BY ALAN TEMPLE – @CCP_Sport
MARTIN BOYLE admits his penalty miss against Dundee United kept him awake at night.
However, the speedy striker will sleep soundly if Hibs can use a fraught Festive period to re-establish their advantage over the Tannadice men.
Boyle, 23, was the villain from 12 yards earlier the month when spot-kick specialist Cammy Bell – who made a historic hat-trick of stops against Dunfermline earlier this season – parried his effort clear.
His misery was compounded when United were awarded a penalty of their own, which was confidently dispatched by Tony Andreu to secure a pivotal 1-0 win for Ray McKinnon’s in-form Terrors.
Boyle, who had been on fire prior to that fixture with four goals from his previous four games, admits he was tormented by the miss – and has now been usurped on spot-kick duty by Jason Cummings.
“There were a few sleepless nights,” he conceded. “I got the nod to take the pen and it never crossed my mind that I wouldn’t score.
“I practice penalties a lot and I thought I was alright at them! I took one in the [Europa League] shootout against Brondby so was confident to step up against United.
“But it’s just one of those things – if the keeper dives the wrong way then it is a goal and everyone is saying it was a good penalty. To be fair, Cammy’s record speaks for itself when it comes to saving penalties.
“However, you’ve got to take it on the chin and move on quickly and we made amends by getting the win last week. You can’t afford to dwell on it and all the boys here had my back.”
He laughed: “I think that’s me been bumped off the penalties! Jason is back in the team so that’ll be him wanting to take them.”
That defeat saw United draw level on points with Hibs and, with both sides winning last week, that remains the case going into the traditionally hectic Christmas schedule.
And Boyle is determined to build up a head of steam – starting with today’s televised visit to face Morton – before the title rivals face each other at Easter Road on January 6.
“We never thought it would be easy peasy and we’re still not thinking that,” said Boyle, of a fraught race for promotion. “We were hoping to open a gap but that hasn’t happened.
“But over the Christmas period everyone is going to get tested, including United – and we’ll see who comes out of that.
“Every weekend is a big weekend, we know the stakes are high in this league. We just need to focus on ourselves and try and get back on a good run.
“Of course United are at the back of our minds, but we’re just thinking about us and how we play.”
The Christmas calendar kicks in with a trip to face Morton this afternoon, with Boyle steeled for a testing afternoon in one of the Championship’s most rustic bear-pits.
He is no stranger to modest facilities after cutting his teeth in the old Third Division with Montrose, but he is dreading the tight dressing room and narrow pitch of Cappielow. He will not, however, shirk away from the battle.
“I didn’t really want to mention Cappielow!” the former Dundee man smiled. “It is a tight pitch – I’m trying not to think about it until the time comes – with a small dressing room.
“As soon as we get a touch of the ball they will be in our faces, the fans will be on our backs. But we’ll be ready for that and I’m sure everyone is looking forward to it.
“They [Morton] have a good team as well. They have good players and a young team going forward, they have already been to a League Cup semi-final so I’m sure they will have high hopes.
“Places like Dumbarton, Queen of the South, Morton – it can be tough because we like to play an expansive game. But sometimes you need to adapt. We have a few bigger guys this season which might help us, playing off flick-ons from Brian [Graham] and Holty [Grant Holt].”
And he has no doubt the Hibees will survive their current midfield crisis, which has seen key men Fraser Fyvie, John McGinn and Dylan McGeouch sidelined.
Boyle added: “It’s unfortunate all the injuries seem to have come in the same area and we’re struggling there, but you have young Scott Martin, Marvin [Bartley] has come in, and there will be other young boys as well.
“We have a few injuries but we have people who can step in. We’ve got a strong enough squad to cope and we’re happy with that.”