Why presence of Barrie McKay enthuses Liam Boyce as Hearts striker seeks 20 mark

Ten goals for a striker before December is a fine return, especially at Hearts where no one has hit 20 in a season since John Robertson in the 1991/92 campaign.

Liam Boyce has hit ten goals in 17 matches this season. (Photo by Craig Foy / SNS Group)
Liam Boyce has hit ten goals in 17 matches this season. (Photo by Craig Foy / SNS Group)

Like all predatory strikers who thrive off putting the ball in the back of the net, Liam Boyce wants more and knows his Tynecastle tally should be higher than ten.

When he sat down to meet the press on Tuesday ahead of the meeting with Celtic in the cinch Premiership on Thursday night at Parkhead, it was clear two recent misses were still on his mind.

Off the bench against Motherwell, having returned from injury, he latched onto an Armand Gnanduillet knockdown but shot straight at Liam Kelly. Then on the stroke of half-time in Saturday’s win over St Mirren, he hesitated before trying to cut in, hitting a tame shot after being set up by Michael Smith.

The Northern Irishman was frustrated not to get on the scoresheet against St Mirren at the weekend. (Photo by Ross Parker / SNS Group)

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The finishes of a striker getting back up to speed.

‘Bad touches’

“When you get injured you try not to think like that but against Motherwell I came on and had a chance,” he said.

"When you are on a run of scoring goals you hit it and it goes in. On Saturday I felt it the most.

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"I had a couple [of chances]. The one time I took a good touch in the game I didn't shoot. There were other times I was getting slipped in but my touch wasn't right.

“You are not as sharp when you come back from injuries. When you have a couple of bad touches you can work on it during the week in training for the next time.

"It takes one goal. You need to keep getting in the right positions. Coming back from injury if I wasn't making those runs or getting those balls slipped into me you don't know when the next chance is going to come.

"I've still been getting chances and I know it is on me. I know I just need to sharpen up a wee bit and concentrate on my first touch and take my chance.”

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The 30-year-old is currently on a four-game dry spell but due to experience and getting in the right positions there is little fear it will go on much longer.

Getting chances

“I’ve always said I want to get 10 before Christmas," Boyce said. “I got it really early this year and then I got injured.

“I just try to take it game by game, after the game on Saturday I was disappointed that I didn’t score. I probably could’ve scored two in that game.

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“I’ve gone through spells where I haven’t scored in ages. There was one leading up to the Euros [in 2016] that I’ll always remember.

"I scored something like 17 by January, I was flying. I was thinking I was going to the Euros, but then I broke my hand, and I didn’t score until the last two games for Ross County which got me to 20.

“When you go through spells, you’re more worried if the chances aren’t coming, but when I’m still getting chances, I know it’s just down to me to just get that finishing touch right.”

The McKay effect

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Something which should not only enthuse Boyce but also his manager and the club's fans is the burgeoning relationship with Barrie McKay.

In the former Rangers attacker, Hearts possess someone with a creative mind and an eye for a defence-splitting pass with three on Saturday alone to Boyce.

McKay is top ten in the league for big chances created. He is top for key passes per 90 minutes and third for through balls per 90.

Boyce was effusive in his praise of his team-mate and other colleagues who allow him to concentrate on being a No.9.

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“On Saturday, that’s why I was even more frustrated after the game,” he said. “It’s good to have someone that has that eye for a pass, it doesn’t matter if it’s on his weaker foot, you know he can make that pass.

“There was one pass he played perfectly in the first half, but my touch wasn’t right, and it went out for a goal-kick. Other ones just skidded off the surface, or the keeper was in a good position to come and get it. But it’s just good to have someone on the same wavelength and you can tell he’s getting better with the games, and I know I just need to make a run and he’ll find me.”

He added: “That’s the benefit of the squad we’ve got. When Gino [Josh Ginnelly] gets the ball, I know I just need to be in the six-yard box, and he’ll get a cross in.

“With Barrie or Gary Mackay-Steven, you know they’ll take someone on, so I just need to time my run and I’ll get a chance.”

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