It was a November 5 to remember for Hibs and Martin Boyle as the striker’s double helped the Ladbrokes Championship leaders on their way to a comprehensive 3-0 victory over Ayr Utd at Somerset Park on Saturday.
It was a sparkling performance from the visitors, who were well worth their win even before a thunderous late free-kick from John McGinn gave Neil Lennon’s side their biggest league win of the season away from Easter Road.
Boyle’s brace made it three in two games for the in-form front man following last week’s dinked opener in the 2-0 home success over St Mirren. Having been afforded a central role, both he and Hibs are reaping the benefits.
Ayr were almost asking for trouble playing a high defensive line, and Boyle was only too happy to oblige them. After a few frustrating early offside calls, he had the Ayr defence in regular pursuit of him towards their own goal as his team-mates flooded forwards behind him. Having forced his way in, Boyle is relishing what is for now a regular starting berth in a position that suits him down to the ground.
“It’s brilliant,” he beamed. “The manager’s put me in a new role and I’ve adapted well, making runs, giving my work rate to the team and giving defenders no chance so it’s been great, and hopefully I can continue scoring goals.”
Although he had been foiled more than once early on by Ayr keeper Greg Fleming on Saturday, the Hibs No.17 was the obvious candidate for the opener. It arrived after Boyle was once more sent scampering in behind the Ayr backline by Lewis Stevenson, cutting inside a flailing Conrad Balatoni and getting off a low shot that found the corner via Fleming’s torso.
His first had just squeezed by the Ayr keeper, but the second was emphatic when it came with 15 minutes remaining. Fraser Fyvie fed midfield partner McGinn, who feigned shooting before sliding a lovely disguised pass in to Boyle’s path, and he duly drilled the ball through Fleming’s legs and in.
It was left to McGinn to produce a rocket fitting for Bonfire Night. After Boyle was bundled over 30 yards from goal, the Scotland internationalist leathered his free-kick in via the helpless Fleming’s left-hand post, catching out not only the home goalkeeper but a fair few others in the 3100 crowd. Joining up with Scotland this week for the qualifier against England, another raker at Wembley would be more than welcome.
“It’ll give John a huge shot in the arm,” said Neil Lennon. “He’s only had about 783 shots this season so by the law of averages he was bound to get one! He’s got that in his game, though, and it’ll obviously give his confidence a huge boost ahead of the game on Friday. It’s a testament to his talent playing at this level that he’s in the Scotland squad so obviously Gordon [Stachan] and his staff think very highly of him, as we do.”
Lennon also thought highly of his team’s display, hailing it as their best so far this term. It was a summation with which goalscorer Boyle readily agreed. “I thought we were absolutely brilliant,” he said. “From the start, our attacking play was absolutely great. I was making the runs all day and we got [Andrew] Shinnie, John and Fyvie on the ball as well as advanced runs from them, so it was really positive.”
Last season’s top scorer Jason Cummings was again restricted to a brief late cameo from the substitutes’ bench. His ongoing absence from the starting XI would have been unheard of in the previous two seasons but, with Boyle in this form, he can have little complaint.
The two get on well, however, Boyle insisted he is gunning for his fellow striker in the club’s scoring charts this term. “We’re probably best mates!” laughed Boyle when asked about any dressing-room rivalry with Cummings. “We’re always talking and have a good laugh. When we came off at half-time I told him I’m going to catch him with the goals, so it’s really positive.
“I’ve just got to remain in the team. He’s going to be close on my heels as he’s still the top goalscorer, but hopefully I can push on and get more. I never have a number in my head, I just take it game by game and hopefully I can get on that scoresheet – and beat Jase!
“The most I’ve scored in a season was 22 at Montrose in the third division. When I moved to Dundee, Paul Hartley played me right mid and I came here as a winger. Now the manager can see that I can play up front and add goals as well.”
Lennon was delighted with Boyle’s contribution, and was keen to stress there’s more to the Aberdonian’s game than just pace. “His movement is very good and he’s not just quick Martin – he’s clever,” explained the Hibs boss. “Early on this season, he was a bit lightweight in terms of being knocked off the ball but now he’s got the bit between the teeth. He’s a good foil for Holty [Grant Holt] and he’s playing that well that he’s keeping Jason out of the team at the minute, which speaks volumes for his performances.”
Opposite number Ian McCall was pragmatic in his response, having seen his side simply outclassed. “Hibs were better than us and they deserved to win. That’s really the long and short of it,” said the Ayr manager.
“I don’t think we made it easy, they just played very well and to be perfectly honest our goalie kept us in it at 1-0 and it could have been two or three before it was.
“It was a disappointing day for us with a great crowd in the ground and a great atmosphere, but Hibs deserved to win. They played very well.”