Kevin Nisbet: From Partick Thistle reject to Dunfermline Athletic's Championship star

Kevin Nisbet has gone from Partick Thistle reject to a Scottish Championship talent
Kevin Nisbet has gone from Partick Thistle reject to a Scottish Championship talent

"It was a decision that has probably changed his whole life. The penny has dropped."

Kevin Nisbet might not be the first name that comes to mind when punters think about the Scottish Championship, but he might soon be.

The Dunfermline Athletic striker has scored 16 league goals this season. In all competitions, that number rises to 21 goals in 28 games.

Yet this challenger to Dundee United rival Lawrence Shankland's crown as the league's top scorer has not had an easy rise to the top.

BBC Scotland takes a look at how the 22-year-old went from a failed prodigy to one of the most exciting talents in Scottish football.

'He had the attributes; he was a stand out'

Nisbet began his career at Partick Thistle's Weir Youth Academy, where he quickly made a name for himself as a natural goalscorer and exquisite finisher. It wasn't long before he was thrown into Alan Archibald's first team.

Scott Fox was in goal for Ross County at Dingwall when Thistle, a goal down and desperately trying to snatch a much-needed point, turned to the 18-year-old on their bench.

Fox recognised the debutant immediately. Nisbet had come through the Weir Academy when the goalkeeper was still plying his trade at Firhill. "I think he was the top goalscorer in the youth teams by a long, long way," he said. "He was a real stand out. He has all the attributes. His size, his pace - he was an asset."

Nisbet could not fashion a late equaliser against County that day. Nor did he score at all in a further 17 appearances for the Glasgow club stretching either side of a six-month loan to Ayr United that provided just two goals in 20 games.

A loan move to Dumbarton then beckoned. However, that didn't work either. When he returned to Thistle, he found a relegated club full of panic and all out of patience with him and he was released with just five senior goals to his name.

Nisbet made his debut for Partick Thistle against Ross County in the Scottish Premiership
Nisbet made his debut for Partick Thistle against Ross County in the Scottish Premiership

'He had too much ability to fall off the radar'

A second chance came with Raith Rovers. The Kirkcaldy club played in League One but could offer Nisbet something that most couldn't at that level - full-time football.

Barry Smith, who was Rovers' manager at the time and made the decision to sign Nisbet, said: "When we brought him in, he had taken a big knock in his confidence after leaving Partick Thistle. From day one, you could tell his ability."

At 6 ft 1ins and with speed and strength to boot, the young man from Glasgow was the perfect signing on paper. However, Nisbet has admitted himself that, since leaving Thistle, his attitude was far from perfect and that's what Smith would have to change.

"We told him he was doing well up to a point, but we did have to see him working harder," said Smith. "We said to him that he had too much ability to fall off the radar. But if he couldn't match the work effort seen from the rest of his team then he could quite easily never be seen again."

Although Nisbet only scored one goal in his first five games, four of them came in a Scottish League Cup group against higher league opposition and he then scored six in his next five. He had quickly found the spark to reignite this career.

In his next 36 games, Nisbet went on to find the net an incredible 27 times, finishing the season top of the League One scoring chart by nine goals. Suddenly, Scottish football was taking notice of the rising star of Stark's Park.

John McGlynn, the former Celtic scout who inherited the Rovers team, recalls: "Kevin was scoring goals and he continued to score goals all the time - everyone was after him.

"Every manager is being asked by an agent what they're looking for and nine times out of 10 you're looking for a striker. It didn't take long for me to put a new contract on the table for Kevin."

Nisbet signed a new deal during the season, but following Rovers' failure to win promotion, he opted to make the step up himself, signing for local rivals Dunfermline.

Nisbet scored his first goal for Raith Rovers against Hearts in the Scottish League Cup
Nisbet scored his first goal for Raith Rovers against Hearts in the Scottish League Cup

'Someone will take a chance because he's scoring goals'

After two failed attempts in the Championships with Ayr United and Dumbarton, a newly-focused Nisbet has taken the league by storm. If you exclude penalties from the tally, the 22-year-old striker is currently sitting just three goals behind Scotland international Shankland.

"Maybe the penny dropped when he left here," notes Fox, who finally conceded a goal to Nisbet when Dunfermline beat Thistle 3-0 at Firhill earlier this season. "You never really know what you've got 'till you lose it and obviously he's had to go down to a lower level to build up his reputation and get a chance. That decision has probably changed his whole life."

Nisbet has a contract at Dunfermline until 2021, meaning a sizeable transfer fee will be required if a bigger club has any intention prising him from East End Park and testing the striker's goalscoring at a higher level before then.

"Someone will take a chance because he's scoring goals," McGlynn suggests. "He's scored as many goals as Lawrence Shankland and he's got many suitors.

"He could play at any level that he wants to go and challenge himself to do - if he puts his mind entirely towards it."

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