While deflation was the overriding feeling within the Hibs camp after Saturday’s dismal defeat at Kilmarnock, Miquel Nelom could at least take some personal solace from the fact he had just played his first 90 minutes for seven months.
More than two months after arriving at Easter Road, the Dutch left-back was handed his first start for the club at Rugby Park as a surprise inclusion in place of Lewis Stevenson, who was dropped to the bench. It was the first time since May 13, when he played for Sparta Rotterdam against Dordrecht in a play-off match in his homeland, that Nelom had started a match, with his involvement at Hibs having hitherto been restricted to an eight-minute cameo against Hamilton Accies two months ago before a hamstring problem halted his bid for full fitness. Although disappointed with the way his debut went as Hibs suffered a comprehensive 3-0 defeat and a sixth game in succession without victory, the 28-year-old was buoyed to be back in the mix.
“It was a relief to play again,” Nelom told the Evening News. “I knew when I arrived at Hibs it would take me some time to get into my rhythm, and I’ve also had some hamstring problems so it’s taken a little bit longer than I expected. It’s been frustrating, especially when you see the team struggling and not getting the results we want. I’m just happy to be on the pitch now and to have made my debut in the starting line-up.
“I would have liked it to have been a lot better, but I was happy to play 90 minutes. I just need to get my rhythm now. I’ve not had good experiences with Astro pitches in the past so that was something I was a little bit concerned about on Saturday, but it was nice to get 90 minutes in.”
Nelom, who grew into the game on Saturday after a difficult first half, is hoping his outing at Rugby Park is the beginning of a sustained run in the team as he bids to help Hibs climb back into the top six after slipping to eighth in the Premiership. “I feel good and I’m in good condition now,” he said. “I just need to get a run of games now and hopefully finish the year strongly. I want to help the team get up the table because where we are now is not where we are supposed to be with the quality of players we have here and the type of game we can play. We haven’t really been ourselves in the last couple of weeks, but we need to keep our heads up and look forward.”
Nelom will have a fight on his hands to become a regular at Hibs since he is in direct competition with Stevenson, the club’s longest-serving player, for a left-back berth. He insists he is entirely comfortable vying with one of the most stalwart figures currently operating in Scottish football. “Competition is normal if you play in a good team,” said the former Feyenoord player. “Lewis was one of the first guys who welcomed me. Neither of us are afraid to be competitive.”
Nelom admits Hibs were well off the pace in the first half at Rugby Park but the Dutchman feels his team weren’t helped in their bid to fight back by the fact the floodlights went off twice in the second-half, causing lengthy disruptions in play. “In the first half we didn’t play well,” he said. “We weren’t aggressive enough, we didn’t win our personal duels. I felt we came back well in the second half but it was bad for us that the floodlights went out twice because we were just coming into the game, getting more aggressive, creating more chances and gaining momentum. It was difficult to get any rhythm because we were only playing ten or 15 minutes at a time and then we had to go back in and warm-up again. We changed tactics in the second half and that gave me more space and made it easier for me to get into the game. My first start could have gone a lot better though.”
Tomorrow evening’s game against struggling St Mirren at Easter Road has taken on major significance in light of recent results. With games against Celtic, Rangers (twice) and Hearts looming later this month, Neil Lennon’s team are in desperate need of a morale-booster. “Every game is important because we need points,” said Nelom. “The priority is the result, not how well we play. We need to just get the three points and that will help us.”