As his former team-mates steel themselves for a scrap to avoid being dragged into a relegation play-off, former Hibs star Eoin Doyle is preparing himself for a tilt at a title.
The Irish striker stunned many at Easter Road when he turned his back on the Edinburgh club to join English League Two outfit Chesterfield but, in his first season with the ‘Spireites’, Doyle has already enjoyed an outing at Wembley and is now on the verge of helping guide his new club to the championship.
With only four games of the campaign remaining Chesterfield sit third in the table, just two points behind leaders Scunthorpe with Rochdale sandwiched between them, thanks in no small measure to Doyle’s 11th goal of the season.
As Doyle celebrated his winner away to Hartlepool, Scunthorpe were held to a 2-2 draw by Bury while Rochdale were sunk 3-0 by Mansfield, a combination of results which threw the title race wide open ahead of English football’s busy Easter schedule which will see Chesterfield host Exeter – sitting in 20th place – on Friday before travelling to London for a seemingly trickier match against 12th-placed Dagenham and Redbridge on Monday.
Today, though, Doyle insisted the primary target is to secure automatic promotion which is granted to the teams filling the top three positions. Chesterfield currently sit five points ahead of fourth-placed Fleetwood who they face at their Proact Stadium on the final day of the regular season.
The 26-year-old said: “Winning at Hartlepool was a big one for us at the weekend. Getting the three points was great but it was made even better by the fact other results went our way as well. It’s put us in a terrific position with just four games left. We’re absolutely flying at the moment but the initial aim is to make sure we get promotion – then we can hope to win the title itself.
“With only two points separating the top three teams it’s going to be an exciting run-in and although we’ll all insist we can only take care of our own results it’s only human nature to have a look and see how the others are doing. I am sure the boys at Scunthorpe and Rochdale will be doing the same in regards to ourselves.
“This weekend will have a big say in how things turn out. At the moment we are in the third automatic promotion place, we don’t want to see ourselves slip into the play-off zone.”
Doyle is nearing the end of a marathon season with 42 league games to be played the length and breadth of England but the Dublin-born hitman insists he’s thoroughly enjoyed the hectic schedule saying: “It’s a lot of football, but it’s been a great experience and I’ve enjoyed the fact that over the course of the season we play three games every two weeks.
“There is a fair bit of travelling but being based in Derbyshire right in the middle of the country means we don’t have any really massive journeys to make.”
Doyle accepts he probably caused a few raised eyebrows among the Hibs support when his decision to quit Easter Road was revealed. The striker had been former manager Pat Fenlon’s first signing, arriving mid-season, in January 2012, on an 18-month contract alongside a raft of loan deals charged with ensuring the Edinburgh club avoided relegation, a target which was achieved in the penultimate match with a 4-0 hammering of Dunfermline.
Paradoxically, though, amid that struggle Hibs managed to negotiate their way to the final of the Scottish Cup, Doyle’s first goal in a green-and-white shirt helping avoid a shock at the very first hurdle away to then Second Division leaders Cowdenbeath.
The final itself, that 5-1 humiliation by arch rivals Hearts is, naturally, a day Doyle, along with everyone else at Easter Road, would rather forget. But by the time Hibs returned to Hampden 12 months later to suffer another defeat, this time by Celtic, Doyle had already made up his mind over a move to Chesterfield where his former manager at Sligo Rovers, Paul Cook, was now boss.
He said: “I perhaps surprised a few Hibs fans but I was looking for a new challenge and it happened fairly early with a pre-contract agreed in the March. The fact Paul Cook was manager at Chesterfield was a massive part of it. I’d worked under him at Sligo before I went to Hibs, he got the best out of me and I felt he’d do so again. In recent weeks I’ve hit a good bit of form, possibly at just the right time. I’m glad I made the move, I’m enjoying my football and living down here but, I have to admit, I do miss Edinburgh.”
If some Hibs supporters perhaps thought Doyle was taking a step back his switch has seen him keep up an incredible record of having played in seven cup finals in the past six seasons. The flame-haired forward scored at Wembley at the end of last month although his strike wasn’t enough to prevent his side going down 3-1 in the final of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy to League One Peterborough. It did, however, continue a remarkable run of final appearances.
He said: “I feel very lucky to have played in so many finals, even if there’s been a few which I’d obviously have hoped to have gone the other way, because many, many players go through their entire careers without getting to one.
“I’d also imagine there’s very few players about who have scored in the Aviva Stadium in Dublin, Hampden and Wembley. I think that’s a record I can be proud of.”
Although he’s now some 270 miles away, Doyle revealed he still takes a keen interest in what’s going on at Easter Road and professes to being taken aback at watching Hibs’ current struggles. He said: “I really enjoyed my time with Hibs. Of course I still look out for their results and I keep in touch with the likes of James McPake and Paul Hanlon.
“When I first arrived at the club it was a struggle making sure we just kept in the SPL which we did in that make-or-break game with Dunfermline. It was a fantastic night, a terrific atmosphere, one I won’t forget. The cup final was obviously a huge letdown for everyone but the following season there was a distinct improvement and I expected that to continue this season.
“They are having a difficult time of it at the moment but there’s a good bunch of lads there who, I am sure, can get themselves out of the hole they are in.
“I don’t know Terry Butcher other than having played against Inverness Caley when he was manager there. He did remarkable things at Caley and I’d imagine it’s a case of getting through these final five games, re-evaluating things at the end of the season, him putting what he wants in place and Hibs kicking on from there.”