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Nipper sure Sparta will be driven in Toyota


FORMER Hearts star Alan Lawrence has warned the current crop of players they will face a "Tynecastle-like" cauldron when they try to overturn a two goal deficit away to Sparta Prague this week.

Lawrence has first hand experience of the Toyota Arena having been part of the Airdrie squad that travelled there in the Cup Winners' Cup in season 1992/93.

Back then, the ground was known as the Letna Stadium, it having only recently changed its name after a financial investment in the club by car manufacturers Toyota.

But while the title may have changed, little else has, and Lawrence believes the venue, which, he says, bears a resemblance to Tynecastle, will make an already formidable task all the tougher.

"I'd never played at that level before so to be there and be part of it was fantastic. I loved it," said Lawrence.

"The crowd were right on top of you and in many ways the ground was quite Tynecastle-like. I don't mean in the design of it but in the fact that the crowd were so close to the pitch and they created a great atmosphere.

"It was really noisy even though the ground was only half full and it was exactly the sort of ground players like playing at.

"We didn't have a great support over there but back then it wasn't as easy as it is today to get to places like that. It was quite an intimidating atmosphere.

"But the whole night was really something special and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Although we went out over the two legs we by no means disgraced ourselves."

Like Hearts, Airdrie went into the away leg having lost in Scotland, the Diamonds going down 1-0 at Broomfield.

Alex McDonald's men, who'd qualified for the competition after finishing as runners-up in the Scottish Cup the season before, put up a brave display in the Czech capital but lost 2-1.

However, the evening could have turned out so differently for Airdrie against a Sparta team containing the likes of Pavel Nedved had Jimmy Boyle not missed a penalty that would have given his side a fighting chance.

In the end another former Jambo, Kenny Black, grabbed a consolation goal with a stunning 22-yard free-kick although it proved to be too little, too late.

And Lawrence believes Hearts will need more than their fair share of luck if they are to avoid a similar fate and make the UEFA Cup group stages.

"What Hearts achieved last season was great but they don't seem to have the same strength and depth this season and, if I'm being honest, I think they'll struggle over there," he said.

"When we went there the surface was great and at that time they had some really top drawer players including a young Pavel Nedved.

"That certainly stumps a few people when I'm asked who the best player I've ever played against is and I say him. I can tell they're thinking 'how the hell did you play against him!' Sparta probably don't have the same quality of player they did back then but they are still a very decent side and Hearts will have to be at the very top of their game.

"If they can get an early goal you never know what can happen but I don't think many people fancy them to do it.

"At Murrayfield it looks like the rain may have been a bit of a leveller and by all accounts that stopped Sparta playing a bit.

"Over there it should be better conditions and if they can get in their stride Hearts could find it very difficult. "I hope I'm wrong, however, and I'd love to see Hearts turn the tie around."

Taken from the Scotsman

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