Hibs defender Lewis Stevenson insists the players will be under less pressure to repeat their Scottish Cup heroics – but admits defending their trophy will be made harder by teams desperate to take their scalp.
The Leith side will begin their bid to win the competition for the second season running when they take on junior outfit Bonnyrigg Rose in Saturday’s fourth round clash at a sell-out Tynecastle.
While Neil Lennon’s charges are focussed on the future, the Hibees fans are still rightly celebrating the glory of watching their team end 114 years of cup agony with the historic 3-2 Hampden victory over Rangers last May.
He said: “Will it feel any different? There will probably be less pressure.
“You probably felt most pressure in the Scottish Cup games but that’s kind of come off having won it.
“Every year the old hoodoo thing would be asked and the fans would say ‘I don’t care about the league, as long as you win the Scottish Cup’.
“It was a burden on us but that’s one we managed to lift last season.
“We go can go out there with nothing to lose really and probably enjoy it more than we had.
“But I know what the manager is like and he wants to win every game and he’ll want to win it himself at Hibs, so I’m sure the pressure will still be there to go and win it again.”
The Championship leaders will no longer face questions over that appalling cup record but Stevenson insists entering the competition as the holders makes them a target for the opposition.
Stevenson has been there before after the Easter Road side gained partial revenge for their humiliating 5-1 cup final hammering to Hearts in 2012 when they knocked their city rivals out at the first hurdle during the following campaign.
He added: “It was hard enough to win it the first time and it will probably be even harder because people will want to take our scalp being the holders.
“When we played Hearts, they were the holders and we put them out in the first round they were in. Teams will rise to the occasion playing against us.
“It does not mean we’ve got any less to play for than we did last year, it would be another massive deal if we can go on a good run. We want to keep the momentum going that we’ve created recently and there is no better way to do it than going on a cup run.”
Hibs lead the second tier by six points over Dundee United and have made it clear that ending their three-year stay in the Championship is their priority, but the left-back insists the fans will not see it that way.
He added: “The cup would be a bonus obviously but the league is the most important thing this season. It would be a wee distraction from the league.
“The fans are always demanding and they’ll want as much silverware as possible. We’ve got a good enough squad to win it so I don’t see any reason why we can’t.
“It is a tough task because it took us a 100-odd years to do it last time.”
Having played in the 2012 final and the 3-0 defeat to Celtic a year later, Stevenson admits he refused to start dreaming last May – even after David Gray headed in what proved to be a dramatic injury-time winner.
He added: “I started believing we could do it probably when when referee Steven McLean blew the final whistle in the cup final. I never thought we would win it.
“I know I’m not supposed to say that and it’s about being positive. But because I’ve been there so many times before I didn’t want to make myself think about winning it because I’ve done that before and I knew how bad it was when you don’t win it.”
Stevenson admits he thought they were in with a great chance against Hearts in 2012.
He added: “I hate bringing it up. That was probably the time.
“The squad we had last season was by far stronger than the squad we had then.
“Even the Celtic one, we kind of went into that with no pressure but Celtic probably had the better team and were probably going to win.”
*Lewis Stevenson was speaking as the club marked the end of their Persevered Scottish Cup trophy tour. The tour has reached over 50,000 people in Edinburgh, East Lothian, the Borders, Midlothian, West Lothian, Falkirk, Fife and Aberdeen, visiting over 200 schools, supporters clubs, juvenile football clubs and businesses.