Every cloud has a silver lining, even amid the doom and gloom which has descended following Hibs inauspicious start to the new season.
And as far as Martin Boyle is concerned, that shaft of hope came in the shape of the final six minutes of the opening game of the season, a cameo appearance but one which signalled he’s recovered from the knee operation which had sidelined him for four months.
The 22-year-old admitted being named among Alan Stubbs’ substitutes for the match surprised even him, although he had targeted the visit to Dumbarton as his comeback date, only for the day to be spoiled by an unexpected defeat.
Predictably, that 2-1 loss provoked much gnashing of teeth and wailing among the Hibs support, some all too willing, it seemed, to write off their side’s chances of taking the Championship title and with it that one automatic promotion place.
But as disappointing as the result might have been, Boyle pointed to the irrefutable fact that Stubbs’ squad will steadily strengthen as, like himself, players who have been nursing injuries return to action.
Pointing to a bench which also included new signings John McGinn and Dan Carmichael – in stark contrast to the previous week when five teenagers, four of whom didn’t have a minute of first team experience between them were the back-up to those who had started the League Cup tie against Montrose – Boyle said: “There’s no doubt the squad will get stronger and stronger. James Keatings, Jordon Forster and Farid El Alagui have still to come back and, in the longer term, Danny Handling.
“When everyone is fit, no-one will be content just to have made the bench. All of us will want to be out there on the pitch and that means we’ll be pushing each other on every day in training trying to be in the starting line-up. And once you manage that, it’ll be a case of knowing you have to perform or someone else will take your spot.”
Pinning down his own starting place is next on Boyle’s agenda, the pacey winger hoping to regain the impressive form he’d shown prior to rupturing his medial ligament in a challenge with Falkirk’s Tom Taiwo in the final league match of last season, the then on-loan Dundee man having opened the scoring just as he had the previous week against Alloa Athletic.
He said: “Saturday was definitely disappointing for everyone. It obviously wasn’t the start we’d all been hoping for, but for myself it was good to get those six minutes, to get back out on the pitch. It is difficult to come on when the game is as scrappy as it was. It’s hard to get into it, but I was happy just to be involved.
“I’d targeted the start of the league season, but I was as surprised as anyone to actually make it as I’d only started training last week. I’m a few weeks ahead of schedule and I went back yesterday to see the specialist to get everything signed off, but hopefully I’ll start playing in some reserve matches to get some game time and then hopefully I’ll be pushing for a start.”
Boyle admitted he couldn’t have suffered his injury at a worse time, with his contract at Dundee coming to an end and his future apparently clouded in uncertainty although, as it turned out, both Dens Park boss Paul Hartley and Stubbs were both keen to retain his services.
He said: “I didn’t realise at first how serious the injury was. I actually tried to play on for five minutes, but it was obvious something was wrong. Thankfully the operation went well as did my rehabilitation.
“Paul Hartley wanted me to stay with Dundee, but I felt that my time was up there and I needed a change. The fact he’d been prepared to let me go on loan to Hibs last season was a big factor in helping me make up my mind.”
Instead, Boyle opted to return to Easter Road, agreeing a two-year deal. He said: “The gaffer showed great belief in me in signing me when I was still injured. He’d been terrific, phoning all the time to see how I was and telling me it was great to see me at the home play-off game against Rangers.
“I’d felt totally helpless being out for those two massive games and was as devastated as anyone at the outcome, but I’d enjoyed my time with Hibs last season. I felt I’d come onto a game and so it wasn’t such a huge decision to have to make.”
Having been forced to sit out the play-offs, Boyle is now desperate to play his part in steering Hibs towards top spot, adamant everyone must keep the weekend result in perspective and convinced that yet again there will be many twists and turns before anything is decided, his arguments based on his own experiences in the Championship where Dundee, in taking the title two years ago, lost twice to second-bottom Cowdenbeath.
He said: “There are no excuses for what happened at Dumbarton. We started slowly and when you do that it can be difficult to get up to speed. We lost to two set-pieces, we weren’t good enough and you have to give credit to Dumbarton.
“I know there will be people writing us off, but it’s only one game in and things have to be kept in perspective. There will always be hiccups. The Championship is always like that and I’m sure other teams will go to Dumbarton and struggle as well.
“Everyone is capable of beating each other on any given day. Even when Dundee won the title, we had a few upsets along the way. There were plenty surprise results again last season and I’m sure there will be many more this time round – every team will have them.”