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Valdas Ivanauskas <-auth Gary Ralston auth-> Peter Sippel
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UEFA CUP CRUNCH... It's agony for Tynecastle men as they fail to find a way past Czechs
By Gary Ralston In Prague


Agg: 2-0

VLADIMIR ROMANOV reckons he owns the best-fed crops in Scotland but he won't be harvesting a Euro bounty this season.

The Lithuanian moneyman reaped what he sowed against Sparta Prague last night for his failure to plough sufficient investment into his squad over the summer.

The Jambos bowed meekly out of the UEFA Cup little more than a month after their Champions League dreams turned to dust.

Nine months of sweat and toil last season amounted to nothing as the Jambos failed to halt a depressing run for Scots clubs in European ties.


Our teams have now failed on 34 out of 34 occasions to overturn a first-leg home defeat and Hearts never looked liked causing a shock in the Czech Republic.

They put pressure on Sparta for 10 minutes either side of half-time and Roman Bednar fired a late volley over the bar.

But they were second best in every other department and now only have domestic goals to chase between now and the end of the season.

Good King Wenceslas last looked out on the feast of Steven, which was a huge pity.

For if he had popped his head out the window in his home town before the game he would have found a good-natured maroon platoon of around 3500 fans having the time of their lives.

They added a splash of colour around the main square of the old town and even though police confiscated the ball they were kicking high into the sky to a chorus of pantomime boos, they were perfect ambassadors for Scotland.

In a depressing nod to the creeping corporate influence in eastern Europe, the Letna Stadium has been renamed the Toyota Arena but it was a Rolls Royce performance the Jambos needed if they were to advance to the group stages.

Cheeky locals draped a Hibs flag over the advertising boards on the far side of the stadium but top marks were reserved for the Hearts fans who unfurled a banner reading: "This flag is on loan from Kaunas."

Eyebrows were raised when the Hearts team sheet showed Roman Bednar relegated to the bench, a strange decision as the Czech striker would surely have revelled in the responsibility of playing in front of his countrymen.

His place was taken by Jamie Mole, while Julien Brellier - minus his diamond earrings - and long-throw expert Robbie Neilson were recalled to the starting line-up in place of cup-tied Marius Zaliukas and Ibrahim Tall, as Deividas Cesnauskis stepped in for suspended Neil McCann.

Sparta Prague were unchanged from the side that won the first leg on a night in which Steven Pressley equalled Henry Smith's record of 22 European appearances for the Jambos.

Hearts were already facing an enormous task to qualify for the group stage but Sparta nearly killed the tie dead after only six minutes.

A corner from the left dropped to Tomas Repka and although his shot from 14 yards was going wide Zdenek Pospech deflected it towards the far post where Paul Hartley was placed on the line to knock it clear.

Minutes later Karel Kisel fed Jan Simak and the midfielder let rip with a shot from 25 yards that flew inches past Craig Gordon's left-hand post.

Hearts had wondered before the game how Sparta would approach the tie but they suddenly had their answer as the aggressive Czechs again came close to taking a 3-0 aggregate lead.

This time Kisel fed Daniel Kolar, who opened the scoring in the first leg, and he almost did it again with a shot from the edge of the box but Lee Wallace stuck out a leg and deflected his effort on to the bar before Hartley again scrambled it clear.

Hearts desperately needed to get their foot on the ball and boss the midfield but it was the maroon shirts of Sparta who were dominating the action.

Playmaker Simak came close with a waist-height free-kick from 25 yards but Gordon was happy to fist clear as it dipped and swerved towards goal. The Czech international came close again moments later with a low shot deflected into the side net by Neilson.

Pressley may have been voted one of the best-dressed men in Scotland at the weekend but he was forced to model the Rab C Nesbitt look early on as medics wrapped a bandage around his head to stem the blood seeping from a cut behind his right ear after aclash with Libor Dosek.

However, Hearts were still as easy on the eye as Mary Doll and they should really have fallen a goal behind on the half hour as another Simak delivery from a corner dropped at the back post to Tomas Sivok but he nodded wide with no one near him.

There was little in their performance from which Hearts could take encouragement, bar the failure of Sparta to grab the goal their play so merited.

Mind you, the Jambos scorned a good opportunity to win a penalty when Jaromir Blazek came flailing out to deal with a high ball and appeared to catch Mole but the Geordie youngster didn't go down and the chance was gone.

Hearts drew inspiration from that rare moment of unease in the home rearguard and seven minutes before the break a diagonal cross from Neilson found Cesnauskis ghosting in at the back post on the left, but he blazed his volley over from 16 yards.

Cesnauskis almost opened the scoring again a minute from half-time when a Hartley free-kick was knocked out to the edge of the area but his clever side-footed effort narrowly slipped past the post.

The second half had no sooner kicked off when Hearts almost snatched the lead as they continued the pressure play they had shown leading up to the interval.

Hartley nodded Pinilla clear of the flat Sparta back line and although Jiri Homola made a last-gasp tackle and the ball broke to supporting striker Mole, Blazek stood tall to turn his effort round the post from 16 yards.

Pinilla and Mole were suddenly looking lively and they combined to set up Saulius Mikoliunas to knock an effort narrowly wide from 20 yards.

Hearts sniffed blood and Bednar was introduced in place of Mole as Dosek and Repka picked up bookings and Sparta looked rattled for the first time in the match.

Sparta made a change of their own and it was enough to send a shiver down the spine of the visitors as Simak came off to be replaced by Miroslav Matusovic, who scored the killer second at Murrayfield a fortnight ago.

Hearts replaced Neilson with Tall but Sparta had weathered the earlier storm and regained control of the match against a Hearts side that was sitting too deep to allow them any sustained pressure in the opposition half.

Sparta had a few snap shots at goal which hardly troubled Gordon but Blazek was equally redundant as Hearts failed to trouble the Sparta rearguard.

Towering striker Dosek was next to be replaced, coming off for Swiss international Mauro Lustrinelli, and even the raucous Jambos support dropped the volume as they sensed the end was nigh.


Compiled By Gordon Parks

Craig Gordon 8

Watched helplessly as Kolar smacked the bar then pushed away Simak's piledriver minutes later. Coped well with an avalanche of corners. Another calm and inspirational display.

Robbie Neilson 6

Recalled to his usual defensive role and started with impressive composure but foolishly brought down Sivok at the edge of the box to allow the Czechs a shooting chance.

Steven Pressley 6

Literally spilled blood as he earned a place in the club's history books with 22nd European appearance. Allowed Sivok free header which was sent wide but otherwise stood firm.

Christophe Berra 7

Handed task of shackling dangerman Dosek and passed with flying colours. Dominant in the air and solid in the tackle.

Lee Wallace 6

Handled the big-time occasion with the minimum fuss. Had the confidence to try and break the dead lock from 35 yards and stuck to his task of keeping Simak quiet.

Saulius Mikoliunas 6

Always looking to provide a creative spark. Squandered good chance just before the break by smashing his shot over from 12 yards.

Julien Brellier 5

Matched up against Sylvestre and was dominated in midfield battle. First man booked for clattering Kisel and walked a knife-edge for rest of the game.

Paul Hartley 6

Saved his side from conceding early by hooking Pospech's sixth-minute header off the line. Tried to drive forward but earned little reward for his effort.

Deividas Cesnauskis 6

Offered width on the right but pressed back for long spells by menace of Kolar. Worked hard and showed great ability on the ball.

Jamie Mole 6

Shock inclusion at the expense of Bednar worked himself to a standstill. Energised attack with desire to chase lost causes but wasted game's best chance in the 50th minute.

Mauricio Pinilla 6

Had an early header easily held by Blazek. Attempted to link up with strike partner Mole at every opportunity but lacked cutting edge.


Roman Bednar 4

Joined the fray in the 56th minute, replacing Mole, but despite bursting a gut he was given little chance to shine.

Ibrahim Tall 5

Surprise exclusion from the starting 11 settled into a steady display after replacing Neilson with half an hour left.

Bruno Aguiar 2

Given last seven minutes for Pinilla.

Not used: Banks, Beslija, Makela, Lithgow.

Sparta Prague - Blazek, Pospech, Repka, Homola, Kadlec, Kisel, Ludovic, Sivok, Kolar (Jun 86), Simak (Matuso-vic 64), Dosek (Lustrinelli 74). Not Used: Grigar, Hasek, Drobny, Zabavnik.

Referee - P Sippel, Germany.

Taken from the Daily Record

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