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<-Srce <-Type Scotsman ------ Report Type-> Srce->
Valdas Ivanauskas <-auth Barry Anderson auth-> Dietmar Drabek
[M Muhlbauer 62]
8 of 019 Mirsad Beslija 83 F A

Jambos start Euro climb at a snail's pace


LASK Linz 1
Hearts 1

HEARTS' pre-season schedule began in earnest here last night in the most appropriate setting at the foot of the towering mount Gunst.

As of now, there is a steep incline to be negotiated if Valdas Ivanauskas is to sufficiently ready his players for their Champions League introduction.

Without exaggerating the evident rustiness of the Edinburgh side in the first match of their Austrian tour, the symptoms of disorientation were clear throughout this encounter against a team from the Red Zac 1 Liga, Austria's second division.

Firstly, it should be emphasised that LASK Linz showed themselves to be an extremely astute and capable bunch in a location an hour's drive from their home stadium.

Mirsad Beslija encountered a familiar face in the Serbian midfielder Hota prior to kick-off and, as the pair chatted and joked, the low-key nature of the occasion was evident for the 400 crowd of locals to see. Once the action got underway, Beslija sat in the tiny main stand very much in awe, like the rest of us, as Hota systematically dismantled Hearts on several occasions, ably assisted by the ageing Ivica Vastic.

That a visit by either the Belarussian champions Shakhtyor Soligorsk or Siroki Brijeg from Bosnia is merely three weeks away will have sent a chill through Ivanauskas as he looked on. Hearts were notably understrength, minus the departed Andy Webster and Rudi Skacel, and with Paul Hartley and Roman Bednar also out of the starting line-up due to injury. Julien Brellier and Takis Fyssas began the match as substitutes.

Starting without players of such influence was always going to have major consequence with new signings eagerly awaited by Ivanauskas, and exactly how much compensating he must do remains to be seen.

Craig Gordon was another absentee after suffering a thigh knock in training on Tuesday. He may also miss Saturday's match here against Slovakians Spartak Trnava but it was immediately outside the penalty area that Hearts appeared most uncomfortable as Linz took the fight to their Scottish visitors early on.

After Pressley's fourth-minute tug on Hota, Vastic curled a vicious free-kick just wide of Steve Banks' right-hand post, a move that was followed by Jankauskas nodding Hearts' first opportunity wide from an Andrew Driver cross.

Defender Wolfgang Klapf was booked for a scathing tackle on Saulius Mikoliunas as the overly fussy Austrian referee, Peter Drabic, administered three yellow cards in four minutes.

Nerijus Barasa, operating the holding midfield role for Hearts, joined him in the book after a cynical trip on Hota before Bruno Aguiar became the next victim when he needlessly threw the ball away after a set-piece had been granted Linz.

Gerhard Fellner may have been a familiar face for the handful of Edinburgh inhabitants who had journeyed into the Austrian mountains to see their side. The Linz defender was once on the books at Falkirk and St Mirren but his task was a straightforward one for the majority of the first half as the Hearts side failed to work in tandem with one another.

Mikoliunas's industry was proving a nuisance to Linz wing-back Klapf, the Lithuanian showing a significant improvement in attitude and application from his outings towards the end of last season.

As he attempted to unsettle down the right side, so Driver did likewise on the opposite flank.

The youngster received less change from Gerald Gansterer but did manage to provide Hearts' best chance of the first period in taking Lee Wallace's throw to the byline past his marker and finding Jankauskas on the six-yard line.

The hulking Lithuanian was unmarked but watched his effort bounce past the post.

Hota and Wolfgang Klein combined for Vastic to send in a rasping shot from the edge of the box which was pushed over by Banks, and, as the half-time whistle sounded, Ivanauskas looked a pensive figure as he strolled purposefully into the dressing-room to instruct a flurry of substitutions for the second period.

The visitors required an injection of invention and purpose to get in behind what was a far from watertight Linz defence but again a lack of cohesion allowed the Austrians to grow further in confidence in the second half, and they eventually moved ahead on 62 minutes.

Klapf burst down the left flank involved in a flowing passing movement and his firm low cross was dispatched high beyond the helpless Banks by Mario Muhlbauer, who gained half a yard on Christophe Berra at the near post to do so.

Few would deny that the goal exposed deficiencies caused by the absences of Webster and Pressley, the latter having gone off at half-time with a niggling injury to be replaced by Takis Fyssas. The Greek then clipped a high ball into the area which was headed out by Niklas Hoheneder to the feet of Calum Elliot.

The teenager returned it with pace but not quite enough accuracy as it flew wide of the substitute goalkeeper Michael Zaglmair's right-hand post.

Linz coach Werner Gregoritsch had introduced Mersudin Jukic to the fray and his running from deep at Berra was proving problematical, yet in the closing stages Hearts did appear to revitalise themselves.

Robbie Neilson was cautioned for fouling Harald Ruckendorfer, the culmination of a serious of niggly incidents between the pair in the second half. Then Ruckendorfer created untold trouble for his side with an overhit backpass to Zaglmair. The goalkeeper scuffed his clearance and it fell perfectly for Beslija unmarked on the penalty spot but, as the ball dropped, the Bosnian sent it soaring into the sky.

His chance to atone was not far away, however. Ivanauskas was becoming demonstrative and vocal on the bench as the lack of a commanding presence on the pitch became an unbearable irritation but then came the equaliser on 83 minutes.

Deividas Cesnauskis fed Elliot with an intelligent ball down the left, the striker's cross inadvertently struck the hand of Hoheneder and rebounded back for Elliot to knock the ball into Beslija, three yards from goal, for a backheeled finish.

The Bosnian was blissfully unaware that his first goal for Hearts would be noted for its unorthodox build-up, he was simply elated to have found the net at the beginning of arguably the most critical season of his career.

Jukic's incisive runs were still troubling Berra and Fyssas as the game came to a conclusion, and Vastic executed another swirling free-kick to exercise Banks. Ivanauskas left the stadium aware that a draw probably flattered his side but there was no deceiving anyone who witnessed this match.

Hearts' climb to ascendancy must be swift and effective if the Champions League is to be welcomed with serious belief and enthusiasm in Gorgie.

Hearts (4-4-2): Banks; Neilson, Pressley (Fyssas 46), Berra, Wallace; Mikoliunas (Beslija 46), Barasa (Brellier 46), Aguiar (Cesnauskis 46), Driver; Jankauskas (Makela 46), Elliot.

Taken from the Scotsman

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