HIBS will hit the high road this weekend – but Michael Nelson doesn’t want to hear any excuses for a below-par performance against league leaders Inverness.
While the Easter Road side’s results in the Highlands have picked up in recent seasons following a well-documented, six-year winless run, the journey up the A9 is still one that few players look forward to.
Nelson, though, doesn’t see what all the fuss is about. Having been on the books of Scunthorpe, Hartlepool and Norwich, the 6ft 2in defender is used to making long trips for away matches and, for him, the 315-mile return journey to the Caledonian Stadium is of little concern.
“It’s a long trip,” Nelson conceded, “but down in England almost every away game is quite a trek, so I am used to that.
“I am sure the boys will not feel too many effects from the journey and we can just focus on going up there and doing the job we need to get the points.”
Hibs are unbeaten in their last five league matches, a run which has included wins at Kilmarnock and St Johnstone while St Mirren were shrugged off at Easter Road last weekend.
Nelson admits it is hugely important that Hibs keep their momentum going in the league.
Having also made it through to the quarter-finals of the League Cup on Tuesday night, courtesy of a 5-3 victory over Stranraer, Nelson is keen to extend the good run and bag points against Caley tomorrow.
“It’s important that we keep our run going – it is massive.” he said.
“We didn’t feel we got the rub of the green with the first two results of the season, (defeats) against Motherwell and Hearts.
“It’s just credit to the boys that we have persevered and got the results since.
“We’ve had a couple of draws in there and a few good wins and everyone can see that our confidence is building.”
Nelson expects a tough encounter against Terry Butcher’s side, having seen the Highlanders get their season off to a flier and force their way to the top of the Premiership table.
They currently sit on 16 points, level with champions Celtic – who have a game in hand – but ahead on goal difference.
The form of Billy McKay has been instrumental in their rise, with the red-hot striker scoring seven of Caley’s 13 goals in all competitions.
Nelson knows he’ll be in for a real shift against the 24-year-old and added: “I’ve come up against Caley a few times when I was with Kilmarnock and (former Inverness player) obviously Owain Tudur Jones knows a lot about them too.
“We know how good a side they are and this season they have been doing exceptionally well.
“Terry Butcher always has them well organised and they are dangerous, too. Billy McKay has been scoring a lot of goals and they’ve got a few other boys who can get themselves on the scoresheet.”
Liam Craig’s hat-trick was one of the main factors in Hibs’ win over League One outfit Stranraer in midweek, but it was the performance of Abdellah Zoubir which had fans talking after the final whistle.
The Frenchman made his first start for the club and made the most of his opportunity to show Pat Fenlon and the Hibs supporters what he is capable of.
Zoubir signed from Istres in the summer on the recommendation of former Hibs midfielder Freddy Arpignon and already looks to be settling in nicely.
He wowed the crowd with some deft flicks and lightning quick reactions to skip away from Blues defenders and Nelson continued: “What the Hibs fans saw the other night is exactly what we get in training all the time, little flashes of brilliance.
“He had a couple of nice little cameos against St Johnstone and St Mirren and I thought that he did really well against Stranraer.
“He got moved out to the left wing halfway through the first half and managed to get his goal, so that will be good for him.
“I think that he has done well and he will certainly excite the fans when he gets on the ball. It is maybe something a bit different for them and gives the team a different dimension.”
Hibs made hard work of their win over Stranraer, scoring five but allowing the Stair Park side to score three in reply.
Stranraer defender Scott Rumbsy had a nightmare, not only deflecting Zoubir’s long-range effort into the net but also scoring an own goal and then conceding the penalty kick which handed Hibs their fifth.
However one of the Stranraer goals came courtesy of a Nelson own goal and he conceded that, although they were happy with the result, the performance throughout was short of the standards they have reached over the last month or so.
“We’re through to the next round and that’s really what it’s all about at the end of the day,” Nelson added.
“Unfortunately, I was on the scoresheet myself, at the wrong end of the park but, if these things are going to happen to you, then it’s better that it happens at this stage of the competition and in a game that you still go on to win.”