Jan 5 2011 By Fraser Wilson
PARTICK THISTLE assistant Ian Maxwell is backing Conrad Balatoni to become an SPL star with Hearts once his newly extended loan deal at Firhill ends.
The 19-year-old Jambos defender this week agreed to stay with Thistle until the end of the season after tasting first team action 14 times in the first half of the campaign.
Maxwell, an experienced top level defender after spells with St Johnstone and St Mirren, reckons the powerful teenager has all the attributes to go far in the game.
And the Firhill player-assistant boss is only too happy to step aside from playing duties if it allows Balatoni to continue his development alongside seasoned stoppers John Robertson, Jackie McNamara and Alan Archibald.
Maxwell said: "Conrad has done really well in the games he has played for us.
"I think he has got everything you would want in a defender at our level. He is quick, he is strong, he is good in the air and likes a tackle.
"His distribution is not the best at times but I think people have got to remember that he is still only 19 and it has been a big jump up for him to come and play in the first division.
"Conrad is a good person aswell and takes on board what you tell him, although he's not the brightest - he takes a fair bit of ribbing in the dressing room for some of the stuff that comes out of his mouth!
"Seriously though, I think he has got a real chance to make it at the top level and don't see why he can't be an important part of the Hearts first team in a few years' time.
"This is a deal which suits all parties because he has been excellent for us when he has played and is learning all the time from guys like Robbo, Archie and Jackie. If he was still at Hearts then he would not be playing first team football."
Balatoni won't feature in this weekend's Scottish Cup fourth round clash at Falkirk though as he continues to nurse a hamstring strain.
There are no further problems for the Jags at the back as Robertson, McNamara and Archibald are all fit and ready to play.
One slight worry for the management team is goalkeeper Scott Fox who has been bed-ridden this week with a sickness bug.
Maxwell hopes the keeper, who has been in excellent form since signing a short term deal in November, will be fit to train ahead of the tie though.
Likewise Martin Grehan, who was also ill, and Bryan Hodge, who has a slight ankle knock, are expected to be fit.