Hibs have raised the bar – so must react
Calum Gallagher’s goal ended a run of five straight wins – all achieved with a clean sheet as an added bonus – and somewhat took the gloss off the stunning League Cup triumph over Premiership leaders Aberdeen only a few days earlier.
But while pointing out he and his team-mates remain unbeaten in six, Stevenson conceded Hibs can’t afford too many draws in their pursuit of Rangers at the top of the Championship table, last season’s record of seven stalemates at home had been a factor in Stubbs’ side falling so far behind runaway title winners Hearts.
While the Edinburgh club more than held their own against both their Capital neighbours and the Ibrox outfit, it was results against the likes of today’s opponents Queen of the South, Raith Rovers and Falkirk which proved to be stumbling blocks.
Hibs’ longest-serving player said: “We need to learn from that, we know what has to be changed. After Christmas last year we went on a good run and we need to start that a bit earlier this season and rack up as many points as we can.
“I don’t think the performance [against St Mirren] was too bad, we just lacked a bit of energy or the killer pass, which was disappointing. But we have raised the bar this season and draws at home aren’t good enough if we want to be challenging for the league.
“We probably played a lot better in the St Mirren game than we did against Livingston the previous week, but there will be times when we do lose goals and we need to be more of a threat at the other end.”
It was a point well made and one highlighted by the fact that in their eight league matches to date Rangers have scored a highly impressive 28 goals to the nine notched by Hibs who lie 11 points behind Mark Warburton’s side but with a game in hand.
Admitting Rangers appear to find it easier to break down teams who rely on “sitting in” and frustrating their opponents, Stevenson said: “It’s hard for me to say because I’ve not watched a lot of Rangers games, I just know what I saw when we played against them. But there have been games when we have been kind of battering on the door without creating too many clear chances so that’s probably our main problem.
“We’ve had a few clean sheets this season but all over the pitch, even the defenders, we could probably do better crosses and at corners and set-pieces, too, we could be more of a threat. So all over the pitch we need to improve and help in that department.”
While mindful of the gap which currently exists between Hibs and Rangers – seen by most as the two main rivals for the title having both missed out on promotion last season – Stevenson insisted Stubbs’ players can’t allow themselves to dwell too much on what the Glasgow club might be doing.
He said: “We just need to focus on each game. I know it’s a bit of a cliché, but we just have to win as many games as we can and that’s why we were disappointed last Saturday after the week we’d had. We wanted to finish off with a win and draws at home this season won’t be good enough so we need to turn it around again.”
But, as Stevenson admitted, Queen of the South gave Hibs a few problems last season, the Dumfries outfit winning both at home and at Easter Road and he anticipates just as tough an encounter again at Palmerston Park today.
Agreeing it’s one of the hardest matches, particularly on Queens’ artificial surface, the 27-year-old said: “It’s different playing on a different style of pitch. They are a good team and they pass the ball well. Some times that might suit us and they might come at us a wee bit and so give us a bit more space to play in.”
Boss Stubbs believes his opposite number James Fowler will adopt exactly that approach to the game, saying: “I like the way James sets his team out. He wants to try and play. He’s more positive with his coaching and he does like try to influence his style on other teams and I like that.
“I am a manager who would rather win one game, draw one and lose one rather than have three draws and play not to be beaten.
“I’d rather get at a team because, at the end of the day, you have a better chance of getting more points by being positive than being more reserved. So from that point of view I like James. I like him as a person, he has a good belief, his philosophy is right – but it is going to be a tough game.”