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Valdas Ivanauskas <-auth Mark Wilson auth-> Charlie Richmond
Hartley Paul [S Kean 19] ;[S Kean 22]
9 of 015 Saulius Mikoliunas 1 ;Marius Zaliukas 51 L SPL A

St Mirren 2 - 2 Hearts

MARK WILSON at Love Street December 04 2006

Edgaras Jankauskas has vigorously denied that Hearts' Lithuanian players have been involved in a plot to undermine Steven Pressley, as the captain's relationship with the club enters the final phase of its disintegration.

Football is so frequently a side issue where the Tynecastle side are concerned that it is essential to point out that St Mirren thoroughly merited a point from this absorbing match through a performance of tremendous grit. Hearts' rabid internal politics were, though, always going to dominate reflections on a rain-lashed afternoon in Paisley.

Pressley did not travel along the M8, with suggestions he has been suspended, and the players' union released a statement to condemn Hearts' treatment of the defender, who has given eight years of loyal service.

Vladimir Romanov is, of course, the puppet-master in such affairs. There have been inferences that Romanov's people had attempted to enlist Lithuanian support within the dressing-room to have Pressley deposed as captain, leading to his walk-out from the team hotel prior to last month's match at Falkirk.

Jankauskas, possibly the most famous and successful footballer Lithuania has produced since independence, denied any such scheming and attempted to convince that the dressing room was not split along lines of nationality. "I can assure you that none of the Lithuanian players were involved in a plot or anything similar," said the former Porto striker. "There are a lot of young players and I don't think they could even understand what has been going on.

"Of course it upsets me and the other Lithuanian players that these things are said. It's not right to be judged just because you were born in Lithuania, or any other country.

"The dressing room is united. It doesn't matter whether you are black or white, whether you are born in Senegal, France or Lithuania; we all do the same job."

Pressley, as has now passed into legend, fronted the expression of "significant unrest" in the dressing room at how the club was being run. He may have been flanked by Paul Hartley and Craig Gordon back on October 27, but it is he alone, for the time being, who is facing the consequences.

One grey area in the statement came when Pressley said they were speaking for "a number of players", the ambiguity creating an impression that the Lithuanians did not back them.

"You would need to ask Steven for clarity about exactly what he meant," said Jankauskas. "I think he was speaking on behalf of me. If I remember, I think he said that we need stability. Scottish players and Lithuanian players alike need stability.

"The Lithuanian players have been more affected because we get more stick from the public. But I can assure you once again that we are not involved in any plot.

"I think I have quite a good relationship with Steven. Sometimes when you are together on the training ground or in the dressing room, you can have a difference of opinion. But I think I can consider him as my friend."

Jankauskas insisted he held no personal sway with Romanov and was a great deal more forthcoming than Valdas Ivanauskas, the head coach making his return after a stress-related hiatus.

For procedural reasons, there was also a reluctance on the part of the Scottish Professional Footballers Association to be drawn into detail. Pressley has consulted with the union whose secretary, Fraser Wishart, was at Love Street. Wishart did, though, castigate Hearts' management style and added they would help Pressley seek redress "by either the internal football procedures or, if necessary, via other means."

In his absence, Hartley took the captain's armband before having to pass it on after his 75th-minute dismissal for two yellow cards, both for fouls on Hugh Murray. Craig Gordon, in a moment of black farce that summed up the situation, backed away when Hartley approached him, with Robbie Neilson eventually tying on the cursed piece of fabric.

Hartley's red card was one moment of controversy among many in Charlie Richmond's egocentric refereeing performance, which saw six further players booked. David van Zanten, the St Mirren wing-back, insisted afterwards that Hearts' gamesmanship had made a large contribution to the fraught atmosphere.

"I think they are known for it, the diving about and whatever," said the Irishman. "It's not nice but it's part of their game."

Gus MacPherson, the St Mirren manager, declined to comment on Richmond but later enthused over the character shown by his team. They had fallen behind after just 19 seconds when Saulius Mikoliunas reached Jankauskas' cross ahead of Tony Bullock and stabbed the ball beyond the exposed goalkeeper.

But the Paisley team rallied superbly, forcing Craig Gordon to produce some exquisite saves before Stewart Kean

levelled after 19 minutes. Shortly afterwards, the striker crowned a wonderful run and pass by Gary Brady with a perfect angled finish. Christophe Berra complained he had been fouled by John Sutton in the build-up, but Ivanuaskas took a different view as the youngster was substituted by Marius Zaliukas after just 24 minutes.

"It speaks a lot about the character we have here," said the St Mirren manager. "Who knows if we'd have won if Kean stayed on. But he was a striker full of confidence and would have had the added incentive to go for a hat-trick."

Sadly for Saints, Kean, who had appeared irrepressible, then limped out with a thigh strain. Torrential rain turned the second half into a lottery but Marius Zaliukas notched a point for Hearts by heading in Hartley's free-kick seven minutes after the restart.

However, although both sides have now not managed a win for two months, it is not lower-placed St Mirren who should most fear the future.

Taken from the Herald

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