HE ISN’T the only spy in the camp, but Hearts striker James Keatings’ input has proved particularly useful since his experience of playing Cowdenbeath is so recent.
The former Hamilton Accies player watched as his then side quickly fell two goals behind at Central Park last season. Fortunately for the visitors, they recovered to win 4-2. However, the experience illustrates the hazards posed by a trip to Cowdenbeath for those with title aspirations – indeed, Jimmy Nicholl’s side defeated Hamilton 4-3 in their next meeting, a game in which Keatings played.
He has taken it upon himself to warn his team-mates about the welcome they are likely to get today, as Hearts seek to main their unbeaten start to the league season against a side they crushed 5-1 in September. But that was at Tynecastle, today is Central Park, home to Cowdenbeath FC and Scottish stock car racing. Asked for his recollections, Keatings remembers an engine lying by the side of the pitch. An engine? Yes, an engine.
“It’s different,” he said. “When you arrive at the stadium you see cars lying at the side of the pitch.The first time I played there I remember there was an engine lying there as we walked out.
“It was funny,” he added. “Going there is an eye opener but at the end of the day it’s a game of football.We’re motivated. Every game is an opportunity for us to show what we can do.
“And we’ll be up for it. We play in a different way to other teams but this match will be different to others. When they come to Tynecastle we can play the way we want to. But going there is different. It’s dead tight, it’s not the nicest surface. It’s not going to be a day for passing the ball about even though we will try to do that.”
Keatings is not the only one on the Hearts staff with intimate knowledge of their surroundings today. Manager Robbie Neilson played several games for Cowdenbeath while on loan rom Hearts in 1999-2000 and Craig Levein, the director of football at Tynecastle, not only managed the club, but started his playing career there too. Still, Keatings’ input has proved invaluable.
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“There are certain situations that I have been through before with Accies, like this game,” said Keatings. “I have spoken to a few of the lads and told them what it’s like. A few of them have never been to Cowdenbeath so I can tell them about certain situations that might happen in the game. Hopefully that will work in our benefit. We were getting beaten 2-0 there last season and we came back to win 4-2. I was injured so I was sitting in the stand watching. It was at this time of year and a horrible day. So I know what we’re in for.”
Despite many expecting them to struggle on their return to the SPFL Premiership, Hamilton have proved to be a revelation. However, Keatings has no regrets about swapping a Premiership-bound club for Hearts, newly relegated to the Championship, in the summer. Having started his career at Celtic, Keatings admits he has been taken aback by learning just how big a club Hearts are.
“Accies have started the season brilliantly but I thought they would, I had total belief in them,” he said. “They have good players there and a good squad.
“The manager [Alex Neil] totally believes in the way he wants to play and he gets that across to the boys. They take it all in and they believe in him. But I had no doubts about leaving there.
“I was focused on coming here 100 per cent. And I have not looked back since. I am really happy here.
“There are similarities between ourselves and Accies,” he added. “We have a young coach in Robbie and a young group of boys here as well. We have experienced players to keep us on track and guide us through certain situations.
“ Tthis has been an eye-opener for me. Everyone told me this was a big club but I didn’t realise just how big it really is.We’re playing in the Championship in front of crowds of over 15,000 at every home game. At away games the ends are always sold out, we have a massive following. It’s my first experience of playing in front of such big crowds. But as a young boy coming up that’s what you want to do. So it’s an extra motivation for me.”
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