Vykintas Slivka is eager to seize this opportunity to nail down a starting berth in Hibs’ midfield after a first year at Easter Road in which he fell out of the picture after a promising start.
The Lithuanian made a swift impression after joining from Juventus in summer 2017 when he scored the winner away to Rangers in the second game of last season. However, he soon drifted out of Neil Lennon’s starting XI and barely featured in the second half of the campaign as injury problems and the impressive form of other midfielders – namely John McGinn, Dylan McGeouch and Scott Allan – kept him out of the team.
Slivka continued to be a peripheral figure at the start of the current campaign, but has started to make his presence felt recently with a couple of impressive displays as a starter in emphatic Premiership victories over Dundee and Hamilton Accies. The 23-year-old is desperate to contribute and is hopeful that this is the start of his Hibs career taking off after the frustration of being a bit-part player thus far.
“Since I’ve been at Hibs, I’ve had ups and downs,” said Slivka. “As a team, we haven’t had many negatives since I’ve been here. But as a player, when you don’t play it can hurt you. It can be disappointing when you’re not playing but you just have to keep going and keep working hard in training. I want to play every game so when I play and the team wins, that is the best feeling.”
With the aforementioned McGinn, McGeouch and Allan no longer at Hibs, an opportunity has opened up for new midfielders come to the fore. Mark Milligan, Stevie Mallan and Emerson Hyndman have arrived in place of the departed trio, but Slivka senses a chance to step up and make his presence felt. His performances in his recent starts have lent credence to the notion that this could be his time to flourish after his underwhelming first season in Edinburgh.
“It’s good to be back in the team because it helps me physically to play regularly,” he explained. “I hope I can get a run of games but I am just concentrating on the next game – I don’t look too far into the future. Maybe there is a better chance to play regularly this season but that is up to the gaffer. I accept his decision – I don’t go and speak to him if I’m not playing.”
Slivka was deployed within a midfield diamond in the 6-0 win over Hamilton a fortnight ago and delivered a standout performance. He is hopeful of getting more opportunities to impress alongside Mallan, Milligan and Hyndman within this formation. “I really like this position,” he said. “I feel I can give something for the team from this position. We are all good players on the ball and work well together.”
Slivka returns to his club after starting both matches as Lithuania suffered back-to-back Nations League defeats at home to Romania and Montenegro. “It’s always nice to play for your country but the results were not so good,” he said. “I take pride representing Lithuania every time we play, but we just have to keep going and try to improve.”
A laidback character off the pitch, Slivka’s experience with his national team means he is unfazed by fixtures such as tomorrow’s trip to Celtic Park. The Lithuanian has already shown his penchant for the big games by scoring his only two goals for Hibs in victories over Rangers and Celtic last season. He is relishing the prospect of trying to help Hibs to a fifth consecutive league victory at the home of the champions. “It’s always nice to play against Celtic at their home,” he said. “I look forward to going through there and trying to beat them. I enjoy games like this. I get my game head on and just play. I have played in some big stadiums for the national team so that helps me in games like this. I think we showed last season we can play against them. In the last few games we have been playing good football so we are in a good mood.”
Slivka is content in Scotland’s capital but is clearly intent on taking his game to a new level this season. “I like Edinburgh,” he said. “Apart from the wind. It’s really nice. There’s lots of culture – galleries and museums. Everyone can find something in this city. I have some friends here and my girlfriend is here. I am happy with the way things are going. I just want to improve. The most important thing for me is that we win though.”