Hibs winger Martin Boyle has been 'up and down' but is finally getting up to speed

As would be expected of such a pacy individual, Martin Boyle was quick out of the blocks when the new season got underway back in August and, now, several months on, he is finally getting up to speed.

Hibernian's Martin Boyle during the Scottish Premiership match against Kilmarnock at Easter Road on August 01, 2020, in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Photo by Rob Casey / SNS Group)
Hibernian's Martin Boyle during the Scottish Premiership match against Kilmarnock at Easter Road on August 01, 2020, in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Photo by Rob Casey / SNS Group)

On the opening day of the Premiership campaign, the Australian internationalist delivered two goals and a virtuoso performance against Kilmarnock.

But, having made a flying start, he struggled to maintain that momentum in the weeks and months that followed that showcase display.

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Distracted by the countdown to his contract expiration date and consequent interest from rival clubs, a new deal was agreed, and it was hoped that would allow him to refocus.

Hibs winger Martin Boyle and assistant manager John Potter enjoy a laugh at training. Photo by Ross Parker/SNS Group

It has taken a little longer than expected but, if there had been creeping signs that he was rediscovering his best form, he delivered one of his best performances of the season against Dundee at the weekend and will head into Saturday’s match with former suitors Celtic in buoyant mood, much to the delight of assistant manager John Potter, who had always backed him to deliver.

“He has set such high standards and that is the standard we hold him to but he has been a bit up and down,” admitted manager Jack Ross’ right-hand man. “I’m sure he will admit that himself.”

But, the will to improve has never dissipated and having been given time, the influential winger is beginning to reward his gaffer’s patience.

“He was getting back to his best in bits of the semi-final,” recalled Potter, “and in the second half against Aberdeen but because he has set such high standards people notice when he is not up there again.”

One of the side’s key players, the 27-year-old’s absence through injury at the start of last term was a contributing factor in former boss Paul Heckingbottom’s sacking, as the team struggled to find a cutting edge without him, winning just one of the opening 10 league games they negotiated without him.

His return to full fitness coincided with the arrival of Ross and they have benefitted each other ever since.

“There is no doubt he is a main player for us,” admitted Potter, whilst acknowledging the threat that is now posed throughout the team, has eased some of the pressure on the boisterous attacker.

From a far more organised and resolute backline to a reinvigorated midfield and a more dangerous partnership up front, Hibs are a more potent force this term but Boyle’s ability to flip defence into attack, to run at opponents, heading for the byeline or cutting inside, combined with his willingness to work back or charge upfield to get in behind and instill panic in defences, means he a prized asset.

And, as they battle to move back up the table, after slipping below Rangers, Celtic and Aberdeen and ensure ongoing progression in the Betfred Cup, his improved form and more consistent contributions will be vital, said Potter.

“Most of our good things go through him. It maybe isn’t all catching fire [for him] at the minute but Martin will score a lot of goals and create a lot of chances for this club. He just needs to keep working hard.”

Potter’s belief in the Hibs players’ is based on their attitude as much as their ability. Having coached players at age group level and been part of Ross’ coaching group at Sunderland as well as at Easter Road, he believes the current squad is brimming with good men who are also good players.

“At Dunfermline, I was in charge of the under 20s and helped with the first team a little bit. Then I was at Sunderland, which is totally different and then I came here.

“It has given me a decent knowledge of people and how they react in certain situations.

“You try to treat them as equally as you can but I have seen most things football-wise. I have seen the chancers and the guys who are wee fly guys, you see it all.

“We talk to the young boys here and tell them they are lucky to have so many good pros around them. We have a really good group here, who are where they are because they work hard and are good at what they do. To have guys like that here is really important and it helps when we can bring the young ones in and show them guys like Paul Hanlon, Lewis Stevenson, David Gray, Darren McGregor, and what they have all achieved.

“They are a great bunch. From Darren at one end of the age range to young Josh Doig. I also learn from them.

“In my career, I was never good enough to play for Hibs so I like asking guys like Paul or Lewy about managers they’ve had here and how they worked on corners or defended and I pick up bits and pieces from them as well.”

That willingness to graft on the training ground has seen players blossom. Whether it is resolving the defensive issues of last term or polishing up the gem that is Joe Newell, who struggled to shine last season, there is an unquenchable desire to get the best out of every player in their charge.

“We don’t want to just survive, we want to achieve things, we want to win things, we want to be at least third, we want to get into Europe, we want to win a cup, and if we miss an opportunity to do any of that then there is, understandably, disappointment, but we move on and try and improve.”

After the dismay of the Scottish Cup semi final and the frustration that followed the performance against Aberdeen at Pittodrie, they bounced back emphatically against Dundee. But now it is Celtic and they have something to prove all over again. Mainly to themselves.

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