It has been quite an eventful six weeks for Kevin Nisbet but, just when Hibs needed him most, he popped up with an important goal at Gayfield to effectively book the Easter Road side’s passage into the next round, with Chris Mueller’s late effort the gloss on the scoreline, but no less than the Scottish Premiership side deserved.
Nisbet, unlike many of his Hibs team-mates, is no stranger to the Red Lichties’ iconic ground.
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“I said that to the boys before the game – I have played here before and it is just an absolute battle,” he admitted afterwards.
“The form we had shown previously and the form Arbroath were on, a lot of people thought they were going to win. We knew if we battled away, played the way we can play then we knew we would get into the next round.
"Arbroath are really good at what they do. They make it horrible but they can play as well. We had to stand up to that, we did, and our quality shone through.
“When we went down 1-0 it wasn’t ideal but we knew if we kept battling away and playing the way we were then we could create chances and score goals. It was important we scored three goals as well because we haven’t scored a lot lately so we are buzzing.”
Hibs last scored three goals at Tannadice on Boxing Day, when Nisbet scored the first in a 3-1 victory that, coincidentally, featured a goal from a wingback and a late third added by a substitute winger.
Things beginning to click
Was the victory in Angus a sign that some of Shaun Maloney’s ideas are coming to fruition?
“When a new manager comes in then it is a totally different style of play. It will take time but it is starting to click now and people are starting to get it tactically, and how we play the game and hopefully we can take that into Ross County.
“We have seven games to the split and we aren’t sitting where we want to be. It is totally up to us now. The manager can give us all the tactics he wants but as soon as we cross that white line we take full responsibility and put performances in.”
There will be hope on the terraces and in the dressing room that the come-from-behind victory at a tough venue can be the spark for Hibs’ league form.
“It stops the rut and gets the win and the spirits back up,” Nisbet agreed. “It helped get the confidence up as well as you saw at the end of the game where we passed the ball really well and created chances."
Maloney has been hugely appreciative of Nisbet’s efforts as he adapts to a slightly different role and he has had many conversations with the striker since taking the job.
“The gaffer has been on at me to get in between the sticks but I am going through one of those spells where I am going front post and the ball is going back post and vice-versa.
"It will turn and hopefully the goal against Arbroath will kick me on,” Nisbet added.
Maloney hasn't been shy in expressing his appreciation for his number 15’s efforts since his arrival in December.
"I know there’s been moments in games where our strikers or midfielders could have been more clinical. That’s been the difference, really, in some of our results. But overall Kevin has been outstanding for me,” he said.
“I analysed the team before I took the job, and he’s shown me more in and out of possession than I’d seen previously.
"As a nine, outwardly you can be judged on the amount of goals you score but I have been really happy with his performances, and his workrate, and there has definitely been a change in the relationship between Kevin and the support.
“I really feel there is respect now, and a real sort of connection between the two.
“I am really confident he is going to be a big player for me in terms of the success we are hoping to have here.”
Fans take to Nisbet
There was a moment towards the end of the game against Arbroath when the Hibs fans crammed into the Pleasureland End broke into a hearty chant praising the striker. It wasn't so long ago that supporters were pleading for the untried Elias Melkersen to be started ahead of the 24-year-old.
It is perhaps a shame that there were no fans in grounds for Nisbet’s debut season in green and white. Eighteen goals in 45 appearances was an impressive return and included goals against Celtic and Rangers, plenty of winners, and strikes in both cup competitions, but there didn't seem to be the relationship between player and fans like there was with Martin Boyle, Christian Doidge, or Ryan Porteous which maybe prevented some supporters from fully appreciating the forward’s all-round game.
His finish at Gayfield was a very good strike; combining accuracy with the ability to find the net from a tight angle. His two offside goals were well taken too.
Cynics might point to Arbroath competing in the division below the top flight but Nisbet has consistently proven his worth at a higher level and as the cliche goes, you can only beat what’s in front of you.
There were perhaps more incidents worthy of discussion from this cup tie – Demi Mitchell scoring again, Chris Mueller opening his account, Syl Jasper’s performance, Lewis Stevenson rolling back the years in the middle of the park – but it feels like something has clicked between Nisbet and the Hibs faithful.
Hibs host the Staggies this weekend looking to arrest a run of six games without victory. It would be no surprise to see Nisbet firing the Capital club to a much-needed victory.