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Paulo Sergio <-auth hugh macdonald auth-> Iain Brines
[G Wardlaw 63]
8 of 009 Scott Robinson 49LC A

Hearts blown off course on wet Wednesday in Ayrshire

hugh macdonald

22 Sep 2011


THIS was the evening when a refined Portuguese gentleman met an enduring Scottish cliche. And felt its full, withering, icy blast.

The oft-quoted maxim of how a sophisticate would perform on a wet Wednesday night at Brockville/Broomfield/Somerset Park (delete where applicable) was answered dramatically at the home of Ayr United. Paulo Sergio, late of Sporting Lisbon and an advocate of the beautiful game, was introduced to the realities of Scottish football on an ugly night in Ayrshire.

His Hearts side were swept out of the Scottish Communities League Cup on a night of gusting winds and driving rain by a first division side that matched their betters in technique and spirit and bettered them in a penalty shoot-out after two hours of even football.

Kevin Cuthbert’s saves from Danny Grainger and Rudi Skacel were complemented by successful strikes from the penalty spot from Michael Moffat, James McKernon, Alan Trouten and Mark Roberts.

If Sergio wondered what Scottish cup-tie football was like in all its raw power, well, he kens noo. He was also nursing a grievance after an Eggert Jonsson effort that would have given his side a 2-0 lead was ruled out for handball by Iain Brines after consultation with his assistant, Tom Murphy.

“We scored a clear goal that did not count,” said the Hearts manager. “I can’t accept that and a can not accept that a clear penalty when Ryan McGowan was brought down was not given. That puts us out of the cup.”

Ayr, though, did not rely on fortune to make progress in the competition. They were organised, disciplined and played with a passion. Hearts were deeply and consistently disappointing.

They took the lead through Scott Robinson but could not capitalise on their advantage. Ayr, who seemed to grow as the weather worsened, equalised through the excellent Gareth Wardlaw and never took a step back.

Cuthbert will be feted as the hero but this was a team performance to be admired. They blunted the power of a Hearts side that included eight changes from the weekend win over St Mirren.

This was a gamble from Sergio that backfired. He stuck, too, to an enterprising 4-3-3 despite facing a side that has already despatched an Clydesdale Bank Premier League team in the shape of Inverness Caledonian Thistle from the tournament.

The task for both teams was made tricky by a wind that, if harnessed, would have met the energy needs of the western seaboard. The challenge for Hearts, though, should have been made easier by the pristine, slick playing surface that was of such a verdant hue that Tom Jones should have serenaded it.

This green, green grass of home should have been no advantage to Ayr United as it allowed Hearts to play their passing game on a consistent surface. Instead, Sergio’s side forgiveably went for the long-ball game in the gale. Ultimately, they were blown away by the grit of Ayr.

Hearts, almost pushed forward by the following wind in the first half, made two excellent early chances with Arvydas Novikovas bursting through on the left wing but seeing his cutback slithering across the goal without a taker and John Sutton watching Cuthbert make an excellent save from his downward header.

This seemed an intimation that Ayr, bottom of the first division, were about to sink but, like a plucky tug, they battened down into the wind and powered toward the Hearts goal. Their early attempts at retaliation spoke of hope rather than a genuine threat but their efforts ensured parity at half-time.

Hearts made the significant break soon after when Robinson drilled in a shot from the edge of the area after a corner was partially cleared. The lead seemed to have been doubled with a spot of head tennis ended with the ball in the net but hawk eye, in the shape of assistant referee Murphy, ruled that Jonsson had used his arm and the Hearts player was booked.

Almost immediately, Wardlaw equalised. Marius Zaliukas slipped when in possession and the big striker burst through to finish crisply past Janos Balogh.

The goal had a predictably galvanising effect on the top flight side. Skacel, awakening from a slumber that would have satisfied Rumpelstiltskin, played in David Templeton but Cuthbert saved well. The goalkeeper made an even better save from a close-in shot from Novikovas.

The game drifted into extra-time and there was a strong Hearts shout for a penalty when McGowan went down in the penalty box under a challenge by Chris Smith. It was denied and the roars of triumph were ultimately to come from Ayrshire throats.

Ayr win 4-1 on penalties after extra time.

Taken from the Herald

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