Hibs verdict: Tired Nisbet, Allan magic, and why victory against St Johnstone is vital
There was a bit of a Paul Heckingbottom-era feel to Hibs’ draw with St Mirren – losing a late equaliser, Scott Allan being shunted out to the left, that sort of thing.
Things are obviously better down Easter Road way these days than they were during the latter part of the Yorkshireman’s tenure but we didn’t see anything new from Hibs in their 2-2 draw with Jim Goodwin’s side.
Jak Alnwick wasn’t tested as much as he might have been, the defence looks utterly terrified of dealing with cross balls, and three points rather than one point should have been secured.
Hibs took a while to get going against a team still searching for their first win of the season. There was no sign of the swagger that has been evident in recent weeks – that David Murphy-esque confidence that veers close to arrogance, but stops just short.
There was some really nice football played by Hibs on Saturday. But there were also some head-in-hands moments. These are the games that Hibs should be winning easily if they are serious about kicking on and fulfilling owner Ron Gordon’s vision.
The Nisbet-Gullan quandary
Is Kevin Nisbet suffering from Christian Doidge’s prolonged absence? It certainly seems that way. The Scotland internationalist cut a frustrated figure at times against St Mirren.
He also mishit the ball when presented with a good opportunity from around 12 yards in the first half – as he did against Hearts at Tynecastle.
His free-kick in injury time cleared the bar by a considerable distance and if anything, he looked exhausted by that stage, but with few options on the bench in the way of strikers with James Scott unwell, Doidge injured, and Jamie Gullan apparently not fancied to make a difference, he was probably kept on longer than he might have been.
And herein lies the problem. If Hibs go out and try to recruit a free agent centre-forward to tide them over until Doidge returns then it is highly likely they will have to wait for the new arrival to get up to speed in terms of match fitness. It isn’t as easy in the current climate to arrange bounce games as it was pre-pandemic, which begs the question: is it really worth spending time and money to bring somebody in who isn’t ready? Answer: no.
Scott may well return for the League Cup trip to Dundee United and if not then, surely the visit of St Johnstone next weekend, which will give Ross further options in attack.
But it might be worthwhile throwing Gullan on from time to time even just to give Nisbet a bit of respite. He was expected to leave on deadline day but with Hibs unable to add to their ranks in the final third, “Hammer” ended up staying at Easter Road.
If he’s being named in the matchday squad, would it really hurt to give him a few minutes from time to time? He doesn’t give the impression of being the sort of player who won’t come on and give 100 per cent and Nisbet would probably benefit from being able to have a bit of a rest after his time with the Scotland squad in the summer and involvement during international breaks.
Allan still shines
It truly is a joy to see Scott Allan on a football pitch, arcing sumptuous crosses for Paul McGinn to slam into the net and generally playing out of his skin to help Hibs back into the game. There was an extended period of time where it seemed uncertain whether we would see him gracing the turf at Easter Road or anywhere ever again.
But his performance against St Mirren proved that he still has a lot to offer the team and might even have given Jack Ross a selection dilemma going into Thursday’s League Cup tie against Dundee United.
Hibs weren’t ticking until Allan arrived. That’s not to take anything away from Chris Cadden, who didn’t do a lot wrong in his 45 minutes on the park. But Allan makes things happen. No matter how many midfielders Hibs sign, or try to sign, the playmaker remains a Rolls-Royce of a player with a lot to offer.
It almost seems criminal that he has spent so much time on the bench even if it is understandable. But that’s two substitute appearances in which he has turned the tide.
The smart money would be on him spending more time off the bench and on the park in the coming weeks.
Thursday night football at Tannadice gives Hibs the chance to banish the demons of Saturday’s late draw and advance in the League Cup competition before welcoming bogey team St Johnstone to Easter Road next weekend.
There’s a quick turnaround from the midweek game to the league match and while Jack Ross has more than a few injury concerns, he might be tempted to change things up a little bit to keep things fresh.
But he might also want to keep faith in the group that has Hibs top of the league and unbeaten in the Premiership so far.
It is vital that Hibs find a way of beating both Dundee United and St Johnstone. The benefits of cup progression are self-explanatory, while the need to defeat Callum Davidson's side is two-fold.
The Perthshire outfit had Hibs’ number for most of last season and they will be buoyed by victory against Aberdeen.
A convincing win, or to be honest, just any sort of victory against the McDiarmid Park side will go a long way to helping convince fans that Hibs have changed their ways since last season.