Kevin Nisbet on rejecting Millwall, relationship with Hibs fans and Scotland chances ahead of Easter Road milestone
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The milestone is significant for a number of reasons. It underlines the savvy investment the club made when they recruited him from Dunfermline Athletic in the summer of 2020. At a time of uncertainty due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Hibs board decided to part with a six-figure fee for his services and have been repaid with 37 goals.
They also look set to make a hefty financial reward. Hibs boss Lee Johnson has made little secret of the intention to cash in on their biggest asset should an agreeable offer be made this summer transfer window. Nisbet, after all, just has one more season remaining on his contract with this one is finished, meaning his 100th fixture in green and white may also be his last at Easter Road.
But it’s also a milestone he didn’t look like reaching back in January after a bid for his services from Millwall was accepted by the club’s top brass. Bucking the trend of players going down south at the first offer of, as he puts it, “life-changing money”, Nisbet rejected the move and chose to stay in the cinch Premiership for the remainder of the campaign.
“Sometimes you just get a feeling it’s not the right time to go,” said the 26-year-old. “Maybe it was too soon after the ACL injury and I just wanted to get settled a bit more before I go. If I go this summer, or January or next summer it’s about feeling that settled way.
“It was more about me, not anything to do with Millwall or Hibs or anything. It was how I was feeling at the time. Millwall understood that. It was about me getting that feeling that I want to come back here, keep playing and get my match sharpness and fitness again. I’ve got that now and I’m delighted.
“Football’s a short career and you have to make important decisions. It’s life-changing money. But for me just to come back from a major injury it was just about a feeling that I wanted to stay here until the end of the season or further.
“I’ve come back in, played well, scored goals and put myself in the shop window for the Scotland team as well. It was the right decision and we just need to see what happens from here."
If Nisbet does leave after the next two games then he’ll go with the best wishes of the Hibs support, who’ve thoroughly enjoyed cheering on the new and improved version of the striker after he worked hard to improve his strength and sharpness during his nine-month spell out with a serious knee injury.
The relationship has largely been strong during his three years at the club, though it was a little more fractious prior to his absence. A downturn in form following a rejected bid from Birmingham City, which saw him hand in a transfer request, then bled into the hugely disappointing 2021/22 campaign where Hibs dismissed two managers en route to a bottom-six finish.
“Whether [a move] happens now, in January or next summer I want to be on good terms with the club and the fans. I think I am now,” said Nisbet.
"Obviously there were times when I wasn't, when I didn't have that connection or it was a bit up and down. Now I've got that really good connection with the club and the fans.
“Obviously the derby goal helps that as well. It was a long time without beating Hearts and you've got the fans singing Sunshine On Leith, it was a great experience. I think that brings me and the fans closer as well.
“I’ve been involved in a squad that finished third, played in Europe, played in massive derbies and just scored in one. It’s great memories to look back on.
"If Celtic is the last game [at Easter Road] then I want to put a really good performance in. We're really looking forward to it. It's all about getting three points and trying to take it down to the final day.”
There may only be two games remaining this season but there’s plenty of opportunity for Nisbet to prove himself to potential suitors and to Scotland boss Steve Clarke. The 10-cap international hasn’t featured since his injury, though he may have made it into the squad for the most recent double-header against Cyprus and Spain were it not for an injury issue which kept him out through most of March.
With crucial qualifiers coming up in the summer, Nisbet knows finishing the campaign strongly can bring him right back into contention.
“When you play Celtic, Rangers, Hearts it’s where you get most judged on,” he said. “You get less of the ball and have to do a lot more in the games to stand out. These are the games I like. I like pressure being put on me to score goals and I’ve maybe not done that the last couple of games but I think my performances have been good.
“It’s about me performing well and scoring a goal or two the next two games.”
“I’ve not spoken much [to Steve Clark] but I didn’t really expect to be in the last squad to be honest. I was just back from injury and maybe not up to match sharpness. But I’m fully fit now, sharp and feel good, probably better than I ever have.
“I think I’ll be in about there and it’s about me proving I should be in the next two games.”