Hearts' new system suits Liam Boyce - who says arguments like Saturday's at Peterhead are needed
Liam Boyce was both smiling and scalding at Balmoor on Saturday as Hearts’ competitive season got underway.
The Northern Irishman enjoyed being the attacking focal point in a new 3-4-3 formation, flanked by wingers Gary Mackay-Steven and Josh Ginnelly. He also became embroiled in a second-half argument involving Peter Haring and Craig Halkett to underline the desire and demands within the Tynecastle squad.
Mackay-Steven produced a superb individual goal before Boyce converted Michael Smith’s cross to put the visitors 2-0 ahead and extinguish Peterhead’s quest for an equaliser.
“Usually I don't score in pre-season, then I start scoring when the season begins. This time I had been scoring all through pre-season so I was a bit worried it would flip round,” smiled Boyce.
“It's just good to get a goal in the first game. I thought we could have had more if we took care of our final pass. It takes people a while to get used to competition, pace, games. It's good to start with a win and clean sheet.”
Hearts pressed for more goals in an encouraging sign of this season's intent. It seems standards won’t be allowed to slip, emphasised by an angry exchange involving Boyce, Haring and Halkett midway through the second half.
Slack distribution from goal kicks was the root cause with Boyce not slow to demand better from his team-mates. “It happens every ten minutes in a football match but you probably don't hear it,” he explained.
“For five minutes, we were staying on the ball a bit long. It wasn't even his [Haring’s] mistake. I think he won the ball and three guys were round him so he turned the wrong way and ended up passing.
“I didn't want to pick on one person so I said to two people. We played a square ball and the next one needs to go forward. Peter thought he did the right thing and I said: 'I'm not just saying it's you. We all need to do it.'
“Sometimes you need to shout at certain people. Your captain will be shouting during the game, or if I have a bad touch someone will say to you 'come on' to get you going. For five minutes we were a bit sloppy on the ball so you need those moments to get everyone going again.”
Hearts want to raise everyone’s levels after rejoining the Premiership. “We were in the Championship last year and we were all demanding more from each other,” added Boyce. “You are going to end up arguing. We all just need to learn and bring the best out in each other.”
The new system allows the centre-forward to focus purely on finishing chances, which suits Boyce.
"Northern Ireland used it a couple of times but it's different the way we play,” he said. “As a forward, I had to stay up and give us a platform. I had to always be in the penalty box and wait for a cross coming in. That's what I'm good at so it's perfect for me.”
Peterhead (4-2-3-1): Wilson; Strachan (Brown 64), Mulligan (Cook 60), McDonald, Conroy; Ferry, McCarthy; Payne (Lyle 72), Ritchie, Cameron; McLean.
Hearts (3-4-3): Gordon; Souttar, Halkett, Kingsley; Smith, McEneff (Walker 60), Haring, Cochrane (Halliday 83); Ginnelly (Pollock 60), Boyce (Henderson 83), Mackay-Steven (Roberts 70).