Hibernian’s Martin Boyle says he has been through hell in recent months and there are many Easter Road fans who will claim something similar.
But the winger’s last-gasp equaliser against Livingston on Wednesday night signalled an end to his months of torture and gave the frustrated support hope that it may also prove to be the start of something better for them, too.
An injury in a League Cup group match against Elgin City in July turned out to be a recurrence of the knee problem which ended last season prematurely for Boyle.
That double dose of rest and rehabilitation have examined his patience and mental fortitude and also tested the strength and depth of the attacking options at Hibs.
But, if Boyle bounced back with the kind of exuberance that could prove invaluable to a squad suffering from a prolonged spell at the wrong end of the league table, the same cannot be said of a squad that has struggled to find that fizz, pace and pop in his absence.
Boyle said: “It’s been hell, watching all the games and feeling down. It ruins my weekend as well.
“You need to come in day after day, do your rehab and get through it. It can be frustrating.”
The arrival of his daughter Amelia, just before that first injury, helped make things more bearable but home hasn’t offered complete solace. Boyle admits it has been tough to watch wife Rachel, who plays for Hibernian and Scotland, living the dream as he was stuck on the sidelines.
“I was quite lucky in the sense that I had a new-born just before I got injured, so coming home and having the wee one keep me on my toes was good,” added Boyle.
“But it was still hell. It’s been tough because Rachel has been banging in the goals and I’ve been a WAG! I’m going along watching her play football and I’m the one holding the wee one while she’s racking up the hat-tricks!”
Which is why Boyle was buzzing to be back on the Easter Road pitch on Wednesday, with a trip to Hampden to look forward to tomorrow.
“I feel really lucky to be in this position as a professional football player and the physio I received from the staff, Rory Monks, Tommy Scanlon and Nathan Ring – I really trust that team and they’ve got me back out there. If there are any positives, then it’s that maybe I’ve bulked up and am coming back stronger.”
His appearance, even for the final 10 minutes in the 2-2 draw, boosted the Leith outfit and, although he is not yet deemed fit enough for a full 90, the knowledge that Hibs can call on him from the bench will lift spirits ahead of tomorrow’s League Cup semi-final against defending champions Celtic.
The side’s spirit was called into question by manager Paul Heckingbottom, who revealed he gave his side a half-time rollocking which inspired the second-half fightback against Livingston, and saw them avoid the ignimony of slipping to bottom of the Premiership. That criticism hit hard, according to captain Paul Hanlon. He said: “It does sting as it is not something you want labelled at your team.
“It is easy to say that after the first half but in the second half it was there for everyone to see, we had a bit of fight and dig.
“The easy thing to do would be to lie down and accept defeat. But we didn’t do that. That shows there is a bit of character in the squad.”
They will need all of that and more tomorrow, with Celtic more than capable of punishing another slow start and killing off the game before there is time for a comeback.
“That can happen to anyone if you don’t turn up against Celtic,” added the defender, “and if they are on their game you are going to find it difficult. But we are going to try and play as well as we did at Easter Road earlier in the season against them where we more than matched them. We need to be ready.”