MARTIN Boyle is used to playing football in strange surroundings. Nine years ago, the forward found himself lining up for the opening day of the season at East Stirlingshire’s adopted Ochilview home in front of just 282 people. 

Remarkably, even less were there to watch him kick off the 2020/21 season with a brace against Kilmarnock at an Easter Road devoid of spectators due to Covid-19 restrictions. 

At least the Australian could console himself by the fact Saturday proved much more fruitful, with a 1-0 defeat to the Shire in 2011 a distant memory as his current side Hibernian ran out 2-1 winners over Alex Dyer’s Ayrshire outfit. 

“It is an important result and we want to start the season off right and I think we did,” Boyle said. “We were really good in the first half. In the second, we sat off and let them get a lot of balls into the box but our defenders defended it well.

HeraldScotland: Hibs boss Jack Ross had plenty to be happy about after his side's winHibs boss Jack Ross had plenty to be happy about after his side's win

“You’ve got your team-mates to celebrate but obviously it is kind of weird and you want the atmosphere.

“We have higher ambitions than we finished last season and would like to get a Europa League spot, maybe top four and push even higher.

“It’s been a long journey for myself coming from way down in the Highland Leagues and just to be a professional football player makes me grateful every day.” 

Hibs had to show two sides to their game on Saturday, storming out of the blocks to take an early lead when Boyle capitalised on a rush of blood from Killie debutant Jake Eastwood to nip in ahead of the keeper and stroke home his first of the season with just five minutes on the clock. 

The home side charged forward in increasingly menacing green waves as the wonderful Scott Allan turned the screw and Alex Gogic, making his debut at the base of the midfield, stifled any whiff of a Kilmarnock threat. 

Gogic could yet prove the missing piece of Jack Ross’ puzzle and he certainly gave Allan and Joe Newell, who had his own curled effort pushed away by Eastwood, the freedom to ghost into space in Killie’s half. 

READ MORE: Hibs 2-1 Kilmarnock: Martin Boyle shines as football makes its strange return to capital

Boyle’s second of the day was evidence of this as Allan picked up a loose ball, skipped beyond the despairing Aaron Tshibola, before laying it on a plate for his team-mate to fire into the bottom corner. 

Dyer had said before the game he wanted to put “out a side that will represent the club” but he couldn’t have had in mind their opening 40 minutes where they struggled to get to grips with Hibs’ slick play. 

Step forward Chris Burke, the 36-year-old veteran who, according to the BBC, is the only player still in action since Sportscene was last shown on a Saturday night in 2002, to drag Killie back into the contest with a free kick that could prove a very early goal of the season contender. 

His muted celebration said it all about his own frustrations at Killie’s opening disappointment, but the goal gave the side fresh impetus after the break. They pinned Hibernian into their own half for much of the 45. But, a Paul Hanlon effort which nearly beat his own goalkeeper aside, they rarely troubled Ofir Marciano as Hibs stubbornly held on to bag an impressive three points. 

“Am I disappointed we didn’t get any points from the game? Yes,” said Burke. “Am I disappointed in the performance? No.

HeraldScotland: Burke's celebrations were muted after his stunning free kick Burke's celebrations were muted after his stunning free kick

“Overall we were the better team in the 90 minutes and we shot ourselves in the foot with silly mistakes. We have lots of positives from the match and something we can rectify.

“I have been practicing for a while and I caught it sweetly and thankfully it brought us back into the game which we deserved.

“In hindsight, it doesn’t really mean anything. The goal means nothing if it’s a tap in or a goal I scored today as it’s still zero points.

“I was just frustrated [when asked why he didn’t really celebrate the goal] because we were 2-0 down. We let ourselves down.”