Martin Boyle admits he was more than a little surprised to see Raith Rovers coast to victory over Queen of the South – but he believes that result simply underlines the dangers awaiting Hibs when they pitch up at Stark’s Park tomorrow.
Grant Murray’s players put a huge dent in the Doonhamers hopes of overhauling both Hibs and Rangers to claim second place in the Championship, the 3-0 defeat on Tuesday having left the Dumfries outfit trailing Alan Stubbs’ side by eight points while giving Raith an outside chance of making the play-offs themselves.
The Kirkcaldy club, however, will be well aware they can’t afford to drop any more points if that dream is to come true, seven points now separating them from fourth placed Falkirk, the exact same position Boyle and his team-mates find themselves in as they seek to hold off the challenge of Rangers following that defeat by the Ibrox club last weekend.
The flying winger said: “I had to say I was very surprised at Raith’s victory in midweek but we know Stark’s Park is a hard place to go and that with the players they have they are more than capable of producing that sort of result. It also shows that in the run-in nothing can be taken for granted.
“Teams up and down the league are fighting for points for their own reasons and at this stage of the season no-one can afford to slip up.”
Hibs have done exactly that twice at home to Raith, ex-Hearts striker Christian Nade coming up with an equaliser on both occasions with Boyle admitting his last-ditch header last time out at Easter Road still caused him pain, the on-loan Dundee forward having scored his first, and as yet, only goal for the Capital club, one which looked like earning all three points until the burly Frenchman silenced the home fans.
“I said at the time it felt more like a defeat than anything,” said Boyle, “And it still feels that way. My goal – and I definitely feel I should have more than one for Hibs – should have won us the game but we ended up dropping two points.”
The other side of the coin, though, is that Hibs won 3-1 on their last visit to Stark’s Park while Boyle’s only other goal this season also came against Raith, the former Montrose player notching the fourth in a 4-0 League Cup win for Dundee.
The 21-year-old said: “If Raith are looking at Christian Nade as perhaps being a lucky omen when they play us then, hopefully, I can prove to be the same for Hibs by making it three in three against them.
“As the games start to run out the most important thing is the result, it doesn’t matter how you do it so long as you get the three points. If we win 1-0 then we’ll be happy enough. Last week’s defeat was a definite disappointment for us but we are still in a strong position. Rangers have a game in hand but it is against Hearts and if we keep winning our games then the pressure remains on them.
“We are all certain last Sunday was nothing more than a minor blip, the manager really didn’t have too much to say. We’ve picked ourselves up and are raring to go again.”
Stubbs’ players are well aware that they have Queen of the South up next, a fixture which could see Hibs all but kill off their opponents hopes of second place. Queens are at Tynecastle tomorrow for Hearts’ title party with their return trip to Edinburgh next weekend followed by games against Rangers and Falkirk.
Boyle, however, insisted the focus, as it has been throughout the season, will rest on the next game. He said: “There will be lots of twists and turns in the run-in with Rangers to play Hearts twice along with Queens and Falkirk who also have to play each other. We’ve got Queens, Hearts and Falkirk so it’s obvious points are going to be dropped by someone somewhere.
“And you can’t ignore the other teams who’ll all have their own agendas. I suppose the supporters might look at the fixture list and try to work out where they think the various teams might slip up but we just take it on a week-to-week basis. We work hard every day in training with the aim of going out at the weekend to put in a performance that brings us the three points.
“You don’t worry about what is going on elsewhere.”
The return of striker Farid El Alagui – he’s likely to be on the bench tomorrow – after nearly seven months out recovering from a ruptured Achilles tendon couldn’t, Boyle agreed, be any better timed, the former Falkirk and Brentford star having played his first full 90 minutes since August on Tuesday.
Boyle said: “We’ve got a strong squad and Farid coming back will make it even stronger. Having him back will be great, it’s almost like having a new player given his injury came in the first few weeks of the season. We’re all delighted he’s back and hopefully he can help us in the run-in.”