Hibernian boss Jack Ross will have enjoyed his Saturday evening.
Two weeks into the new season and things have clicked sooner than he could have hoped. His defence is looking far more solid, there is a balance to the side that was missing last term, and the goals are flying in.
Even when he takes major creative influences like Scott Allan and Drey Wright out of the side, influenced by tactics and injury respectively, his men have the attacking verve and the firepower to ensure there is no obvious weakening of the team.
Rejigging the starting line-up, despite an opening-day victory, the Easter Road boss deployed his main strike duo and will have been thrilled to see both on the scoresheet as the Leith side put the game out of their hosts’ reach before half-time.
Christian Doidge had taken time to get going after his arrival last summer, but there was no such hesitancy this term. In his first start of the new campaign he stabbed home a close-range effort just before the interval.
But, even with that contribution, such has been the early impact of the club’s other forwards, last season’s top scorer is already playing catch up.
Last week Martin Boyle had stolen the limelight with a brace but, foregoing any settling-in period, Kevin Nisbet went one better against Livingston, grabbing a hat-trick to prove he has what it takes at Premiership level.
A busy, dogged and mobile striker, who is happy to make the clever runs and link up with colleagues, Nisbet yesterday proved he is also capable of exchanging his Championship scoring exploits into valuable top-flight currency.
Unbeaten against Hibernian last season and with a solid home record, Livingston had been expected to make things tougher for the capital side but after last weekend’s defeat by St Mirren, they turned in another poor result.
The key moment in the game came in the 24th minute when the visitors took the lead. Daryl Horgan, who had replaced Wright in the starting line-up, held his nerve and, showing composure, waited for Joe Newell to overlap and space to open up before fizzing a low cross across goal. His pass picked out the goal-hungry Nisbet who had darted free of his marker to tap in.
Having gone ahead, this Hibs side is set up to make the most of that. Resolute at the back, they have pace, guile and drive on the flanks. Even in the middle of the park, Alex Gogic and Newell are more than mere obstacles for the opposition to try to clear – they are happy to advance, while the front men work hard to link up with the men around them.
Collectively, there is vision and some lovely movement off the ball. It meant that while Livingston tried to compete, they did not win enough individual duels and as a unit, they could not match Hibs’ defensive stubbornness, their hunger or their execution of chances when they did come their way.
Having opened his Hibs account, Nisbet wasted no time in adding to his tally. Horgan was again the provider on 38 minutes, whipping in another cross, which Nisbet headed home, again from close range.
In the 42nd minute, it was Doidge who reacted when a Newell corner pinged about the congested box. With bodies on the turf, the striker stuck out a foot to stab it over the line.
Former Hibs midfielder and current Livingston captain Marvin Bartley was not giving up the battle, though, and early in the second half he lunged in on Paul Hanlon, picking up a yellow card. But there was not enough fight elsewhere in the side.
The home side did pull one back, though, when a 59th-minute penalty was given against Ryan Porteous and Lyndon Dykes sent Ofir Marciano the wrong way from the spot.
Boyle was presented with a couple of opportunities after that but the Australian international took the wrong option a couple of times and when he did pick out Horgan’s darting run, the Irishman’s finish was blocked by Livingston goalkeeper Robby McCrorie at the near post.
With two minutes left Hibs did add extra sheen to the scoreline after Bartley had bundled over substitute Melker Hallberg. It allowed Nisbet to step up and bury the penalty low into the bottom corner, to complete a comprehensive and confidence-building victory for the visitors and leave Livingston well aware that much has to improve if they are to come close to emulating last term’s over-achievements.
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