London Hearts Supporters Club

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

Hearts' hopes hang by thread

By Phil Gordon
Heart of Midlothian 1 AEK Athens 2
HEART of Midlothian’s world imploded in the space of 120 seconds last night as Champions League success was snatched from them in the cruellest of fashions as AEK Athens scored two dramatic late goals at Murrayfield to turn this third qualifying round contest on its head.

The Edinburgh side seemed certain to take a vital lead to Athens for the second leg on August 23 but as they tried to protect Saulius Mikoliunas’s 65th-minute goal with just ten men after Bruno Aguiar was sent off, Pantelis Kapetanos and Nikolaos Lyberopoulos struck for the polished Greeks.

It required something special to beat Craig Gordon, Hearts’ remarkable goalkeeper, and it came in the 88th minute when Kapetanos restored parity with a header from a cross by Stavros Tziortziopoulos that arced into the roof of the net. However, AEK then rubbed salt into the wound when Lyberopolous’s 30-yard shot took a deflection off Christophe Berra, the Hearts defender, to fly past Gordon.

At this time of year, tourists flood into Edinburgh for the Festival. However, with all due respect to Mel Smith, this was the hottest ticket in town last night. A huge crowd descended upon Murrayfield, including a sprinkling of Greek fans, filled with anticipation in the wake of Hearts’ defeat of Celtic at the weekend.

However, the Bank of Scotland Premierleague runners-up from last season soon had to reassess that optimism. AEK may have finished third in the Greek league, but the arrival of Lorenzo Serra Ferrer as coach from Spain, a man with Barcelona on his CV, has applied some fresh ambition to the club.

Even though they were ten days away from the start of the Greek season, AEK dictated the tempo of the contest and their players had a physical presence that daunted Hearts in the opening half hour. The visitors might have scored after just two minutes had Takis Fyssas, the Hearts left-back, not cleared a dangerous ball into the box from Nikos Lyberopoulos.

From the corner, taken by Julio Cesar, Steven Pressley, the Hearts captain, grazed his own bar with a header. Cesar then threatened, after a clever backheel from Vladimir Ivic, as did Lyberopoulos from long range.

The pressure was fierce and Hearts were rattled. At the core of all their moves was Emerson, once of Middlesbrough and Rangers. The dreadlocked Brazilian looked a lot leaner than his Ibrox days and flourished in the freedom he enjoyed in the 4-1-4-1 system.

Only on two occasions did Hearts reverse the one-way traffic and on both the opportunity fell to Mikoliunas. The midfield player’s fierce shot from the right took a deflection off Bruno Cirillo and bounced off the post. However, when Neil McCann’s adventure saw him pick out Mikoliunas ten minutes the later, he squandered his colleague’s good work.

Otherwise, it was the yellow shirts of AEK who swarmed towards Gordon. The Scotland goalkeeper needed all his vigilance to keep out Cesar’s audacious shot from the left wing before half-time, but had a deflection not taken another Cesar shot over the bar, or the post intervened when Michal Pospisil headed the former Brazil player’s wicked corner against his own post, the Hearts dam would have burst.

“We have been given a football lesson,” Dave McPherson, the former Scotland defender, who was part of the Hearts team that reached the Uefa Cup quarter-finals in 1988, told the Murrayfield crowd when he made the half-time draw.

Hearts tried to atone early in the second half, with Berra glancing a header just wide from Mikoliunas’s corner.
However, the same pattern of AEK pressure soon re-emerged and Lyberopoulos’s threat was nullified by a crucial deflection on his shot.

However, that hunger to score was AEK’s undoing when they succumbed to a counter-attack in the 61st minute that saw Mikoliunas put Hearts in front. The charge was led by Edgaras Jankauskas, who had just come off the bench and the substitute raced down the left before supplying Roman Bednar. The Czech striker’s shot was touched on to the post by Stefano Sorrentino but broke to Mikoliunas, who drilled his finish underneath the AEK goalkeeper.

Murrayfield erupted and for five minutes the raucous celebrations raised the roof on this stadium. However, the mood changed when Aguiar was dismissed for collecting his second caution.

The first had been for a snapping challenge but the second was sheer folly as the midfield player kicked the ball away after conceding a free kick.

Taken from

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