Never pay your opponent too much respect, says Liam Boyce as he prepares for Celtic on opening day of the Scottish Premiership campaign next weekend.
The Hearts hitman has been in super form of late, scoring in each of the Tynecastle club’s three Scottish League Cup games to date.
The Jambos play Inverness Caledonian Thistle in their concluding group game this evening, having already beaten Stirling Albion, Cove Rangers and Peterhead in the last fortnight.
Next week will obviously be a step up in class, admits the 30-year-old Belfast man, but confidence and momentum should help as they take on one of the Glasgow divide next Saturday night.
“We’re at home against Celtic, we’re not conceding any goals and we will be confident,” says the Falls Road man, who has 28 caps for Northern Ireland.
“I was in awe of Celtic when I played against them for Cliftonville. The Champions League music, playing at Parkhead, coming from a background where my friends and family are Celtic fans, the occasion can get to you.
“But you can’t carry that attitude with you into the game over here. It’s the same with Northern Ireland, sometimes you can pay too much respect to your opponents. Just believe in yourself and do your best.
“Obviously we won’t be treating Celtic lightly, we will pay them the respect they deserve, but we will have confidence in our own ability as well.”
Boyce signed for Hearts in January of last year and immediately endeared himself to Celtic fans when he scored on his debut against Rangers.
But Hearts were in turmoil and found themselves relegated to the Championship when a poor season was ended prematurely by Covid-19.
Manager Daniel Stendel made way for Robbie Neilson to return to the club he started his career with and Boyce cites the new manager as being pivotal to his good form.
“Relegation was hard to take, and the fans were gutted,” Boyce reflects. “We were left feeling we had something to prove — that we are not bad players.
“The gaffer came in and he was easy to get on with and he didn’t make too many changes to the squad, maybe one or two here and there.
“I wanted to play and I wanted to be somewhere I felt wanted. The gaffer told me what I wanted to hear and I feel really at home here now.
“We have been playing well but we are aware we haven’t played any Premiership opposition yet. Our aim is to play well, keep the momentum going and be competitive.
“We want to finish in the top six, at least, and challenge for trophies. It won’t be easy and we will have our ups and downs, as every team has.
“But we have been through it before. Last year we were beaten by Brora Rangers and that was the biggest shock in years for the club.
“We lost again after that result and people were talking about a crisis at the club, but it’s all about how you deal with reversals.
“We came through it and learned from it. Everything is great at the club right now but we know we will face challenges in the top flight again, but we will be ready for them.”