Hibs draw strength from pain of defeat
Lewis Stevenson believes a heightened sense of pain after defeat has helped Hibernian improve this season as they prepare to welcome Kilmarnock.
Hibs have only suffered consecutive defeats on two occasions this season, both times limited to two matches. Their most recent loss, a 3-1 home defeat by St Johnstone that sparked an angry response from manager Pat Fenlon, was followed by frank talks.
And Hibs would have made it two away wins in a row in their subsequent games had it not been for Johnny Russell's late controversial penalty at Tannadice on Sunday.
Fenlon has added a steel on the park and Stevenson hinted an ever-present determination to avoid defeat has also played a part in turning Hibs from Clydesdale Bank Premier League relegation candidates to European hopefuls.
Stevenson, who is set to start against Killie at Easter Road, said: "We got off to a flyer at the start of the season and had a dip in form. In previous seasons the dips in form have maybe been about 15-20 games whereas this season it is maybe five games, which is not great but it's a lot better than it has been.
"This year when we have been beaten, it shows a lot in the changing room and in training the next week how much it is hurting. Maybe in previous years it has not been like that.
"Especially after the St Johnstone game at home, we know we didn't play well. It was probably the poorest performance of the season. We had a chat the next day in training and got a lot of things out in the open. From there we have kicked on.
"It's a lot easier place to be when you are winning games and playing well."
The 25-year-old has been playing at right-back in recent games, with Tim Clancy still missing with a hamstring problem.
"I have been enjoying it," he said. "It helps when the team is winning and playing well. The St Mirren and Dundee United games are probably the best we have been playing for a while so that always helps."
Kilmarnock manager Kenny Shiels admits it will be difficult to accommodate all of his striking options as Kris Boyd and a fit-again Cillian Sheridan challenge in-form Paul Heffernan for a role up front.
Heffernan looks certain to start against Hibs after hitting six goals in his last five games.
Shiels has been assessing Boyd's sharpness in training after the SPL's all-time top goalscorer re-signed for the club on Saturday, while Sheridan was given a late run-out in Saturday's 1-1 draw with Aberdeen after recovering from a hamstring injury.
Young forwards Rory McKenzie and William Gros have also featured during Kilmarnock's recent five-match unbeaten run and Shiels knows he faces a difficult task in keeping all of his forwards happy.
"It's going to be hard to do," he said. "It's just about playing for the shirt now.
"It's hard to get in with Heffernan doing so well, so it will be hard for Cillian to get straight back in."
Boyd scored 67 goals in his first spell with Killie and the 29-year-old remains top SPL scorer with 164 after returning from spells in England, Turkey and the USA.
"I think we will get a lift from him and he is one who will certainly add something to our team," Shiels said. "It's going to be a bit soon for him. He'll need a bit more training and game-specific preparation. I don't know if he will be on the bench yet, we'll see."
Hibs, who sit a point and one place above Kilmarnock in sixth place, visit Rugby Park on Sunday in the William Hill Scottish Cup quarter-finals but Shiels is not formulating a plan over two matches.
He said: "We take the game as it comes. We try to win the first game and there is one of three outcomes, and then we'll look at the second game. We can't look beyond Wednesday night."
Defender Momo Sissoko (eye) and midfielder Borja Perez (hamstring) are doubtful.