Hibs may have been knocked off the top of the table, but striker Martin Boyle still firmly believes they are the best team in the Championship.
After leading the pack since October 15, Neil Lennon’s players were toppled, held to a draw at home by Raith Rovers while rivals Dundee United came from behind against basement outfit St Mirren to edge two points in front.
But while admitting it “hurt” to find themselves in that situation, Boyle insisted he and his team-mates still see themselves as title favourites, a point he says they’ll prove in the second half of the season.
Boyle stepped from the bench to claim an equaliser against Raith, cancelling out Jean-Yves M’Voto’s earlier header for the Fife outfit, to salvage a draw just as fellow striker Jason Cummings had done seven days earlier against Morton.
Hibs have now drawn six of their 18 league games and United five and at the halfway stage that’s what is separating the sides who meet for a third time a week on Friday, this time at Easter Road.
But rather than suggest, as has been the case following previous draws, Boyle admitted the claim of “that might be an important point come the end of the season”, was increasingly becoming redundant.
“It’s two points dropped,” he declared, “It adds up and it will be costly if we keep making mistakes like that.”
However, having said that, Boyle was adamant the weekend’s events had changed nothing although he did admit Lennon’s players have to become more clinical in front of goal, their profligacy against Raith leaving them to be hit by M’Voto’s sucker punch rather than easing themselves to what should have been a comfortable victory.
He said: “We are strong, we have put high expectations on ourselves. We are a massive club, we have great players, great talent and we take it in our stride.
“We feel we should be fighting at the top of the league and gaining promotion. It’s a tough league but we are not thinking that we are not the best team in the league.”
Boyle agreed the outcome of Saturday’s match painted a familiar story, Hibs dominant in terms of possession, attempts on targets, corners – all the statistics bar the most important, goals scored.
While delighted to have claimed his sixth goal of the season and hailing the character shown to get that equaliser with only two minutes left on the clock, He said: “Most weeks it’s like that. We’re getting into positions and then the goalkeeper is making good saves or shots are being blocked.
“It does get frustrating and the fans maybe start to get on your back. But you just need to block that out and believe you’re going to get another chance and score a goal.
“If we had scored early doors it could have been a good day for us, but it you switch off and you don’t take your chances then you get punished in this league.”
Boyle admitted missed chances is perhaps beginning to prey on the minds of some of Lennon’s players. “It might be in a few boys’ heads. When they go through on goal they might not believe they are going to score.
“We know we should have a lot more goals than we have, me personally as well.
“It’s been the case a lot of times that we’ve not taken our chances and we’ve been punished. You can only blame yourselves at the end of the day.
“A lot of teams are coming here and leaving with points. We’ve got to go away and think about our own game and se what we’re going wrong.”
The lack of goals apart, Boyle and Lennon insisted Hibs’ performance was their best in recent weeks and despite winning just one of their last four games, the 23-year-old said: “It’s hurting us not being top and we’ve really got to be back up there in top spot. Dundee United have been on our tails and are doing really well at the moment, they are really challenging us.
“It’s hurting us not being top so we’ve really got to get back up there. There are big games coming up for both of us, so we just need to come back and get stuck in.”
Hibs do, of course, still have injured midfielders John McGinn and Fraser Fyvie to return with Lennon hopeful that will be early in the new year to add further competition for place which has already strengthened with the reappearance of James Keatings following a knee problem.
Boyle, a former Montrose and Dundee forward, has never known such an intense fight to keep a jersey, saying: “You can have a spell of three good games and then one bad game that could put you out. Every game you need to be on the ball or someone takes your jersey. I was disappointed to be dropped, but you need to come back and make an impression in the team.
“The gaffer must have a headache picking the team every week. We’ve still got lots of players out and when they come back he’s really going to have a headache.