Martin Boyle: Why Hibs belief is so high ahead of Ross County and Rijeka tests
A decent team who play in a decent league, that was how Martin Boyle described Rijeka.
And he netted a quick response to Prince Ampem’s opening goal to ensure Hibs still have a decent chance of progressing to the final play-off round as they attempt to qualify for the Europa Conference League group stage.
But it is their ability to capitalise on chances that come their way which will determine whether they can build on last season’s domestic achievements and ensure their European sojourn proves better than decent.
Given the reality that goals have not been in short supply in their opening few games it may feel harsh to point out that they will have to be more clinical as the level of opposition improves but while they walked off the park on Thursday night satisfied with their industry in attack, they did not head back into the dressing room convinced they had left it all out there.
Not when more goals evaded them and not when they have set standards so high.
“I thought we created the better chances,” said goalscorer Boyle, who, like several of his team-mates had efforts saved and others squandered.
Inches away from beating the upright, or connecting with a delivery, decisions made in the blink of an eye separated them from the draw and a well-deserved victory.
“I thought we caused them a lot of problems and I think we should have won it,” added the Australian international. “But it was a good match. We played well, we kept the ball well, we caused them problems and we can take that over there."
Extrapolating negatives from a performance their manager Jack Ross hailed as “excellent” may seem petty, especially as the team looked comfortable in the company of opponents who entered the contest with a higher coefficient, but failing to make the most of their rivals’ shortcomings and their own burgeoning belief was reckless.
They are still definitely capable of heading to Croatia and seeing the tie out. Defensively, they limited the supply to dangerman Josip Drmic and, aside from the single lapse they maintained their concentration and shape well.
In midfield Jake Doyle-Hayes produced a man of the match performance and Kyle Magennis continued his evolution into the player Ross hoped for when he signed him. Recovering from injury has meant patience was required but it has proved a virtue.
But, while the season has opened in a flurry of goals, shared out well between the established forwards, that clinical edge was missing on Thursday and they will be looking to unearth it again before they welcome Ross County to Leith on Sunday and then head out to the Kvarner region on Tuesday.
“I still believe we can go through,” said Boyle, who is the club’s leading scorer with four goals in the first four games. “We believe in the squad we’ve got more than enough. They have a few players who caused us some problems and we conceded a sloppy goal but I’m sure if we go over there and play the same way we did, I firmly believe we can get through.
“We knew they would be a decent team - they play in a decent league. But we also have players who can hurt them and I felt like we did that. They had spells in the game where we maybe had to sit back and control what we were doing but after that we caused them a lot of problems and we probably should have scored a couple more goals.
“It’s encouraging that we can go head to head with them. We’ve got a good squad and great belief in what we’re doing. We’ve had a good start to the season and it was another good showing. We’ll take it into Sunday’s game then think about the game next week.”
It is a busy schedule but one that clubs expect when they look to make their mark on several competitions in the same season.
“We’re enjoying it and I prefer playing games than training to be honest,” said the talismanic winger. “I just want the games to keep coming. I feel like we’re doing well and hopefully it continues.”
Hibs do have momentum with three wins and a draw so far and they have a decent range of options as regulars from last season are challenged by newcomers.
Enjoying greater choice when it comes to rotating and resting personnel, Ross is hopeful that could improve further as work goes on behind the scenes to accelerate Chris Mueller’s arrival and add at least a new central defender, with another striker still an option as well.
Josh Doig could also return to the playing field, with his anticipated move south stalling.
“Everyone is playing well and it’s obviously different,” added Boyle, who remains one of the first picks each game. “The gaffer made one change with Jake coming back in after his injury and I thought he was fantastic, and then there’s boys coming off the bench like Scotty [Scott Allan] and Doidgey [Christian Doidge] and the impact they can make. Scotty has been excellent with everything he’s been through. He’s had a great start to the season and it’s good we can bring that calibre off the bench and it can only make us better.”
Roared on by a Hibs support happy to be back inside grounds and demanding more of a team who raised their game last term in their absence, there has also been added resolve.
Overhauling deficits against Santa Coloma and Motherwell, they ultimately did enough to prevent Rijeka taking a lead into the second leg. But having fought back they now have to show the mindset needed to take the chances that come their way.