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Csaba Laszlo <-auth auth-> Hugh Carville
[R Berry 73]
2 of 005 Saulius Mikoliunas 5F A

Hearts lacking shape at the Oval

Published Date: 15 July 2008
Glentoran 1 - 1 Hearts
AS NEW starts go, this contained an equal measure of positives and negatives for Csaba Laszlo. On a muggy evening in east Belfast, the Hungarian's reign began with a draw against part-time Glentoran before ultimate defeat on penalties.
While some of Hearts' attacking manoeuvres were inspiring, defensively they looked culpable and bereft of cohesion.

Laszlo was assessing his players for the first time in a game situation following his appointment as manager last Friday. Rustiness was always expected in the first pre-season outing, but signs are that the Hungarian has at least succeeded in motivating his squad.

Hearts carried a superior attacking threat throughout this friendly with some incisive movement on and off the ball. Midfielders interchanged crisp passes and wide players galloped forward sensibly without abandoning defensive duties.

Events at the back will concern Laszlo, although incessant substitutions contributed much to the visitors' loss of rhythm. What was an entertaining game degenerated due to constant interruptions, as is frequently the case with pre-season encounters. It led to Hearts conceding an equaliser on 72 minutes. But the new manager derived genuine hope from the sojourn to Northern Ireland.

"For me, the 90 minutes were most important. We didn't lose the game, in fact I think we were the dominant team," he said.

"At the moment we are in pre-season. This team has worked really hard for the last two weeks, they haven't seen a ball. In the last two training sessions we took the ball and tried to work on new tactics. After 70 minutes, the power was not there. This is normal.

"Glentoran were a little fitter and clearer in the head. I'm happy, though. This was a good game for me. We had some problems in defence during the last 15 minutes but we changed a lot of players. At the moment, we shouldn't look only for results. We need to get confidence back to the players. We can learn from last night's mistakes and be ready for the league in a few weeks."

Laszlo identified a lack of leadership as one of his foremost concerns but stressed an unyielding faith that Hearts will be properly prepared for the new SPL season.

"We have a lot of young players with talent. But with talent you don't win anything, you must mix it with experience and confidence," said the Hungarian. "You must have leaders. At the moment, maybe the one problem is we don't have a real leader on the field. You need someone in midfield, in defence or even in attack who can lead the team. This is the most important question.

"You cannot tell players tactics and have nobody take responsibility. We need someone to push the other players, this is their responsibility and they must learn this. We have leaders but they must speak more and give commands. You must talk, talk, talk. We have with Mike (Stewart], with Banks, with Karipidis, players with experience. They talk and they talk but it's not enough for me, the team must do more. We need the team to be more mature."

The Oval struck a chord as Northern Ireland's equivalent of the old Firhill. Terracing at either end offered a welcome chance for the 300 or so travelling Hearts fans to reminisce following years of all-seated SPL stadia. But Laszlo was only concerned with looking to the future.

Glentoran wished to hone their match sharpness three days before entering the UEFA Cup qualifying phase against the Latvian club Metalurgs Liepaja. Thursday's fixture will see them encounter a striker familiar to Hearts, Ricardas Beniusis but, last night, one of his compatriots was in fine fettle. Saulius Mikoliunas, a much-maligned figure at Tynecastle, showed an aptitude for the task not always evident in his play and scored the opening goal on five minutes. It must be hoped this is a portent of things to come in the forthcoming season.

Hearts were minus captain Christophe Berra, Larry Kingston, Mirsad Beslija, Christian Nade and Audrius Ksanavicius, none of whom travelled to Northern Ireland's capital. Donning their recently-launched Ajax-style away kit, they took the field in a 4-2-3-1 formation as instructed by Laszlo. Teenager Gary Glen was a lone striker.

The visitors' intent was signalled by Mikoliunas' scorching opener. Receiving Stewart's pass, the Lithuanian pivoted 25 yards from goal to dispatch an unstoppable drive into the top corner which rendered Elliott Morris helpless. The same player followed up with a shot repelled by the goalkeeper's legs on 20 minutes after Glen's intelligent lay-off.

Laszlo looked stress-free throughout the opening 45 minutes as he perched against the inner wall of the visitors' dugout. He emerged sporadically into the technical area, issuing instructions when necessary, but would have recognised that his charges were comfortably in command against part-time opposition. Minutes before half-time, Morris was exercised by Stewart's free-kick which he managed to fingertip over the crossbar.

The only moments of consternation for Laszlo during the first half were two aberrations involving centre-back Marius Zaliukas. The first was a misjudged pass to Jason Thomson, which Gary Hamilton intercepted, only to wastefully shoot high over Steve Banks' goal. Then the Lithuanian and Eggert Jonsson left a bouncing ball to one another but, again, the resultant effort from Glentoran did not trouble Banks.

Alan McDonald, the home manager, couldn't have been content during the interval, although the performance of defender Johnny Taylor provided some encouragement. The former Hearts youth looked assured on his debut, having only left Tynecastle last week to sign a two-year contract at Glentoran. The second half proceeded much as the first had ended, with Hearts in the ascendancy. However, the notion that the hosts were slowly hauling themselves back into contention was not to be dismissed. Another defensive lapse allowed substitute David Scullion the opportunity to test replacement goalkeeper Anthony Basso. The Frenchman was equal to the task with a competent save low to his left, but the lack of co-ordination wouldn't have escaped Laszlo's attention.

Callum Elliot stung the palms of Glentoran's substitute goalkeeper James Taylor on 68 minutes, but moments later Hearts succumbed to an equaliser. Scullion's free-kick careered off the visitors' wall and was returned with interest by Ryan Berry. As the ball powered into Basso's rigging, home supporters roared their appreciation from the steep slopes of the main stand.

The winners of this encounter would be presented with the Umbro Cup for their efforts, so we were treated to a penalty shoot-out after 90 minutes' play. That eventuality had been kept rather secret, leading to many supporters exiting the ground at full-time. Hearts fans would have wished they'd stayed away after watching their side lose 6-5 on penalties, substitute Craig Sives missing the last kick to hand Glentoran victory.

Laszlo remained philosophical. He pointed to a disastrous pre-season campaign with one of his former clubs as evidence of football's fickle nature. "We lost every game of pre-season then won the first six games in the league, so it's all about preparing for the competitive games," he said. "But remember it's not my intention to lose every pre-season game. I want to teach the team a maximum of three tactical variations, to be flexible in the field.

"Last night we played 4-2-3-1 for the first time and I think it wasn't too bad. The striker doesn't know which is the way if we lose the ball, or if we win the ball. He didn't see a pass from deep, and so on and so on.

"We are here to teach this, we are here to be better and bring the success back step by step.

" I don't talk about the penalties, I talk more about the 90 minutes."

In that timescale, Hearts were decent without being scintillating. Laszlo's task now is to build on last night's foundations and ensure his projections for the team become reality.

Glentoran (4-4-2): Morris; Nixon, Johnny Taylor, Ward, Hill; Boyce, Fordyce, Fitzgerald, Neill; Halliday, Hamilton. Subs: James Taylor, Simpson, Scullion, Carson, Berry, McGovern, Bowers, McMenamin, Burrows, Ferguson, Gardiner, Harris.

Hearts (4-2-3-1): Banks; Thomson, Zaliukas, Karipidis, Wallace; Jonsson, Palazuelos; Mikoliunas, Stewart, Driver; Glen. Subs: Basso 47 (for Banks), Kelly 79 (for Stewart), Elliot 59 (for Glen), Screpis 53 (for Palazuelos), Sives 50 (for Karipidis), Doherty 70 (for Mikoliunas), Ivaskevicius 39 (for Driver).

Referee: Hugh Carville

Taken from the Scotsman

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