Boyce sets his sights

liam boyce michael o'neill northern ireland world cup
15 November 2016; Liam Boyce of Northern Ireland in action against Domagoj Vida of Croatia during the International Friendly match between Northern Ireland and Croatia at the National Football Stadium at Windsor Park in Belfast. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

The sky’s the limit for in-form Northern Ireland striker Liam Boyce, whose debut international goal gave Michael O’Neill’s side a 1-0 friendly win over New Zealand in Belfast.

The Ross County striker finished last season as the Scottish Premier League’s top scorer with

23 goals, including a prolific run of ten in his last ten games.

He took that form into an Ireland shirt on Friday night at Windsor Park to net his first goal for his country in his ninth international appearance.

The absence of Conor Washington and Jamie Ward gave Boyce a chance to shine, and the former Cliftonville man needed just six minutes to make his mark, linking up with Josh Magennis before cutting inside and rifling low into the net.

Unreal

“I thought I took my goal well, it’s a brilliant feeling,” said Boyce. “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.

“The form I’ve been in you want to get a goal as early as possible and try to add to that.

“I cut inside and hit it well between the defender’s legs and once that happens, more than likely it’s going to go in.”

Boyce was unlucky to be omitted from O’Neill’s squad for the Euro 2016 finals, but his form for Ross County and injury problems upfront for Northern Ireland has seen him force his way back in, and now he’s targeting a starting place Azerbaijan on 10 June in the sides’ Group C qualifier in Baku.

Northern Ireland lie second in Group C, five points behind Germany, but two points clear of the Czech Republic and on course for a play-off spot.

“It’s not so long ago I was playing in the Irish League and I want to show I’m better than that and see how far I can go in football,” Boyce added.

Top of his game

O’Neill was full of praise for Boyce after the game, describing him as “a player on top of his game”, although the Ireland boss was disappointed his side didn’t build on Boyce’s early goal.

“It was a physical game, a demanding game, which was exactly what we wanted. It leaves us in a good place for next week,” said O’Neill.

Northern Ireland now embark for warm-weather training in Turkey to acclimatise to the conditions they’re likely to face in Baku.


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