Hibs' Christian Doidge defends Kevin Nisbet after work rate is questioned - and queries Jack Ross omission
A lot has gone into Hibs’ on-field evolution, from seventh-place finishers last season to a team occupying pole position in the race to finish third and heading into their third successive cup semi-final under manager Jack Ross.
Allied with the coaches’ ability to bring out the best in existing squad members, the arrival of additional quality last summer and in January has given that run credibility and sustainability, with top goalscorer Kevin Nisbet proving a major factor in the quest for success. But, in a long, demanding season, strike partner Christian Doidge says the young Scot has weighed in with more than just goals and was quick to jump to the defence of his team-mate when former Hibs player and manager John Collins cast aspersions on his work ethic.
Speaking earlier this week Collins, who led Hibs to League Cup success in 2006/07, said that while Nisbet has proved in his first season in the Premiership that he is a good finisher, scoring “all types of goals – right foot, left foot, headers”, he still had to work at being more industrious when the team doesn’t have the ball.
“If I can give him one piece of advice, that is he's got to add to his game by working harder for the team when out of possession,” said Collins.
But, having trained alongside him every day and spent the majority of the season partnering the 24 year-old on matchday, Doidge said he didn’t recognise that issue.
“I definitely think that’s harsh. He has been great for us this season,” insisted the Welshman. “You just need to look at the stats after the games, in terms of high-speed running and how far he has run around the pitch.
“He is up there with the majority of the lads. He’s definitely not someone who slacks or is lazy. He works extremely hard for the team. He has created a lot of chances for himself from his work ethic and he wouldn’t have had the amount of goals he has had this season without that.
“He has been great to play with this season and I have thoroughly enjoyed it. He has created a lot of chances for me and I have created a lot of chances for him. He’s a great guy as well and he wouldn’t be in the Scottish set-up if he didn’t have that work ethic because that’s what the manager at national level wants.”
It is a front line that, along with Martin Boyle, has scored 43 goals between them, Nisbet tops the charts with 17, Boyle follows on with 15 and Doidge is on 11. And, as they return to Hampden, where Doidge scored in the last Scottish Cup semi-final and has maintained that cup potency with goals in every round in this year’s competition, they know it is likely to be a battle of the forward options with rivals Dundee United presenting their own triple threat courtesy of Marc McNulty, Nicky Clark and Lawrence Shankland, who were in impressive form as the Tannadice side ousted Aberdeen at the quarter-final stage.
“Their rotation in midfield is very good and the lads up front are very sharp and all three have scored a lot of goals in their careers, so we know their strengths and weaknesses,” said Doidge
"With their front three, it's going to be down to our lads at the back to try to stop them. That's going to be a very difficult task, but if we can keep it as tight as we can, us lads at the front can hopefully do the job for us.”
If they do, it will be third time lucky for the Leith side this term, with the previous two trips to Hampden this season serving up semi-final anguish.
“We are looking forward to going back. It's a great test for us,” said Doidge, excited rather than anxious. “Obviously the results we've had there this season have been very disappointing, but we've got to move on. We've been working extremely hard to get the result we need this weekend.
“There is definitely a winning mentality at the football club. We’ve got lads who have won the cup before. They know what it takes to do that. We’ve got lads from all over the country who have had promotions. And, that has been one of our strengths this year: the mentality of the lads. We have always bounced back from bad defeats and that shows in the league table. We are a great group of lads, we are friends off the pitch and we are looking forward to the last couple of games.”
And if Hibs can go on to lift silverware, guaranteeing European football until December in the process, while also achieving the primary aim of a top-three league finish in the final two league games, Doidge says it will make a mockery of manager Jack Ross’ absence from the manager of the year shortlist.
"I saw it on Twitter and was a bit baffled by that,” added Doidge. “When you think about where we were last season and what we've done this year – we are close to breaking a lot of records at the football club. He's given debuts to lads like Josh Doig and brought in Kevin Nisbet, who has done fantastic this year.
"We've been a good team to watch, so yeah, it's very strange but I don't think it's something he'll look at too much. He's focusing so much on Hibs and getting third and trying to win a cup."
That’s all anyone at the club will be focusing on for the remaining few matches.