Liam Boyce's return to form will lift Hearts just at the right time
If Hearts are to have a realistic chance of causing a major upset this coming Sunday by beating Celtic and lifting the Scottish Cup, then they will need main striker Liam Boyce to be near the top of his game.
The 29-year-old hitman has played reasonably well for Hearts this term without truly igniting in Scotland’s second tier. However, fresh from a week out due to a niggling injury, the Northern Ireland internationalist returned to the Hearts starting XI in some style, scoring twice in 6-1 demolition of Queen of the South at Tynecastle.
It’s the first time this season that the former Ross County and Burton Albion man has scored more than once in the Championship, taking his tally for the season to five. In truth, he ought to have nabbed the match ball on Saturday, spurning a glorious chance for his hat-trick, but what will be so pleasing for those of a Hearts persuasion is that Boyce’s all-round game was of a high standard. Excellent movement, being in the right place more often than not and being physical. He’ll need to do all that – and more – against the quadruple treble-chasing Celts.
Hearts’ win over the Doonhamers was important for a variety of reasons. Results went their way elsewhere, so they are four points clear of second-placed Dunfermline in the league. Players returning from injury, such as Josh Ginnelly and Elliot Frear, got some game-time and both scored, and morale is high after such a swashbuckling win. Only the concession of a cheap goal to blot the clean sheet will have irked those at Hearts.
"I missed the Morton match with a wee hamstring problem,” said Boyce, “so just to get in and get 90 minutes under my belt felt good, and obviously getting confidence up by scoring two goals. It was the perfect day. It was a great performance and it is important to keep the momentum going ahead of the big game.”
Hampden wait is over
Hearts have been attempting not to be distracted by the final, with promotion back to the Premiership so important. Boyce is now glad the match has finally arrived.
"We have been taking it each game at a time, trying not to think about the final,” he explained. “We’ve had the disappointment of Dunfermline [a 2-1 defeat] and going out of the [Betfred] cup, so it’s been good to right them wrongs. We had a great start to the season, winning every game, so we had to show that we can bounce back and get that momentum going again. It’s a sign of strength.
"It seems like ages ago, the semi-final against Hibs. When you’ve got that many games in between, you know you can’t think about it. Now that it is here, we can prepare properly.”
Boyce has played in a final at Hampden before, leading the line for Ross County as they triumphed over Hibs 2-1 to win the Betfred Cup. He was taken off mid-way through the second half, just back from a broken hand, but he has experience of tasting success there. He also scored the penalty to beat the Easter Road men back in October.
That’s why Hearts fans will be glad to see him back among the goals. Boyce will hold the key to silverware next weekend.