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<-Page <-Team Wed 21 Sep 2011 Ayr United 1 Hearts 1 Team-> Page->
<-Srce <-Type Scotsman ------ Report Type-> Srce->
Paulo Sergio <-auth Stuart Bathgate auth-> Iain Brines
[G Wardlaw 63]
4 of 009 Scott Robinson 49LC A

Roberts the hero for Ayr as Hearts pay the penalty

By Stuart Bathgate
at Somerset Park
THE battle between Ayr United and Hearts for a place in today's quarter-final draw of the Scottish Communities League Cup went the distance last night with the teams locked at a goal apiece after 90 minutes and after extra time.
Having taken the lead shortly after the restart, Hearts then had what looked a perfectly good second goal chalked off. Ayr equalised within minutes of that escape, and deservedly took the game into extra time. Ryan McGowan had a penalty claim in the final minute of an otherwise uneventful first period of extra time, and Hearts had the better of the second, but they could not conjure up a winner.

Mark Roberts then held his nerve in the penalty shoot-out to seal a memorable win after Rudi Skacel and Danny Grainger had missed for the visitors.

Hearts manager Paulo Sergio made eight changes to the team which started the weekend win against St Mirren but without unduly weakening the line-up.

Grainger, Marius Zaliukas and Eggert Jonsson were the three who kept their places, while most of those brought in, such as Skacel and Scott Robinson, had already featured in a number of games this season. The only two who could be considered genuine outsiders were goalkeeper Janos Balogh, given a rare outing ahead of Jamie MacDonald, and Darren Barr, who played alongside Zaliukas at centre-half.

Ayr boss Brian Reid made just the three changes to the team which had lost 4-0 at Partick four days earlier, but the alteration which caused most discussion among the home support was the omission of their former player Ryan Stevenson from the Hearts line-up. One of the best United players of recent years - and one of Hearts' best perfomers so far this season - Stevenson had been keen to play at his old home, but his being rested showed there was no room for sentiment in Sergio's selection.

The Portuguese manager has become known for the thorough nature of his preparation, and the professionalism of his approach was evident in the way in which Hearts took the game to their First Division opponents. Ayr barely got out of their own half in the opening ten minutes, although it was only at the end of that spell that Hearts created a scoring chance - a header by John Sutton from a McGowan cross which Kevin Cuthbert saved well with a dive to his left.

Ayr then came into the game more. Alan Trouten and Michael Moffat combined well down the left after Barr was caught out of position and, although the move came to nothing, it visibly gave them more self-belief.

Then Gareth Wardlaw met a floated cross with a looping header which drifted just high of Balogh's goal, landing on the top netting.

On a blustery night, Hearts were unable to play the passing game preferred by Sergio with quite the composure they have shown in recent league games. Once Robinson began to drop deeper to pick up possession they began to string better moves together, but they still struggled to break down a well-drilled defence. Towards half-time Jonsson tried to catch Cuthbert unawares with a curled shot from more than 30 yards out, but the effort lacked the accuracy to trouble the goalkeeper.

Hearts finished the half on top, but it was clear they would have to alter their play in some way after the break if they were to translate their dominance into goals. Although they were playing with a five-man midfield, they lacked a physical presence in the central area. The dynamism of Stevenson was missed, as Skacel continued to look short of match sharpness.

Neither manager made a change in personnel at half-time, but Hearts did up the tempo as they went in search of the breakthrough. It came within three minutes following a corner from the right, with Grainger's place-kick headed out only as far as Robinson, whose low shot found the net from 12 yards out.

Ayr, deciding they had nothing to lose, continued to play with some adventure. Wardlaw had already tried to make use of the tricky wind with a shot from halfway just before the Hearts goal, and it was apparent that high balls could be problematic for the goalkeepers.

Cuthbert found that out just after the hour, when after a melee in the box Jonsson nudged the ball into the net from only a yard or two out, having apparently used his shoulder or back to make contact. Referee Ian Brines signalled the goal, but his far-side assistant intervened, and after a discussion between the two officials the goal was chalked off and the Icelander was booked, seemingly for having handled the ball.

A second goal at that stage would have spelled the end of the contest, but instead, within a minute, Ayr were level. Midway inside his own half, Zaliukas slipped as he stretched to get to a header to him, allowing Wardlaw to steal possession away from him. The striker still had a lot to do, but he did it with supreme confidence, bearing down on Balogh then stroking the ball past the helpless goalkeeper.

A game which had been poor fare in the first save burst into life after that equaliser as both teams searched for a winner. Ayr came closer to grabbing it in normal time direct from a teasing corner, but Balogh was able to scramble across his goal and clear it.

Ayr United: Cuthbert, Tiffoney, Malone, C Smith, J Robertson (R Robertson 54), Geggan, M McGowan, McKernon, Wardlaw (Roberts 94), Trouten, Moffat.
Subs not used: McWilliams, Connolly, Burke.

Hearts: Balogh, McGowan, Barr, Zaliukas, Grainger, Jonsson, Robinson, Skacel, Templeton (Taouil 76), Novikovas (Driver 104), Sutton (G Smith 83).
Subs not used: MacDonald, Mrowiec.

Referee: I Brines
Attendance: 2,517

Taken from the Scotsman

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