Paul Hartley backs Craig Beattie to boost Hearts

WHILE Hearts will hope to exploit Craig Beattie’s pace and presence against Rangers this weekend, the striker desperately needs to maximise the opportunity accorded him by his new employers.

Paul Hartley, Beattie’s former Celtic and Scotland colleague, explained today why the player needs Hearts to rejuvenate his career just as much as they require an injection of his attacking panache.

Beattie’s signing until June is an arrangement intended to be mutually beneficial. At 28, he is seeking a platform from which to relaunch himself after stagnating in England amidst persistent injury problems and an unfulfilling tour of Championship clubs on short-term loan deals. Kilmarnock, St Johnstone and St Mirren all coveted his services, but Hearts won the battle hands down, according to sources close to the player.

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Paulo Sergio, the Hearts manager, requires a figurehead to lead the forward line and provide a consistent goalscoring threat. Beattie’s availability as a free agent after his release by Swansea City made him a prime candidate for a short-term deal outwith the transfer window.

Fitness-permitting, he has the potential to fire Hearts to European qualification. He scored twice in a bounce match at Riccarton on Tuesday and is now expected to make his debut at some stage of Saturday’s match at Ibrox. Beattie will sense a crucial opportunity to revitalise his career in Edinburgh.

Hartley won the Scottish Cup during his three-and-a-half-year spell at Tynecastle and knows the benefits of the exposure brought by success there. It helped earn him a £1.1 million transfer to Celtic, where he played alongside Beattie before the striker’s move to West Bromwich Albion in 2007.

“I think this move has got to appeal to him more than anything,” explained Hartley, now manager of Third Division leaders Alloa Athletic. “He’s been released by Swansea so he’ll look at it and realise he has to get his career back on track.

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“He’s 28 and he needs to get back playing. This opportunity is a good one for him and he needs it. You can’t come and start asking for fortunes in wages. Everyone knows the way Scottish football is in the current financial climate, so I think it’s up to him to go and put himself in the shop window again. This benefits both parties.

“If he wants to get himself noticed, especially after the injury problems he has had, then it’s a great chance for him. If he goes to Hearts and does well then I think it will benefit him and the club. Hearts are still in a strong position in the league, they are in the quarter-finals of the Scottish Cup with a good chance of making the semi-finals. Then there’s the prospect of Europe. All of that will appeal to him.

“Hearts is a massive club and Beattie knows the situation there. He has played at Tynecastle before, he knows the fanbase and the atmosphere that can be generated at Tynecastle. I’m sure he’ll enjoy playing there and he could be a really good signing for Hearts.”

There is little doubting Beattie’s pedigree for plundering goals in the Scottish Premier League. His scoring record at Celtic was decent in view of the fact many of his appearances were as a substitute. He also possesses seven Scotland caps and significant experience of English Championship football, with West Brom, Preston North End, Crystal Palace, Sheffield United, Swansea and Watford. The only question mark relates to his fitness.

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“I played with him at Celtic and with Scotland,” said Hartley. “He’s had a lot of injuries over the last couple of years, but he’s definitely a player Hearts don’t have; someone with a lot of pace up front who is strong and can run in behind people.

“He can certainly score a goal. The big thing will be trying to keep him fit, but his main attribute is getting in behind defenders. I’ve watched Hearts over the past couple of weeks and they don’t have anyone with that ability. Stephen Elliott comes short and likes the ball into his feet.

“I think Hearts could really use somebody who can run at people. Beattie is really quick, strong and aggressive. I think he’s an excellent addition to the Hearts squad. He hasn’t played a lot of football over the last couple of years. If Hearts can keep him fit, he’s definitely a player who will enhance the team. He has a lot of pace and he knows where the goal is. He has scored at Championship level in England so that shows he can do it.

“He has played for Scotland, which is a big plus for Hearts. He also knows the Scottish well. If Hearts keep him fit, he will score goals for them. He could be a terrific signing for them. Hearts, I’m sure, will have checked out his fitness before they signed him. I’m sure the medical staff will have gone through that. There was talk of him going to Kilmarnock, but, if Hearts is an option, he’s always going to go there.”

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If Paulo Sergio allowed himself a wry smile at beating his Kilmarnock nemesis Kenny Shiels to a player, the Portuguese must now ponder the serious matter of getting the best from Beattie. Hearts have managed only one goal in their last five league fixtures and need their new signing to deliver. “He’s a good lad, a really nice guy who won’t cause you any problem at all as a manager,” said Hartley. “He’s very level-headed and is very experienced now. Craig is just a good boy to have about the dressing room.

“He works extremely hard for the team and he’s a really good professional. He’s a good all-round addition to the squad.

“I think Hearts maybe need that little bit of experience up front. They do have some young players coming through and I think Beattie will help the younger ones. He’ll use his own experience and provide a cutting edge. Hearts have been asking Elliott to do things on his own up front, and John Sutton leaving on loan was a bit of a blow for them. Beattie could be the answer.”