Hibs ready to take their shot at Rangers, with Martin Boyle in the form of his career
Hibs manager Jack Ross would no doubt love to be competing on the European front, his Europa Conference League run ended by Rijeka in August, but the Easter Road boss himself admitted that he will enjoy a full seven days between matches after two hard-fought victories against Dundee United and St Johnstone.
Those wins propelled Hibs into the semi-finals of the Premier Sports Cup and consolidated second place the cinch Premiership, a point off champions Rangers. This Hibs team is purring along nicely under Ross’ tutelage, their only defeat this season coming in Croatia in that aforementioned European tie.
So much of their early-season success has been built on the form of Martin Boyle, who has scored 11 goals across all competitions this season and is maturing into one of the league’s best players. Hibs tied the 28-year-old down on an improved, longer-term contract last month and the Australian internationalist has added composure and in-game intelligence to his already searing pace. He is a man capable of causing Rangers all manner of problems this weekend.
Boyle and his team-mates travel west with confidence. They know how hard the challenge is to win at Ibrox – the last team to win in the league there was Hamilton Accies on March 4, 2020 – but there is no trepidation in the Hibs ranks, just excitement at the opportunity ahead of them.
"A win would certainly be good for the club, the league itself, but we know how tough it will be to go there and claim three points,” said Boyle. “We all need to be at it and we need to be clinical when we get chances. That'll be the main thing. We're really looking forward to it. I wouldn't say we're in with a shout at the moment, but we're competing, which is great, and we've had a great start to the season so far.
Asked if the Old Firm are there to be shot at this season, Boyle smiled and replied: "Yeah, you could possibly say that, but when they do hit top form, then a lot of teams could be in trouble! In the first part of the season, we've avoided them, but now we are coming into a tricky part of the season where we've got a lot of top teams now. I think the best thing for us is to worry about next week and we'll take it game-by-game again. We're all in a good place at the moment, we're all training well and we've got a good squad, a good bunch of boys, and everything is clicking into place."
There is clear unity within the Hibs dressing-room right now. This is a team that plays to the sum of its parts, with every individual knowing their roles and eager to help out their team-mates. At full-time on Sunday, after a gritty 1-0 win over St Johnstone, Ryan Porteous and a few of his team-mates celebrated more wildly than usual. Given how much pain St Johnstone inflicted on Hibs last season, such jubilation is understandable, but Boyle revealed it was just down to remaining right at the top of the league.
"It's because we are right up there at the moment,” Boyle said of the celebrations. “We are fighting for every result.
“We're buying into exactly what the manager is building at the moment. The standards that we've set, we're a big club and we want to be challenging at venues next week like that. It's a great place to go. Obviously they are a top team. What they did last season was great, but we want to go there and compete.”
How much of statement would it be if Hibs won at Ibrox? "It would be, but it's not going to define a season, is it?” replied Boyle. “We need to maintain it. I say it every week, we take it game by game and we are really enjoying it, we're fighting for each other and we can't wait to get back on the training pitch and prepare for it [Rangers]."
Boyle feels Hibs are a better team this season. After finishing third in the top flight and reaching the Scottish Cup final, big strides were going to be difficult to achieve, but they are setting the bar very high once again.
"We're a bit more consistent now,” said Boyle. “We've had a positive start this season when maybe last season we might have dropped points there today. We did that last week [against St Mirren] but the main thing is that we bounced back today and obviously we are in a semi-final again and we claimed the three points today. We are near the top of the table and there's other teams challenging as well, which is great. It's competitive. We're buying into what the manager is building and it's fantastic. It's not just me and a few others – it's all the players. He's brought a good squad together. We're all bonding.”
Boyle is playing very well right now. Is he thinking about hitting the 20-goal mark already? "Nah! I'm probably due a blip soon, to be honest with you,” he jested. “I don't set targets – I never do. I'm just happy to be playing and to be on the team sheet every week. Thankfully it has kind of clicked into place and I'm scoring more goals. I've always wanted to add that to my game. The manager sat me down and he wanted that as well. Thankfully I'm in that good place.”
He and Hibs will be in an even better place if they can down Rangers. On current form, you wouldn’t put it past them.