Martin Boyle is confident that being part of a traditional little-and-large strike pairing can help him maintain his hot streak in Hibs’ showdown with Championship title rivals Dundee United at Tannadice tonight.
The 23-year-old heads to Tannadice buoyed by his best spurt of form since first arriving at Easter Road from Dundee almost two years ago. His run of four goals in his last four games owes plenty to finally being utilised in his favoured position as a central striker after being played predominantly out wide since leaving Montrose for Dens Park in 2012.
The diminutive Boyle, who has kept top scorer Jason Cummings out of the side over the past month, feels he is benefitting immensely from being deployed alongside either Grant Holt or Brian Graham, the two target men recruited by Neil Lennon in the summer.
“The gaffer’s put me up there alongside a big, tall striker and it seems to be working at the moment,” Boyle told the Evening News. “Until this season, I’ve not really had a big, physical partner like Holty or Brian to play alongside. I’ve played with Jason but he’s not the tallest and he’s more similar to me. When [Anthony] Stokes was here, he liked to drift wide.
“This is the best period I’ve had since I’ve been here and I want to keep it going. I’ve had chances to score even more goals, but the main thing is that I’m scoring and the team is winning. I scored a lot of goals at Montrose and I feel like I can do that if I get a consistent run up front, which is something I’ve not really had here until now. I really enjoyed playing up front for Montrose because I was able to make smart runs to get into good positions.
“I’m feeling very confident at the moment. I’m making good runs, scoring goals and creating chances for the team, and I’m really enjoying playing up front with Holty and Brian, whoever it may be.”
Having spent much of his time at Hibs on the periphery, Boyle knows he must seize this rare chance in his favoured position, especially as the highly-regarded Cummings is pushing for a recall after five games on the sidelines following an autumn form dip.
“I feel like I need to take my chance every time I step on the pitch because it’s a big squad and players are chapping at the door wanting to play,” he explained. “Thankfully, this time I’ve managed to come in and keep the shirt.
“Jason’s still the top scorer in the division but hopefully with my wee run of form I can catch up with him. He’s still a top player and he’ll have a big part to play in the season but I’m just trying to make sure I keep my shirt.”
Boyle’s two previous visits to Tannadice as a Dundee player brought a red card in a 1-0 defeat and then a demoralising 6-2 annihilation in his last game for the Dark Blues. He is hopeful that his third match there will result in him heading home with his side having extended their three-point advantage at the top of the Championship.
“It’s a good opportunity for us to go six points clear and put a marker down,” he said. “They probably found it hard to adapt to the league because they started a bit slow like we did a few years ago, but they’re right up behind us now and they’ve got a good young team. Both of us are in good form so it’s shaping up to be a really good game for the spectators. It’s as big a game as you’ll get in this division.”
Lennon, meanwhile, dismissed United manager Ray McKinnon’s suggestion that Hibs could crumble under the pressure of trying to win promotion at the third attempt.
“I’ve seen no evidence of that so far and I don’t know what he means by saying we could crumble,” said the Easter Road head coach. “You either play well or you don’t, you either win or you don’t. If anything, the pressure is on Dundee United. If they lose the game on Friday, where do they go? They’re six points behind chasing us.
“If they win, they’re still behind us so all the pressure is on them really. Being at home, they’ll have a big crowd for the first time in a while and it will be interesting to see how they handle it. We’re fine. I’ve not seen any evidence of a mentality, or the lack of mentality of being in this division creeping in.”
Lennon also played down the significance of tonight’s match with regard to the effect it could have on the outcome of the Championship title race.
“It’s been built up to be a big game but we’re only at the beginning of December,” he stressed. “It’s not going to finalise or settle anything. You’ve got two teams who are in form that are first and second. In the context of the Championship it’s a big game but I don’t think the result will have any bearing on the outcome of the title race. What it will do is give us a chance to extend our lead at the top of the table. But if we lose the game, we’ll still be top of the table.”
Lennon is enthused by the prospect of his team running out in front of a near full house at Tannadice, with close to 3000 Hibs fans set to make the journey to Tayside for the team’s first live televised match since they drew 1-1 with the same opponents at Easter Road two months ago.
“When teams are going well no matter what division they’re in, if the club is big enough the fans will come and support them,” he said.
“We’ve had great support away from home all season and amazing crowds at home. That might be because the team is doing well or maybe it’s off the back of winning the cup last season. The interest in the club is there and it’s one of the reasons I came to Hibs.”