Vykintas Slivka has been a player who has divided opinion among Hibs fans, the Lithuanian internationalist clearly a talented player – you don’t sign for a club like Juventus as a teenager if you aren’t – but one many feel is unsuited to the Scottish game.
His first season at Easter Road appeared to reflect that assessment, Slivka making 32 appearances but starting just 12 games, a statistic which perhaps suggested then boss Neil Lennon had his own reservations.
Even so, there were flashes of the midfielder’s ability as he marked his first start in a green-and-white shirt with what proved to be the winner in a 3-2 victory at Ibrox before he later scored the second of Hibs goals in a 2-1 triumph over Celtic in Edinburgh.
Today Slivka has emerged as a regular on the teamsheet, 21 of his appearances being from the first whistle and life now, admitted the 23-year-old, is much more enjoyable.
He said: “It was difficult for me to play last season because we had John McGinn, Dylan McGeouch and then Scott Allan, all great players who had played together at Hibs before I came, which made it very difficult for anyone to get a game in the middle of the park.
“Now I am happy to be playing, improving and for people to have the trust in me.”
Slivka spent much of his time at Juventus on loan at another Italian side Modena, in Slovenia at Gorica and then at Den Bosch in Holland where he played 40 matches.
He then returned to Italy only to be loaned out again to Ascoli, before his surprise move to Scotland, arriving in Edinburgh, it was thought, to agree a season-long temporary stay only to end up signing a three-year contract.
Slivka revealed that coping with the physicality of the Scottish game had also made it tough for him.
He said: “It’s faster and more physical here, referees allow more contact than they do in Italy or elsewhere on the continent.
“But since I came I’ve been working with the physios and the strength and conditioning coach Paul Green in the gym which has helped make my life on the pitch easier.
“Playing games on a more consistent basis rather than getting a few minutes at the end of matches as a substitute has also helped me. From a personal point of view it’s been good to get such a run in the team but, as always, it doesn’t matter if you do not win.
“You are not happy in that situation, the team always comes first and so the past few months have been bitterly disappointing for all of us as we’ve not been getting the results we’d expected.”
Saturday’s Scottish Cup tie against League One Raith Rovers offered the opportunity of a little respite from the pressures of the Premiership, although Stark’s Park boss John McGlynn sought to remind Slivka and his team-mates of the burden on their shoulders by claiming the game represented a “potential banana skin”.
Any such misgivings were quickly forgotten, however, as Daryl Horgan and Slivka fired Hibs into a 2-0 lead at half-time with on-loan striker Marc McNulty getting his first for the club before Euan Murray claimed what turned out to be no more than a consolation goal for Raith.
Slivka enjoyed his goal, only his fourth for Hibs, for a novel reason – it was his first against opposition other than the Old Firm, having also scored for a second time against Celtic in a 2-0 win in the Capital last December.
He said: “I haven’t scored as many goals as I would have liked, but the good thing is that every time I’ve found the net it has counted for something – in fact we’ve won every time I’ve scored.
“It was my first against a team other than Celtic or Rangers and hopefully it won’t be my last. It was a great lay-off from Marc, he put it straight into my path and that allowed me to hit it first time before any of their players could get near me.
“It was good to get the win, to score a few goals and to get into the quarter-finals of the cup.
“It was a good professional performance from the team. We took the game seriously, we won our individual battles and passed the ball well.
“These games are difficult, you know you should win them but it is never easy. These teams come and fight as if their lives depended on it but even when they scored I didn’t feel worried.
“I was confident we’d go on to win and that’s how it turned out.
I was happy with my contribution, playing the pass inside for Daryl to score the first goal and then to get one myself made it a good game for me.
“It’s been a strange situation without a manager and with Eddie May and Grant Murray in charge, it’s all been a new experience for me.
“All we could do was continue to prepare for games as we always do. Such decisions don’t involve the players, no-one had any idea as to who the new manager was going to be although, obviously there was a lot of chat among the boys talking among themselves.”