Globe-trotting Boyle cleans up at Hampden

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November 22, 2021
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    Martin Boyle scoresMartin Boyle ran riot as Hibs breezed past Rangers in the Scottish League Cup semi-final

    Since Connor Goldson brought up the question of hunger – or Rangers' lack of it – let's consider the case of Martin Boyle and his globetrotting ways over the past six weeks. If we want to know about hunger then Hibs' Hampden hat-trick hero is probably a good place to start.

    In early October, Boyle left Edinburgh to go and play for Australia against Oman in Qatar, a journey of 3,414 miles, give or take. He then went straight to Saitama in Japan to play another World Cup qualifier, a journey of 5,124 miles. From there he returned to Edinburgh (another 5,724 miles) only to lose to Dundee United, Aberdeen and Celtic before he was off on his travels again.

    On November 11 he was in Sydney playing Saudi Arabia (10,485 miles) and then in Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates five days later, a 7,478-mile trek before travelling another 3,584 miles to get himself back to his day job at Hibs. That's approximately 35,809 miles and about 81 hours in the air since the beginning of October.

    If Boyle had looked heavy-legged at Hampden on Sunday then he would have had good reason. If he'd looked tired then all he'd have had to do was outline the craziness of his travel schedule this past while. He didn't do any of this, of course. What he did do was score three goals inside 40 minutes of this League Cup semi-final. He, and others, took Rangers to the cleaners.

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    It wasn't particularly unusual for Rangers to concede three goals in one game. Since things started to turn around on Steven Gerrard's watch – Benfica, St Mirren, Royal Antwerp, Bayer Leverkusen and Motherwell have all scored three against them in 90 minutes and Spartak Moscow have scored four. What was unusual about Sunday was that they all came in the first half (that never happened under Gerrard) and what was doubly unusual was that one player got all three. That feat is as rare as hen's teeth.

    Boyle could not have brought more energy to the party had he been lying in a hammock for the last month instead of doing his Phileas Fogg routine. His speed of movement and clever combinations with Kevin Nisbet were way too much for a Rangers defence that looked panicked every time the ball came down their end.

    Much for Van Bronckhorst to address

    The temptation here is to pick over the bones of Rangers' lamentable lack of creativity, ideas and accuracy and the absence of urgency from too many of their supposed go-to men. We could bang on forever about the things that Giovanni van Bronckhorst has to address in the coming weeks, not least the growing feeling that Rangers are a team that is fully sated by one league title and that their edge in adding to it is now blunted.

    That suspicion was only given substance by Goldson's comments after. This failure in a knockout cup tie is nothing new, of course. The theme of Rangers losing these matches is as old as the hills. In the past decade they've been knocked out of cup competitions by Queen of the South, Inverness, Dundee United (twice), Raith Rovers (twice), Forfar, Alloa, Celtic (five times), St Johnstone (twice), Hibs (twice), Aberdeen (twice), Motherwell, Hearts and St Mirren.

    Giovanni van Bronckhorst and Ross WilsonVan Bronckhorst (left) watched Rangers' defeat with director of football Ross Wilson

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    Van Bronckhorst is getting a bit of stick for not going to the dressing room at half-time at Hampden to try to sort out the mess, but Sunday's failure is just a repetition of what's gone before under different mangers and different players. It's a deep-rooted malaise in the cups.

    Goldson's jaded demeanour was in contrast to the effervescence of Rangers' opposite numbers. Hibs had the five youngest players on the park at the beginning, Rangers had six of the eight oldest players. Hibs had an average age of 25. Rangers' average age was 30.

    There wasn't so much food for thought for Van Bronckhorst as a 15-course banquet, the age profile of his side being just one thing he might want to consider. Nathan Patterson, the thrilling full-back, continues to kick his heels on the sidelines. On the surface – top of the league and in a decent position in Europe – things are fine for Rangers. In reality, they have issues. We didn't need to hear Goldson's comments to know that. It was written large over their performance. Out-classed, out-fought. Out of the League Cup.

    Masterclass from Ross & Hibs

    To focus too much on Rangers would be an affront to Hibs, though. They hadn't played in nearly a month. They'd lost four in a row before that. They'd shipped three against Dundee United and another three against Celtic. Things were looking tricky for them. Then, this.

    There's history there. Some bad blood. At either end of the day we were reminded of that. Inside 30 seconds, Paul Hanlon climbed into a tackle on Joe Aribo that brought him a booking but also sent Rangers a message.

    After the game was done, the gently mocking tones from Ryan Porteousexternal-link was another illustration of what this meant to them. In repeating Gerrard's, 'do I look happy?' comment from a few weeks back, Porteous showed he hasn't forgotten the former Rangers manager's heavy criticism of him during the last game between these sides. Gerrard has gone, but Porteous' wrath remains. It galvanised him on the day. It galvanised all of these Hibs players.

    Having picked up a booking in the opening seconds, Hanlon went on to have an absolute stormer. He cleared pretty much everything that came into his airspace. His partner in defence, Porteous, made a dreadful blunder to allow Scott Arfield to score late in the first half but that was the last error he made.

    Jack RossRoss reached his second cup final as Hibernian head coach

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    Hibs won every head-to-head. Credit to Jack Ross because he sent his team out psyched up to the gills and with a laser-like focus on what they needed to do. Ross has had a number of close games against Rangers leading up to this. Six-in-a-row, in fact. Rangers won five of them, but only by a goal. The other was a draw.

    The most recent meeting would have told him a lot. Hibs lost it 2-1 but they were ahead and had Rangers in trouble until Porteous saw red. On Sunday, the Hibs manager got everything right – the motivation of his team, the formation, the personnel, the tactics. He brought in Josh Campbell, 21, was a terrific call. So many of Hibs' players chose Sunday to deliver some of their very best stuff of the season. Nice timing.

    They'll be underdogs again in the final next month and that will suit them. They've already lost 3-1 to Celtic this season so nobody outside of their camp will forecast anything other than a win for Ange Postecoglou's team. Hibs can work with that. They can use it as fuel.

    They showed on Sunday that when playing with a cause they're a formidable team. That's the great challenge for them now. If they can repeat their lovely blend of dynamism in attack and resilience in defence then the final could be special. Their fans have seen what they're capable of. More to the point, so have Celtic.

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    November 22, 2021
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