Martin Boyle believes Saturday’s trip to Hampden will be a welcome respite from the weekly grind of league football for both Hibs and Dundee United.
While the Tannadice outfit are grimly battling to save their place in the Premiership, Boyle and his team-mates are fighting just as hard to get there, the hopes and aspirations of both clubs having taken another hefty blow in recent days.
Defeat by relegated Alloa and Falkirk’s last-gasp comeback to maintain their six-point advantage over the Capital club in the race for second place in the Championship table saw the angry clouds which have gathered over Easter Road in recent weeks darken even further.
And United’s future appears pretty bleak after Mixu Paatelainen’s side lost at home to Inverness Caley, a result which leaves them eight points adrift of Kilmarnock at the foot of the table going into the final five post-split programme with even the hope of a lifeline via the relegation play-off spot now seemingly beyond them.
“We will both be happy to get away from the league for a few days,” confessed Boyle.
“It’s a great occasion, a Scottish Cup semi-final and I’m sure it’ll be a great day – we can make it a great day.”
Many Hibs fans may find the winger’s claim at odds with the evidence of a run which has seen their side pick up just four points from their last eight league games, ending their own title hopes and raising a serious question as to whether, with games rapidly running out, they can overhaul the Bairns for a finish which would result in a less taxing play-off campaign.
But, insisted Boyle, there were signs against Falkirk that he and his team-mates are regaining the earlier form which saw them lose just once in 28 matches.
And he was equally adamant that Alan Stubbs’ players can bounce back from the shock of throwing away a two goal lead against Falkirk saying: “We knew it was going to be a massive game. There was a lot of talk about it and I thought we played well – but the last five minutes were crazy.
“It was a bit devastating and it felt like a defeat in the end. The lack of concentration has killed us and we dropped two points. It was Falkirk’s gain and our loss.
“We’ve just go to move on and look forward to Saturday. We need to brush it aside and get on with it.
“It was hard to concede so late on, but the Falkirk game is gone now and we have the chance to make things right.
“I thought we played well – it’s the best we’ve played in months. We created a lot of chances, but obviously in those last five minutes there was a lack of concentration, individual errors and unfortunately they got the two goals back.
“We know ourselves we’ve been disappointing, but we need to take positives from the game. I thought we got the ball down and started passing and pressing. With the intensity of the game I thought we were getting back to our best.”
The display against Falkirk added weight to the argument that Hibs reserve their best displays for the big games, encounters against the so-called lesser outfit’s in the Championship having proved to be their Achilles heel this season.
Aberdeen, Dundee United and St Johnstone all fell to Hibs in the League Cup, while so far in the Scottish both Capital rivals Hearts and Inverness were sent spinning out, albeit following replays.
Those results, claimed Boyle, meant there would be no shortage of confidence as Hibs team coach approaches Hampden for Saturday’s lunch-time start before the television cameras.
The 22-year-old said: “We can take a lot of positives from this season – we’ve knocked a few high league teams out. I don’t think we’ll be lacking confidence, we know we can beat higher opposition and hopefully it’s no different this weekend.
“United are down at the bottom of the Premiership for a reason so it will be good for them to get away from it all. Anything can happen on the day, but we will be looking to capitalise on that.”
Goals from skipper David Gray, Jason Cummings and Lewis Stevenson eased Hibs to a comfortable win over United in the League Cup in what was one of Paatelainen’s first games in charge of the Tayside club and although the big Finn has made changes, Boyle firmly believes that if he and his team-mates play as they can, then they can clinch a place in the final to face either Celtic or Rangers.
Admitting he didn’t have the best of derby day records during his days with Dundee – his last match for the Dens Park side being a 6-2 hammering at the other end of Tannadice Street before his shock move to Hibs where his first match was an Edinburgh derby two days later – Boyle said: “I played in four Dundee derbies, they were disastrous. The last one certainly was, but it’s more or less the same United side Hibs beat earlier in the season.
“We performed tht day and we need to go the same again on Saturday if we are to get another result and if we do that then I am sure we’ll have no troubles.”
The fact he stands just 90 minutes away from playing in the Scottish Cup isn’t lost on Boyle, who played his first game as a professional in the competition, as a quirk of fate would have it for Montrose against Hibs at Easter Road.
He recalled: “I was given about 15 minutes and we lost 5-1. I was just a young lad and that was the level of club I wanted to play against.”
The pressure playing for a club of Hibs stature is, of course, greater than that day six years ago, Boyle admitting: “The fans have high demands and we believe we can achieve things. If we play in the same way that we were at the start of the season then I’m sure we will have no troubles.
“We need to get back to our best starting from now. This is our mini-season, we need to get back to our best otherwise it’s going to be doom and gloom.”
Boyle has played only once previously at Hampden, a late replacement for Marvin Bartley has Hibs lost for the first time this season against Premiership opposition, Alex Schalk’s goal winning the League Cup for Ross County in the last minute of the game.
Now he has his fingers crossed he’ll get the nod from Stubbs to go from the first whistle, convinced his pace can make an impact against United.
“I hope to get a start,” he said. “I feel as though I deserve a chance and if I get it then hopefully I can grab it with both hands.
“I only got about 30 seconds in the League Cup final. It was my first time at Hampden and I was soaking it all up.
“It’s a big wide pitch and hopefully I can get on the ball and make the most of it.”