After a summer spent in the international shade, Liam Boyce is back in the habit of hitting the headlines and ruffling the back of the net.
It is a trait his Ross County team-mates – and quite possibly Michael O’Neill, the Northern Ireland manager – will welcome, even if it sets them in the shadows on a weekly basis.
The truth is there were 11 or more accomplished performers for the Staggies in Dingwall yesterday in a one-sided show of strength from Jim McIntyre’s team.
Even if it wasn’t the greatest of spectacles, County – from the grit and passion of the seasoned rearguard to an energetic midfield and attack – were always in command.
Boyce, though, thriving on rediscovered confidence after a Highland derby treble, put the icing on the cake with an opportunistic double. He hit 20 goals last season, but 18 had come before Christmas, contributing to him missing the Euro 2016 finals cut for his country.
“Liam has a fantastic picture of the game in his brain,” manager Jim McIntyre reflected. “When he does things really sharply, he is a real handful to play against. His goals were scrappy today compared to one he scored against Inverness.
“But I love those goals because he’s in the right area – and that’s what we’ve really been concentrating on with the forwards. I wasn’t concerned about an adverse reaction from Liam after missing out on the Euros.
“His wife had just given birth and it gave him time to spend with his family. Obviously I know he was very disappointed not to go, but he is certainly looking really fresh. Obviously he will get all the attention with the goals, but Liam will be the first to compliment his team-mates on creating the chances for him.”
County had netted nine goals in three league straight victories over Killie last season but took time to get the measure of the Ayrshire men, despite overall control, before the 29th minute breakthrough. Patience was the key after sustained foraging by County around the Killie box. Boyce eventually dragged a pass wide to Gardyne and his dangerous, low ball in was only-half-cleared. Boyce made minimum fuss of slamming in the opener as it broke to him eight yards out.
Killie offered little or nothing before they buckled again after 74 minutes as Boyce, pictured left, grabbed his second of the match. Substitute Alex Schalk sprinted through on the left side of the Killie box and cut the ball back across for Boyce. The Northern Irishman seemed to fluff his first attempted swipe but, with the second bite, seven yards out in front of goal, confidently powered in the crucial second.