KRIS Boyd rejoined Rangers yesterday and immediately targeted finishing above Hearts as his new club’s priority for next season.
The 30-year-old, who harvested 128 goals from 192 appearances during his first spell at Ibrox before leaving for Middlesbrough four years ago, believes that the biggest challenge to Ally McCoist’s side winning the Championship – and automatic promotion – will come from the capital. However, while wary of the threat posed by Alan Stubbs and his new-look Hibernian side, Boyd believes that Hearts, also under new management with Robbie Neilson, will be their main rivals in the forthcoming campaign.
“We’ve got ourselves back in the Championship now and it’s going to be a tough league,” said the 30-year-old, who has signed a one-year deal at Ibrox. “There are a lot of big clubs in there so we know we’re going to have to perform to a level. To win games we will have to perform.
“I played against Hearts with Kilmarnock [on Boxing Day at Tynecastle] last year where we battered them 4-0 and they looked like they were all over the place. Then we played them again at the end of the season and they beat us 5-0 and they were a totally changed team so they’re going to be a force. Hibs, with a new manager, are going to be strong.”
Consequently, Boyd is of the opinion that Rangers must make a statement when they meet Hearts at Ibrox on August 9, the opening day of the season.
“I think we need to. Hearts is probably going to be our toughest challenge,” said the striker, who was the subject of strong interest from previous Hearts manager Gary Locke.
“They are a totally different outfit and will strengthen again. They are going to bring in Neil Alexander, who is a really good ’keeper, so I’m hoping that, come the kick-off date in August, he is going to be a busy man.
“That will be our marker for the season. We look forward to the challenge and we need to put pressure on ourselves to beat one of our key rivals.”
McCoist’s players did not lose a league fixture last term but Boyd argues that standards will need to rise if they are to reach the top flight at the first attempt. “I know Rangers went undefeated for the full season last year and could probably afford to drop points in the last couple of seasons,” he said. “But this season I don’t think we can. Hearts are coming down and rebuilding. Hibs are coming down and Alan Stubbs has lost a lot of players so he has a great chance to build right from the off.
“But we feel ready to go. I think you will see a totally different Rangers team to the one you have seen the last couple of years. If we hit the ground running and put a marker down against Hearts at the beginning of the season we can push on and win it.”
Boyd coming back ‘a better player’
Kris Boyd may have endured three years in the wilderness following his decision to leave the then Scottish champions in 2010 but not only does he not feel any remorse about leaving Rangers back then, he feels that he is returning a better player as a result of having to deal with adversity.
Former Celtic manager Gordon Strachan signed him for Middlesbrough but he failed to push then towards promotion and his time there ended after 29 appearances yielded only six goals.
A loan spell with Nottingham Forest towards the end of that campaign proved more productive but hopes of a permanent move died with the departure of manager Billy Davies.
He then made a fruitless (if ultimately lucrative) move to Turkey with Eskisehirspor, where he drew a blank in his only two outings.
The club elected to stop his wages and terminated his three-year contract in December, 2011. The player took legal action and, in April of last year, he was awarded £2m in unpaid wages after taking his case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
By then, Boyd had joined and left MLS side Portland Timbers, returning to his first senior club, Kilmarnock. Last season, his 22 league goals kept them in the Premiership at the expense of Hearts and Hibs.
Anyone expecting him to harbour regrets about leaving Rangers in the first place would, however, be disappointed.
“I don’t, really,” he said. “I probably wouldn’t be sitting here the person I am today, the player I am today, if I hadn’t gone. I feel as if, all in, I am a far better person for it. It’s been a long, hard two or three years.
“But what is two or three years out of your life in the long run? I feel as if I am a totally different person now.
“There were a lot of young kids at Kilmarnock and I felt I helped them last year. There are a lot of kids coming through here as well and, hopefully, I can pass on some experience to them and make them better players.”
Displaying his maturity, Boyd refuses to blame anyone other than himself for his failures elsewhere. “When I left Rangers, I was used to playing week in, week out,” he said. “I know I never played in the European games but I played every Saturday. Then I find myself in a scenario where I might play one week but not for another three or four.
“For someone like me, I need to be sharp in front of goal to prove my worth to a team.
“In the end, I was the cause of my own downfall. Once I was out of the team I took the easy option and, instead of working hard and knuckling down and working hard to try to get back in, I just waited for the manager to put me back.
“It’s past now. Since I went to Turkey and America, the penny dropped. I knew then that scoring a goal in the first ten minutes wasn’t enough to guarantee a start the following week. I think I realised a lot more about the game.
“Nowadays, I am more aware of the game. I’m not going to change: I’m not going to start dropping back 50 yards and taking four or five people on. I was probably just being pretty selfish the first time round. Now I feel you need to be a team player because football has changed and the game has changed so much. You need to help your team-mates while you are on the pitch.”
Boyd admitted that he had been close, at different times, to signing for Aberdeen and Dundee United but he could not resist the lure of the Light Blues once Ally McCoist first contacted him ten days ago.
He is also looking forward to being reunited with former strike partner Kenny Miller. “I’m delighted with that, [although] it’s not a given that the two of us are going to start,” he said. “There are other strikers at the club.”
“It was a few years ago that we were here and a lot has changed since then, so it’s up to us to show we can still perform at that level. I’m sure Kenny and I will take that on.”
Boyd hopes that playing for Rangers will revive his international career. Gordon Strachan called him up for the friendly in Norway in November and he believes he is capable of following in the footsteps of team-mates Lee Wallace and Ian Black by representing his country while playing outwith the top tier.