Martin Boyle will be eternally grateful to Aberdeen for helping put him on the path to becoming a professional football player.
Neil Lennon’s players go into the clash at Pittodrie trailing the Dons by three points in that particular chase and, with only three matches of the season remaining, they’re very much aware defeat would all but end what, only a few months ago, appeared to many the most fanciful of dreams.
However, having won both their first two post-split matches, beating both champions Celtic and Kilmarnock, Boyle insisted he and his team-mates will head off for the Granite City later today intent on sealing yet another victory.
If they were to do so they’d become the first Hibs side to win at Pittodrie in almost exactly six years, that 2-1 triumph coming thanks to a 17th-minute winner from central defender Sean O’Hanlon.
“There would be no better time than now to put that right,” agreed the 25-year-old before conceding: “It’s going to be a tough ask with both sides in high spirits having enjoyed good results in their last few games.
“It’s one of the most important games of the season for both of us, Aberdeen are going to be hard to beat but I’m sure we’ll set up in our normal way and go out to attack them.
“We’ve had two big wins but they weren’t easy games, beating the champions at home while Kilmarnock presented their own difficulties.
“It’s a game we are all looking forward to but, as a local boy, I want to go to Pittodrie and play well as my mates will be there abusing me as they were last time.”
Lennon’s side have earned plenty of plaudits for the entertaining brand of football they’ve played in putting themselves on the verge of a record points haul in the Premiership, the 5-3 thriller against Killie reckoned by many to be one of the games of the season.
Boyle said: “I’m sure it would have been like that for the neutrals but, for us, the three points were the most important factor. To be honest, we stayed calm when we conceded each of the goals, we looked to pick ourselves up, to get ourselves back on the front foot and to go again.
“I don’t think you could ask for any better than five different goalscorers, the two up front getting one apiece and the midfield chipping in as well.”
Although he’d rather forget it, Boyle admitted the hammering he and his team-mates suffered on their last visit to Pittodrie, going down 4-1 in what was their third game in six days having previously faced Celtic and Rangers, remained fresh in the minds, underlining a determination to make amends this time round.
Boyle, who scored Hibs’ opening goal in the 2-0 home win over the Dons in February, said: “Everyone had an off day, but we put it right last time we played Aberdeen and deserved to win here in Edinburgh and I’m sure we can take that into tomorrow, looking to press high up the pitch and take the game to them.
“Having said that, Aberdeen are a very good side, they are solid defensively and have plenty of threat from the likes of Ryan Christie, Niall McGinn, Gary Mackay-Steven, the movement of Stevie May and Adam Rooney. They’ve been rotating things a bit but, if we want to keep the pressure on, we need to go there and win.”
Boyle has emerged as a key figure in Lennon’s plans this season, so much-so that he earned a new four-year contract only months after clinching his previous deal, his form such that few would argue he can be described as possibly the most-improved player in the top flight this season.
However, he owed much of his early grounding in football to Aberdeen, his local club having offered him training facilities when he was playing part-time for Montrose at the age of 16. He said: “I think it was Ray Farningham at Montrose who contacted them and said I was a local boy who was still at college and they told me to come in each morning during the week to train.
“It was quite an experience. There were guys like Scott Vernon, Ryan Jack and Fraser Fyvie there and it was something I didn’t expect, training with their first-team squad.
“It wasn’t with a view to trying to win a contract with them or anything like that, but it was a big step up in standard for me and it gave me a huge advantage, kept me on my toes, got me really fit and I learned a lot.
“They were good to me, I owe them and I’ll always be grateful to them for taking me in like that.”
Having grown up in Aberdeen, Boyle took an interest in the Dons although he never considered himself a devout supporter. He said: “My brothers were into it and I went to a few games up there.
“You didn’t really have a choice living in a one-club city and I would say I really went to games to see what it was like. I think I maybe had one Aberdeen strip when I was at school, it was more international jerseys for me.
“I’d always enjoyed football and I can’t say I dreamt of playing for Aberdeen, I just wanted to be a professional football player and training with them made me want it even more.”
Having initially arriving at Easter Road on a six-month loan deal under former Hibs boss Alan Stubbs, Boyle has transformed into a key figure, playing in 40 of Hibs’ 43 games so far this season, scoring six goals. And, as the Evening News revealed, he now has hopes of perhaps one day playing for Australia, qualifying through his father Graeme, who was born in Sydney although, to date, there’s been no contact from the Socceroos.
He said: “I wouldn’t say I was a confidence player, I just needed to bring a bit more consistency to my game. I’d have a good game and then dip the next one. I’ve been a bit more consistent this year and I feel I have flourished in this team and pushed myself on to a new level. I am still looking to improve, I’m creating chances but I could probably do with scoring more. I’ve kept the shirt, though, and hopefully I can keep doing that.”