DESPITE the disappointment of losing his first game as a Hibernian player on Sunday, Michael Nelson is convinced that the Easter Road club are on the road to recovery.
What is more, although too modest to say so explicitly, the 33-year-old from Gateshead knows that he can play a vital role in that recovery.
Signed last week from Bradford City for a nominal fee, the centre-half has a style which could be easily summed up in two words: no nonsense. His communication with his team-mates is direct and to the point, and so is the way in which he plays. For a team that has lost too many goals through hesitation and uncertainty, Nelson’s blunt approach could be a godsend.
“That’s just me wherever I go,” the former Kilmarnock player said of his way of playing the game. “Even if the other ten are shouting, I still try and make myself heard above them.
“It’s just trying to make my job easier by putting people in positions around me. Hopefully that’ll spread throughout some of the younger boys or the boys who don’t talk as much.”
With some of the strongest leaders in the team currently out of action through injury – James McPake was out of the squad that lost 1-0 to Motherwell altogether, while Ryan McGivern was an unused substitute – Hibs manager Pat Fenlon believes that Nelson’s confident approach could be vital.
“He has said he wants me to come in and try and be myself,” Nelson continued. “He knows that I am quite vocal on the pitch, and I’ve not to try and be something that I’m not.
“Just come in and do what I do. If I’ve been here two days or two years I’ll carry on doing it.
“There’s no point trying to bed yourself in and being quiet for a few weeks until you get to know the lads. You’re going to end up shouting at people sooner or later, so you might as well start from day one.
“That’s something I do, and if some of the lads might be a bit shocked by it, then I’m sure they’ll get used to it. As long as I manage to perform week in week out and stay in the team, then I’ll carry on doing it.”
Sunday’s 1-0 defeat by Motherwell has not eased any of the pressure on Fenlon, following on as it did from the historic 7-0 humiliation by Malmo in the Europa League qualifying round ten days earlier. That latter result may have exposed a host of deficiencies in the Hibs squad, but Nelson is sure there is only one place to start when trying to rectify those faults: at the back.
“It doesn’t matter what predicament you’re in, if you’re doing well at the top of the league playing free-flowing football you’ve still got to be solid and organised. You can’t win games by being loose all over the pitch.
“It’s an old saying, but you build from a solid base. If you don’t get that right, then you can have the most attacking players you like, but if every time the other team attacks they’re going to score, then you’ve got your work cut out. So you might not see it at some of the clubs who stroke it about and pass it, you might not realise that they are solid at the back because you just see them passing it around in the final third and moving around and people getting on the ball, but it all comes from being solid at the back and being well organised.
“I never saw the European game, but [the Motherwell match] was a massive improvement on that. We looked solid at times and restricted them to very limited chances – a team who everyone really expects to be up there come the end of the season. We made them change the so-called creative players – we nullified them and they took them off. It’s just unfortunate that we got done by something we can cut out quite simply.”
Fenlon has denied that he has been told by his employers that his job is under threat if he fails to beat Hearts at Tynecastle on Sunday, but there is no doubt that anything but a win would leave the majority of Hibs supporters deeply dissatisfied with the current manager. He has been allowed to rebuild the side for the second successive summer, having recruited eight players in total over the close season, and needs to show he has a coherent vision of how to make a lasting improvement in the team’s results.
Nelson expects a tough match in the derby, but thinks the key to a Hibs win is for them to perform as they did against Motherwell, while eliminating the lapses of concentration which continue to prove costly.
“We’ve got to be as solid as we were for the majority of the game [against Motherwell], and just have that little bit of cutting edge when we do get the ball in the final third. It’s a derby. Anything can happen. It will be my first time playing in one, as it will for a couple of the boys, so we can use this to spur us on.”