LEWIS Stevenson has played under seven managers at Easter Road, and given his all for each and every one. Whatever position he has been deployed in, whatever the circumstances, he has worked selflessly for the team.
But now, under Terry Butcher, the Hibernian midfielder has discovered a new side to the game. Perhaps he has even been too selfless in the past, because he has now been encouraged to be more assertive – and the whole team has benefited.
The new-look Stevenson was certainly there for all to see in Sunday’s 3-0 win over Kilmarnock. Even before he got his team’s last goal in the final minute, he had been the outstanding performer in a solid all-round display by Hibs.
As well as taking care of defensive duties with his usual attention to detail, Stevenson was a positive attacking force, and had several attempts on goal before that last-gasp goal which left Craig Samson grasping at thin air.
“The gaffer said after the game I’ve had more shots today than I have had in my whole career,” said Stevenson, who celebrates his 26th birthday on Sunday. “Even in training he’s encouraging us to shoot. A couple of days ago in training I probably scored the best goal I’ve ever scored in my life, so that probably gave me a bit of confidence.
“It was a volley, actually. I don’t think the boys were laughing like they laughed when I scored today. I think they were a bit surprised.”
Butcher and assistant manager Maurice Malpas quickly identified one of the problems suffered by Hibs this season – a lack of confidence that has led to a reluctance to take responsibility and have a shot. Instead of that nagging fear that their team-mates will have a go at them if they shoot and miss, Stevenson and his colleagues have been told they will all be supported if they become more assertive.
“We’re being encouraged to be more positive,” he continued. “After all the shots I had in the game, I think maybe in the past I probably would have turned that down and maybe would have passed it. But I thought it was worth a go, and I managed to squeeze it in.
“I think I’ve been trying to play more positive. Before I was always a bit worried about giving the ball away, but we’ve been encouraged to be more positive, get the balls in the box and have more shots. I think it worked on Sunday and it worked up at Ross County on Boxing Day.”
It should be noted that so far the managerial edict has not had an effect on the entire team. Defenders Michael Nelson and Jordon Forster were the scorers in Dingwall, while centre-half Paul Hanlon and midfielder Paul Cairney scored the other two against Kilmarnock. In other words, the strikers have yet to play their part, although in typically generous fashion, Stevenson insisted on praising their contribution.
“James Collins has done brilliant for us this season and has been a part in a lot of the goals we’ve scored, so it won’t be long before he’s banging in the goals as well. I thought him and Jason Cummings, and Danny Handling when he came on, they defended from the front. They set it up for the rest of the team and made it easy for us.”
Stevenson expects Thursday’s Edinburgh derby to be anything but easy, yet he knows that the confidence of the team can only help as they aim for a measure of revenge after losing twice to Hearts so far this season.
“The last derby, in fact both derby games, could have gone totally differently. We’re still gutted about the last time.
“We’re going in with a good, decent run of form, and we’re confident that if we play how we did today then we can get a result. But we know it’s going to be tough. It doesn’t matter what the form is going into a derby, anything can change, and we’ll need to be at the best of our game to get a result.
“I’ve been on the other end as well, when Hearts have been expected to beat us and we’ve got a result. So as I said, anything can happen.”