BY ALAN TEMPLE – @CCP_Sport
HIBS’ triumph over Faroe Island minnows NSI Runavik may have been routine, but it was anything but painless.
Martin Boyle has the bruises to prove it.
As his Hibs teammates celebrated Thursday’s comprehensive 6-1 victory which effectively settled the tie prior to what could have been an onerous trip to Toftir next week, Boyle was just relieved to still be in one piece.
The Hibees winger endured brutal treatment from the tough-tackling part-timers, especially hulking left-back Einar Trondargjogv – who had the physique and the temperament of a particularly ill-tempered Juniors defender.
The NSI man, who had already given away a penalty to allow Florian Kamberi to open the scoring, was given his marching orders by ref Manfredas Lukjancukas after just 30 minutes following a wild challenge on Boyle.
With the part-timers down to ten men, Hibs ran riot, with Kamberi notching a hat-trick, debutant Stevie Mallan bagging a brace and Oli Shaw rippling the net.
Although he did not get his own name on the scoresheet, Boyle was irrepressible on the right flank, dusting himself off after every scything challenge before embarking on yet another mazy run.
“The boy [Trondargjogv] has taken my foot back home to the Faroes with him,” Boyle smiled ruefully.
“Fortunately I saw him coming in so I thought: ‘Brace yourself,’ but my teammate [Vykintas Slivka] didn’t help me out with a slow ball!
“They were physical – my legs have taken a beating. It’s part and parcel of the game sometimes, you’ve got to take hits. You just have to get up, brush them off and try to go again. I’m used to that by now.
“There’s not much I can do about it anyway – I’m just a wee guy. Hopefully, the rest of the team can back me up!
“We knew they were part-time and that they would be big and physical. We were always going to need to stand our ground and fight.
“But we also knew if we passed the ball the way we can and set our own tempo, they’d struggle, which is how it played out. We didn’t take them for granted, played well, moved the ball quickly and got our goals.
“The main thing is everyone is in good health and we’re buzzing to go for next week.”
It is a case of ‘no pain, no gain’ for Boyle, who can begin to cast his eye towards what promises to be an altogether more testing tie against Asteras Tripolis in the second qualifying round.
The Greek cracks finished fifth in their domestic league last season and reached the Europa League group phase in consecutive campaigns between 2014 and 2016.
Led by Michalis Manias, the Greece international striker who scored 11 goals last term, Asteras have a swathe players infinitely more dangerous than those possessed by NSI – and will have 33 degree temperatures to their advantage at home.
“If we get through it will be a bigger test, but that’s why we fought so hard to get here,” continued Boyle. “That’s what the gaffer [Lennon] was emphasising – you don’t want to put all your hard work last season to waste by going out early.
“We want to have a good run at the Europa League.
“Different climates and conditions will always be a factor. If we get to Greece it will be really hot, but I’m sure we’ll go over, get a few training sessions and adapt. But we’re in a good position and we can’t wait.”
Indeed, the confidence in the Hibs camp is palpable.
The party line is that they are aiming for the group phase, a feat not achieved in a European tournament by any club out-with Celtic and Rangers since Aberdeen did it in 2007/08.
A veteran of continental competition with Celtic, evidently the goals of head coach Neil Lennon are lofty.
“We believe in ourselves,” continued Boyle. “We were ambitious all of last season so I don’t see why we should change our attitude and mentality now.
‘It’s still early in our pre-season too, so we just need to keep working hard and keep getting fitter and stronger, and see where that takes us.”
If Hibs are to embark on a sensational run to the group phase, there is no doubt Swiss marksman Kamberi will be pivotal.
His treble against Runavik saw him become the first man since Alan Gordon to notch a hat-trick for the club in European competition. Suffice to say he has picked up where he left off after the Hibees shelled out £100,000 to make his loan deal from Grasshoppers permanent.
Boyle added: “Flo has just been brilliant since he’s come in. The club set ambitious targets and it’s a statement of intent to get him back. He’s a great signing after what he achieved last year. He’s already flying so hopefully that can continue.”