Penalty practice at Hearts as Liam Boyce recalls knee slide against Hibs

Penalty practice is standard in the build-up to any knockout cup-tie. Liam Boyce, the Hearts striker, knows the aftermath will be different should he ripple Hampden Park’s netting this time.

Wednesday, 13th April 2022, 7:00 am

The last Hearts-Hibs Scottish Cup semi-final was decided by Boyce’s extra-time spot-kick inside an empty National Stadium in 2020. The Covid pandemic was in full flow, a fact reinforced to the Northern Irishman as he slid across the turf on his knees in celebration after putting his team 2-1 ahead.

“It was weird at the time. You got a bit used to it in league games but Hampden is massive and then there’s the running track. I know there’s going to be a lot of fans this weekend, but when I scored the penalty last time I ran to the stands and did a knee slide then remembered there was nobody there.

“You are celebrating in front of nobody. Hopefully I get one on Saturday and I can celebrate with everybody. I remember I missed a big chance but we got the penalty and I scored and won, so I’d take the same again.

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Hearts striker Liam Boyce is eager to score against Hibs again.

“This is a different game. We were a Championship team then and probably expected to lose. So it doesn’t matter what happens – it’s who turns up on the day and who deals with situations the best.

“When I’m taking penalties I always have an idea of what I’m going to do before. It’s just about executing it. I missed the one against Celtic despite sending the keeper the wrong way. It hit the post and I have no idea how it never went in. But when taking penalties you just have to be confident, do what you plan to do and execute as best you can.”

Players at Riccarton and East Mains will hit umpteen efforts from the spot over the next few days, just in case the nerve-tingling scenario arises on Saturday. Boyce isn’t fazed by the occasional miss, even on the big occasion.

“Nah! It doesn’t bother me at all,” he said. “I’ve done alright at Hampden since, I have scored a few goals against Hibs the last time and Celtic in the final. As a striker you just forget it and move on to the next game, it’s all about winning, that’s the way I have always been. I want to win every game I play in.

“At Ross County we beat Celtic in the semi-final that year so anything can happen. We know we’ll have to be ready for anything this weekend.”

Hearts have progressed from a Championship side into the third-best team in Scotland since that semi. They qualified for Europe by beating Hibs 3-1 in the Premiership last week and consequently carry a psychological advantage with them to Glasgow.

“We have already guaranteed third place so if we win on Saturday we are in the Europa League play-off,” said Boyce. “If we lose that, we are in the Conference group stages. We have a final up for grabs so we know all the positives of winning. We simply just want to win.”

Boyce already holds a League Cup winner’s medal from his time at Ross County. Ironically, they beat Hibs in the 2016 final. “It would be nice to add the Scottish Cup medal. Especially after we lost on penalties two years ago against Celtic,” he said.

“I was actually horrendous the day we won it with Ross County. We played Hibs in the final and scored in the last minute. It’s an unbelievable achievement when you win a trophy and you are so close to people through the season.

“When the team comes together to celebrate it’s massive, but we know we have a game ahead of that before we think about winning.”

The ability to convert penalties may again come in useful. At Hearts, the general view is straightforward: If you can score past Craig Gordon in training, you have a good chance of beating anybody else in a game situation.

“Anywhere I have been, even with Northern Ireland and stuff, when you’re preparing for a knockout game you practice penalties,” explained Boyce.

“You get in your mind what you want to do and just keep practising until you get it perfect. So, when you are in that situation, you can calm down and relax and do what you have been training to do.

“It does happen in the lead up to a big game. Everyone has been hitting penalties the last few days, I’m sure that will be even more the case towards the end of the week.

“We practice against Craig and if you score against him you’re doing well. It doesn’t matter who is in goal, you have to believe if you hit a good enough penalty no-one is going to stop it. It’s good to practice against someone like him. He can lie down and cover the whole net!

“If you stick it right in the corner it doesn’t matter who’s in the net. You have to concentrate on what you do, you can’t affect anyone else. Obviously you can spot tendencies and wee giveaways, that will come more as we approach the game.”

Will he practice a difference celebration? “When I was younger I used to practice celebrations and try and be funny. Now it’s pure emotion, it’s just what football is all about – as long as you don’t get a yellow card.

“You always have to believe as a striker you are going to score and that feeling when you do is what motivates you. You don’t get it anywhere else in life, really, the adrenaline of seeing thousands of people going nuts. That’s what you want.

“Once you do it a couple of times you want to keep doing it, it motivates you to get in the right positions and take chances.”

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