This time back in 2021, the 24-year-old had been the subject of failed bids from Birmingham City, with the Skybet Championship club prepared to pay up to £3million for his services. Nisbet was bang in form, scoring regularly and spearheading Hibs’ challenge for European football and silverware. He was in the sort of nick that earned him the first of ten Scotland caps and a spot at the European Championships, ending the domestic campaign with 18 goals.
This season has been one of some frustration for the ex-Dunfermline, Raith and Partick hitman. As Hibs’ form has dipped, so has Nisbet’s. He has found the net nine times but it is not on the same trajectory as last term. He has found his criticism of him in the Hibs fanbase – a recent celebration against Cove Rangers by putting his fingers in his ears showing that he has heard the grumblings – but there are signs that Nisbet is starting to get back to his best of him.
His goal against Arbroath in Sunday’s Scottish Cup triumph was an excellent bit of skill, a fine touch to trap Ewan Henderson’s cross and then a lovely, high finish past Derek Gaston. It was a reminder that Nisbet has such composure and finesse in his locker.
Twenty-four is no age for a striker, and it must be remembered that Nisbet is still developing. He is being asked to do more under new manager Shaun Maloney than just play as a conventional No 9. He is dropping back into the space between midfield and attack, dragging defenders with him and allowing Hibs’ high wide players in Demetri Mitchell and Chris Cadden to move up beyond him and also creating gaps for his two support forwards to move into. Against Arbroath, it was Ewan Henderson and Sylvester Jasper, but Chris Mueller has also benefitted from Nisbet’s movement in previous games, and Martin Boyle did before his move to Al-Faisaly last month. While Maloney is encouraging Nisbet to “get in between the sticks more”, he also needs him to offer a base in attack from which his team can build from.
Nisbet is working hard for this Hibs team right now, and while the goals are not flowing as freely as they did before, his importance to the team is still very high. Christian Doidge and James Scott, Hibs’ two other strikers, don’t have that multi-faceted aspect to their game.
“I try and keep Kevin’s confidence as high as possible because even when he’s not scored, his performances have been very good for me,” Maloney said after the 3-1 win at Gayfield.
“When Kevin starts to take these chances he is going to be a very good player because the positions he gets into and the other parts of his game are very good. Hopefully that’s the first of many for him.”
Nisbet himself knows how important goals are at this stage of the season – for club and country. Hibs are pushing to (a) get back into the top six of the cinch Premiership and (b) try to finish fourth in the table, which would bring qualification for Europe for a second successive year. And with Scotland, there is the sizeable matter of a World Cup play-off against Ukraine next month. Steve Clarke will probably name his squad for the match in mid-March and while Nisbet has been a mainstay of late for the manager, he will want to enhance his credentials further.
“My performance I wasn’t worried about, it was more about getting a goal,” said Nisbet, as he spoke with the media in the wake of the Arbroath win. “Previously, in our last few games I had put in performances but hadn’t been scoring.
“I am going through one of those spells where I am going front post and the ball is going back post and vice versa. It will turn and hopefully that goal will kick me on.
“For me to get on to the international stage I need to be scoring goals and putting in performances. Hopefully Sunday will go a long way for me doing that.”
With matches against Ross County, Dundee and St Johnstone on the horizon for Hibs, Nisbet should get chances to add to his goal tally. Strikes against Cove Rangers and Arbroath are all well and good, but he needs to net in the Premiership, something that hasn’t happened since Boxing Day. This next period is not just crucial for his club, but for him too as he looks to maintain the trajectory back to the levels of a year ago.
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