JACK ROSS has revealed that Martin Boyle is a man of his word after the irrepressible forward put Kilmarnock to the sword.
The Hibernian head coach concedes that the Australia internationalist was not at his best during pre-season, failing to shine in their behind-closed-doors bounce games.
However, Boyle assured the Hibs staff that he would be ready to hit the ground running when the real action started – and kept his promise in scintillating style.
The waspish attacker bagged a brace in a stunning first period showing, capitalising on a Jake Eastwood error to break the deadlock before fizzing another low drive beyond the Killie keeper.
Chris Burke halved arrears on the cusp of half-time but Boyle’s man of the match display proved enough to keep the three points in the capital.
And Ross believes the former Montrose and Dundee man still does not receive the credit he deserves for his all-round ability.
“By his own admission, Martin hasn’t felt like he’s been at his best in pre-season,” said the Easter Road boss. “But he assured us that he’d be right for the opening day. In fact, he told us he would score!
“He played in a slightly different role at the start of the game [as a striker] and then back to his more natural position on the wing – but wherever he plays on the pitch, he carries a threat because of that pace.
“And he’s a much better player than a lot of people give him credit for.
“His all-round play is good, how he creates opportunities is excellent and I’m delighted he has got off to that start.”
Ross handed debuts to Drey Wright, Alex Gogic and £250,000 man Kevin Nisbet.
However, the most eye-catching selection came in the form of 18-year-old Josh Doig ahead of Lewis Stevenson at left wing-back following a string of fine displays during pre-season.
And against a booming backdrop of piped-in crowd noises, Kilmarnock went on the attack at an empty Easter Road. A wonderful delivery from Ross Millen narrow evaded both Nicke Kabamba and Rory McKenzie at the back post within the opening 60 seconds.
However, it was Hibs who claimed the lead when Nisbet surged forward and slipped a fine pass to Boyle, who skipped around the on-rushing Eastwood and coolly slotted into the net. The young goalkeeper’s decision to rush from his goal-mouth when the blistering Boyle was always going to win a foot-race was clearly an errant one.
Eastwood did make a sharp save to deny Joe Newell before Gogic headed off target.
But the unplayable Boyle gave Hibs a richly-merited second-goal when he latched on to a Scott Allan pass, scampered into the box and fizzed a wonderful low drive past Eastwood.
Kilmarnock were handed a lifeline on the cusp of the interval when Burke lashed a thunderbolt of a free-kick beyond Ofir Marciano from all of 30 yards. A true goal of the season contender on day one.
It’s a crying shame that no Kilmarnock supporter was able to see Burke’s moment of inspiration live due to Hibs’ decision not to offer a stream of this fixture on a PPV basis.
Danny Rogers replaced Eastwood at the break – due to an injury, Killie boss Dyer later confirmed – but it was Marciano at the other end who caught the eye.
He produced a wonderful instinctive save to keep Hibs’ lead intact when Paul Hanlon directed a super Greg Kiltie cross towards his own goal. Danny Whitehall then headed over the bar as the visitors pushed for parity.
But Hibs held firm, displaying a resolve Ross was buoyed to see.
“The [Burke] goal before half-time changed the dynamic of the second half and we didn’t have any control of the game,” said Ross. “Kilmarnock were good and forced us back. They made us defend resolutely.
“That is something we have worked hard on because we didn’t do it enough last season.”