The last few days might have seemed hazy for Martin Boyle. Luckily for Hibs supporters, the winger remains a blur for just about everyone too.
Hearts would have bet the house on the win at Easter Road. As the five minutes of added time elapsed, Hibs’ prospects – if not their minds – were rapidly dwindling.
The visitors did not drive in the last nail, however. They might have been comfortable, but they weren’t careless and they got caught.
Just when you thought the game was over, Hibs hit, Elie Youan passed Craig Halkett and asked Boyle to hit his cross. There were 22 seconds left in the derby when Boyle scored. It was pretty much the last kick.
No pre-season. No match since the end of June. Not ready to play a role in this game, according to a confidant of manager Lee Johnson. But there he was, walking away, drinking in the adulation of home support.
The prodigal son wore the number 77. An angelic number, they say. Seventy-seven, if you believe it, is a sign from above that you are ready to go beyond the mundane and on the path to happiness.
If you keep seeing it, good things are supposed to be brewing. Hibs fans might buy into this theory. They will see a lot of 77s this season and in the seasons to come. They have found their talisman and even without full physical form, it is irrelevant in the most dramatic way.
Before Sunday, Boyle’s last goals for Hibs were the three he scored against Rangers in the League Cup semi-finals and the consolation he secured against Celtic in the Premiership, which followed his strike Australian who made it 2-1 against Oman in the World Cup. qualifier.
It’s not just a goal weight, but goal weights. After the sluggishness of recent times, the folks at Hibs might be inclined to think that his pace and creativity may be what binds a new team together.
As a game it wasn’t epic, but you would have been cheated if you went to Easter Road expecting a classic. What was terribly predictable were the missiles that marked the day, the objects thrown in the direction of Alex Cochrane (he was hit) and Jorge Grant (he fortunately narrowly avoided being hit) .
In pre-season, SPFL bosses pulled out a metaphorical Sword of Damocles and hinted they would wield it in the event of serious fan misconduct. This is an early test.
The derby, well, Hibs had the upper hand early on and then that other talisman, in maroon, Lawrence Shankland scored to put Hearts ahead.
It was a smooth build up, then a gorgeous dinked ball from Barrie McKay to his striker. You can already see the beginnings of a beautiful partnership there, the kind of understanding that Shankland failed to have at Dundee United in the Premiership.
The measuring tapes were out to judge where the ball had touched his arm in the preamble and whether it was above his armpit level (playing) or slightly below (handball). John Beaton said the latter. Johnson, to his credit, did little thereafter. Relief at the equalizer overwhelmed him at the time in fairness.
The Hibs had their moments. Shankland had to sabotage one near his own line, then Craig Gordon made his magnificent save. The last man to sport that ‘I can’t believe he saved this’ look was Youan, who did almost everything right by directing a powerful header into goal and, he would have thought, into Gordon’s net. The tall man didn’t just keep him out, he pulled him out to safety.
The seeds of the sucker punch may have started at the start of the new half. The hearts should have made two. In quick order, Shankland and then McKay had attempts that David Marshall – another no stranger to extraordinary action in goal – handled brilliantly. The rest of the half was a relative stroll for the visitors and a drudgery for the hosts.
Hibs had no control, no composure on the ball, no goal threat. Their accuracy in possession was poor. Boyle appeared just after the hour mark, but it wasn’t until injury time that he started to get restless.
Most of Easter Road roared as Rocky Bashiri narrowly missed beyond the 90th minute, but there was one final twist.
Failing to show the urgency and ruthlessness to make it 2-0, Hearts opened up and brought in Boyle, thanks to the excellence of Youan – who looks more like a wide player than to a centre-forward.
It doesn’t matter who scored it, but the fact that it was Boyle was Easter Road’s dream at large. The point they collected and the team they collected it against was a big part of their delirium, but another part was the belief that they were on a different side with different hopes when 77 is among them.