Hibs' Kevin Nisbet opens up on moans, groans, and lonely road back from injury as striker targets top form
There was a moment during the first half of Hibs’ 2-0 friendly defeat by Middlesbrough when Kevin Nisbet launched himself into a fifty-fifty challenge. The collective sharp intake of breath from the home fans was nearly audible.
But the striker laughs it off as he reflects on his first match since February, when he suffered a torn meniscus and anterior cruciate ligament injury during a goalless draw with Celtic.
“The thing is, a lot of people said to me I would have that wee doubt in my mind but from the first session I’ve been back I’ve been flying into challenges. It’s one of those ones, you need to get it away as soon possible and I’ve done that in training as well as in the game. I’m happy to go into challenges,” he says.
Nisbet played the first 45 minutes against the English Championship side, unable to find the net, but mostly happy to just be back out there after a long spell working his way back to full fitness.
“I felt fine – a tiny bit leggy, but I actually thought I’d feel worse, to be honest. I could probably have played on another 15 minutes but again it’s the gaffer putting the reins on me a bit. Physically I felt fine. The first three months I couldn’t really move or do anything, that was mentally hard. But after that you start setting wee goals and start ticking the boxes. It gets a bit easier and you’re back into training and back into games. It’s been hard but I think I’ve come out the other side mentally tougher as well.”
Hibs’ struggles in front of goal led to manager Lee Johnson toying with the idea of rushing Nisbet back into action. The striker travelled with the squad for the 4-1 defeat by Aberdeen at the start of November, taking part in the pre-match warm-up, but feels it was beneficial not to be brought back ahead of schedule.
“There was talk of maybe getting back before the break but I couldn’t get bounce games in. I think it was probably better for me to train a bit more and get back against Middlesbrough, then FC Edinburgh, then Rangers,” he adds.
“I think there was a debate about putting me back in. The boys were on a bit of a bad run, not scoring goals, and I think that’s why the gaffer was thinking about putting me back in. But the physio said it was maybe not a good idea to rush me back. The decision was taken to do it now and I’m looking forward to the Rangers game.”
Nisbet makes a point of paying tribute to the East Mains medical staff for not only helping him in his recovery but putting up with his frequent gripes on the treatment table. He singles out Alix Ronaldson for her treatment and tolerance.
“I feel for the physios, I’ve been moaning a lot the last four or five weeks but I think it was the sensible decision to keep me away and bring me back in now. I’m probably better off for it,” he admits. “Alix deserves a mention – she’ll hate that, because she doesn’t really like the limelight, but she has helped massively, especially dealing with my character. I can be quite moany and I think she dealt with that well.”
Johnson knows Nisbet well, having looked at him for previous clubs, so when the former Bristol City and Sunderland boss took over from Shaun Maloney, there were no concerns from the former Partick Thistle youngster.
“The gaffer has tried to get me a few times at different clubs so I think he was the perfect manager to come in. I knew I would still be in his plans and I knew the role I will play as well. We’d had a few conversations and it has all been positive. It’s good to be back and hopefully I’ll be back scoring goals soon,” he adds.
While Nisbet is happy to be back playing after a long spell on the sidelines, his comeback is tinged with regret that Martin Boyle, with whom he formed a productive partnership during the 2020/21 season, is now facing his own injury battle.
“I was devastated for Martin because I know what it’s like; I’ve been there. It’s quite a similar injury. I’ll be with him every step of the way and help him through and give him pointers,” Nisbet adds.
"It’s a lonely injury but I’ll be there for him as much as I can. Australia would have loved him to be fit for the World Cup because he’s a big player for them but I’m just gutted for him.”
On an international note, Nisbet naturally has designs on forcing his way back into the Scotland set-up, but isn’t looking too far ahead just yet, insisting that the first step is contributing regularly for Hibs.
“It’s about getting back playing and scoring goals and feeling at the top of my game again. I lost that for a long while so it’s about getting back to full fitness and full sharpness, and hitting the target,” he continued.
The 25-year-old could be handed a return to cinch Premiership action when Hibs travel to face Rangers on Thursday December 15 – somewhere he has scored goals in the past for Hibs – and feels the stern run of games coming up will be a good test of character.
"I’ve got a good record there. If I get the nod up front I think I’d back myself to score. It’s a good run of games coming up, I think it will show who’s got the character and who doesn’t; who’s got that desire to go and win games when we are in a sticky patch just now. It’s good for us to see who’s got that character to go and step up and win games for us.”