Liam Boyce reveals 'brilliant' feeling after scoring Hearts' winner against Rangers
Striker convinced Edinburgh club can avoid relegation with players and fans behind manager
Liam Boyce sat deep in the bowels of Tynecastle Park attempting to take in his mad weekend. He left Burton Albion, drove to Edinburgh, signed a lucrative Hearts contract, then scored the winner against Rangers without time for a single training session in between.
He looked exhilarated, drained but happy all at once. Single-handedly rekindling the Tynecastle roar is quite an achievement so Boyce was entitled to feel overwhelmed afterwards. He certainly was not flustered in the slightest during his Hearts debut.
“It was unbelievable. I couldn’t believe the noise when the ball hit the net,” he said of his decisive 83rd-minute strike following Steven Naismith’s equaliser. “Obviously you want to start well but we managed to get back into the match with Naisy’s goal, and then it just fell to me. My quad was a bit sore so I didn’t want to shoot with my right foot. I cut back onto my left and it took a wee nick, but it felt brilliant.
“Before the game I was nervous because I hadn’t played since last Wednesday. I said that to my partner but she told me to just play my game and do what I do and it can’t get any worse than that, so scoring a debut goal and winning takes the nerves away. I thought I’d scored in the first half and it settled me down a bit.”
Digesting the previous 24 hours was no little task. Boyce arrived at Riccarton too late to train with Hearts on Saturday. He signed a three-and-a-half-year deal and sat down with manager Daniel Stendel for a tactical briefing on Rangers.
“When I came in, they’d just finished training so the manager brought me in to show me what way we were going to play, and how they’d go about it,” explained the Northern Ireland striker.
“With the fans behind us, it’ll give us that lift, and every time we won the ball back they’d cheer. That makes you want to do it more and more, it encourages you. Rangers didn’t like it, but then in the last few minutes we naturally got a bit deeper, and then the boys stepped up and started heading everything.”
Those dying moments saw Boyce push himself through the pain barrier. “I took a knee to the quad in the first half and it felt a bit dead so I went on the bike at half-time to get it moving. Then I took another knee to the other side of my quad in the second half, so I felt like I had to come off. I said I’d play for ten minutes, then big Toby [Sibbick] got injured so I thought ‘no way’ and I knew I had to keep going.
“Big Uche [Ikpeazu] coming on was brilliant. It meant I didn’t need to keep battling and backing in, and obviously he’s a beast, he can hold off about four players, so that took pressure off me.”
Boyce has already formed an understanding with Hearts captain Steven Naismith. “Having Naisy in behind me really helps, he was flicking balls on and I just had to hold the ball up and wait for players,” he said. "Naisy is so intelligent, he knows what way to pass the ball. He always plays it safe side, so you’re never scrapping for it. I knew what he would do because he was always looking over his shoulder, so I can anticipate it.”
With Hearts in the midst of a relegation fight, Boyce is confident they have the wherewithal to survive. “Before I came, I looked at the table, the squad and the quality they have. Then I came in and saw the boys were all happy and buzzing with the new manager.
“That was our first goal conceded on Sunday. We defended brilliantly, John Souttar was getting kicked in the face clearing balls. That’s the kind of fighting spirit we’re going to need. This was a win you wouldn’t expect the team bottom of the league to get, but that shows the togetherness of the team. I’ve only been here a couple of days but I can see it. It will only improve the more I get integrated.”