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Could Hartley ride to the rescue?

ROB ROBERTSON August 11 2006

Paul Hartley will play a behind-closed-doors game next Tuesday to see if he is fit enough to play in his side's crucial Champions League qualifier against AEK in Greece.
The midfielder was badly missed in Hearts' 2-1 first-leg defeat at Murrayfield and hopes to return to the fold to help the club make an unlikely comeback.

Success in Greece would see them qualify for the Champions League group stage for the first time. They would receive around £7m through gate receipts and television money. If they lose, Celtic, the other Scottish Champions League participant, will take all the television money available for Scottish clubs, estimated at around £4m.
Hartley does not think the tie is a lost cause but admits it will be difficult to go to Athens on August 23 and win by two clear goals.

The Scotland midfielder has not played this season because of a groin strain. He scored the penalty against Aberdeen at Tynecastle last May which secured European football for Hearts and his creative ability has been badly missed.
In the first leg, Hearts' midfield was poor with nobody
getting into the box the way Hartley does.
Hartley scored 18 goals for the Scottish Cup winners and SPL runners-up last season and his strong running is needed to try and nullify the AEK midfield where Emerson, who was a huge flop at Rangers, got far too much time on the ball.

"I have a bounce game arranged for next Tuesday and if that goes well I will hopefully be available for Athens," said Hartley yesterday. "I am desperate to play in the match but I do not want to come back too early and aggravate my injury and make it worse.
"It has just been frustrating sitting in the stands watching the games at weekends and on big Champions League nights. It is disappointing to miss out on any game but to miss a game of this magnitude and importance in the Champions League makes it especially tough.
"We were disappointed with the result as the boys gave it their all and at 1-0 we created a couple of chances. There are signs of hope and it would have been a great result to go to Greece ahead but it just wasn't to be."

Although Hartley felt the dismissal of Bruno Aguiar after 66 minutes was harsh he admitted that even with 11 men Hearts were often outclassed.
"AEK are a quality team who created numerous opportunities," said Hartley. "They played very well but if it was 11 players against 11 then there is every chance Hearts would have held on and recorded a 1-0 victory."
Hartley still believes they can pull off a shock in the return leg. "We know we have to go there and work hard and we will need a bit of luck on the night," he said. "We still have a chance, of course we do. Hearts are now the massive underdogs for this match so there is no pressure.

"It is going to be hot and hostile and we know that AEK are a good passing team and it will be difficult to get the ball back off them but we have to believe we can do it."
Club captain Steven Pressley admitted having Hartley back would at least give them a chance of pulling off a major shock.
"Paul is on the road to recovery, there is a chance that he might make the return leg and if he does it will be a boost," said Pressley. "AEK are a very good side both technically and physically.

"I think you have to give them credit as they started in a very positive manner and put us on the back foot. Unfortunately the sending-off changed the game and gave them the advantage but we have to remain positive."

AEK beat Rangers in the Champions League qualifiers in 1994 and Hibs in the UEFA Cup in 2001 and despite Hartley and Pressley's upbeat talk they still remain hot favourites to make it a hat trick of European wins over Scottish sides.

Roman Bednar, the Hearts striker, has been called up to the Czech Republic squad for next week's friendly against Serbia.

Taken from the Herald

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