Talking points from Hibs' victory over Hearts - Newell display, Nisbet's Scotland chances, stalwarts' influence

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Kevin Nisbet’s 67th-minute strike was enough for Hibs to end their winless run in the Edinburgh derby as they consigned Hearts to a sixth consecutive defeat on Saturday at Easter Road.

The 26-year-old smashed in Paul Hanlon’s knockdown in what could be a significant win in terms of deciding the top six and the European spots – and also handed Lee Johnson his first derby victory over Hearts since taking the reins in EH7.

The Hibs boss made three changes to his team, the most notable being the return of Hanlon to the defence, while Lewis Stevenson and Jake Doyle-Hayes were also brought back in at the expense of Marijan Čabraja and Josh Campbell, with Harry McKirdy also dropping to the bench. CJ Egan-Riley, one of two centre-backs last week, shifted to right-back with Chris Cadden pushed further forward.

Getting the best out of Newell

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Hibs trio Chris Cadden, Joe Newell, and Kevin Nisbet celebrate at full timeHibs trio Chris Cadden, Joe Newell, and Kevin Nisbet celebrate at full time
Hibs trio Chris Cadden, Joe Newell, and Kevin Nisbet celebrate at full time

The team selection chosen by Johnson offered few clues as to the formation and tactics ahead of kick-off but he opted for a 4-1-4-1 set-up, with Jimmy Jeggo nestled in front of the defence and Doyle-Hayes and Joe Newell a little further forward. Injuries have prevented Johnson from having a settled team and the midfield in particular has suffered. But his decisions in the centre of the park paid dividends. Doyle-Hayes, dropped for the trip to Dundee United last weekend after an underwhelming first half against Motherwell in the previous game, benefited from not having to do too much defensively, although he did his fair share of the dirty work, and Jeggo did his usual job at six. But it was Newell who played like a new man, tearing around the middle third, snapping into challenges, haring after loose balls and generally playing a more box-to-box role. He earned the standing ovation as he left the pitch late on having run himself into the ground and caught the eye at both ends of the pitch.

Hanlon (and Stevenson) shore up the backline

Some supporters scoffed at the idea of Hibs missing Hanlon during last weekend’s 2-1 defeat by Dundee United but he showed against Hearts how vital his presence can be. The experienced defender only trained twice in the lead-up to the game as he manages a knee problem, but he put in a solid showing at the back and it brought the best out of Will Fish as well.

He was joined on the left side of the back four by Lewis Stevenson – the only two surviving squad members from the last time Hibs beat Hearts at Easter Road all the way back in March 2018. Coincidentally, the club captain notched an assist in that game as well, teeing up Scott Allan for the opener.

With Hibs chasing that top-six berth and European football, the 33-year-old could be a huge presence at the back for Lee Johnson, who has dubbed the boyhood Hibee the ‘daddy of the defence’.

Nisbet on target in front of Clarke

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Steve Clarke and assistant boss John Carver were keen observers at Easter Road and unsurprisingly so given the likes of Zander Clark, Kevin Nisbet, and Lawrence Shankland on display. But it was perhaps Nisbet – picked as the man of the match – who will have caught the Scotland national team manager’s eye most, given he wasn’t named in the most recent squad. On an afternoon when Shankland was kept quiet by the Hibs defence and Clark conceded a goal, despite foiling Élie Youan on more than one occasion it was Nisbet’s winner, which could have a huge say in the make-up of the top six and the European spots, that may just have pushed him up the pecking order in Clark’s eyes ahead of the June international break. He had been on the cusp of involvement for the games against Cyprus and Spain and just failed to make the cut in the end but with ten goals in 13 league games, he might make himself a must-pick.

‘They’re always more up for it than us’

It’s hard to argue with the assertion that Hearts have in recent history looked more ‘up’ for derby clashes than their Hibs counterparts. Not on Saturday. Perhaps the turmoil at Hearts this week – manager Robbie Neilson relieved of his duties and rumours about players having their contracts torn up among others – galvanised Hibs, who were certainly on top for most of the game. The chat after last week’s defeat by Dundee United was that the derby was the ideal game in which to get back to winning ways after a four-match losing streak and Hibs backed up that assertion from minute one. They looked like they wanted it more; there was a steely determination throughout the team that hasn’t been seen enough this season, from club stalwarts like Hanlon and Stevenson right up to derby novices like CJ Egan-Riley and Mykola Kukharevych. The next step is ensuring that Hibs not only take this approach into every derby, but into every game – starting with St Johnstone next week in what is a vital, must-win game.

Cadden silences the doubters?

Chris Cadden has had his detractors in recent weeks when playing at right-back, not entirely without cause, but he looked a lot more comfortable playing a more advanced role in the attacking trio against Hearts, and Egan-Riley was a solid operator at full-back. The two dovetailed well and prevented Hearts from getting much joy down their left side and with Hibs lacking any natural wingers with Martin Boyle and Aiden McGeady out injured, and Jair Tavares seemingly unfancied for too prominent a role, Cadden’s rebirth in a more advanced role could help solve one of Johnson’s tactical headaches between now and the end of the season.

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