WHAT a difference Craig Beattie has already made to Hearts’ season. His half-time introduction changed the course of events at Ibrox, then for an encore he scored, enjoyed an assist and had a goal disallowed on an excellent home debut against St Mirren.
Even though the visitors secured a replay in this William Hill Scottish Cup quarter-final, Beattie’s presence offers Hearts much hope for the immediate future.
Principally, he provides an attacking presence. A focal point for creative talents like Andy Driver, Rudi Skacel and, when fit, David Templeton. Only after Skacel replaced Adrian Mrowiec on 38 minutes did the hosts properly come to life, but by then Beattie had already equalised Graham Carey’s free-kick opener against the run of play.
He headed home Danny Grainger’s corner then stroked a left-footed cross for Skacel to head Hearts’ second shortly after the interval. In between, the Scotland internationalist saw a perfectly legal second goal on the stroke of half-time disallowed after an offside flag was raised. The late, somewhat calamitous, concession of an equaliser in the form of a Marius Zaliukas own goal means the tie will be replayed a week on Wednesday. Beattie is already raring to go.
He is less than fully fit but managed to bring a dynamic dimension to Hearts’ forward line with a combination of movement, hold-up play, link-up play and the obvious goal threat. Beattie, Driver, Skacel and Stephen Elliott all interchanged positions intelligently as they linked with one another in the final third. Unsurprisingly, supporters warmed to the sight of an attack worthy of the name after suffering without one for much of the campaign.
“I thought Hearts was a good opportunity when it came round and it looks like I’ve made a good decision. I’m really enjoying it,” said Beattie, who spurned the advances of St Mirren and others before agreeing a contract at Tynecastle until the end of the season. “I spoke to a couple of clubs, I had a couple of offers and I had some dialogue with Danny (Lennon). I think it would be disrespectful to both clubs if I was to stand here and talk about that, but there were offers.
“St Mirren started the game well but it didn’t take us long to get a hold of it. Fortunately we managed to get a grip of it and I feel we should have gone on to win the game. We have to go back to their place now so a lot of people would possibly say they have the advantage. But I think we’ll learn a lot from Saturday. They dominated the first 30 minutes, then we tinkered a bit and got right on top of them. I think maybe the advantage lies with us because we know how to play against them now.
“It’s always good to get a goal for confidence. I feel I can score any time I go on the pitch, to be honest. I’m looking to kick on now. I don’t know when I last played a competitive 90 minutes.”
That manifested itself as the second half wore on, with Beattie looking increasingly fatigued. Possibly making the legs feel heavier was the nagging thought that his effort at the end of the first half should have stood. “I asked the linesman about it at half-time. I said, ‘was it offside?’ and he said, ‘I don’t know’. I said, ‘what did you put your flag up for then?’ Even if I wasn’t offside, surely you’ve just got to say ‘yes, you were’. It was the linesman’s decision, he chucked his flag up. In the second half, Craig Samson picks the ball up two yards outside his box. Listen, these things happen in the game so I don’t want to get too far into it. I don’t want to get in trouble, I’m just here.”
He was rightly aggrieved, though. This game was entertaining and enthralling at times and a fine advert for the Scottish Cup, but it was not without controversy. Television pictures proved Beattie was onside when knocking Ian Black’s deflected ball in off Samson’s post in first-half stoppage-time. Then Samson stooped to collect a bouncing long ball with his arms clearly stretching outside the penalty box, yet referee Stevie O’Reilly allowed play to continue.
At 2-1, Hearts looked relatively comfortable but late pressure from St Mirren resulted in Zaliukas unwittingly scoring an own goal. Jamie MacDonald produced two fine successive saves from Nigel Hasselbaink and Gary Teale and, when the ball broke off the goalkeeper back to Hasselbaink, Zaliukas bizarrely opted to claim for offside rather than shut his opponent down. When he did eventually close on Hasselbaink, the Dutchman attempted to play the ball across the face of goal, only for it to career into the net off Zaliukas’ calf.
To add insult to injury, Ian Black was fouled by Hasselbaink during the build-up which none of the officials spotted. “I don’t want to talk about this but you have a responsibility to write this,” said Paulo Sergio, the Hearts manager. “Ian Black was returning to his position and the St Mirren player grabbed him. I don’t want to talk about it but I think you should write it if you saw it.
“It’s unfair to lose a stupid goal like that in the last five minutes but great credit to our players for changing the game. It was a very good game for the fans. Now we have to be ready to go to St Mirren. Maybe for what they did in the first 30 minutes, they deserve a second match.
“In the first 30 minutes, St Mirren was probably the best team I’ve seen at Tynecastle this season. They created a lot of problems for us and the shape we had didn’t work against the 4-3-3 of St Mirren. They had a lot of mobile guys and passing and moving. I tried to put Stephen Elliott on the right and after that we returned to the scoring. We lost a goal to a mistake but all the second half was Hearts. St Mirren didn’t pass the ball, we scored a second then we had four great chances to win the game.”
St Mirren certainly cannot be dismissed on this evidence. Their adventurous and disciplined performance overwhelmed Hearts in the first half and forced Sergio to change the 4-4-2 formation he began with. Paul McGowan, as ever, was orchestrating midfield, with Gary Teale and Hasselbaink effective as the wingers supporting central striker Steven Thompson.
“It was a high quality game and both sets of players deserve credit,” said Lennon. “There were quality goals throughout and it was an entertaining game. In the first half, our football was exceptional. It’s disappointing we didn’t capitalise more but we weren’t ruthless enough. We knew we’d cause Hearts problems and cause their coaching staff to think. They put pressure on us in the second half and found themselves 2-1 up.
“We had to continue to believe and play like we did first-half. Once we overcame that we started causing more problems later in the game. Even when we equalised I thought we would get another chance. Hearts deserve credit, they had other chances at 2-1, but I felt we had more over the course of the game. It was probably a fair result and it makes for a great return game at our place.”
Lennon will be hoping Skacel does not appear on Wednesday week after scoring his ninth goal in five games against St Mirren since rejoining Hearts in September 2010. “What age is he? I can’t wait to see the back of him,” joked Lennon.
He will be no more keen to see Beattie again in the replay, for Hearts’ new signing has hit the ground running to devastating effect.