly I’m sure he’s happy.
“I’d love him to get it – it would be good for him and for the club. I think he’s deserved it. He’s had a great season – 25 goals or something. I can’t remember being here and someone scoring that amount of goals. I don’t even think Anthony Stokes scored that much. It’s a great tally. He’s pulled it out the bag for us a few times.”