Hibs Exclusive: How return of 'broken' Miller and buoyant Bushiri have lifted spirits and boosted Cup hopes

Socceroos fullback and DRC centre-half showing fans what they've missed
It's good to be back: Lewis Miller celebrates with Dylan Levitt at Easter Road.It's good to be back: Lewis Miller celebrates with Dylan Levitt at Easter Road.
It's good to be back: Lewis Miller celebrates with Dylan Levitt at Easter Road.

One returned “a little bit broken” by the brutality of a mob in search of a scapegoat, while the other bounced back into Scotland full of excitement and enthusiasm – but desperately short of game time. The way Lewis Miller and Rocky Bushiri have reintegrated into this Hibs team is a testament to their characters. And to the work done by the coaching staff at East Mains.

From Nick Montgomery spending 45 minutes reassuring Socceroos defender Miller that he’d learn and grow as a result of his chastening Asian Cup experience, to the strength and conditioning department getting Bushiri up to match speed after two months of warming the substitutes’ bench for Democratic Republic of Congo at the Africa Cup of Nations, it’s been a team effort. And it's paying dividends.

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While Bushiri may be making Hibs fans realise just what they were missing when the centre-half was away on international duty, Miller’s return to the right back berth was always going to be a bonus for a team reliant on inexperienced youngsters to fill a big gap in the back four. Being able to select both as starters has coincided with a steadying of the ship, certainly. And lifted spirits ahead of Sunday's Scottish Cup quarterfinal visit of Rangers to Easter Road.

Montgomery, addressing Miller’s state of mind after he was blamed for a couple of calamitous mistakes that saw Australia knocked out of the Asian Cup by South Korea at the quarter-final stage, said: “Lewis came back a little bit broken. That’s understandable because he took a lot of stick on social media and stuff. People don’t really understand the impact that has on players, but unfortunately that’s the world we live in.

“I spoke to him in my office on the day he got back. We had half an hour, maybe 45 minutes, and we spoke about everything – where he’s been and where he is now, how he can learn from it.

“At the end of the chat, I said to him: ‘When you walk out of this office now, move on. Let’s start preparing for the next big game, get you back playing and doing what you love doing.’ I’m really proud of him for how he’s responded.

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“Lewis was really down, so it was really important that we got him straight into training, got him around the boys. We gave him a lot of love.

“Being back in with his team-mates, they all know he loves playing for Hibs. So it was important that we got him back out there playing. That was the best way for him to move on.

“Since he came back, we can see that he’s matured. He has definitely learned from the experience at the Asian Cup.

“Against Celtic, in his first game back, he was outstanding – and should have won the game for us. I look back now and still don’t know he missed the open goal! That would have made it 2-1 to us, and it would have been a great moment for him, after everything he’s been through. But it wasn’t to be.

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“What was important was him finding his consistency. I’m always telling him that because it’s the one thing he had struggled with. He’s been really consistent in his performances since he came back, showing that he’s matured and improved.

“I won’t say he’s over what happened. But his performances and the way the team is going has definitely helped him, as well as the staff and players getting around him.”

Bushiri insists he has actually improved as a footballer simply by being part of the DRC squad who went all the way to the third placed play-off in Côte d’Ivoire. But the fact remained that, between the December 27 loss to Hearts and his return as a late, late Hibs substitute in the February 24 home win over Dundee, the central defender didn’t play a single minute of competitive football.

Montgomery, who had been forced to improvise during Bushiri’s absence, with Paul Hanlon’s illness forcing him to play an undercooked Nectar Triantis and even left back Jordan Obita at centre-half, saw enough in a full first week’s training to throw the Congolese stopper straight into the starting line-up for last Wednesday night’s derby at Tynecastle. His performance there, followed by his contribution to a first clean sheet since December 9 in Saturday’s 2-0 win over Ross County, suggest the 24-year-old hasn’t been too badly affected by lengthy inaction.

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“I think Rocky is the ideal example of how, sometimes, you don’t realise what you’ve got until it’s not there,” said Monty, the Yorkshireman adding: “Rocky is a leader. I think he’s solid. And I think he’s improved a lot since I came to the club.

“Playing on that left-hand side as a centre-back, he’s now improved with his left foot. It gives him the opportunity to drag back onto his right foot and drive inside, too. Rocky’s had some really good games for us since he got back.

“And, as a player, when you go away to a tournament and don’t play, you realise what you miss by being at your club. So it was important to get him back playing.

“In the last game before he went away, against Hearts at Easter Road, he was outstanding until the 94th minute, when he sort of fell over and they scored. His form going into that international break was very good.

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“He was playing alongside a young kid in Will Fish. You have to remember how young Will is. So Rocky has been a rock for us in games. He’s also made mistakes. But he’s matured a lot and is improving.

“He came back after we’d had only Will Fish as a centre-back for six weeks, really. I spoke to Rocky when he got back, told him I was going to throw him in – and he was more than happy. To play his part in three games in a week, and put in the performances that he did, people maybe now realise what a good centre-back he is.”

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