MARTIN BOYLE is ready to endure another nerve-shredding end to a season if it means returning Hibs to the Premiership.
The on-loan Dundee winger was involved as the Dens Park outfit clinched last season’s Championship title, but only after a nail-biting final day as their closest rivals Hamilton thrashed Morton by an incredible 10-2.
Now Boyle finds himself in an equally-intriguing battle as Hibs bid to secure second place, so reducing the number of play-off games they’d face in their bid to win promotion.
Alan Stubbs’ side begin their bid to do so when they travel to Livingston tonight, aiming to trim Rangers advantage to a single point with just two matches remaining, a situation which Boyle admitted means the two-way fight is likely to go down to the wire.
Boyle also conceded he and his team-mates must win not only tonight but their remaining games against Alloa Athletic and Falkirk and hope Stuart McCall’s men slip up in one or both of their last two matches, against Falkirk and the champions Hearts at Tynecastle.
“I don’t know if my nerves can handle it again,” revealed Boyle, “We’ve got five massive weeks coming up to try to get and the play-off final and we are capable of doing it. I think we have to win all three games left to have a chance of taking second. There’s still a lot to play for, every game is going to be tough – for them and us. We just need to keep winning and, even if we get second, there’s still a lot more to do.”
Boyle, who missed the Scottish Cup semi-final defeat by Falkirk as he’d already played for Dundee in an earlier round, admitted Stubbs’ players need to immediately pick themselves up from that bitter disappointment. He insisted tonight’s game provided the ideal opportunity to do so while pointing out a resurgent Livingston outfit will be difficult opposition, Mark Burchill’s side now sensing they can not only avoid the automatic relegation place but possibly even the play-off at the bottom of the table.
And, having felt as much pain as those who took to the field at Hampden, Boyle is desperate to play his part in ensuring Hibs clinch what has been their over-riding priority all season – promotion. He said: “Watching the semi-final was very, very painful. You can’t fault the effort and commitment of the lads. It was one of the most one-sided games I’ve watched in a while but, when you do not take you chances, you get punished and that’s what Falkirk did to us.
“We’ve had that a few times this season but it was a shock at the end, a suckerpunch. It was very frustrating. When I got there I was all right, but when I saw the stadium and felt the atmosphere I wanted to be part of it. I was as upset as anyone, I had my head in my hands at the end. It was a good performance, the boys know they played pretty well. It might be hard to pick ourselves up but the manager has spoken to us and we just need to go again. The best thing that could happen is having a game tonight. We had a good opportunity, but it is over now. We still have a lot to play for in terms of promotion.
“We are still chasing that second spot. The main objective was going up – the cup was a bonus along the way – but now we have to concentrate on getting promotion.”
Nerves are undoubtedly going to play a part over the closing stages of the season, the question being who can hold theirs and who might find the pressure too much to bear.
To that end, Boyle knows just exactly what’s to come. Recalling the final day of last season, he said: “It had all become a bit edgy, the nerves began to creep in as it came down to the last few games and, ultimately, the final day of the season.
“I’d had my 21st birthday but wasn’t able to go out and celebrate because of the situation we were in but I think that last day was the most nerve-racking I have ever had.”
Dundee had gone into their last game against Dumbarton knowing a point would almost certainly ensure them the title given the impressive goal difference they enjoyed over Hamilton. And Paul Hartley’s side looked as if they had nothing to worry about as goals from Christian Nade and Peter MacDonald had them 2-0 up before half-time. But, as Dumbarton’s Scott Agnew cut the deficit with a penalty midway through the second half, news began to filter through from New Douglas Park that Hamilton, already five goals to the good at half-time were continuing to find the back of the Morton net with regularity.
Boyle recalled: “I’d been substituted and, as I came off, I heard whispers but thought ‘surely not, that’s unbelievable’. Dumbarton were also really coming into it in our game so it was suddenly all very nervous again and it took a great save from our goalkeeper Kyle Letheren late on for us to win it.”
Hamilton’s disappointment that day did, of course, disappear as they dumped Hibs in the play-off final. Boyle said: “I’ll never forget the celebrations at Dens Park and hopefully it will be more of the same come the end of the season at Easter Road.”
Boyle is out of contract at Dundee at the end of the season and, as yet, his future is uncertain. He said: “I came to Hibs with the aim of playing football and helping them gain promotion. I haven’t spoken about my future, I’ll wait until the end of the season and take it from there.”