Why Martin Boyle could be just what Hibs need to bring out best in Elie Youan as No 9
It was heroic, dramatic and thrilling, but Hibs fans will be hoping Martin Boyle’s rip-roaring return is just a taste of what’s to come.
The 29-year-old forward hadn’t kicked a ball for nearly six weeks when he was thrown on at Easter Road to rescue a point in the Edinburgh derby. He didn’t even know all the names of Lee Johnson’s new signings.
Not that it mattered in the 95th minute when he spurted forward and slipped the ball out to Elie Youan on the right. The speedy Frenchman darted past Craig Halkett and squared for Boyle to slide home the equaliser. Cue delirium. There were just 22 seconds left on the clock.
Boyle says he has returned home to “shake the place up a bit”. It’s exactly what Johnson needs in the final third of the pitch.
Youan, of course, is one of the new signings Boyle hadn’t met before arriving at Easter Road for matchday on Sunday morning. Not knowing his name or anything of his playing style didn’t stop the Australian international forward from combining effectively enough to carve open the Hearts defence and grab a thrilling equaliser.
A sign of things to come? Johnson is already licking his lips at the prospect. Just think how effective the Boyle-Youan partnership could become when they get to know each other and the Australian international gets back up to speed.
He hasn’t done a pre-season. He hasn’t kicked a ball since June 28th. His return to the club from Al-Faisaly was only finalised on Saturday, so Boyle wasn’t really ready for Sunday’s derby.
He took a call from Johnson on Saturday night after finishing his homemade macaroni and chips. The manager wanted to include him on the bench. Just in case.
“That’s when I went into panic mode and headed to Asda for a few bottles of water and a strawberry Yazoo,” recalled Boyle.
“It was a bit bizarre. The clearance came through, so I had to get up and focus on the game and the rest is history.
“The last time I kicked a ball was June 28. I went on a few holidays with the family and ticked over in the gym so I hadn’t really done much.
“That’s why I was surprised to be thrown in the deep end with no armbands. Luckily I can swim and hopefully I can kick on again.
“I knew I would maybe get one chance. The pitch was a bit dry and I thought I had squandered it. But I just tried to keep believing and get myself in that position to score goals and thankfully I did.”
Perhaps it was because he wore the number 77 shirt. It is said to be the angel number, meaning that you are on the right path thanks to foresight and wise decisions. Hibs fans will certainly be happy to subscribe to the theory that if you keep seeing number 77 good things will happen.
Good things are happening. Boyle is back. The talisman’s energy, creative spark, injection of pace and killer instinct in front of goal has been sorely missed since his departure for Saudi Arabian riches in January.
The signing of Youan was the latest in several attempts to plug the gap Boyle had left behind in front of goal. The early signs from him so far have been promising. The 23-year-old is quick, direct, strong and likes to run in behind. His performances against St Johnstone and Hearts were encouraging. All he’s been missing was a goal. Or so it seemed.
Perhaps all he really needed was a partner and now he may well have found one in Boyle. The way they linked up for the equaliser was instinctive. It can only get better.
“I’ll learn all of the characteristics of the boys at training,” explained Boyle. “I’ve been told they’re a good bunch, and in my time here that’s always been the case. I’ll try and come in and shake the place up a bit.”
Johnson hopes the fans’ favourite can do just that and help to make Hibs a far more threatening team than they were last season. The manager now has pace in abundance and array of attacking options at his disposal.
“We have those flash moments in our team because of the pace of some players,” Johnson said of the last-gasp equaliser. “Elias Melkersen is quick and agile. Elie Youan, Martin Boyle, Jair Tavares – they are all quick and agile, and that presents a threat and means the footballers in our team can start dominating games a bit more.
“We will get better, more cohesive and people will understand each other's runs a bit more.”
Playing Melkersen out of position wide on the right in a 4-3-3 hasn’t really worked, but Boyle is a natural in that role, especially when afforded the freedom to drift inside and exploit space. His tendency to cut in and combine with a striker, like he used to do so effectively with Kevin Nisbet and Christian Doidge, could be just what is needed to bring out the best in Youan as a No 9.
“I think he has more in him, I really do,” said Johnson of the Frenchman. “The lads need to understand how quick he is. He has proper pace, pure speed and agility. I think managers have always moved him wide, but I’m going to persist in him playing in that number nine and develop him and teach him what he needs.”
If Boyle proves to be what Youan needs, Johnson is onto a winner.