The striker missed a crucial kick in Wednesday’s 2-1 defeat to Celtic at Tynecastle. After a dismal first-half performance which saw them dominated by their visitors and in a 2-0 deficit, Hearts fought themselves back into things with Boyce converting after a Barrie McKay through ball and had Celtic on the ropes when John Beaton pointed to the spot for a handball by Nir Bitton.
Boyce stepped up, sent goalkeeper Joe Hart the wrong way, but could only watch on in agony as the ball smacked off the inside of the post, flew across the goal-line and curled out for a goal-kick.
It’s the fourth time in seven attempts the Northern Irishman has failed to convert this campaign, though he did tuck away his own rebound after missing against Dundee United in August.
Despite this concerning record, the club’s leading goalscorer this season is backing himself to fire his way out of the slump.
“I’ll be hitting penalties until I’m told you’re not allowed to hit them. One-hundred per cent,” Boyce told the Evening News.
“I don’t know what my penalty record is to be honest. I don’t count goals or misses, I just move on to the next match and keep trying to score.
“My brother sent me a WhatsApp video of it. When I was running up I knew [Joe Hart] was going to that side, so I don’t know why I tried to put it so far into the corner. I also can’t believe it didn’t go in off the post.
“If you’re a penalty taker and don’t hit the target then it’s the worst thing you can do. If you don’t put it in the net it’s a bad penalty, simple as that.
“I’m more concerned with the boys than how I’m feeling. I’m one of the few experienced players in the squad. After the game I said to them that they put so much hard work into the game and deserved to get something out of it. It’s all come down to that kick.
“The second half we pressed a lot better and got higher up the pitch. I don’t think they could handle that. Then we scored and got the penalty, and from that point forward it was more just crosses into the box and corners, which they dealt with. I think the miss refocused them because it basically let them off the hook. It should have been two-each and they would’ve been under even more pressure, so it’s probably given them a lift.
“We’re back in training and then on to Saturday [against Motherwell], which is a different game. I’ll give myself tonight to be gutted about missing the penalty and how big an impact I had on the game. But I’ve missed penalties before and I’ve come back and scored them the next time. Hopefully I get the chance to do that again.”
Boyce now has added competition in the squad with Ellis Simms being signed on loan from Everton. The striker made a keen first impression playing alongside Boyce in the second half as his size and speed asked questions of the Celtic back-line.
“I thought Ellis was really good,” his new team-mate said. “He had a massive impact in the second half. We had to go longer as they were pressing everything. Then when we managed to make the ball stick and they couldn’t press as much. It left us two-v-two on the centre-backs. I thought he had a great debut, he was putting himself about really well.
“I don’t care if I play up top by myself or as part as a two, as long as we keep winning. It’s up to the gaffer in terms of looking at the opposition, how they play and what we can do to play to our strengths, but it’s good to have so many options in the squad. We go into every game with a very good chance of winning it.”
The addition of Ellis means head coach Robbie Neilson should now have a natural striker he trusts to either deputise or replace Boyce after Armand Gnanduillet played himself out of contention, and ultimately out of the club, in the first half of the campaign.
When Boyce was forced to sit out games both before and after the winter break it meant bringing in a midfielder, either Ben Woodburn or Josh Ginnelly, to start through the centre of the attack. The 30-year-old, however, now believes he’s over his injury problems and is backing himself to remain available for the rest of the campaign.
“I got a bit lucky with the winter break being brought forward and extended a little bit. I didn’t end up missing a lot of games, so it wasn’t too bad,” he said. “It wasn’t good, either. We ended up winning most of them but you still want to go on and help. It was just a wee niggly injury in my calf. Probably because of spending that time out my legs feel stronger now and hopefully it’ll carry me through to the end of the season.
“I played 80 minutes against Auchinleck on Saturday, which was maybe a little more than I expected as it was my first game back. Against Celtic I played 90, so if I can get through 170 minutes in four days then I think it shows I’m in a good place in terms of my fitness.”