Why Liam Boyce is excited about Hearts imposing game on Rangers as he explains Cammy Devlin surprise
What Hearts fans and Robbie Neilson would give for an Osman Sow moment when they head to Ibrox on Saturday.
The Swede, an unknown at the time, downed Rangers with a late arrowed strike in the first match of the 2014/15 Championship season.
It prompted scenes of wild jubilation amongst the pocket of visiting supporters. Fans leaped, bounded and jumped around as if a giant trampoline had been temporarily placed between the Broomloan and Sandy Jardine stands.
The late winner at one of the Old Firm doesn’t come around all that often, of course. In fact, a win doesn’t come around all that often in Glasgow for the club.
Sow’s goal was the last winning strike for a Hearts team at Ibrox.
It has been more than seven years and ten visits to Rangers since the Tynecastle side tasted success in Govan. Within that there have been nine defeats with the last three reverses being 3-0, 3-0 and 5-0.
Looking around the squad at potential heroes to give Neilson’s men the win that would take them top of the cinch Premiership, one name stands out – Liam Boyce.
With ten goals in 13 appearances so far this campaign, he is well on his way to becoming the first Hearts player to reach the 20 mark in a season since John Robertson in 1991/92.
As a striker, heading to Ibrox or Celtic Park can sometimes be a thankless task. Chasing opponents and feeding off scraps. The graveyard shift.
Armed with clips of opponents from first-team tactical analyst Angus Beith, Boyce is excited at the prospect of this new look Hearts side being brave, imposing their game on the Scottish champions.
Imposing Hearts’ game on Rangers
“The players coming in, they have all given us a lift,” he told the Evening News. “It’s lifted the standard of training and the calibre of players we have.
"We know everyone is a good player and obviously we’re going to need that because Rangers are a brilliant team. We know how tough it is going to be but we believe, with how good our players are, we can ask them to do things in the game which can be risky but we have full belief in what they are going to do and we believe they will do right.
“With the squad we have it’s a breath of fresh air going into games expecting to do something.
“I’ve only played there once with Ross County and we drew but you go and set up defensively against teams with the quality of Rangers and it’s only a matter of time [before they score].
"It’s good for me personally that we go into the game having a belief we can impose ourselves on them instead of worrying what they are going to do.”
He laughed: “In those situations when you are set up defensively it is the worst for strikers.
"You run about chasing or sitting in shape. When you get the ball back it’s getting kicked up to you and you’re fighting two or three people. If we put our game plan on them it is going to be a good game and probably end to end.”
Hearts will be backed by nearly 1,000 fans at Ibrox, giving Boyce a target to knee slide in front of if he breaches the Rangers defence.
Aided by recruits like Barrie McKay, Ben Woodburn and Josh Ginnelly, the 30-year-old is now in a position where he is having to do less creating but noted the importance of his movement in the 3-4-3 system.
"Last year I was dropping deep to link play and make stuff happen," he said.
"We’ve got Barrie who can get on the ball and go into pockets and if it is not working Gino can come on and take people to the by-line and get crosses in.
"I know now I just need to be in the right position. Not just for through balls but when I don’t have the ball, my position is so important in that formation for creating space. Occupying people to create space for those players to get the ball
"Last year at times I was having to go and get the ball to make something happen. The signings we’ve made have made us a way better team, able to do more stuff and be more flexible.”
The Tynecastle Bash Brothers
Perhaps the most important additions have been Tynecastle’s very own Bash Brothers duo, Beni Baningime and Cammy Devlin. Hungry Hippo-like in their ability to snap up balls in midfield, their attitude, composure and awareness have given the team a platform, as well as the stimulus to run more.
And it is the Australian who has surprised Boyce the most.
"It’s madness,” he said. “We had a bounce game against Dundee [in September] and he was playing in that. You see him, he’s small and compact and I was thinking ‘who is this guy we’ve signed’ but the first two games he has been unbelievable.
“Beni and him run all day and win the ball back, but the most impressive thing for Cammy was against Livingston in his first start, he controlled the whole game, even on the ball.
"In training you see him running about ranting and all but because I’m concentrating on myself it wasn’t until I got taken off with half an hour to go and you see how much he controls the game on the ball. When you are ahead you need someone to do that because you don’t always want to be gung-ho.
“It helps everyone. They are running about going mental and it makes everyone else run. You see they are running that much, I’m going to have to help them. It gives everyone the lift to keep pressing.”