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

Hearts cling to false hope ahead of AEK return

By Roddy Forsyth
(Filed: 11/08/2006)

Your View: Football fans' forum

Hearts can and may yet go through to the group stage of the Champions League but one doubts that the club's owner, Vladimir Romanov, would bet many roubles on their overturning the 2-1 lead held by AEK Athens when the teams meet again in the Greek capital in two weeks.

Romanov has made grandiose predictions in recent months about Hearts' ability to prosper in Europe's premier club competition but the hard reality of what it takes was demonstrated vividly at Murrayfield throughout Wednesday's third-round qualifier.

It would have been a brave soul who suggested to Steven Pressley that Hearts came close to being swamped by AEK, especially since he and his team-mates could not be accused of lacking spirit in a tough fight.

Pressley, as befits a captain, chose to concentrate on the possibility that Hearts might have won decisively had Saulius Mikoliunas, who put the Tynecastle side ahead on the night, scored again with another gilt-edged chance that fell his way soon after.

Similarly, Mikoliunas hit a post in the first half with a deflected drive very similar to that of Nikolaos Lymperoupoulos in the dying seconds, except that the Greek's effort went in.

And had Hearts taken a 2-0 lead they might well have found themselves in a very encouraging position for the return.

However, even that is debatable considering the consistency of AEK's play and the shot count of 32-8 in their favour - a powerful testimony to the strength of a team playing their first competitive game of the season.

The absences of the injured Paul Hartley and the virus-ridden pair of Julien Brellier and Deividas Cesnauskas hindered Hearts' cause and if all are fit for the second leg, Valdas Ivanauskas is entitled to nourish a little hope.

Nevertheless, Hearts' resources - especially in midfield - are not as strong as the numerical strength of the squad might suggest.

Moreover, since George Burley's departure last year, it seems as though Romanov values coaches who are biddable and cheap rather than experienced and shrewd, like Llorenc Serra Ferrer of AEK.

Ivanauskas was outfoxed in the later stages of the Scottish Cup final by Gretna's Rowan Alexander and it almost cost Hearts the trophy.

Aside from a short spell midway through the second half, Ferrer's tactics prevailed at Murrayfield - and it's odds-on for a repeat in Athens.

Taken from

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