Liam Boyce handed new Hearts role as forward explains shock at what Steven Naismith said about him

Liam Boyce was back in action for Hearts last night after months out injured - and is set to undertake a new role.

The experienced forward, 33, hadn't featured since a win over Kilmarnock in December after picking up a hamstring problem. That came after missing the majority of last season with a cruciate injury and he has had to stay strong mentally to return to action.

That happened during a draw with St Mirren in Paisley last night when the Northern Irishman came on as a sub for Kyosuke Tagawa for the final 20 minutes. It marked the end of his latest long recovery and he is now already looking ahead to next season.

And Boyce will be expected to take on a different role off the pitch. An international with vast experience in the Scottish Premiership and down in England, his experience will be valuable for the likes of 17-year-old James Wilson coming through.

“Hearts is a big club and every season there are new strikers coming in," he told the Edinburgh Evening News. "That’s the demands of being here, you need to earn your jersey. The manager spoke to me. At the start of the season I was just coming back from my knee and I was dying to play. I was like: ‘What’s happening? Am I going to play or what?’

“The gaffer said: ‘You are a member of the squad and we value you. The way you play, no-one else does it that way so we need you.’ Then obviously I got hurt. He said to me again that, because I’m one of the older ones now, I need to help bring players on like wee James [Wilson]. I want to try and help him get better. This is a different stage in my career. I’m used to being the young one and it changes so quick. I’m just enjoying my football and I know I can help the team.

“I’ve been lucky enough in my career that someone has bought me towards the end of my contract so you know your future is secure. I got hurt and then got a new contract and Naisy says he values me. That’s all you want to hear. That’s all I’ve wanted my whole career. As long I’m wanted wherever I’m playing. If they didn’t want me, I wouldn’t want to be here. You want to go into work knowing you are valued and you can help the team.”

Boyce's return came despite manager Steven Naismith saying in the press recently that he wouldn't feature again this season. He admits to being shocked when he read about that as it wasn't something that had been discussed.

“I didn’t know, we hadn’t really talked about it,” said Boyce. “I went to see him after that came out and he said he just didn’t put a time on it because he didn’t want to put pressure on me. He didn’t want to rush me back before the end of the season. It was good it was done that way. I was just training and trying to get fit. Then he said to me on Sunday that I’d be in the squad for the last two games and would hopefully get minutes.

“It’s massive hearing that. Last year, after I did my knee, I was close to coming back for the last two games of the season but then I pulled my hamstring a bit. I was gutted. To get on the pitch again and be off the injury list is great. I’ll try to play again on Saturday and then just be ready to go for pre-season, instead of having to ease my way in like last year.

“I tried to come back a couple of times this year before I had my operation. Any time I kicked a ball, my hamstring just cramped. Then I found out I needed surgery. It’s a hard one to take. I was thinking if I trained then I was going to play the next day, but it just kept cramping. Finding out it was a three-month rehab, I was like: ‘What’s my luck like?’

“For the first two or three days, you feel like sh** and deal with it that way. Then you go back into the gym and you know you are on the mend. Mentally, you know you are working to come back instead of waiting to get an operation. That’s what drives you through, then you get on the pitch. Wednesday was actually a decent game to come into. Both teams were trying to pass the ball about and the game opened up, which gave us a bit of space.”