Change of system is Boyce's best chance of a start - O'Neill
LIAM BOYCE is back in a 26-man Northern Ireland squad ahead of next weekend’s crunch Euro 2016 qualifying double-header, but boss Michael O’Neill admits a change of system may be the striker’s only way in.
The former Cliftonville man has started the season in fine form, netting four times in his last three games amid a solid opening to the new SPL campaign for Ross County.
Boyce won his fifth cap as a late sub in a friendly against Qatar in May, but was left out of the 25-man squad for the 0-0 draw with Romania. His goal-laden start to the new campaign has convinced O’Neill to recall him, but with Kyle Lafferty having nailed down the solitary attacking role, the Northern Ireland boss admits his best hope is an unexpected change of tact.
“Myself and Jimmy [Nicholl, assistant manager] have watched him this season and he’s hit the ground running," said O'Neill.
“He has three or four goals already this season and they [Ross County] have had a good start. Last season, they struggled basically from the start of the season. Speaking to their manager Jim McIntyre, he says that Liam’s been a big factor in that. We’re not blessed with attacking options in terms of people scoring goals. The natural thing is to include him.
“He’s something a little bit different. If we were ever going to play with two strikers, then Liam would certainly come into the reckoning for a starting position because he can play more as a number 10 than playing through the middle on his own.”
O’Neill has injury doubts over Chris Brunt, Shane Ferguson, Ben Reeves and Jamie Ward, but of greater consequence is the lack of football some of his bigger names have played. The former Newcastle United player cited having had just six players in action last weekend in either the English Premier League or Championship. Jonny Evans has yet to play a minute this season at Old Trafford, while Kyle Lafferty hasn’t even been included in a matchday squad for Norwich City.
“I am concerned about that because everyone knows how important those two players are for us,” admitted O’Neill.
“Those two are mentally equipped to come in and play the games. Jonny’s been in that situation at Manchester United. He’s come into big games having been out of the team for four or five weeks. At a big club like United, you learn to have to do that.
“Kyle is one of those men that maybe doesn’t think too much about it. He goes out and plays. Certainly, his confidence is sky-high at the minute in relation to what he’s done in this campaign. Hopefully, he’ll continue that and his club situation won’t be a factor.”
NI squad: Carroll, Mannus, McGovern, Hughes, Baird, McAuley, J Evans, Cathcart, Ferguson, Hodson, McLaughlin, McNair, Davis, Brunt, C Evans, Norwood, McCourt, Dallas, Reeves, Lafferty, McGinn, Ward, Magennis, Grigg, Boyce, Lavery.