‘Laser-focused’ – Hibs expert delivers verdict on Kevin Nisbet’s Millwall move

Scottish forward Kevin Nisbet became Millwall’s first signing of the summer after the Lions shelled out a seven-figure sum to land the 26-year-old.

Nisbet had been set to sign for the South Londoners last season in the January transfer window only for the switch to break down.

However, both parties remained keen on the move and Nisbet completed the move in the opening stages of the 2023-24 summer window.

Here, the South London Press speaks with Patrick McPartlin – the Hibs writer for the Edinburgh Evening News – about Nisbet’s journey at Easter Road:

What sort of player have Millwall signed in Kevin Nisbet?

“A player who still has quite a lot of potential. I know that seems a bit strange because he’s 26, but with his time at Hibs, you could see his talent when he first came in.

“He had an eye for goal, and you could see a lot of positives in his play. He had that injury which kept him out for the best part of the year. When he came back, he bulked up in the gym, his upper body strength had improved, his hold-up play had improved and he seemed to be doing a bit more about being more involved in games and having an impact on more games that he had previously.

“He was certainly more of a handful for defenders. He’s a striker for an eye for goal who has got better at hold-up play recently.

Scotland’s Kevin Nisbet warming up before the UEFA Euro 2024 Qualifying Group A match at Ullevaal Stadion, Oslo. Picture date: Saturday June 17, 2023.

“He’s someone who can work individually or in a front two. He also has the drive and determination to become the best player he can be.

“When you look at his path from being released by his first club, he went down the divisions and worked his way back up.

“He was going step by step. There was never a rush to go anywhere, it was always a considered move.

“He’s a talented footballer who is still getting better.”

So his overall game improved when he came back from that lengthy injury?

“I don’t know how much of that was down to management or the player himself.

“He’s always been laser-focused when it comes to his game. 

“He put in a heck of a lot of work in the gym when he was coming back from his injury.

“He didn’t rush coming back – he kept building himself up. Mentally, to have an injury like that for that length of time, he had that bit extra, which some players don’t have, to keep going and keep that focus on making a comeback and even coming back better than he already was.”

What were his main strengths which got the best out of him in front of goal?

“He doesn’t have one obvious weakness.

“If you look at the goals he scored for Hibs, they were headers, free-kicks, penalties, left foot or right foot.

“He is an all-round centre forward.

Hibernian’s Kevin Nisbet celebrates scoring their side’s second goal of the game from the penalty spot during the cinch Premiership match at Easter Road, Edinburgh. Picture date: Wednesday May 24, 2023.

“You wouldn’t say he’s a penalty box striker or a target man. He looks better when he has a decent amount of supply from the wide areas or midfield.

“Last season, before he get the injury, he was quite often being used as the lone forward, and he didn’t quite have the strength to hold the ball up. There was nobody really in midfield to really help out or feed off scraps, so he looked blunt for that period of time.

“But since he came back, he was getting into good positions, was a lot more involved in the play and making better runs.

“Before the injury, there were times when he was through one-on-one and it wasn’t a certain thing that he was going to score.

“When he came back, nine times out of 10, he was going to score and find the net.”

How was he after the move to Millwall collapsed in the last January window?

“Previously, back at the start of the 2020-21 season, there was transfer interest in him. He didn’t get the move and he put in a transfer request, which was turned down by the club.

“I think Birmingham City might have been the club interested at the time. There was a bit of a drop off in performance at the time. Fans said he didn’t look interested. He did seem to look a little bit put out that he hadn’t got his move.

“But this time, after the Millwall move collapsed, it was different – he was almost trying to prove a lot of people wrong.

“The move fell through. He was on the bench the next game and came off to score. 

Rangers’ John Souttar (left) and Hibernian’s Kevin Nisbet battle for the ball during the cinch Premiership match at Easter Road, Edinburgh. Picture date: Sunday May 21, 2023.

“He was warming up and clapping the fans, so the relationship was better than it had been. I still don’t think it was perfect. 

“But he didn’t play like a player who was disappointed or upset that the move to Millwall hadn’t gone through for whatever reason.

“He was playing like a player who thought: ‘If I keep playing like I have been playing, I’ll get by move. Whether that’s to Millwall or somewhere else.’

“It goes back to him being laser-focused and driven. His goals helped Hibs finish strongly and get into Europe. 

“That looked good on a personal level. It stood him in good stead. I didn’t notice a downturn in performance or attitude. If anything, it allowed him to reset.”

A good way for him to sign off with the Hibs fans by getting the goal against Hearts in his final appearance? 

“If there has been a slight criticism of him, it’s that he didn’t do enough in big games when he first joined Hibs.

“But that changed last season. He scored against Hearts twice, he scored against Rangers, and he scored against Celtic.

“He doesn’t strike me as the sort of person who likes having unfinished business. 

“So in his final game for Hibs, scoring a goal against Hearts at Tynecastle in the Edinburgh derby is not a bad way to finish your Hibs career.”

You mentioned in your goodbye piece to Kevin that he gifted his match-worn shirt from the 1-0 derby win in mid-April to a supporter whose father passed away during the match and also visited a young fan in the Sick Kids’ hospital and handed over his signed shirt and the match ball from his hat-trick in the 3-2 win against Motherwell. Does that sum him up as a character?

“He’s spoken about it before. He said he wasn’t good at looking after himself physically and nutritionally when he was released from his first club.

“He went down the divisions and has worked his way back up, getting better and better.

“I think it’s just a part of that overall attitude change. He’s never going to be the type of person who will kiss the badge and say that he wants to stay somewhere for the rest of his career before turning around and leaving.

“But he gets the importance of interacting with fans and he knows what the club means to the supporters.

“He recognises that he is doing what he loves and he likes being able to give back.

“There wasn’t too much of that initially in his Hibs career, but it seems to have been something which developed with him working on his character.

“He is trying to better himself in every area. He’s certainly matured as a person on and off the pitch.”

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