BY ALAN TEMPLE – @CCP_Sport
HEARTS head coach Robbie Neilson admits he would love to sign Tony Watt on a permanent deal – on the day the Scotland striker was cleared of diving.
Watt has been a smash hit at Tynecastle since joining the club on a season-long loan from the Addicks, scoring one goal but impressing with his direct running and burgeoning partnership with Conor Sammon.
He played his way into the most recent Scotland squad following the withdrawal of Leigh Griffiths, albeit he was not used by manager Gordon Strachan in the 5-1 triumph over Malta.
Neilson has revealed he was “surprised” to win the fight for the player’s signature and, now he is thriving in Gorgie, the Hearts boss would love to pull off another coup by making the loan deal permanent.
However, with Watt contracted to Charlton until the summer of 2018, he is acutely aware that the Addicks hold all the aces.
He said: “Tony has another year at Charlton after this season but I would love to try and get him into the club if I can.
“He took a substantial hit on his salary to come up here as he wanted to play first-team football again and be back in Scotland near his family. I think Tony would like to stay as long as he can.
“But he is an asset to Charlton and if he comes up here and does really well then he will be a bigger asset to them. We will see what transpires in his season here.”
Watt’s form for the capital club has belied concerns regarding his mentality and fitness, with Neilson lauding the player’s professionalism and quality since joining the club.
Neilson, who takes his side to face St Johnstone this weekend, continued: “Tony has been great to manage. He is a bundle of energy on the training ground and he just wants to play football.
“I could not ask any more from him and, with the talent he has, you just need to get him on the ball in good areas. There are not a lot of players in Scotland who, every time you give them the ball, you feel that something is going to happen.
“The players and the supporters feel that too and you have to fit guys like that in your team and play them whenever you can
“[His past] didn’t enter my mind at all. I was surprised to get him, to be honest. He was playing in the [SkyBet] Championship last season and doing well. I know Charlton got relegated but there were teams lining up to take him.
“He wanted to come home and play football for a year and feel settled and a bit more stable.
“I think, in the past, people have said things and not known Tony as a person and as a player – and made judgements.”
Hearts, meanwhile, have succeeded in their bid to have Watt’s yellow card for diving during last weekend’s 3-1 win over Hamilton rescinded.
He fell to the ground under a challenge from Shaun Want and was cautioned for simulation – which, along with ‘mistaken identity’, is one of only two bookable offences that are subject to appeals.
And Hearts, whose delegation included director of football Craig Levein, were successful in their appeal at Hampden yesterday and the yellow card will be wiped from the record books.
Neilson said: “Anybody who has seen the [Watt] incident will know that it is a penalty. Even Hamilton boss Martin Canning has come out and said it was a stonewall penalty kick – that kinds of says everything.
“There has been some things said about Hearts recently and in the space of three weeks we have gone from being a big strong, physical, aggressive team to being lightweight and falling over.”