BY IAIN COLLIN – @CCP_sport
LEWIS Stevenson reckons there would be something amiss if Hibs were not facing a tension-filled climax to the season.
The first-leg of the Premiership play-off quarter-final against Raith Rovers tonight could be the first of seven huge matches for the Easter Road club.
At the end, they could have ended the club’s 114-year Scottish Cup heartache and secured their return to the Premiership or they could be left empty-handed from a campaign marked by two cup final losses and a failed promotion bid.
Stevenson, who will make his 49th appearance of an energy-sapping season on his return to his hometown of Kirkcaldy, is hopeful their cup successes can help them cope with the knock-out nature of the play-offs.
However, although head coach Alan Stubbs has tried to play down the pressures of the coming days, Stevenson admits nerves are just part and parcel of life as a Hibs player.
He himself has been involved in successful and failed battles against relegation, a play-off semi-final defeat to Rangers last year and Scottish Cup final losses in recent times.
The 28-year-old said: “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.
“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.”
Stevenson is a quiet character and gives the impression that it would take a lot to ruffle his feathers.
War of words
He confesses, however, that, once upon a time, he would have let that usually calm facade to slip amidst the war of words that often rages before big games.
The comments of team-mate Jason Cummings that Hibs’ play-off opponents would be ‘scared’ of facing them may prove to be ill-judged as Raith seek to prove him wrong.
But Easter Road’s longest-serving player is keen for the controversy to blow over and for the football to return to the headlines as Hibs try to set up a semi-final encounter with Falkirk.
He added: “I used to look at all the mind-games stuff, and you can read too much into it.
“It’s just burning energy you don’t need to. It’s better just to focus on the games, that’s the most important thing
“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.
“You’re surrounded by interviews from other players and clubs, and sometimes you hear yourself back and think ‘was that even me saying that?’ or is that just something I’m trained to say. You can almost be like a robot.
“These people that are saying things could be team-mates next season, so I don’t take anything too personally. It’s all part of the fun.”