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Boyce showed his grit to bounce back from Euro woe, says Hughes

By Graham Luney

Aaron Hughes has admitted he's been a huge admirer of Liam Boyce this season.

Hughes, who has agreed a new deal with Hearts, has looked on in awe as goal machine Boyce terrorised defences in the Scottish Premiership.

Former Cliftonville hero Boyce was the most ruthless finisher in Scotland last season and his 23 goals in 34 games has now left Ross County fighting to keep hold of him.

Hughes, who could win his 105th cap against New Zealand tomorrow, is a proud member of the Boyce fan club.

"Technically, Boycie is very, very good," said the former Newcastle United and Fulham ace.

"He does stand out in matches. In some of the games that are end to end and a little bit scrappy, players like Boycie stand out because they can put their foot on the ball and give themselves that little bit more time. You can see the quality they have.

"We only played them once at home but that night he was sitting in that No.10 role in midfield dictating the game for them. I knew how good he was from his time at Cliftonville and Northern Ireland here so it was no surprise to me to see him do well this season.

"It's funny because in the dressing room you hear the lads talking and saying he's a good player.

"When other players are talking and not just someone like me who knows him, when others are highlighting his strengths as one of their dangermen it proves what a good player he is.

"He's bounced back from missing the Euro 2016 finals and that shows his character. He's a pretty laid back guy who just gets on with his work and nothing much fazes him, he just gets on with it. For anyone to have that disappointment and for him to show the form he has is testament to his character."

Boyce, who lives in Inverness with his partner Leoncha and daughter Scout, was thrilled to finish top of the Scottish goalscoring charts. "It was personally unbelievable," he said. "There's a funny story behind it. My fiancée's mum used to text me every week saying, 'Scott Sinclair's scored again'.

"I put it to the back of my mind and once I scored four against Inverness and she text me saying 'That's you level' so I just tried to concentrate on it from then on because he got so far ahead of me I didn't think I could catch him but actually I did. I try and keep the in-laws happy, then I'll be happy!

"I got off to a good start, scored quite a few goals before Christmas again and obviously last year I had a bad second half to the season so I wanted to build on that and even when I came back I was playing in the middle for a lot of games.

"Thankfully I got back up front and scored a couple of goals towards the end of the season.

"I think it was more important because they were big goals to shoot us away from the relegation fight towards the end of the season."

• Linfield have confirmed they will face Hearts in a friendly game at Windsor Park on Saturday, July 8 (3pm). And Dungannon Swifts starlet Thomas Roscoe has agreed a new deal at Stangmore Park.

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