BY ALAN TEMPLE – @CCP_Sport
Lewis Stevenson took one look at a wide-eyed Alan Stubbs and knew Hibs had a golden opportunity to wipe out Rangers’ lead at the summit of the Championship.
However the Hibee stalwart insists they will need to raise their game if they are to go one step further and knock the jittery Gers off top spot.
With Rangers facing Falkirk in Saturday’s early kick-off, Stubbs shielded his players from the action as a remarkable encounter unfolded – with Mark Warburton’s men succumbing to a 2-1 defeat after missing a last-minute penalty.
Stevenson admits his gaffer looked like he had been “through the wringer” as he informed his players of the score and urged them to take full advantage.
They did exactly that – just – as a 94th-minute Dominique Malonga goal secured a 1-0 win over Queen of the South to move level on points with the Glasgow side.
Stevenson smiled: “The gaffer was watching it in his room. He was trying to keep the door shut because we had a game to focus on. You try to do that, but you still have a wee look and see what’s happening.
“When he came out, Rangers had just missed the penalty and he looked like he’d been through the wringer! But he still kept us calm and told us we had a big chance to put the pressure on.
“We weren’t celebrating or anything. We had a big game to focus on and it would have been the biggest sin if we’d been celebrating the Rangers score and we didn’t win our own game.
“Things are going for us at the moment but we need to start playing a bit better. If we play like we did on Saturday against Rangers, it won’t be good enough.”
Stevenson reckons the wild scenes of celebrations following Malonga’s contentious winner sum up the sense of unity utterly coursing through everyone associated with Hibs.
Just 18 months on from their miserable relegation from the top-flight, the capital club are on a run of 15 wins in 17 outings and the mood at their East Lothian training base is buoyant.
Stevenson insists he has never experienced togetherness like it during his decade as a first-team player at Hibs as he attempts to right the wrongs of the disastrous Terry Butcher reign.
The 27-year-old added: “Is it the most united the club and fans have been? Probably, yes. It’s a good place to be.
“There have been times at Easter Road when you’ve been worried about running out and you’ve had the weight of the world on your shoulders, but now it’s a good lift you get.
“The fans stick with you right to the end now, as they did on Saturday when we weren’t playing well. Week in, week out, they’re supporting us now.
“I said when we came down that I wanted to be here when we went back up. That was the lowest moment of my career, but I want to be remembered here for the right reasons – not for getting relegated.”
Despite the stature of next Monday’s encounter, which is shaping up to be a 52,000 sell-out, Stevenson is determined not to let the nerves kick in.
He added: “They’re our direct rivals, so Sunday’s game will have an impact, but we can’t get too hung up about it being the be all and end all, or that’s when nerves start to take over.
“I don’t know how they’ll be feeling. They’re still top of the league so they might have taken that at the start of the season. This game won’t define the season.
“It’s three points, bragging rights and a confidence boost for whoever wins – but it won’t decide the title. It’ll be January, February, March and April when the results will really matter.”