LIAM BOYCE will seek to claim a first competitive goal for his country on Saturday after breaking his duck in style with Northern Ireland’s winner in the friendly against New Zealand.
The 26-year-old Ross County striker, who smashed in 24 domestic goals last season, showcased his talents at Belfast’s Windsor Park last Friday evening.
Now, while Scotland are facing the might of the Auld Enemy, County fans will have one eye on Boyce’s endeavours in the vital World Cup qualifier away to Azerbaijan.
Reflecting on his first goal for his country Boyce said: “My family were all in the stands so to score in front of all of the fans and hear the noise of a goal was unreal. I thought I took my goal well and it was a brilliant feeling.
“When you’re a striker and you haven’t scored in a couple of games, you start to think about it, but thankfully it’s come quickly for me now.
“I’ve had a few substitute appearances, and this was just my second start for my country. When I score, I usually score for a couple of games so hopefully that continues.
“I’m confident now I’ve scored my first goal and I want to score lots more. I’ve been in good form towards the end of the season and Michael O’Neill, the manager, has been talking to me about my season.
“He called me when I won the player of the month award in April and was top goalscorer and said, ‘Keep going, keep doing what you’re doing and don’t try something you wouldn’t normally do’.
“Hopefully it will work.”
Boyce was given the nod after injuries to forwards Conor Washington and Jamie Ward and took his chance superbly after just six minutes against the All Whites.
His partnership with Josh Magennis, the Charlton and former Aberdeen striker, looks promising.
Boyce said: “We’ve been playing together in training and we’re both big lads who work well together.
“When the ball’s hit up to Josh, I’m round his face or chasing flick-ons. He’s a great player who has a lot of pace and can do all the stuff I can’t. I can do all the stuff he can’t so we work well.
“Hopefully we can take that into next week.”
Boyce suffered the heartache of missing out on the Euro 2016 finals when Will Grigg was favoured by O’Neill, although the setback proved a blessing in disguise as he attended the birth of his daughter.
The County striker, who has a year left on his Dingwall contract, admitted: “It was tough to take, being left out, but I knew Griggsy deserved it more than I did.
“It was easier that way. Obviously, if I had had a better second half to the season and he had been picked ahead of me then I would have been a bit more gutted.
“But the better man won at the time and I used that as motivation. I got to see my daughter being born, which was a silver lining, and it motivated me to have a better season this season and hopefully I can carry that into next week.”
Manager Jim McIntyre, who has helped Boyce reach another level in form this season, said: “I thought it was a brilliant way to start the game, getting a goal after six minutes – and what a fabulous goal it was.
“It’s the kind we’ve seen him score at Ross County many a time, where he does the double shuffle and then puts it away.
“He’s got fantastic feet for such a big lad.
“There was no surprise for me in seeing him perform like that. He’s just bubbling in confidence just now and it was great to see him back that up on the international stage.
“I’m sure Michael O’Neill, the Northern Ireland manager, would have been really pleased with what he saw.”
Boyce took momentum from the league campaign with him as he stepped out against the All Whites. In his final 10 games of the season for County, he had hit 10 goals.
McIntyre said: “How often do you see it, where strikers go into the international scene in that confident frame of mind and just continue on with the goalscoring they’ve been doing at club level?
“It was important for Liam to get that goal and just highlight what a good player he is and how much he has developed this season.”
Boyce has another year of his contract to run in Dingwall. The former Cliftonville and Werder Bremen striker has expressed contentment in life at the Global Energy Stadium but made no secret of ambitions to progress to a higher level.
McIntyre, acknowledging there will be heightened interest in Boyce’s services, stressed: “I’m just pleased for Liam.
“We’ve not got a crystal ball, so whatever happens, happens. When you work with players and they do well, you’re really pleased for them.
“I was just really pleased he managed to take his club form into international level. It is no surprise to me – he’s just got better and better as the season has gone on.”
More from the County camp, plus local sports coverage, inside this week.