Why replacing Liam Boyce is a huge headache for Hearts as recruitment team face most difficult task

It all happened very quickly. Daniel Phillips flew into a challenge with Cammy Devlin in the St Johnstone half at Tynecastle Park. Hearts forward Liam Boyce then went into win the ball, making contact with his toe as he fell over Phillips and into Graham Carey.

As John Beaton showed Phillips a yellow card for what could easily have been deemed a red card challenge three players writhed on the ground.

It was Boyce who was clearly in distress and it was difficult to watch. He held his knee, as he slid across the turf, frantically appealing to the bench. It was uneasy viewing. Gary Mackay-Steven tried to console and keep him calm, while Craig Gordon had ventured from his goal to check on his team-mate.

Hide Ad

When the Northern Irishman was stretchered from the pitch there was a common consensus amongst Hearts fans. It was along the lines of ‘This is a disaster. His season could be over. We really need a new forward or two’.

Hide Ad

Boyce is out for between seven and nine month, confirming a long-term layoff on Twitter. He said it was “tough to take” but there was an act of defiance by signing off with “See you sooner than you think”.

That in itself was slightly encouraging, but it makes the coming days in Gorgie fascinating.

Hide Ad

Transfer window headache

There is a Premier Sports Cup tie with Kilmarnock to be played, continuing a run of two games a week which is going to be a common theme between now and the start of November for Robbie Neilson’s men. And with that, the need for a squad that can withstand the mental and physical pressure of European and domestic competition.

Hide Ad
Liam Boyce netted his first goal of the season against St Johnstone. (Photo by Ross Parker / SNS Group)

Signs so far are not great. Not in terms of results, but the impact it is having on players with Stephen Kingsley, Craig Halkett, Kye Rowles, Nathaniel Atkinson, Craig Gordon and Boyce all having picked up knocks or injuries.

Hide Ad

Prior to Sunday's match and following the addition of Orestis Kiomourtzoglou, a forward was a priority. Someone who could play in a couple of different roles and someone who could offer pace in behind. Now there is finding a Boyce replacement.

This may well be the most difficult Joe Savage and his recruitment team have faced. They have a short window to replace a forward who has so many attributes yet is still underrated and underappreciated.

Hide Ad

His celebration following the goal against St Johnstone, his first of the season, was an interesting one; a talking gesture with his hands. it could be viewed as a response to some of the frustration directed his way at times this campaign. None more so than in the Zurich game when presented with a good shooting opportunity but he opted to try and turn onto his left foot. That extra touch or movement rather than releasing or shooting is something he is guilty of from time to time.

The injury to Boyce increases the need for added reinforcements. (Photo by Ross Parker / SNS Group)
Hide Ad

Boyce brilliance

Yet, he provides the team with so much positivity.

Hide Ad

The 31-year-old is such an intelligent operator. Against St Johnstone he started in a position on the right with Josh Ginnelly through the middle. It is no surprise the best play came down that flank without Boyce even having to venture too wide. He still acted as a focal point, dragging Andy Considine in field to open up the space.

You just have to look at the second goal in the 3-2 win over St Johnstone. He drops deep and the veteran defender starts to follow him towards the half-way line. He then turns and goes central with Ginnelly moving into the right flank and getting a yard start behind Considine to run onto Peter Haring’s through ball. Next thing you know he is ghosting in between the other two Saints defenders to head Hearts in front.

Hide Ad

This movement and game intelligence is so hard to replicate.

Against Hibs, he caused the Easter Road side all sorts of problems with his positioning in and out of possession. He made it difficult for Lee Johnson’s side to build from the back. His presence as a withdrawn forward allows Lawrence Shankland to play high and through the centre and Barrie McKay to move laterally in a free role to get on the ball wherever and whenever he can.

Hide Ad

Selfless Boyce

This has been the evolution of Boyce. He was brought in to score goals, something he has done with 35 in 87 appearances, but there has always been a selflessness about his play. You just have to look at his attitude of pressing from the front, he doesn't dash around but is smart with his pressing and has a work-rate that is not often something associated with the player.

Hide Ad

Away from simply working hard, a prerequisite for all footballers, that selflessness is a facet which is becoming more prominent. He is playing further away from goal and with Shankland's arrival is now able to be more involved in the build-up without the responsibility of having to be the person who finishes moves. He has that desire to take the ball in tight areas, under pressure, and act as a release for the team.

For much of the Championship-winning season he was the team's best No 10 and best No 9.

Hide Ad

Now Hearts have McKay as the No 10 and Shankland as the No 9. Boyce can finally have the freedom to be the 9.5, if you will. A second striker, a creator, a team player. Someone to bounce the ball off.

A player of his quality who possesses the attributes he has is not easy to come across. Unless the recruitment team can pull a rabbit out of a hat, it won’t be long before all Hearts supporters are realising the importance of Boyce.

Hide Ad
Read More
What the 12 Premiership sides need before transfer window shuts - big Rangers si...



Want to join the conversation? Please or to comment on this article.