London Hearts Supporters Club

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Valdas Ivanauskas <-auth Stuart Bathgate auth-> Nicolai Vollquartz
Aguiar Bruno [P Kapetanos 88] ;[N Liberopoulos 93]
19 of 066 Saulius Mikoliunas 61 E H

'For club, city and Scotland' is Ivanauskas's rallying call


HEARTS' bid to reach the group stages of the Champions League for the first time deserves the backing of the whole of Edinburgh, according to Valdas Ivanauskas. A crowd of around 35,000 is expected for tonight's first leg of the third qualifying round tie against AEK Athens, and the coach called for the neutrals who attend to get behind the team as much as the hardcore fans will do.

"I don't doubt that every Hearts supporter will be there," Ivanauskas said before he took a squad training session at the rugby ground. "But this is probably a game for more than the Hearts supporters. It's a game for Edinburgh as a city - and for Scotland."

With Tynecastle's capacity being 17,500, and the second-round game with Siroki Brijeg attracting more than 28,000, there are clearly a lot of people who are willing to turn up at Murrayfield for big matches but do not or cannot attend run-of-the-mill games. Tonight's attendance may be short of the club's European record - 37,500 against Standard Liege back in 1958 - but there is an upward trend of interest in Hearts, as there has to be if owner Vladimir Romanov's project is to be successful.

Part of that project is the branding of the club as "The Heart and soul of Edinburgh", identifying it explicitly as the capital's team. Ivanauskas's words might be greeted with disdain by Hibs supporters, but they do show his awareness of the bigger picture, and the attempt by his employer to attract the backing of more individuals and businesses alike.

Yet, while he will personally feel encouraged by a big attendance tonight, Ivanauskas added that the evening would be less about the number passing through the turnstiles than it would be about the atmosphere generated inside the stadium, which has a capacity of 67,500 and is therefore likely to be no more than half full.

"Of course it will feel good [to have a big crowd], but more important is how it is going to be for the players," he insisted. "They are the ones who really need that support. They feel that support very strongly, and we need it for this game more than on any other occasion."

He added, however, that those fans will need to exercise patience tonight, and not expect a gung-ho performance from Hearts.

"I understand they want powerful football, but this is a big game, and the fans must be ready for a different style. They must be patient.

"We have fantastic fans. They are different from the Athens fans. They have a deep understanding of football, and an emotional understanding." Making that last comparison after being asked if the Hearts support could be as hostile to their visitors as the Athenians have a reputation of being, Ivanauskas was not so much disparaging the AEK support as stating an obvious fact: the temperaments of football crowds vary throughout Europe, and it would be unrealistic to expect the Hearts crowd, however vociferous, to be as demonstrative as AEK's support have shown they can be.

Of course, teams can lift crowds as well as vice versa, and the prospects of this happening this evening appear good. Hearts are in far better fettle for this match than had seemed likely just a few days ago.

Their drab 0-0 draw in Bosnia-Herzegovina drew the suggestion from Romanov that their performance had been substandard and they might not have prepared properly for the new season.

Many of those who had seen the 3-0 win in the first leg and the 2-1 league victory over Dunfermline agreed with the businessman that, while they were getting the results, Hearts were playing with nothing like the panache they displayed at the same stage of last season.

The obvious reason for that was the absence through injury of Paul Hartley, the loss of the midfield playmaker leading to a disjointed look throughout the team. Against Celtic, however, Bruno Aguiar had his best performance yet as Hartley's stand-in, and as a result Hearts looked far more coherent.

That 2-1 win against the champions, Ivanauskas claimed, confounded those unspecified critics who had cast doubt on the team's ability to emulate last season's form.

"The win against Celtic was very important, especially after a not very satisfying result in Bosnia," he said. "We've shown to all the experts that we're good, that we're big. Positive criticism is always welcome and good, but those who have been negative do not have the necessary insight. Only me and my coaching staff have that."

Taken from the Scotsman

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