Hibs boss Alan Stubbs described it as the goal of the season, but as far as Martin Boyle is concerned, his stunning winner against Livingston will probably prove to be the best of his entire career.
While Stubbs’ reaction to his 30-yard thunerbolt which left Lions goalkeeper Marc McCallum shaking his head in disbelief was simply “Wow”, Boyle himself admitted he could scarcely take in what had happened as he was mobbed by his jubilant team-mates.
And they had every reason to be overjoyed, Boyle’s sixth goal of the season ending a run of five Championship matches without a win and, at the same time, injecting new life into their bid to claim second place in the table and so avoid two extra but unwanted play-off matches.
Hibs now stand just three points behind Falkirk – who are due at Easter Road next Tuesday – but with two games in hand, facts which underline the importance of victory over Livingston.
Having led through Jordan White’s first-half strike, Livingston were rightly disappointed to have departed with nothing to show for their efforts, Anthony Stokes havng hauled Hibs level just three minutes before former Montrose and Dundee winger Boyle consigned them to defeat.
Their hurt, though, would be felt all the more on hearing the 22-year-old describe his contender for goal of the season as “a fluke”. Boyle, who had started the match on the bench before replacing midfielder Kevin Thomson as Stubbs sought to inject further firepower, said: “I can’t say I’ve scored a better goal than that.
“It was a fluke, you will probably never see me do anything like that again.”
Boyle revealed that everything “just went blank” as he was engulfed by his team-mates, disclosing that he wasn’t supposed to be in the area of the pitch he was occupying when that clearance came in his direction.
He said: “Everyone was just coming in and piling on top of me. I couldn’t believe what had happened, but the victory was the most important thing. I was actually told I should have been up the pitch, so I wasn’t supposed to be in that area.
“But John [McGinn] didn’t go forward so I thought I would just float about there and see what happened. I was thinking ‘should I go forward a bit’, then obviously the ball came out and I just leathered it as hard as I could, to be honest.
“I didn’t see it back at the end of the match, but I’m looking forward to seeing it a few times. Hopefully I can do an even better one at some time in my life – I just can’t see it.”
Easter Road had become a nervous, anxious place as Hibs struggled to make the breakthrough against a well-drilled Livingston outfit who got every player behind the ball as often as they could, while always looking to hit on the counter attack, with Stubbs’ players and supporters alike well aware of the significance of making the most of the first of the three games in hand over the Bairns with which they’d begun their night.
But the stadium was transformed in those dramatic three minutes, Boyle admitting the frustration he and his team-mates were feeling had simply evaporated. He said: “Sometimes it can get quite hard when the fans are getting on your back. People need to take things into their own hands and try not to lose concentration.
“Obviously we were able to grind out the result and I think we deserved it at the end of the day, but it is very difficult when teams set up like that.”
It was also the ninth game in succession Hibs had failed to keep a clean sheet, White’s opener giving Livingston something to hold onto, a situation Stubbs’ players have found themselves in on more than one occasion this season.
Boyle acknowledged that was a concern, as is the fact Hibs haven’t been scoring as many goals as they feel their play has merited.
He said: “We’ve been leaking goals and missing chances as well, which hasn’t been ideal. It’s very difficult. We usually have a lot of chances, but we just haven’t been as ruthless as we know we can be in the last few weeks.
“However, it was always going to be one of those games. Livingston are fighting for their lives, they were throwing bodies in front of everything but thankfully we came through that.
“There was the frustration from the fans. A lot of crowds get like that, but as players we just need to keep going, to keep our concentration and grind it out. That’s all we can do and that’s what we did.”
Hibs now move on to face relegated Alloa Athletic and Boyle believes there are positive signs to be taken to the Indodrill Stadium, not least the fact on-loan Celtic striker Stokes has now scored four goals in as many games in addition to his assist which allowed Farid El Alagui’s strike to snatch a vital point away to St Mirren at the weekend.
He said: “Stokesy is a good player and we always knew he was going to get chances and he took his goal well. Hopefully this is the start of a wee run again, like we had earlier in the season.
“We want to kick on from here. We will recover well from this and we’ll take it game-by-game. We’re getting boys back now and we can reshuffle the pack and still have a strong team.”
Fraser Fyvie was the latest injury victim to return to Stubbs’ squad, the midfielder taking among the substitutes for the visit of Livingston as was Danny Handling while Paul Hanlon has gone straight back into the side after recovering from his thigh problem.
But on the negative side was the sight of El Alagui limping off after just 38 minutes of what was his first start in almost a year as he’s fought to overcome a ruptured Achilles tendon. Stubbs hopes the hamstring injury the 31-year-old picked up won’t prove to be too serious, perhaps sidelining him for a fortnight, but Boyle admitted the French-Moroccan has the full sympathy of each and every one of his team-mates.
He said: “You see the injury problems he has had and we all feel sorry for him. But hopefully it is not too bad and we can get Farid back for some games because of what he brings to the team, his aerial ability, his strength and his goals.”