Born-again Beattie thrives at the heart of the drama

LESS than two months ago Craig Beattie was in limbo. Out of favour at Swansea, he did not know where his next game of football was coming from.

Yesterday he was in ecstasy, a Hearts hero after scoring the winning goal in the 2-1 victory over Celtic which has taken them through to the Scottish Cup final.

Even to those who remember how well Beattie could play, in a Celtic jersey and for Scotland, he has been a revelation since signing for Hearts in late February. A pelvic injury meant he was unable to start yesterday’s semi-final, but within minutes of coming on at the start of the second half he had made a difference, laying on the pass for Rudi Skacel to score the opening goal of the game.

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He made the difference again in the closing minutes after Celtic had equalised, scoring from the penalty spot to put Hearts into that 19 May final against Hibernian.

As the stunned champions and about-to-be-deposed cup-holders waited to restart the game, he set off on an inspired celebration, whipping his jersey off and running to the end of the ground filled with close on 15,000 Hearts supporters.

He received a yellow card for his pains, but was unperturbed. The goal had been worth it. “I became infamous for that last year,” Beattie said of his celebration. “I scored a great goal at Ipswich and celebrated like that, and I thought I’d add to it this time by taking my top off and make a fool of myself.

“I knew I hadn’t been booked beforehand or I wouldn’t have done it. The ref didn’t say anything when he booked me but I knew it was coming. It was worth it, though.”

Eight members of the 16-man Hearts squad were one booking away from missing the final, but all escaped without a yellow card, so will be available against Hibs.

Manager Paulo Sergio had warned them not to allow the threat of a booking to influence their play, and they paid heed with a disciplined and intelligent performance which left Celtic increasingly frustrated. “It’s brilliant to get through to the final,” Beattie continued. “The boys worked ever so hard. We came with a gameplan to frustrate them and stop them playing and not going chasing them and giving them easy spaces in behind us.

“That worked a treat. In the second half the manager made a tactical substitution” – Beattie replacing midfielder Scott Robinson – “and he came up trumps again.” It took Beattie less than two minutes after coming on to link up with Skacel for the opener, and although Celtic pressed strongly for a few minutes after Gary Hooper’s 87th-minute equaliser, the striker helped convince his team-mates that they could still win the game. Minutes later they had done so – again thanks to Beattie, even though Skacel also looked keen on taking the penalty.

“The boys looked a bit dejected as they walked back to the centre circle [after Hooper’s goal], so I just wanted to get them all going,” Beattie explained. “Thankfully we managed to push on and get a winner.

“I wasn’t nervous at the penalty, actually. A couple of their boys tried to put me off with the mind tricks, but that’s all part of the game. I was quite relaxed stepping up, as I knew what I was doing.

“I knew what I was going to do even when I was sat on the bench as I had gone over that eventuality in my head. I just had a feeling that was what was going to settle the game. As soon as the referee blew his whistle I didn’t even look to see what the foul was. I didn’t see the incident, I just went over to get the ball.

“Rudi has got a left foot to die for. He’s so laidback and he knows he’s got so much ability. The left foot’s a wand. He wasn’t getting the penalty off me, mind. He looked over at me as if to say, You taking it? And I said, F***ing right!”

Having also scored in Hearts victories over Rangers and Hibs since agreeing to end his contract with Swansea, Beattie is in no doubt that he made the right decision back in February when he agreed to join Hearts for the rest of the season.

“I sat down with my family, my parents and my advisers and decided I was going to come back home and that this would be a great platform for me to go and play my football. I knew we had a winnable cup tie against St Mirren; we had Rangers to play and a chance of the top six. I thought it was a great opportunity and I haven’t lost a game. So it’s worked out pretty well.”

Beattie’s winning goal conjured up the outcome from the two semi-finals which the bookmakers had deemed the least likely – a meeting between Hearts and Edinburgh rivals Hibernian, who beat Aberdeen 2-1 on Saturday. It will be the first time the clubs have met in the final since 1896, and it is an occasion to which Hearts captain Marius Zaliukas, among many others, is already looking forward.

 “It is going to be a huge thing for absolutely everyone,” the centre-half said. “It is a dream final for Edinburgh and I simply love the thought of it.

“Obviously, the last time we played each other in a Scottish Cup final was a long, long time ago and we want to win. For me, it is a bigger game than playing against Celtic or Rangers. Of course it is. I am going to start practising the idea of going up the Hampden steps and lifting the cup in my head. Every player wants to win trophies like this one and it would be a dream come true for me.”

Hearts have already beaten Hibs three times in the league this season, but winger Andrew Driver warned that they would take nothing for granted. “We can’t go into it thinking we are going to win, because it will be very difficult to win,” he said.

“It is going to be a massive buzz and Edinburgh will be empty on the day. There will be a lot of banter going on, but I think it is going to be nerve-wracking.

“It is good for the city and the whole history of the rivalry between the two sides. Hearts will be favourites with the record we have over them, but it is a derby. It will be whoever works hardest and wants it most on the day. We have got to give it our all.”