London Hearts Supporters Club

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Valdas Ivanauskas <-auth Stephen Halliday auth-> Chris Foy
[S Whaley 32]
39 of 040 Roman Bednar 14 ;Saulius Mikoliunas 17 F A

Hearts on defensive over Karipidis


HEARTS will pull out of their bid to sign Greek defender Hristos Karipidis if they are unable to conclude a deal with his current club PAOK Salonika ahead of next Monday's transfer deadline for the third qualifying round of the Champions League.

With Andy Webster seemingly bound for a move to the Premiership with Wigan Athletic, Valdas Ivanauskas, the Hearts head coach, had hoped to secure the services of Karipidis before Thursday night's signing deadline for the second qualifying round of the Champions League which sees the Gorgie club face either Bosnian champions Siroki Brijeg or Shakhtyor Soligorsk of Belarus in the first leg at Murrayfield next Wednesday.

While the 23-year-old has passed a medical and agreed personal terms with Hearts, however, it emerged yesterday that the clubs are some distance apart in their valuation of a player who has one year remaining on his contract. PAOK claimed Hearts have offered just 150,000 for Karipidis, which a spokesman branded as "laughable". Ivanauskas countered by insisting PAOK were making unreasonable demands.

"No fee has been agreed," said Ivanauskas. "The Greek club is making it more difficult than necessary at the moment. As usual it is about money. If we cannot sign Karipidis by 24 July, then the deal will be off."

Ivanauskas believes the proposed season-long loan signing of Chilean striker Mauricio Pinilla from Sporting Lisbon will be more straightforward.

"That deal is easier," he said, "but we are just waiting for the results of his medical."

Wigan, meanwhile, are hopeful of signing Webster - against the wishes of Hearts - for a fee of about £250,000. The 24-year-old has invoked a new FIFA ruling that allows players in the third year of a four-year contract to join a club in another country.

A Wigan spokesman said: "Andy Webster is a player we would like to sign, but it's now a case of wait-and-see."

The imminent departure of Webster, the long term injury absence of Jose Goncalves and the uncertain nature of Hearts' bid for Karipidis leave Ivanauskas with little room for manoeuvre in selecting his central defence for one of the most significant assignments in the Gorgie club's history.

The Lithuanian, however, was typically laid-back about the situation yesterday and insists Hearts will cope defensively regardless of whether they are able to secure the services of Karipidis.

"If we do not get that deal done, we have two or three other players for that position," said Ivanauskas who fielded captain Steven Pressley and Scotland under-21 international Christophe Berra in central defence for Saturday's penultimate pre-season friendly at Preston.

Ibrahim Tall, the Senegalese international who finally made his first-team breakthrough at the end of last season, is the only other obvious option for that department of the side and all three are likely to be given match time in the friendly against Spanish side Osasuna tonight.

Hearts predict up to 20,000 fans - the club's highest friendly attendance for more than 40 years - will be at Murrayfield for the attractive game against one of Spain's four participants in the Champions League this season, a figure which would match the officially recorded figure at Tynecastle in 1962 when Torpedo Moscow were crushed 6-0 in a pre-season friendly.

The biggest crowd for a home friendly prior to that was the 29,000 who saw Hearts defeat a Scotland XI 3-2 in 1958 with goals from Alex Young, Johnny Hamilton and Dave Mackay.

The response of the Hearts supporters will encourage the club in the hope a suitably inspiring and perhaps intimidating atmosphere can be generated in the cavernous surroundings of the 67,500-capacity home of Scottish rugby to provide the platform for a successful maiden Champions League campaign.

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