A STRANGER in a strange land – a role to which Colin Nish admits he could become accustomed. Tired of defenders second-guessing his every move during more than a decade in Scottish football, the former Hibs striker is relishing the opportunity of playing in English football at League One club Hartlepool United.
Nish’s Easter Road career was brought to an end by now- departed manager Colin Calderwood as the club toiled to a lowly tenth place in the SPL last season. He struck three times for the club nicknamed the Monkey Hangers (locals hanged a monkey during the Napoleonic wars believing it to be French spy) before injury struck him down at the end of October in a game against Charlton Athletic.
He hopes to be back in action by Christmas and rekindle the type of form that saw him hit two goals in a 3-0 home win over Bury in September, although he will play his next game in blue and white under a new manager after Mick Wadsworth was yesterday relieved of his duties after seven home games without a win.
“You see all different teams here and it’s a nice change. You can play against a team in Scotland and they know what you’re going to do even when you don’t!” said Nish.
“The manager leaving was a surprise, to be honest, but obviously some people are not happy with our home form. It’s one of those ones that you wish you could have done something to help him keep his job because he was nice enough to bring me here. I’ve been injured recently and, while I’m not saying I would definitely have helped to save him, it would have been good to be able to try. We had a great start to the season and he’s probably suffering from that – our expectations went up and the crowds went up but we’ve not had good home form.
“It’s similar to what happened at Hibs. Mixu signed me and I was one of his players, then he went. All you can do is try and impress the new manager.”
Although his decision to leave Scotland to team up with Wadsworth may not have been too difficult to make, Nish admits he has taken time to grow comfortable in the surroundings of his new home in the cathedral city of Durham in England’s north-east. Soon after signing for Hartlepool, Nish and girlfriend Jen celebrated the birth of a baby boy, Jaden, in what was a life- changing experience for the Capital-born striker.
“It’s taken me a wee while to settle in and having the baby was a big change for me.
“At first, I didn’t realise where Hartlepool was and couldn’t believe it was so close to Scotland. It’s probably the best location for me. I stay in Durham, so it’s only a couple of hours up the road home and it’s a very nice area and a good place to stay. The travelling to away games isn’t the best, but you get used to it. I had to try it and I’ve managed to come to England and stay near family.
“There’s not much difference in the standard. You are playing against different players and at different stadiums, which is something I always wanted to try. I would hate to have retired and not gone to England.”
Nish was much-maligned by some fans of Kilmarnock and Hibs for being wasteful in front of goal during periods of his career but, the striker proudly occupies a place in the top ten of all-time top scorers in the SPL and hopes one day to build on an unlikely place among the league’s goalscoring greats.
At 28, there is still plenty of time for the lofty forward to both satisfy his hunger for success south of the Border and return north to climb the list of most prolific marksmen in Scotland’s top flight.
“I would still like to come back to the SPL one day,” he admitted. “I’m still in the top ten goalscorers in the SPL, and if I score a couple more I go above Chris Sutton and Stevie Crawford. I was thinking that I’d like to move up a couple of places last year, but I didn’t play for Hibs in the second part of the season and didn’t get the chance to do it.”
Nish currently stands in the top ten alongside fellow former Hibs strikers Derek Riordan and Kenny Miller. Another ex-Easter Road forward, Celtic’s Anthony Stokes, is just five goals shy of knocking Nish out of the top ten after amassing 58 SPL goals at Falkirk, Hibs and his current club. Steven Naismith, formerly of Kilmarnock and now at Rangers (though out injured at present) is next in line on 57 goals, while Garry O’Connor, now in his second spell at Hibs, sits on 53 league goals and just ten from a place among the elite.
Kris Boyd, now 28 and warming the bench at Turkish club Eskisehirspor, heads the list of top SPL marksmen, but for his former Kilmarnock strike partner Nish it is one Adam Boyd – and the on-field understanding he fosters with his new team-mate in the Hartlepool attack – that is the focus of attention.
“Adam is the second Boyd I’ve played up front with – he’s a good player and a goalscorer as well, got a big move from Hartlepool [to Luton Town] then came back,” explained Nish. “I’m enjoying playing here. I wouldn’t say there’s a big difference with the SPL. I played against MK Dons and they reminded me of playing against Hibs – they passed us off the park.
Highlights of Nish’s Hibs career included a goal against Gretna on his home debut and a hat-trick in the 6-6 goalfest at Motherwell in May last year. The 6ft 3in striker also struck the second goal against Celtic, following John Rankin’s famous “squiggler”, in a memorable 2-0 victory at Easter Road in October 2008. However, that goal was in one way symptomatic of Nish’s sporadic form in front of goal as it sparked a 13-game barren run towards the climax of his first full season at Easter Road.
Given that Nish was a Hibs fan as a boy, his profligacy in the penalty box and the subsequent criticism from sections of the club’s support was all the more difficult to bear.
“I’ve not really spoken much about my time at Hibs. It’s just one of those things that’s in the past. I’m glad I had the opportunity to play for the team I supported,” he said.
“I don’t have any regrets or feel bad about my time there. I’ll still look out for them – Hibs are the result I look for.
“I was at the club at a difficult time. I was only there three years and had three different managers [Mixu Paatelainen, John Hughes, and Colin Calderwood]. It would have been nice to be there under Calderwood for a bit longer.”
Not that life in Leith was a constant drain on the emotions of Nish. He can happily recall helping Hibs into Europe during John Hughes’ first season in charge at the club, 2009/10. Nish argues that whether or not such heady days of fourth-placed league finishes can return to Hibs depends largely on recently-appointed boss Pat Fenlon playing hard-line with the squad.
“He has been linked with jobs in Scotland before and he must be a decent manager. Hibs need a steady manager, somebody who’s hard on the boys.”
Such a topic may well have been the subject of discussion when the big striker made the journey north last weekend and met up for coffee with Hibs skipper Ian Murray. It remains to be seen if the unlikely record-breaker Nish will find himself tackling the likes of Murray or other SPL defenders again any time soon.