London Hearts Supporters Club

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Valdas Ivanauskas <-auth Barry Anderson auth-> Eddie Smith
4 of 004 Andrius Velicka 16 ;Andrius Velicka 43 ;Roman Bednar 79 ;Andrius Velicka 91 SC A

Velicka trick lets Hearts cruise

Stranraer 0
Hearts 4

SURROUNDED by a children's play area and overlooked by a bandstand, Stair Park was one of the humblest settings for Hearts to begin their Scottish Cup defence. Nonetheless, an efficient if unspectacular performance propelled the holders into the fourth round to confront Dunfermline at East End Park, where the Pars yesterday humbled Rangers.

A welcome bonus from a professional display was witnessing the undoubted class of Andrius Velicka as the most potent striker at Tynecastle. He collected a hat-trick of goals, leaving the Stranraer management team of Gerry Britton and Derek Ferguson, the former Hearts midfielder, to rue the gap in class between the Second Division and the SPL.

It was a day for Valdas Ivanauskas and his players to retain their nerve, which they did with minimum fuss to facilitate a comfortable passage. Stranraer offered sufficient resistance at times in the game and opted for a bustling approach to try to unsettle their more illustrious visitors, but combating Velicka in this form is virtually impossible.

The Lithuanian's three-goal plundering was the most notable factor from the afternoon, however Ivanauskas derived his greatest satisfaction from Roman Bednar's strike.

"For me, Roman's goal was more important because he had not scored for a very long time," said the Lithuanian. "A striker's bread is scoring goals, so this will help him." Bednar last bulged a goal net as far back as August in the league victory over Celtic at Tynecastle.

"I was pleased to get a goal," smiled the Czech striker. "I haven't scored since coming back from injury so it's great for me. I think we have more than two good strikers so I am glad for Andrius, for myself and for the team that we won. It is important we did what we wanted. The last few months have been a very bad time for me with injuries. When I am injured I am unhappy all the time because I want to play football.

"I needed a game like this and I needed to score. Hopefully I can now keep my fitness.

"I haven't scored since the second league game against Celtic, which is never nice for a striker to go so long without a goal. I think everybody sees that I do more work than just score goals. People call me a striker but I want to help the team with my work rate and passing. If I score one goal every two or three games I will be happy.

"I was over at the supporters five or six times during my warm-up and they were chanting my name. The goal is for them. I want to play against Celtic now [on Sunday] because my fitness is getting better as is my sharpness."

Bednar took the unusual step of handing his Hearts shirt to a member of the travelling support at full-time, for keeping his word is evidently as important to him as scoring goals.

He explained: "I know it's not professional but one guy wanted a picture with me during the warm-up, so I did it. Then I had to warm up but I promised another fan I would give him my shirt after the game. Everybody in the team was professional, there wasn't anyone who could be accused of trying to hold their fitness for the Celtic match. I think we are playing nicer football now, we create more chances and I can't remember the last time we lost. I was only on for 30 minutes and I had two chances."

Injuries prompted a Hearts starting berth for the rarely-seen Greek Christos Karipidis, who deputised for Marius Zaliukas in the centre of defence alongside Christophe Berra. Ivanauskas arrived in the south west on Friday evening carrying with him an extensive list of injured absentees, but this didn't prevent Hearts naming a strong side of first-team squad regulars. On paper, they were always likely to overpower Stranraer.

A healthy and vociferous Edinburgh support was in place to acclaim their side as "the best pub team in the land" prior to kick-off, and little over 16 minutes later their faith was justified by Velicka's classy opener.

Bruno Aguiar's loping pass from central midfield invited the Lithuanian to sprint between Stranraer centre-backs Scott Wilson and Lee Sharp before calmly lofting the ball over the stranded Scott Black in goal from 16 yards range. The cushion injected Hearts with a composure usually necessary for a hazardous cup assignment at the home of a lower division side, and the holders remained untroubled until the 38th minute when Craig Gordon failed to catch a looping Willie Snowdon free-kick from the right. The resultant bouncing ball was cleared, but seconds later David Hamilton forced Gordon down low to his right to catch a shot executed on the turn.

A side issue to this contest was the fascinating dual developing between Michael Moore, the Stranraer captain, and Robbie Neilson. Under instruction from Britton and his cohort in the dug-out Ferguson, the hosts frequently utilised Moore as a primary attacking outlet in the opening period as high ball after high ball rained down on Neilson and, to a lesser extent, Karipidis. Given the obvious height disadvantage, Neilson coped well under the often brutal force of Moore. And after Velicka extended Hearts' lead there was little doubt as to the final outcome of this cup tie.

Andy Driver's 42nd-minute corner was glanced on by the head of Michal Pospisil at the near post and deflected high into the net by Velicka's left instep inside the six-yard box. All over bar the second half. McCann and Aguiar often looked an uncomfortable central midfield pairing having been thrust together by Ivanauskas because of Paul Hartley's suspension and Julien Brellier's injury. Evidence of this continued after the interval as the winger in particular toiled amongst a congested midfield and conceded possession unnecessarily.

Ivanauskas was seen several times animatedly explaining to both Aguiar and McCann that when one central midfielder ventures forward the other must sit and maintain a shape for the benefit of the team.

By contrast, Stranraer's Stevie Aitken excelled in a midfield
holding role opposite the Hearts pairing, but he was rendered helpless as the visitors manufactured their third goal through another defence-splitting delivery. Velicka's pivot and pass midway inside his opponents' half released substitute Bednar for an exemplary right-footed finish.

Driver should have dispatched a fourth seconds later, and Saulius Mikoliunas unleashed a raking drive from 20 yards which thundered off Black's left upright.

However, it was left to Velicka to conclude the process he started. With merely seconds remaining, the Lithuanian accepted Aguiar's pass and completed an emphatic hat-trick with a measured clip of the ball past Black at the near post.

Sterner tests in more intimidating venues will undoubtedly await Hearts in later rounds of this tournament, but scoring three goals and making one might suggest Velicka has a particular aptitude for the Scottish Cup.

Taken from the Scotsman

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