Liam Boyce versus Hibs at Hampden: Hearts striker recalls goal in front of no fans and his Ross County triumph

Boyce, left, won the League Cup against Hibs with Ross County in 2016.

With just 10 minutes of extra time remaining, in the delayed 2020 Scottish Cup semi-final, the Hearts striker had helped his Championship team defy their underdog status and maintain the Gorgie side’s 100 per cent record against the Leith rivals at Hampden.

But, thanks to covid restrictions, there was something lacking – the sight of thousands of fans going nuts in the stands.

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“It was weird at the time. We had 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 that penalty I ran to the stands and did a knee slide then remembered there was nobody there!

Liam Boyce celebrates after scoring to make it 2-1 during a Scottish Cup semi-final match between Hearts and Hibernian at in October 2020.

“You are celebrating in front of nobody. But hopefully I get one on Saturday and I can celebrate with everybody,” added the 31-year-old.

“When I was younger I used to practice celebrations and try to be funny. Now it’s pure emotion, it’s just what football is all about.

“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.”

Liam Boyce during a Hearts Media Access ahead of the Scottish Cup semi-final.

The winning moment in a game that could have gone either way, Boyce had cleared a Paul Hanlon effort off the line earlier in proceedings. Craig Wighton had given Hearts the lead and Christian Doidge equalized to push the game into extra time.

After Kevin Nisbet had the bar from the spot, Boyce almost grabbed the winner from open play but was denied by the post.

But he was clinical from the spot.

And, if he gets a similar opportunity this time, he is hopeful he has drilled home enough in practice to repeat the feat and give him the chance to celebrate with a sold out Hearts end.

“I remember I missed the big chance. But we got the penalty and I scored and won so I’d take the same again. It’s a different game and we just have to take it as it comes.

“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.

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

“You get in your mind what you want to do and just keep practicing until you get it perfect, just 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 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.

“But it’s good to practice against someone like him, he can lie down and cover the whole net!”

With the promise of European group stage football and all the glory and financial awards associated with that at stake, as well as capital pride and a shot at silverware on May 21, Hearts will be buoyed by last week’s final league derby of the season.

A slow start by the Tynecastle side saw Hibs take an early lead but they bounced back and while it ended in a convincing home win, Boyce warns it may not be as straightforward this weekend.

“Saturday was probably the best atmosphere I have played in at Tynecastle. It’s what you want – when they went 1-0 up their fans were brilliant and then it was back and forth. When big tackles go in you hear the cheer that changes the momentum of the game. As a footballer those are the ones you want to be involved in.

“But it’s going to be difficult, they will have seen what we did last week as well and that makes it tougher when you are playing the same team two weeks in a row.

“It’s who plays best and who adjusts on the day.”

While there are a number of Hearts players with experience of beating their rivals at Hampden, Boyce also got the better of Hibs while at Ross County.

He is self-deprecating when analyzing his own performance in the 2016 League Cup, maintains he will settle for another poor personal performance and a winner’s medal.

“It would be nice to add the Scottish Cup medal. Especially after we lost on penalties two years ago against Celtic.

“It’s better having people who have won trophies and have that experience to help those who haven’t, get through the occasion. But it’s just another game of football. If you win then everything that comes with it is a bonus.

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

And, having been through it all before, he is too experienced to get ahead of himself and give Hibs anything to rail against.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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