Belfast Telegraph

Whyte and I pose a major threat as we complement each other so well: Boyce

 

Kept out: Northern Ireland’s Liam Boyce tangles with the Czech Republic’s Jifi Pavlenka in Prague on Monday evening
Kept out: Northern Ireland’s Liam Boyce tangles with the Czech Republic’s Jifi Pavlenka in Prague on Monday evening

By Paul Ferguson

Honest Liam Boyce says playing alongside Gavin Whyte is an absolute joy - as the Cardiff City winger possesses qualities missing from his own game.

In the commendable friendly win over the Czech Republic on Monday night in Prague, Northern Ireland boss Michael O'Neill opted to go with a front two pairing made in north Belfast with Boyce having been a star for Cliftonville and Whyte a key component in Crusaders' success while at Seaview.

It was a partnership which dovetailed well, with Boyce using his strength, vision and striker's instinct while Whyte was all about speed, taking men on and providing width, which the Czech defence struggled to deal with at times.

Both attacking aces had chances to double their international goalscoring tally during a frantic first half as Northern Ireland raced into a 3-0 lead, especially Whyte when he struck a ferocious volley after a lovely cross from pal Jordan Thompson.

"It's great because he's got everything I don't," stated the Burton striker.

"He's absolutely rapid and in the first half I probably should have scored when he nutmegged the boy but I had to run early and was caught offside.

"It was good. He's so young but defensively we worked well too. We helped each other a lot."

Boyce and Whyte, chosen ahead of the more experienced Josh Magennis and Kyle Lafferty, were ably supported by midfielders, skipper Steven Davis, double goalscorer Paddy McNair and the impressive Thompson.

It was Boyce who supplied the cross for McNair's opening goal on 10 minutes.

He said: "I thought we were brilliant in the first half, the way we pressed. I think Michael helped us a bit with Davo (Steven Davis) and the midfielders helping me and Gavin get in the tight positions and they didn't really cause us many problems.

"We got the three goals and did alright at the start of the second half. They made changes and when the midfielder came on it made us think about it a lot more in a different position and he got them going a bit.

"When one goal goes in it gives them a big lift then the second one is a great goal, and a great run.

"We conceded late goals against Germany and in Holland but the back three were brilliant and won every header when balls came into the box."

Manager O'Neill reverted to his 3-5-2 formation which has worked so well in the past.

Boyce believes opening up the playbook shows that Northern Ireland have great versatility and that will stand them in good stead heading into two big Euro 2020 qualifiers against the Netherlands and Germany next month and possibly the play-offs in March.

The 28-year-old admitted: "I've been in the squad ages and was there when we used to play it.

"It worked so well before the Euros but we changed it and started playing more football.

"But we know if we need to change it and need to shut up shop when we have a lead, we can do that as well."

After the disappointment of losing in such dramatic fashion last Thursday to the Netherlands in Rotterdam, along with playing so well against Germany four weeks ago but having nothing to show for their efforts, Northern Ireland displayed incredible fortitude and resolve to win their first away friendly in 13 years.

And to do it against a squad who were still on a major high after defeating England three days previously says so much about the character of this Northern Ireland panel.

"We know how well we played in both of those games," conceded the League One hitman. "It's easy to get into a rut but we know how well we played.

"It's good to get a win, though, especially away from home.

"We're at home to Holland next and we know we can cause anyone problems.

"But not conceding when the pressure was on was massive, and it's shown us that we can do it."

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