Hibs stay ahead in numbers game with defeat of Ayr United

As Ayr United slumped to their biggest home defeat of the season and Hibernian recorded their biggest away win, two players emerged at the end unaware of the significance of numbers.
Hibs right-back David Gray slides in to tackle Ayr's Paul Cairney. Picture: SNS.Hibs right-back David Gray slides in to tackle Ayr's Paul Cairney. Picture: SNS.
Hibs right-back David Gray slides in to tackle Ayr's Paul Cairney. Picture: SNS.

“It’s nine, is it?” said Martin Boyle after being reminded of his personal goals tally. “That’s all right. I didn’t know so it’s good you guys can keep me straight.” It was that kind of performance from the champions, the sort where the players are nice and relaxed and the ball zings, all sure hits and perfect arcs.

But Greg Fleming, the Ayr goalkeeper, was despondent when he emerged from his dressing-room. He was under the impression the result had relegated his team and was unaware that manager Ian McCall had just calculated that a 5-0 victory at Raith Rovers on Saturday could lift them into the play-offs spot and condemn the Fifers instead.

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“I honestly didn’t know that,” Fleming said. “I just thought we were down. It would be great if we could get the result we needed. You never know. Stranger things have happened.”

Boyle, pictured, scored the second of Hibs’ four goals. He notched a double the last time at Somerset, suggesting that the old ground is one of his favourites. “It is. I like playing here,” he said. “It’s my sort of area and takes me back to my days at Montrose.”

The wideman’s Speedy Gonzalez act caused panic in the Ayr defence, who’d begun nervously in any case. There were audible gasps from the stand as he blurred past several Honest Men on a run which could have resulted in one of the goals of the season, but he chose to pass to Grant Holt who missed. “I’ll be biting his ear about that later,” joked the man they call Squirrel.

Boyle has started many more games under Neil Lennon than he did last season for Alan Stubbs. “The manager has shown great belief in me and hopefully I’ve been repaying him by positive running and causing problems. These are the things I think I bring to the side.”

When a team clinch a title early, the opposition in the remaining matches can get lucky through the champs switching off, though it’s highly unlikely that Lennon would ever tolerate this. Thus Ayr met a side playing with freedom, style and some ruthlessness.

“Hibs were nice and relaxed,” added Fleming. “They were popping the ball around and you could see the pressure was right off them. That can make your team look not so good, like you’re not trying, but I think sometimes you just have to say well done to the opposition because Hibs were very good out there.”

Fleming was asked why Ayr, having seemed almost carefree themselves about Championship life and comfortably
mid-table, were now dangling over the trap-door. “It’s simple; we just haven’t won enough games. We were actually a long time unbeaten away from home at one stage but drew a lot of these matches. Just a couple of wins might have made all the difference.”

While Ayr prepare to try to climb a mountain in Kirkcaldy, Hibs are looking forward to an Easter Road party and a trophy presentation. “We want to win that game, too,” Boyle said of the final match of their second-tier exile against St Mirren, and Lennon will expect nothing less.

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“He’s got a ruthless streak, he demands a lot from us,” Boyle confirmed. At Somerset, the manager had to watch from the stand because of a touchline ban – did Squirrel prefer that? “It’s all the same. You can hear him from anywhere!”

And what’s his role in the “boyband”, Lennon’s favourite term of non-endearment when the team are poor? “Oh, the drummer I think!”