The 25-year-old has been sidelined since injuring his anterior cruciate ligament against Celtic on February 27. Since then, there has been lots of rehab for Nisbet and a managerial switch, with Johnson replacing Shaun Maloney in the summer. It would be fair to say that his current boss is desperately excited to have the Scotland internationalist back fit again. Such has been the forward’s progress on the training pitch, Johnson feels he could play him again Ross County on Tuesday evening. However, he will resist temptation and err on the side of caution. The Rangers game, after the World Cup, is the return date. County and Kilmarnock on Saturday will have to wait.
“Nissy is a bit or a dilemma to me,” said Johnson. “I think I could have had him on the bench for a half-hour cameo on Tuesday. I really do but I’m not going to do that. The next match is on astro, and the different between seven-and-a-half months and eight-and-a-half months of the recurrence rate of an ACL with no game – he’s not played a minute behind closed doors, reserve of development – it is a bit of a risk and he’s too important. The game is important and I can see a scenario where we are drawing and we could use his quality in terms of his touch and his finish but I made a decision to play [Martin] Boyle against Hearts with no pre season. But in this decision I’m going to elongate his time to come back fine.
“Kevin has been good as gold. He’s sensible enough. The boys have eight or nine days off after the Kilmarnock game but he doesn’t want any time off. He wants to be worked so he can come into the next period flying. That’s a great attitude. It’s a good natural break for us and for him. It will be like a mini pre-season for him. It’s perfect timing for going into the Rangers game as a potential starter. I don’t see any reason why that’s not a possibility.”
Johnson will therefore rely on the current group of players to try and atone for Friday night’s 4-1 defeat by Aberdeen when they return to cinch Premiership duty against Ross County at Easter Road. The Hibs manager says he needs his players to keep moving forward, rather than undoing all their good work with results such as the one at Pittodrie.
“I just want to keep us moving on the right track,” said Johnson. “I feel like we are but at times we are letting ourselves down. It’s like two steps forward and one back or one forward and one back. I need it to be three or four forward and none back. I need that now.”
Defender Rocky Bushiri is fully aware of the importance of a response. “We have to move on,” the defender said. “We need to give a good reaction. When you re-watch the game, we didn't think we played that badly but if you don't finish, if you don't concede then you can avoid this painful time. We are extra hurt and our focus goes higher for the next game.”