Northern Ireland striker Liam Boyce feels he could go on an international scoring spree now he is off the mark for his country.
Entrusted with just his second start in a green and white shirt, Boyce took six minutes to fire in the only goal in Northern Ireland’s 1-0 friendly win over New Zealand in Belfast on Friday night.
It was a continuation of the form he had shown for his club Ross County, where he netted 10 times in his last 10 games to finish the campaign as the Scottish Premiership’s leading marksman with 23 goals.
That purple patch is likely to ensure Northern Ireland boss Michael O’Neill hands Boyce a 10th cap in next weekend’s World Cup qualifier in Azerbaijan, and the 26-year-old, who first represented his country six years ago, is confident more international goals will soon follow.
“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 quick,” Boyce said.
“I’ve had a few sub appearances, and this is just my second start, and 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’s 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’ll work.”
Boyce only played 45 minutes at Windsor Park due to tightness in his hip-flexor region but did so alongside Charlton’s Josh Magennis in what appeared to be that partnership’s audition for Azerbaijan.
O’Neill has had to look at alternatives given Conor Washington and Jamie Ward, his forward pairing against Norway in March, are unavailable in Baku and the big-man, big-man combination of Boyce and Magennis had been trialled all week with a view to being deployed against an under-sized Azeri defence.
“We’ve been playing together in training - we’re both big and we work well together,” Boyce said.
“When the ball’s hit up to him I’m round his face or chasing flick-ons. He’s a great player, he has a lot of pace and can do all the stuff I can’t, and I can do all the stuff he can’t so we work well. Hopefully we can take that into next week.”
It has been quite the turnaround for Boyce given last June Wigan’s Will Grigg was preferred to him for the squad that went to Euro 2016.
Boyce watched his nation’s first game from a maternity ward while his daughter Scout was being born and used his Euros omission as the catalyst for his goal-laden 2016-17 campaign.
“It was tough to take, but I knew Griggsy deserved it more than I did,” Boyce said.
“It was easier in 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.”