The January transfer window may still be a fortnight away, but Livingston captain Craig Halkett insists the return of Ryan Hardie feels like they have already made a new signing.
The 21-year-old has endured a tortuous 2018 through injury, with two ankle operations and a torn thigh muscle sidelining the on-loan Rangers striker for the best part of eight months.
However, the live-wire Hardie has made up for lost time in December. His clinical double in Friday night’s 5-0 demolition of Hearts took his tally to three goals in his last two starts and he is destined to be a pivotal player for the rest of the season.
Hardie’s recovery has delighted Halkett – a former Ibrox team-mate of the youngster – who has watched the attacker endure a gruelling rehab programme.
Halkett, pictured, said: “I’m delighted for him. He has been doing a lot of work with our physios and the physios back at Rangers. He has been doing a lot of travelling to check in at both places and I’m really pleased all that work is paying off for him. It really does feel like we’ve made a new signing.
“I know Ryan has been itching to get back. From his initial [ankle] injury back in April he has had another couple and been really unfortunate with that. But now that he is back, he is already showing what he does. He scores goal.
“He could have had more on Friday night. He had a great run and strike in the first half and it’s just unfortunate it never went in.”
While Hardie will hog the plaudits for his classy brace, it was Halkett who broke the deadlock after 72 minutes, dusting himself off to convert a penalty kick after he had been clattered by Hearts goalkeeper Zdenek Zlamal as they contested a loose ball.
Dolly Menga and Shaun Byrne also found the net as Livingston registered their biggest ever top-flight victory and extended their remarkable home record.
The Lions have now won seven of their ten Premiership matches at the Tony Macaroni Arena this season, securing the scalps of Rangers, Hibs, Hearts and claiming an impressive 0-0 draw against Celtic.