Most Hearts fans were surprised to see Callum Paterson make the starting XI for Saturday’s victory at Raith Rovers – but there will be no such shock if the big 17-year-old keeps his place in the team for tonight’s friendly at Falkirk.
It’s been well-documented throughout 2012 that Hearts intended to place extra emphasis on homegrown youth, but Paterson wasn’t one of the names that featured prominently on the list earmarked by most for a step-up to first-team level.
While the likes of Jason Holt, Denis Prychynenko, Jamie Walker, David Smith and even Kevin McHattie have been widely tipped to force themselves into contention under new manager John McGlynn, Paterson’s name had slipped under the radar. Until Saturday, that is, when the versatile South Queensferry kid was thrown in at right-back for the type of first-team debut that dreams are made of. He foraged up and down the right flank, chipped in with a fine opening goal and played his part in ensuring a clean sheet in the 3-0 win.
As a result, there will be a sense of disappointment among the travelling support if Paterson is not retained for Hearts’ second pre-season friendly of the summer against Steven Pressley’s Bairns this evening. “I was as surprised as anyone that Callum started on Saturday,” said Scott Crabbe, the former Hearts player, who has kept a keen eye on Paterson’s career since seeing him shine for Tynecastle Boys Club against his son’s team, East Calder Boys Club, a few years back.
Crabbe was in Kirkcaldy for the clash between two of his former clubs at the weekend and was thoroughly impressed with McGlynn’s surprise starter. “John’s obviously liked what he’s seen from him since he’s come in,” he continued. “He was really impressive in the Raith game. He looked comfortable on the ball and didn’t seem fazed at all making his debut. He slotted in no problem at all. For a young kid to go in and do so well will give him a great lift.”
Hearts signed Paterson in 2010 and Crabbe reckons it could prove to be a shrewd move by the Riccarton youth coaches. “Callum was always a bit of a standout at Boys Club level,” he said. “I wasn’t surprised at all when I heard Hearts had snapped him up. He played as a winger the times I saw him, and, on Saturday, although he was at right-back, he played very much as a winger the way he got forward. In fact he was pretty much in the Ryan McGowan mould – they look very similar. He gets forward like Ryan does and is very athletic. He looks like the type who would run all day for you. You can see by the way he took his goal that he’s played as a winger, the way he cut inside and finished so well.”
Paterson can also play at centre-forward and centre-back, but Crabbe reckons it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that he could seize the right-back jersey for the start of the SPL season. “Hearts have lost a lot of midfielders, so if John decides to push McGowan up, and with Jamie Hamill being injured, Callum might get his chance in that area of the team, in the same way Ryan did last season. It looks like these kids are going to get their opportunities at Tynecastle now as they look to get the wage bill down, so it’s a great time for him to be coming on the scene.
“Age means nothing as far as I’m concerned. If you’re good enough you should go right into the team. If you’ve got the right players around you, you’ll be fine and guys like Andy Webster will keep him right all day long. Webby strolled through the game on Saturday – his experience was there for all to see. For a boy like Callum to have a player like that beside him to learn off from such an early age is absolutely fantastic.”
Crabbe acknowledges that, with Fraser Mullen, Darren Barr and, of course, McGowan also contenders for the right-back berth, Paterson is some way from being considered a certain starter tonight, but he is adamant that his son’s old Boys Club rival has at least laid down an early marker. He added: “John will still be finding his feet and will be wanting to try a few different things, so we’ll need to wait and see if he picks him again tonight, but certainly his performance at Raith will have given the manager something to think about.”