If one thing has stood out during this World Cup it has been the speed…
Hibs have had a pretty inconsistent start to the new season. An early, exciting Europa League qualification campaign was plenty of fun for fans and neutrals alike, yet after the Easter Road side were ultimately knocked out and the dust settled we found Neil Lennon’s side stumbling somewhat to get their domestic campaign off the ground.
An opening day 3-0 win over Motherwell suggested all was well after a summer of upheaval in the transfer window, yet since then the Hibees have drawn two games against St Johnstone and Aberdeen and then lost emphatically to Livingston. The alarm bells aren’t ringing just yet in Leith but if Hibs don’t show some incentive against Kilmarnock on Saturday the murmurs may begin to grow.
Yet, while Hibs may be at a loss after the departure of key players like John McGinn, Scott Allan and Dylan McGeouch, it’s worth noting that at least one notable performer from last season is still firing on all cylinders for Lennon’s side. And may in fact do even better than what he accomplished in the previous campaign.
I’m of course talking about Martin Boyle. The 25-year-old winger was a pivotal part of the Hibs side that pushed for second place last season and while Lennon may be trying to rebuild his team from the inside out, the Scottish forward has continued doing what he does best: getting down the line and beating his man.
Before we consider what Boyle brings to this team as a whole, it’s worth taking a look at his individual stats just to note how much he has improved so far this season, despite playing for a Hibs side that may be poorer on the whole.
As we can see from the graph above, Boyle’s average attacking stats per 90 minutes have just about increased across the board. The winger is averaging almost twice as many crosses, shot assists (passes that lead to a shot), through passes and overall assists. We can also note that his shots and dribbles per 90 minutes are also notably up on last season.
For most Hibs fans, this news will hardly be much of a surprise. Despite the club’s inconsistent form, Boyle has still managed to bag one goal and four assists in 10 games so far this season, with notable interventions in the first leg against Asteras Tripolis and St Johnstone where he provided assists that went on to define the outcome of the game.
Not only is Martin attempting more attacking moves per 90 minutes across the board, but when we take a look at the accuracy of these actions we can see that he’s also getting far better at executing them too.
As the graph above shows, Boyle’s through balls in the 2018/19 season are 21% more accurate, while his crosses and dribble succession rate have gone up by 9% and 10% respectively. Sure, his shooting and passes to the final third have dropped, but by and large the Scottish forward seems to be even sharper and busier on the pitch for Hibs this season.
So why is Boyle suddenly so much better? Of course, after only 10 games we can’t draw too many watertight conclusions but the early signs show a player that is far more involved in his team’s play than what was perhaps on offer last season.
Indeed, it’s worth noting that Boyle is also averaging more passes per 90 minutes (26 to 21) this season and his overall actions per 90 minutes has also gone up from last season’s average of 54.36 to 64.45. Essentially, Boyle is getting a lot more of the ball and it seems to suit his direct style of play wonderfully.
This is perhaps where we may find a silver lining to the dark, grey cloud that has been hanging over Hibs’ transfer window all summer. Without McGinn, McGeouch and Allan in this team, the focus of the team’s attacks seems to have shifted ever so slightly towards the right wing, where Boyle seems all too happy to lap up as much attention as he can get.
Sure, Lennon and his backroom staff have done well to replace the aforementioned central midfielders with like-for-like replacements in the form of Emerson Hyndman, Stevie Mallan and Mark Milligan but Boyle is still the only proven player in this squad that can provide genuine width to counter attacks. And that’s what makes him so pivotal to Lennon’s side.
Hibs will almost surely regain their composure in the Scottish Premiership and get back to winning ways once the team has settled and the new players come to terms with their surroundings. And in the case of Boyle we should keep an eye on the tremendous form he’s shown despite such a shaky start at Easter Road and whether he can do even better once his teammates pick up the pace.