There was a moment when Lewis Stevenson feared he wouldn’t be eligible for today’s trip to Palmerston Park, an anxious second when the Hibernian defender actually thought he may not see out last weekend’s match against St Mirren.
But, while referees are often criticised, the 27-year-old, who is enjoying his testimonial year at the Easter Road club, is grateful for Crawford Allan’s response to his uncharacteristic flash of madness and the fact he will be available to face Queen of the South this afternoon.
Laying a hand on the match official who had just awarded a free-kick against him, he knows he could have been sent for an early bath, but instead Stevenson got a lucky break.
“I don’t know where it came from. I meant it just as a friendly, ‘come on, it’s never a free-kick’, kind of thing but I did make more contact that I thought,” he said. “I saw his eyes go wide and he gave me one of those looks but I think he knew I didn’t mean it. I was glad he stayed on his feet – thankfully he is quite stocky – because it ended up being a decent push. But I apologised straight away and I think he knew I didn’t mean it to come across that way.
“I’d said ‘that wasn’t a free-kick’ although not quite in those words but after I pushed him, straight away, I said ‘sorry’ and he said ‘you can’t do that’ and I said ‘I know, I’m sorry’. He booked me and I think it was for that and not the free-kick, which I still don’t think was a free-kick!
“I think he used commonsense and I think it would have been a bit harsh to send me off, but when I saw his eyes I was a bit worried. But fair play to him because the letter of the law means he maybe could have sent me off but he didn’t. Some of them might have but thankfully I don’t think he’s one who takes himself too seriously. He knew I didn’t mean it like that so that’s good. But I won’t be doing that again.”
Even with all 11 men still on the park, Hibs failed to find a way to beat a stubborn St Mirren side, a trait which it could be argued sets them apart from the Championship pacesetters, Rangers, who tend to find the creative spark and cutting edge to turn draws into victories.
“There have been games when we’ve been battering on the door without creating too many clear chances so that’s probably our main problem,” said Stevenson. “We’ve had a few clean sheets but all over the pitch, even the defenders, we could probably do better crosses and at corners and set pieces be more of a threat. We need to improve and help in that department. [Last week] I don’t think the performance was too bad. We just lacked a bit of energy or the killer pass. But we have raised the bar this season and draws at home aren’t good enough if we want to be challenging for the league. We probably played a lot better in the St Mirren game than in the Livingston game but there will be times when we do lose goals and we need to be more of a threat at the other end.”
Playing James Fowler’s Queen of the South on their own patch presents another challenge, though, says Stevenson, who expects a different approach than the one they face against other teams in the second tier.
“It’s different playing on a different style of pitch and they are a good team and they pass the ball well. That might suit us. They might come at us and give us a bit more space to play in.
“I know it’s a bit of a cliché but we just have to win as many games as we can and that’s why we were disappointed last Saturday. After Christmas last year we went on a good run and we need to start that a bit earlier this season and rack up as many points as we can.”