'He was in my Hibs team for Rangers' - Lee Johnson's surprise at Martin Boyle injury bombshell as he discusses replacement
Hibs manager Lee Johnson thought Martin Boyle would be fit to face Rangers in the first cinch Premiership game after the World Cup – and had included him in an early team selection before learning the extent of his injury.
A tidy-up operation in Qatar on what was suspected to be a minor meniscus issue uncovered a damaged anterior cruciate ligament – which the 29-year-old may have had for up to seven years.
Speaking about the blow for player and club Johnson admitted Boyle would be difficult to replace, as he recalled the sequence of events leading to the devastating message from the Middle East.
"There was fluid that showed up in and around the ACL area in the original scan but they believed that was part of the contact. When they went in, the surgeon – one of the world’s top surgeons – was originally planning to shave the meniscus and it was going to be a three-week injury,” Johnson said.
"So Martin was in my team for Rangers, then we get an email saying unfortunately it’s an eight-to-nine month injury. It could have been in the contact [in the St Mirren game], I find it hard to believe that it’s an ACL that’s been there for seven years. It’s been protected by his abnormal meniscus, that’s the experts’ best-informed guess. If they had just trimmed the meniscus that would have led to a point where he would come back, and then crumble with an ACL failure because there is nothing there.”
"I was upset for him, upset for myself and upset for the football club because he is a player who makes a difference for us. We’ve seen over the last three games without him. Sometimes you appreciate people more when they’re not there. It’s the way it’s fallen for us, we’re not victims we’re fighters and we’ll go and compete.”
Johnson has been affected by numerous long-term injuries with Kyle Magennis, Kevin Nisbet, Rocky Bushiri, Kevin Dąbrowski, Jake Doyle-Hayes, Paul Hanlon, Aiden McGeady, Harry McKirdy, Lewis Miller, Demi Mitchell, and Lewis Stevenson all spending time on the sidelines since the start of the season. With Boyle likely sidelined until next autumn, Johnson wants his fit players to help fill the void.
“We can do our best to replace Martin but he is one of our stellar signings. If this was MLS he would be our marquee player. We just can’t cope in terms of maximising ourselves without our best players. Every team gets injuries but if you’re lucky, it’s not your best players,” he said.
"If I wrote a team down in the summer it would probably have included McGeady, Nisbet, Magennis or Ewan Henderson in the ten with Martin on the right, when we knew we had a good chance of getting him but it gives other players opportunities. Saturday was an opportunity for Elias Melkersen but he didn’t do enough; Henderson was good but I want more from him.
“McKirdy was brought in to deal with other injuries we’ve had and this is when we can start to see what he is about. With two-thirds of the campaign left to play and a very important cup opportunity, we have that laser focus on the prime 14, 15 players and getting the best out of them.”