London Hearts Supporters Club

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Anatoly Korobochka <-auth Phil Gordon auth-> Stuart Dougal
[G Barrett 87] ;[P Moutinho 89]
11 of 011 Audrius Ksanavicius 5 ;Marius Zaliukas 27 ;Andrius Velicka 58 ;Christian Nade 68 L SPL H

Buoyant Stephen Frail has Hearts on roll again

Heart of Midlothian 4 Falkirk 2
Phil Gordon at Tynecastle

It seemed to be a relationship that was completely soured. Now, Lithuania and Scotland appear to have kissed and made up.

Not only are the Lithuanians at Heart of Midlothian doing their bit to join in Scottish football’s renaissance at club level, they are also ready to help our Euro 2008 ambitions.

Three of Vladimir Romanov’s recruits from FBK Kaunas each came up with a goal in the win over Falkirk that secured a sixth win in seven Clydesdale Bank Premier League games for the Tynecastle club. Audrius Ksanavicius, Marius Zaliukas and Andrius Velicka put Europe back on the horizon for a team whose poor start to the season left them in the bottom half of the table.

Velicka insisted before Saturday’s contest that the Hearts players were not jealous of Aberdeen, Celtic or Rangers after last week’s remarkable Uefa Cup and Champions League successes. However, the Hearts supporters most certainly will be. They are starved of the sort of occasions that has turned Murrayfield into such a vibrant venue in recent years.

Perhaps that hunger was responsible for Ksanavicius being a touch delusional. The midfield player, whose fine fifth-minute finish prompted Saturday’s rout, believes that Hearts will be edging one of the Old Firm out of the Champions League picture. “Every team that I played for went on to become champions of their national competition,” Ksanavicius said. Did he think he could win the Premier League title? “Of course,” he said.

“We do not have a Ronaldinho or Zidane, but we have a strong team.”

Ksanavicius was referring to his two spells at Kaunas and his time at Skonto Riga in Latvia. With respect, championship ambitions were possibly more realistic at these clubs than Hearts. However, there is little doubt that Stephen Frail, the assistant head coach, has turned around the Tynecastle fortunes since taking the players off to a Lithuanian training camp last month when the international break halted the Premier League itinerary.

“There is a great feeling in the dressing-room,” Ksanavicius said. “It is nice to be winning games and scoring goals. It did not matter that it was the three Lithuanian players who scored. It is the team that wins.”

Frail endorsed that, saying: “Someone said last week at St Mirren, it was the first time in a long while that we had started without any Lithuanians, but we do not look at things that way — it does not matter whether they are Lithuanian, Spanish, Greek or Scottish. They are just Hearts players.”

However, the fallout from the Saulius Mikoliunas episode, which saw Uefa punish the Hearts winger with a two-game suspension for his blatant dive to earn a penalty in Scotland’s Euro 2008 qualifying win over Lithuania in September, will take some time to disappear. Mikoliunas was not involved against Falkirk but there is little sign of contrition, as an interview in the match programme underlined.

Mikoliunas blamed the Scotland captain that day, Darren Fletcher.

“I have seen the video of the game and it was a dangerous tackle for him to make in the area,” the Hearts player said. “It was asking for trouble, if you ask me. Everyone is doing this type of thing in football, it is part of the game.” Aside from the ludicrous “asking for trouble” excuse, Mikoliunas has simply hung himself out to dry: his own words depict the philosophy of a serial diver. He did not do it for his country, nor does it have much to do with Hearts. Mikoliunas would use the same methods if he played in a Sunday pub team. Perhaps the most shameful piece of television footage from last season was Mikoliunas rolling about the turf in a reserve game at Forthbank, breaking the silence with his screams of agony as he honed his subterfuge for the big stage.

“We were a bit surprised by it all,” Ksanavicius said of the coverage that Mikoliunas has generated in Scotland. “Perhaps too much attention has been put on him. I would have been interested to see what would happen if a Scottish players did that. There have been jokes about him in the dressing-room but we just put it out of out minds.”

Ksanavicius flew out to Lithuania yesterday to meet up with his national squad ahead of this weekend’s Euro 2008 match with France and pledged that there would be no hard feelings. “We will try our best to help Scotland as much as we can by getting something from France,” he said.

Indeed, there was a marked lack of diving from Hearts on Saturday. Pedro Moutinho, of Falkirk, was rightly booked for his dive while Ksanavicius and his compatriots focused on putting in an honest shift. Zaliukas conjured up a fine volley to double Hearts’ lead in the 28th minute and Velicka showed composure to net the third just before the hour. His replacement, Christian Nade, eclipsed that finish just moments after coming off the bench after a deft exchange with Laryea Kingston. It was stylish football that left a good impression.

Style, though, will never be a substitute for substance; Falkirk are starting to appreciate that, after embracing yet another defeat. The two late goals from Graham Barrett and Moutinho could not disguise the growing problem for John Hughes’ side. With just one win since their opening day success against Gretna briefly put them top of the table, Falkirk are paying a price for all that pretty football.

“As much as we are playing well going forward, we are too open at the back,” Dean Holden, the right back, who set up Moutinho’s goal, said. “It is tough at the moment. There were a few words said in the dressing-room after the game. Maybe we are going out too much to entertain. I can’t say whether that is right. That is the manager’s decision. He wants to play open, attractive football and get the ball down and express ourselves. Maybe, though, we need to shut up the game for 30 minutes and then come out.”

Hughes is not prepared to change. “That is my football philosophy,” he declared. “There is no doubt that the rising expectation levels, after our good campaign last time, are harming us. One or two players are trying too hard. One or two others owe it to the young boys in the team to become leaders. There is no point in feeling sorry for ourselves. The players were happy to take the accolades when things were going well last season.

“There is no doubt we are in a relegation battle. As soon as they realise that we will be better for it and the expectation levels will drop. I’ll say this to our supporters, we’re struggling a wee bit, don’t get on the boys’ backs. Support them because we need a hand — they’re a great bunch of fans, they’ll do that and we’ll come through.”

Heart of Midlothian 4 Ksanavicius 5, Zaliukas 27, Velicka 58, Nade 68

(4-4-1-1): S Banks 7 – R Neilson 7, M Zaliukas 8, C Berra 7, T Kancelskis 7 – L Kingston 8, M Stewart 8 (sub: R Palazeulos 76), E Jonsson 8, A Driver 7 – A Ksanavicius 8 (sub: C Elliot, 61 5) – A Velicka 7 (sub: C Nade, 65 6).Substitutes not used:A Basso, I Tall, C Kripides, K Ivaskevicius. Booked: Jonsson, Nade.

Falkirk 2 Barrett 87, Moutinho 89

(4-3-1-2): T Krul 7 – D Holden 7, D Barr 5, K Milne 5, T Scobbie 4 – P Cregg 5, A Riera 4 (sub: C Finnigan, 66 4), S Arfield 6 – R Latapy 6 (sub: S Thomson, 66 5) – P Mountinho 5, M Higdon 4 (sub: G Barrett, 66 5). Substitutes not used: R Olejnik, B Allison, R Wallner, L Craig. Booked: Moutinho, Barr, Riera.

Referee S Dougal
Attendance 15,800

Taken from

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