Once upon a time, Lewis Stevenson would have allowed his usually calm facade to slip amidst the phoney war that often surrounds the build-up to football matches. But the Hibernian defender insists he is allowing the latest controversy to wash over him as he prepares for this evening’s tension-filled play-off quarter-final.
Whilst the at-times ill-natured back and forth has raged between Hibs and Rangers and also Falkirk this season, the spotlight has now switched to Raith Rovers as the Easter Road outfit head over the Forth for the first leg of an intriguing battle at Stark’s Park.
The heat was turned up a notch when Jason Cummings claimed at the weekend that Hibs’ play-off opponents should be “scared” of facing them. The remarks came despite the disappointment of finishing the league campaign in third place and in need of prevailing over the course of three onerous ties if they are to achieve their goal of being promoted back to the Premiership.
It was the kind of misplaced comment that Stevenson admits he has unwittingly been guilty of himself earlier in his career. But the longest-serving player at Easter Road is now too well-versed in the dark arts of psychological one-upmanship to allow it to knock him off his stride ahead of kick-off.
“I used to look at all the mind-games stuff, and you can read too much into it,” he commented. “It’s just burning energy you don’t need to. It’s better just to focus on the games.
“In the past, I would read what people said and think ‘you can’t say that!’, but it’s just a football match. People say things and things get blown out of context, but we’re here to do a job and that’s play football, not to stir things up. I can see through it all. I’ve said the odd thing I shouldn’t have said but sometimes I don’t think people mean to say these things.”
Being able to see past the apparent veneer of viciousness ensures Stevenson has one less thing to worry about as he returns to his hometown of Kirkcaldy aiming to upset the locals and some good friends. The 28-year-old will make his 49th appearance of an energy-sapping season this evening and is hoping Hibs’ cup successes, the reason for their glut of games, can help them cope with the knock-out nature of these play-offs.
Head coach Alan Stubbs has accentuated the positives by refusing to accept that pressure and anxiety will dominate his emotions as his team face up to the prospect of seven games in three pivotal weeks that could make or break their campaign. Stevenson, though, concedes it would not be the climax to the season for Hibs if there was not a certain amount of nervousness involved.
The full-back has endured both successful and failed relegation battles, a promotion play-off defeat and Scottish Cup final heartache in recent years and believes these coming weeks are now just part and parcel of life at Easter Road.
“I can’t remember the last time I didn’t have a stressful end to the season, so I’m pretty used to it now,” he added. “Look, it could be the best season I’ve had at Hibs if we do everything right, so you have to look at the positives and hopefully it can be like that. You just have to focus on the match itself. There’s a lot of stuff that goes on around the game, and off the pitch as well. But they’re just football matches at the end of the day. It’s what we’ve been trained to do, it’s what we’ve been doing since we were young.
“We just have to be the better team over the two legs and I think if we can play the way we can play we’ll be a match for anyone.”