CONFIDENCE among footballers is a commodity as fragile as it is valuable and even the most experienced and proven participants are immune to the sudden loss of it.
That is particularly true when it comes to strikers. Scoring goals is the most difficult task in football – it is, indeed, the whole point of the game – and those charged with getting them tend to be the most revered and best rewarded. To deliver on a regular basis takes more than ability, though. A certain midset is also required.
Former Leeds United midfielder Johnny Giles, in his book The Great And The Good, summed it up thus: “All sportsmen try to strike this balance, between caring and not caring.Obviously, they need to care up to a point. They need to be trying. But if they care too much it can work against them and they just freeze.”
Perhaps tellingly, Giles was writing about former Tottenham Hotspur and England forward Jimmy Greaves, the greatest finisher of his generation, but his comments apply equally to Rangers’ Kris Boyd. The 31-year-old has been a first-team player since he came on as a substitute for Ally McCoist (making his final senior appearance) in a 1-0 victory for Kilmarnock over Celtic in May, 2001.
He went on to become the record scorer in the SPL and continued to find the net in England and the USA. Last season he single-handedly kept Kilmarnock in the top flight with 22 league goals and he was expected to fire Rangers to the top of the Championship when he returned to Ibrox during the summer.
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It hasn’t worked out that way. Boyd has scored just twice in 14 league games. A footballer who tends to be at his best when he follows his instincts, he admits that he began to over-think everything.
“I was missing a chance and thinking: ‘Oh no, that’s me for the day again’ and I’ve never thought like that in the past,” he said. “If I missed one I always felt that I would get back in for another. Maybe your confidence is low. You go on a run of games when you haven’t scored, when you haven’t even looked like scoring, and that was also unusual for me.”
It prompted what he now regards as a counter-intuitive approach during matches, which only served to make things worse. “Obviously, you always train as if you are going to play but sometimes you might just work extra hard after you’ve been taken out of the firing line because things weren’t going for you,” he said. “During matches you’d make stupid runs, thinking that the ball might go there even though you know it won’t. You’re trying to make things happen instead of letting them happen.
“I’ve always said that it’s easier for defenders to mark when forwards are buzzing around in the box. However, if strikers stand still then it’s the defenders who need to be active and you can get away from them in one movement. Maybe, with the spell I was going through, I was trying two or three movements to get away from them and it just wasn’t happening for me.”
Boyd admits that McCoist was right to drop him for the defeat by Hearts at Tynecastle and Sunday’s Scottish Cup win over Kilmarnock, although he hopes that coming off the bench to score in the latter match (his seventh goal in nine cup ties) will prove to be a turning point.
“I spoke to the manager at length about it before the Hearts game and it was for the best,” he said. “He has given me umpteen opportunities this season and it wasn’t working. Usually you get one, two, three games when you’re taken off after 60 minutes but I went on a run of about seven or eight. So in that respect, I thought I would have been back on the bench a lot sooner. It’s part and parcel of football, you go through spells like that. For me it was a good chance to re-evaluate everything and work hard on my game.”
Confidence restored, Boyd bullishly dismissed the criticism of his performances by former Rangers player John Brown, who described his contribution (along with that of Lee McCulloch and Kenny Miller) as “a disgrace”. Boyd said: “It’s December. There is a long, long way to go before the season is over. If we’re sitting here come May and I still only have nine or ten goals then we can speak about things in a different way. But I will get to a mark that I’m happy with. I can sit here and go on and on about how I haven’t started the season well but if you asked a lot of strikers whether they’d be happy with nine goals at this stage then I’m sure they would be.”
McCoist, meanwhile, hopes that his team can beat Alloa tonight to increase their prospects of winning a trophy he hopes never again to be eligible to compete for. “I’d love it if this was our last Petrofac Cup campaign and I mean that in the nicest possible way,” he said. “It maybe makes the game at Alloa that bit more special. Winning it in our final year would be the ideal scenario. That would be the dream ticket.”
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