Martin Boyle has been inching ever closer to his first goal for Hibs but now he’s hoping tomorrow’s clash with Raith Rovers will finally see him break his duck.
For the on-loan Dundee forward can happily recall his only goal of the season as having come against the Stark’s Park club, wrapping up a comprehensive 4-0 League Cup win for Paul Hartley’s side.
And while it may have come all of five months ago, Boyle insisted his recent lack of luck in front of goal wasn’t causing him any sleepless nights, the 21-year-old reckoning it’s only a matter of time before he’s celebrating his first goal for the Easter Road outfit.
A perfectly-timed tackle by Hearts defender Adam Eckersley which prevented him claiming a glory winner on his debut at Tynecastle was followed by a glaring miss against Falkirk, his shot creeping inches wide after he’d rounded goalkeeper Jamie MacDonald, while two efforts last weekend in Dumfries hit the woodwork have made it a case of close, but not close enough.
But rather than despair, Boyle believes the fact he’s kept his place in a winning team is an indication of Alan Stubbs’ faith in him, the Hibs boss having absolved him of any blame for that miss against the Bairns which would have put the Capital outfit 4-1 up in a match they eventually drew 3-3.
Today the former Montrose player said: “It’s just not happening for me at the moment, Against Queen of the South I had a shot which sciffed the post and then there was one I thought just needed a touch only for one of their defenders to throw his body in the way and it ricocheted off him and on to the woodwork.
“The main thing, though, is that I feel I am doing everything right, I am getting into these positions and if I keep doing that then the goals will come. The important thing is the team winning. If we can do that and I play well then I’ll be happy.”
The fact that every one of his team-mates has found the net this season – including goalkeeper Mark Oxley – hasn’t been lost on Boyle, who admitted: “I should be on three myself but I feel as if I am playing well, that I’ve fitted in here and I have no doubt the goals will come. With the quality we have in our team and guys like Dylan McGeouch and Scott Allan in midfield and the frightening ability they have to pass the ball then chances are always going to come.”
Boyle’s confidence is underlined by the fact Stubbs’ side have scored an average of three goals in each of their last six matches, a run sparked by a 3-1 victory in Kirkcaldy, his fellow striker Jason Cummings opening the scoring that day with a goal which marked the start of scoring streak in which he registered six in five matches.
That run was broken at Palmerston Park but even so the 19-year-old was involved in both goals, winning the penalty for McGeouch to score and then setting up Scott Robertson for his third in five games.
Boyle said: “Setting up a goal is just as valuable as scoring although, obviously, it’s good to get one for yourself. But as long as you are doing your bit for the team and we are winning then that’s as good as anything else.”
While Boyle and Cummings have spearheaded Hibs’ attack in the last few games they know that the competition for places up-front is about to become fierce with Dominique Malonga, top scorer before he departed on international duty with Congo at the Africa Cup of Nations, set to return – as are injury victims, new signing Franck Dja Djedje and long-term absentee Farid El Alagui.
And to that end tomorrow’s match presents Boyle with the opportunity to reinforce his claim for a place, the fact he’s already played in the Scottish Cup – in Dundee’s 2-1 win over high-flying Aberdeen – making him ineligible when Hibs face Arbroath next weekend with a second place showdown with Rangers to follow just six days later.
Again, though, personal glory will come second to another victory which would see Stubbs’ side leapfrog Rangers in the Championship table, a situation they’ll desperately want to engineer knowing they’d then be travelling to Ibrox with the opportunity of opening up a four-point advantage over the troubled Ibrox club having already beaten them twice this season.
Although no-one at Easter Road will admit Capital rivals Hearts are too far ahead to be caught, Boyle said: “Our main objective is to catch Rangers, to keep winning and to apply pressure on them. We’re scoring bags of goals, we’re going to have some competition for places up front when all the boys are back and that’s really good coming into this stage of the season.
“I don’t see why we can’t be second. Rangers will have games in hand on us but if we keep winning the pressure will be on them to win those matches while we still have to play them twice ourselves.”
Boyle, though, is taking nothing for granted tomorrow having faced Raith on numerous occasions last season as Dundee went on to clinch the Championship title – and recognising the danger posed by two of his old Dens Park team-mates, Christian Nade and Ryan Conroy now in the Kirkcaldy club’s ranks. He said: “Christian scored last time they were at Easter Road, he never gives defenders any breathing space. I know both him and Ryan well, they’re good players. Raith are also a decent side, in this league anyone is capable of beating anyone else. To be honest, Falkirk ending Hearts’ unbeaten record last weekend didn’t surprise me.
“We struggled against them last season at Dundee, they’re well organised and have a lot of good young boys coming through. I’ve been very impressed by them and Peter Houston has them playing well as we’ve found out to our cost here.
“It’s a massive game for us but we are on a good run, just one defeat in 16 league games, and we’ll be going into it with confidence.”