Throughout his Hibs career Martin Boyle has always been something of a fringe player, one waiting in the wings desperate to use his searing pace to good effect.
Since arriving in Edinburgh – initially on loan almost two years ago – 34 of his 62 appearances to date have come from the bench with many of them amounting to little more than a cameo role.
But, after turning in a man-of-the-match performance as Hibs kept their grip on top spot in the Championship, boss Neil Lennon suggested the 23-year-old was much, much more than the flying winger he’s been regarded as for so long.
Lennon believes Boyle is ready to take centre stage all for himself, describing the former Montrose and Dundee player’s display against St Mirren as “outstanding”, claiming he can be far more effective playing through the middle than on the flanks.
Certainly, Boyle’s speed was there for all to see, a constant threat to the Buddies’ back-line and bringing the opening goal as he zipped through to meet Andrew Shinnie’s superbly weighted pass to clip the ball beyond Saints goalkeeper Jamie Langfield.
Boyle might have had a second, Langfield getting down well to save after he’d again raced past the defenders and then giving Gary Irvine five yards of a start on the chase for a long ball from team-mate Paul Hanlon before out-stripping the Saints veteran only to slash wildly wide.
In those instances, Boyle might well have applied the “gloss” Lennon was left looking for after a comfortable victory, Grant Holt having made it so by cracking home another shot from the edge of the area in the first half only to blot his copybook by seeing a later penalty pushed away by Langfield.
As Lennon himself admitted, complaining the win hadn’t been more handsome was not a huge quibble, the Hibees coach saying: “I was very pleased. We were solid, better than solid. I’m doing the team a disservice by saying that.
“It was a very good performance from start to finish. Martin was outstanding. We see him more as a central player than a winger. He has goals in him, he has that pace that’s always a problem for defences.
“Physically, he’s not the biggest and early on in the season he was getting knocked off the ball for too easily for our liking. But he’s taken that on board and we saw a very good all-round performance, not just his pace but in taking the ball in and linking up as well. I was absolutely delighted with his performance.”
Boyle admitted that with striker James Keatings out for six weeks having suffered a knee injury in the previous week’s victory over Dunfermline, he was a little surprised not to see top scorer Jason Cummings return to action but, having been given his chance, he now has his fingers crossed he’ll again be on from the start against Ayr United this coming weekend.
He said: “I’d played there a lot for Montrose [he scored 22 goals in one season for the Angus club] and I feel I am dangerous making runs and creating space for the likes of Andrew Shinnie and John McGinn to get on the ball.
“It’s all about creating chances for the team and I feel I have to show a lot of work-rate which comes naturally to me. I was delighted with the way I played. I was given my chance, I hope I can keep a hold of that shirt.
“It’s obviously been a bit frustrating, but I still enjoy coming to work every day. The boys are brilliant here. I’m just the type who knuckles down and works hard. If I’m given my chance, I feel it’s down to me to take it.
“I’m thoroughly enjoying it. I’m not disappointed if I’m dropped. It’s a team game and I’m not the type of player to be upset if I get dropped.
“We go out every game with a plan. We had the top scorer on the bench who can’t even get a game just now. We’ve got the likes of James Keatings as well. His injury has been my gain but I need to keep producing performances like that.”
Having endured a run of five winless matches in which just three points were taken from four league games and hopes of winning the Irn-Bru Cup were abruptly dashed by St Mirren at the beginning of the month, Boyle admitted he and his team-mates are now eyeing an extended run of wins.
“I hope we can go on a long streak like we did last season,” he said. “I don’t think we played badly on the run we were on, the red cards didn’t help.
“But I thought we were still playing decent stuff and creating chances. Now it’s all coming together, we are playing well and scoring goals. The manager’s come in with a positive attitude.
“We started well and then had a minor blip. It’s a team game, I don’t think we’ve changed training to much. I don’t feel anything has changed – we have just stepped it up.”
Boyle admitted he was “kicking myself” for not scoring more but even so received a standing ovation from another bumper Easter Road crowd as he made way for Alex Harris in the dying minutes of the game, the sort of noise Lennon revealed he’d like to hear throughout home matches.
Having highlighted the backing given the two previous weekends in Fife, 2000 travelling to Kirkcaldy and then 3000 to East End Park, Lennon admitted he felt Saturday crowd were too quiet. He said: “I don’t want to alienate myself from the supporters but you go a goal up and then it’s very quiet for parts of the game. We would like a bit more atmosphere to drive the players on. I don’t know if the fans just expect us to win, you can’t expect to win, to sit there and expect it to happen.
“The players are doing their bit and some sections of the stadium could maybe start doing their bit as well.
“It’s a small issue, the away support has been very good, we get the full 90 minutes and you can see the players respond. So I’d like a bit more noise in the stadium – especially when we score a beautiful goal like Martin’s.
“It was a great ball from Andrew Shinnie and a superb finish from Martin. We were unlucky not to get a few more, we missed the penalty, had a couple of one-on-ones and I’d like to have seen a bit of gloss on the scoreline.
“But our football in general was very good, we dominated the game.”