Lee Johnson hails return of Kevin Nisbet in Middlesbrough friendly but Hibs boss bemoans loss of 'poor' goals
Hibs manager Lee Johnson was pleased to see Kevin Nisbet back on a football pitch after nine months on the sidelines, but bemoaned the slack defending that gifted Middlesbrough two goals in the mid-season friendly match between the teams on Saturday.
Chuba Akpom and Sonny Finch scored in five second-half minutes to down the Capital club on a day when 22 different players got gametime in green and white. Speaking afterwards, Johnson voiced his satisfaction with Nisbet’s first appearance since February while he had words of praise for Harry McKirdy and Demi Mitchell as well.
"In terms of looking at the positives, it felt like we had nearly half a new team with the return of Kevin – which is fantastic given the loss of Martin Boyle, which is disastrous – and Harry getting in and around Nisbet. We looked like we had the quality there,” he said.
"I was pleased with the first-half performance, but I thought when we got into good positions we could have had a bit more composure. I think that comes with a bit more sharpness from Harry and Kevin. I thought Demi did alright as well; he looked quite sharp, but again, he's another player who hasn't been in and around it for long due to injury. I was pleased with Kevin’s performance; I think that 11-a-side game will open up with the more minutes he gets and the more time he's in the first-team environment. In the first half I thought any quality we did have in terms of the breaks and the moves often went through him. There was a little flick-on to Harry McKirdy, a little round-the-corner pass that he played – his link play was good. These are the things I'm looking out for in games like this.”
Johnson also admitted that he had gone through the players who had featured in the second half in the dressing room after the match because of the manner of the goals conceded, which he felt were avoidable.
"I actually tore into the second-half team; not because they didn't try or because they didn't play well, but because the two goals we lost were poor from a defensive sense,” he continued.
“All week we've worked on crosses coming in: centre-half inside the post, centre-half in the middle of the goal, left-back inside the post. Two crosses; first centre-half outside the post, left-back outside the post, easy goal. That’s leaving a bit of a bitter taste in my mouth, and a knot in my stomach.”
The Hibs boss also wants to see more from Elias Melkersen, who played the second 45 minutes but was quiet in attack.
"We need to have spirit, more than we had in the second half. I spoke to Elias and said, 'look, I like you a lot, but you were running around a little bit and not doing anything'. A good player like that should be doing more. But we are where we are; we've had some real misfortune in recent games whether it's VAR calls, bad refereeing decisions, or games we feel we should have won,” he added.
"This break is a bit of a reset for us and it's a good reset, but it doesn't mean we don't continue integrating players or stop continuing the journey."