HEARTS’ new signing Craig Beattie hopes his bid to rekindle a dormant football career will coincide with an awakening of the Jambos’ charge towards a third-place SPL finish – starting tomorrow at home to in-form Dundee United.
The former Celtic striker has signed a contract running until summer to kick-start his career in Edinburgh after enjoying two promotion- winning seasons and experiencing a play-off final during four-and-a-half years in England, where he played for West Bromwich Albion and, latterly, Swansea City, as well as a host of clubs on loan.
Beattie turned 28 last month and was ousted from Swansea by the form of the Premier League club’s summer signings Danny Graham and Leroy Lita. His new manager, Paulo Sergio, was coy about whether or not the player would feature in tomorrow’s Tynecastle clash, but the one-time Scotland internationalist will be targeting a comeback to regular first-team football in the coming weeks.
With just a matter of months until his new deal expires, Beattie may have little time to establish himself as a favourite among the Hearts fans, but could do so by realising his ambition of firing Hearts into third place above rivals Motherwell. The groundwork towards making an impression on Jambos fans has already been laid.
Beattie first leapt into the consciousness of the Hearts support with a winner for Celtic 13 minutes from full time at Tynecastle in the penultimate game of the 2004-05 SPL season. Despite the Hoops’ 2-1 win that day, Celtic’s title hopes floundered in the final minutes of a last-day fixture at Motherwell a week later, when Scott McDonald struck two goals that consigned Beattie and Co. to defeat and effectively handed the title to Rangers.
It was during his goalscoring appearance in the highly-charged end-of-season Tynecastle encounter that Beattie experienced first-hand the intimidating atmosphere that the old Gorgie ground can generate.
He joked: “I just hope the same kids who were giving me pelters in the front row that day are now cheering me on! Maybe they’ll be a bit wiser and not so aggressive towards me. It’s an intimidating place to go, with the stand right on the pitch. Hopefully, from now until the end of the season, we can make it a bit of a fortress. You’ve got to enjoy that atmosphere.” Fans of the Edinburgh club will be heartened, if not a little surprised, by majority shareholder Vladimir Romanov’s willingness to open the chequebook, for Hearts have made no secret of their wish to trim down the wage bill. Beattie though is sure he can repay the chance he’s been given at Hearts, even if he has found first-team at football at premium recently – his only appearance this season was on-loan at Watford.
“You don’t need to be a genius to see that I’ve not played a lot of games,” he said. “I’m not match-fit, but I’m fit and I’m training and working hard. It’s just a case of having the condition in my legs.
“I don’t feel like I’m starting over again or that I have to prove myself – I’m just looking forward to the challenges I’ve been set. The manager and John understood that I hadn’t played a lot of games, and it certainly didn’t put them off. I’m just looking to do what I can for them for showing the faith in me to bring me here.
“All I’m concentrating on is my next training session. I just want to get more out of the session and look forward to the weekend. I’ve not spoken to the manager yet, I don’t know what his thoughts are, but after the session we’ll take it from there.
“There will be more options in the summer. Hearts have given me a platform until the end of the season to show what I can do. Hopefully, I can do that – and that benefits everybody.”
Paulo Sergio outlined his plans to include Beattie – either as a lone striker or in a front pairing – as soon as the player is fit to play. The Portuguese manager was positive about the prospect of having more attacking options from which to choose, with first pick Stephen Elliott and younger duo Gordon Smith and Gary Glen the only remaining strikers at the club after the departures of Sutton, Ryan Stevenson and Callum Elliot last month.
“The main reason John [Sutton] went was to save money on his wages,” said Sergio. “Now, it’s a different deal with Beattie and that’s something we don’t want to talk about publicly.
“He is a solution, a free player, and at this moment it’s another player to add to the group. He is here to do his job and maybe we needed a player up front. We did this deal and I hope he’s going to be happy at Hearts.
“Without Beattie here sometimes we play with two up front. It’s not a question of Beattie or not. Beattie will play when he shows to me that he can be a good solution. He has to prove that every single day like the others. It’s the first thing I said to him before he signed.
“I didn’t accept to sign Beattie to solve anything alone. I want him to work for the team and I want him to be happy here.”
Hearts have only won once in their last ten meetings with United – their sole victory in that sequence coming just more than a year ago thanks to a late Marius Zaliukas goal in a 2-1 victory. The Jambos have found the going tough on home soil against the same opponents, having registered three wins – while losing as many times – in their last ten games at Tynecastle.
Of further concern to Hearts is United’s away form this year. The Tannadice men have lost only four domestic away fixtures this term, in the “New Firm” derby at Aberdeen in mid-October, twice at Celtic Park, and once to Rangers. Victory against the last-named opponents in their second visit to Ibrox, on Scottish Cup duty three weeks ago, spurred United on to an impressive run that has yielded three wins in their last four games. In the past fortnight, they have scored five past St Johnstone at McDiarmid Park and put four past Kilmarnock.
Beattie’s arrival undoubtedly adds more firepower to the Hearts attack, and gives the Jambos an extra-dimension in their quest to achieve European football next season.