The Scotland striker played the first 45 minutes in the 2-0 friendly loss to English Championship side Middlesbrough on Saturday. The sight of the 25-year-old running out at Easter Road for the first time since February was a much needed boon just days after the club confirmed that influential winger Martin Boyle now faces a similar time on the sidelines with the same injury.
Johnson said: “In terms of looking at the positives, it felt like we had nearly half a new team with the return of Kevin Nisbet - which is fantastic given the loss of Martin Boyle, which is disastrous - and Harry McKirdy getting in and around Nisbet and looked quite sharp at times. We looked like we had the quality there.
“I was pleased. I think that 11-a-side game will open up with the more minutes he gets and the more time he's in the first-team environment. In the first half I thought any quality we did have in terms of the breaks and the moves often went through Nisbet. There was a little flick-on to Harry; a little round-the-corner pass that he played, his link play was good. These are the things I'm looking out for in games like this."
Nisbet started in attack alongside McKirdy and showed there were no lingering mental scars after crunching into a 50/50 challenge with Jonny Howson in the first half. Apart from setting McKirdy free for a chance that came to nothing, it was a relatively quiet run out for Nisbet.
Hibs looked more threatening either side of the break and sub Jair Tavares should have scored when he headed into the side netting. The English Championship side then scored twice against the run of play within five minutes just after the hour mark. Left-back Ryan Giles was the provider with crosses from the left that were converted by Chuba Akpom and Sonny Finch, goals which were described as avoidable by Johnson.