He’s a veteran of the fixture in good times and bad, but full-back tells Moira Gordon he now enjoys the rivalry without getting too emotional
There are some who will take to the Easter Road pitch on Wednesday night unaware how it feels to lose one of the capital showdowns with Hearts. Lewis Stevenson envies them.
One of the side-effects of a lengthy spell with the Leith club has been the taste of painful losses that will long be etched into history. But he says that times have changed and the sense of fear and foreboding that sometimes preceded the head-to-heads has been replaced by a belief that they can not only match but better their Edinburgh foes.
Hibs are unbeaten in six, their last loss to the Gorgie side coming back in August 2014, and there are more players in the dressing room with a blemish-free record than there are with sour memories of defeat. Instead, he says, it will be Hearts trying to fathom a way to get the better of them for the first time since they both were adjusting to the Championship.
Hearts’ stint there was fleeting but while Hibs have found it harder to escape the confines of the second tier, their lowlier league status has not prevented them upsetting the odds and overcoming their neighbours.
“I’ve been on the other end of that, of going on a long run without beating them,” admitted Stevenson, “and the pressure does mount up.
“But they’ve got a lot of new players and I’m sure a lot of them don’t even know that’s the case. It probably doesn’t matter but I feel confident. It’s a one-off game, you are always confident with the players we’ve got that we can go and win a game.
“I heard John McGinn say he’s unbeaten at Tynecastle and I am envious. I’m past the stage that I can say that!
The draw at Tynecastle last Sunday has set up the replay at Easter Road this week, and McGinn, like some of the others who came through last season’s Scottish Cup tie against Hearts, en route to lifting the trophy, can boast a 100 per cent derby record there, too.
It is something Stevenson, a battled-scarred veteran of these derbies, cannot lay claim to but, while there is as much at stake as ever, he is more relaxed going into the clashes, more confident of triumphing and he says he enjoys the games now more than ever.
“I used to get too nervous before when I was younger but I can enjoy the occasion now,” added Stevenson, who will equal Pat Stanton’s 32 Edinburgh derby appearances if he plays this week. “It’s just the build-up. As soon as the game starts, the football takes over. The build-up before it, I probably couldn’t sleep for the week before, not it’s probably just the night before. Now it’s probably more excitement rather than apprehension.
“I don’t think you could get bored of them, it’s probably still the same buzz from the first one. There’s a lot of pressure and I’ve said before they are the best games when you win but the worst when you lose.”
They did not lose at Tynecastle as the sides tried to settle the Scottish Cup fifth-round tie at the first attempt. But the cup holders did not win either, which is why they will welcome Hearts to Leith on Wednesday, to settle who progresses to face Ayr United in the last eight.
“I think both teams would probably be disappointed about how they played [at Tynecastle]. I don’t think we played the way we wanted to. The pitch wasn’t great but I’m sure the surface at Easter Road will be a bit better and it will probably suit both teams so I’m sure it’s going to be a very different game of football and hopefully one where football gets a chance to be on show.”
Finesse was missing as the teams went toe to toe last weekend. The Hibs full-back is hoping the teams produce a better spectacle this time but states that, if necessary, they will fight their way through.
“I think we’ve got in a few more physical players and I think we matched them in that aspect and I’m sure we will do it again but if it becomes more of a football match, we’ve still got the players that can go and play football as well. We’re prepared for all manner of games.
“It’s hard for groundsmen but the [Tynecastle] pitch was tough to play on, it was a bit uneven and nobody wanted to take chances or wanted to be the one remembered for playing a square ball and losing it.
“Hopefully we win it in 90 minutes but both teams will believe they can win it. I’m looking forward to it.”