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<-Srce <-Type Scotsman ------ Report Type-> Srce->
John Robertson <-auth Moira Gordon auth-> Levan Paniashvili
[D Rosa 30]
21 of 025 ----- E H

Hungry Hearts could use a few more wise men


THE Hearts celebrations which had been controversially curbed by Anatoliy Byschovets in Basel were conspicuous by their absence on Thursday night, instead there was a grating realisation that they had again been out-manoeuvred in Europe.

Not necessarily out-played but out-manoeuvred definitely. Against the likes of Feyenoord they had simply found themselves up against a side of superior quality, technically gifted players who were more clinical. But it was the fact that Ferencvaros were more cynical which saw the Hungarians leave Murrayfield with the points and cut Hearts deeper.

It was just another crucial lesson to be learned by a Hearts team now intent on victory over Livingston this afternoon in a bid to bolster their bid for another third-place finish and a further stab at European football next term.

"I think everybody thought in the first 20 minutes that there were goals to get in the game," said midfielder Michael Stewart, "but, unfortunately at the end of the game that’s not been the case and we’ve been beaten 1-0 so it is a bitterly disappointing result and the only saving grace is that Basel won 1-0 and it wouldn’t have mattered what our result had been."

At the outset of the group stages, the general perception was that six points would be enough to see Hearts progress. In the end they would have needed seven and, regardless the showing in Basel, or the dogged periods of superiority against both Schalke and Ferencvaros, managing to muster a meagre two goals from four games was never likely to be enough to translate into the necessary points haul.

On Thursday night, despite an impressive start which harvested one disallowed goal and a couple of other openings, primarily for the likes of Paul Hartley rushing in from deep, they were again caught with their pants down. And from the minute the Hungarians took the lead, the Edinburgh club’s European naivety was always going to prove as big a hurdle as their impotence in front of goal.

"It’s very difficult when a team like that gets a goal up because they’ll try to disrupt it and you’re just hoping that the referee will be strong and realise these things but, unfortunately, the referee was very pernickity and he allowed the game to get stopped," says Stewart, who has seen it all before while at Manchester United and insisted even the Old Trafford players found it difficult to combat such tactics. "When you’re on the other side of that there’s not much you can do about it. It’s very difficult because it’s not as if you are thundering into tackles, they’re reacting to nothing really. You’ve just got to look to the referee at times to help you out and unfortunately he allowed the game to be dragged down to free-kick, after free-kick, after free-kick."

But, against continental sides, Stewart accepts that can be part and parcel of life, whether it’s appreciated or not. "They had a game plan to slow the game down and disrupt and break it up and unless the referee is strong and can see that, there’s very little you can do about it. Every situation has a different policy and I’m sure that if they are pushing for victories and were in the ascendency, they would want a free-flowing game themselves and I’m not talking specifically about just Ferencvaros, I’m talking in general about European teams. I don’t know, I think it’s just their natural game. If you go and watch games in European leagues there’s lots of stop-start play, a lot of free kicks and the level of play is a lot slower but it is the British mentality that the game is a lot faster here and you want to keep it going."

Lessons have been learned but while tweaks will be made for next season should they do enough domestically to return to the European stage, Stewart, for one, won’t feel comfortable if Hearts have to start playing the continental sides at their own game.

"It would be like taking someone out their own habitat. The British game is that you don’t roll around or dive about so it’s very difficult to suddenly incorporate that into your own game, just like, I’m sure, it would be if you were to bring foreigners here and tell them to stand on their own two feet.

"At the end of the day they are clearly not a bad side but, in terms of gamesmanship, I’m not a great fan of it so I really wouldn’t want to see it creeping into the game over here. The technical side of things, of course, you want to look to improve that."

Now the focus is the Premierleague and the domestic cup competitions, with the bread and butter aspect of the league again taking priority. Stewart, who joined Hearts on loan from Old Trafford in the summer and is enjoying a new lease of life under John Roberston after struggling to convince Craig Levein he merited a starting berth, would like to believe that the European run has had no bearing on the inconsistent nature of results thus far, but concedes that, perhaps, subconsciously, energies have been diverted elsewhere.

"But now we’ve only got the one thing to concentrate on and hopefully we can push to get the third place back. These games are now vitally important. Everybody in the changing room loved the experience of the UEFA Cup and the only way we can get that next year is by finishing third again in the league, or maybe fourth this season, and we have to concentrate all our energies in getting higher up the table so that next season the club can be there again.

"As difficult as this is, we’ve got to draw a line under it. It’s finished, done with, and we’ve got to look towards the league fixtures and make sure we pick up points."

They have allowed the likes of Aberdeen and Hibernian to steal a march on them but with so many players out of contract and trying to impress either Hearts or other possible buyers, they have plenty of incentives. The biggest being another shot at Europe next term in a bid to prove they are wiser thanks to this year’s adventure.

Taken from the Scotsman

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