London Hearts Supporters Club

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<-Srce <-Type Scotsman ------ Report Type-> Srce->
Csaba Laszlo <-auth Barry Anderson auth-> Stuart Dougal
Mikoliunas Saulius [K Lafferty 37] ;[K Boyd pen 91]
18 of 023 ----- L SPL A

Hearts' marked man Miko must take hint


IN order to rid himself of the reputation which precedes him in Scotland, Saulius Mikoliunas must first acknowledge its existence.

Make no mistake, Miko was unfairly ordered off on Saturday. His third red card in total against Rangers reeked of injustice and infuriated both the player and the Hearts manager, Csaba Laszlo.

An initial caution for diving on 68 minutes was wholly warranted given his theatrical fall after minimal contact with Sasa Papac.

A second yellow arrived moments later following a sliding challenge on Kenny Miller, his first illegal tackle since entering the field as substitute, yet referee Stuart Dougal couldn't yank the card from his pocket quickly enough. Little if any contact was made, bringing into question whether "illegal" is indeed the appropriate adjective to use.

Rightly or wrongly, Mikoliunas' name is tarnished and, having been booked in the first instance, he ought to have realised what another misdemeanour would lead to.

There seemed an inevitability about his dismissal after the first caution and the early departure left Hearts with the impossible task of attempting to equalise a 1-0 deficit. In short, he shouldn't have given Dougal the option.

Naivety on Mikoliunas' part does not absolve the referee of blame, however. Officials across Scotland have for some time stood accused of targeting Hearts' Lithuanian players and are doing little to conceal their disdain, a wholly unacceptable practice which prompts Vladimir Romanov's references to Scottish football's "mafia".

As an example, Rangers' Kyle Lafferty executed two reckless tackles on Larry Kingston and Marius Zaliukas in the first half of this game but was given only a polite talking to by Dougal in the aftermath. It wasn't difficult to feel Hearts' frustration.

"This is always the same problem. If a player takes a yellow card he must take some of his aggressive play back and know to be a little bit careful. His foul on the middle line (on Miller] was not necessary," said Laszlo. "I spoke with Miko and for the future it's very important to learn from this mistake.

"The first yellow card I cannot tell because it was so far away. At first I think it's a foul against Miko so it's a yellow card, okay. What happened after is very important, it's the responsibility of the player to know that if you make the next foul maybe he will punish you. This happened and we can't change it but we can learn from this."

Asked if he thought Mikoliunas' reputation was now going before him, Laszlo replied: "I heard about this. I don't think he should be punished all the time, everybody must have a second chance. Miko, in the past, had this problem but I think he is mentally so strong that he knows next time he must be more careful."

On the balance of play and chances, Rangers just about deserved this victory. They ground out three points by being persistent and resolute against a Hearts team lacking genuine attacking threat. Mike Tullberg, Gary Glen and Christian Nade, when fully fit, are expected to help resolve this issue. Audrius Ksanavicius was certainly little support for the industrious Jamie Mole on the wide open Ibrox pitch.

Lafferty opened the scoring on 37 minutes by sweeping home a cross from defender Madjid Bougherra. Kris Boyd's injury-time penalty secured the win after Lee Wallace's foul on Miller, but in between the game could easily have followed a different trajectory. And not just because of Mikoliunas' dismissal.

With the Lithuanian still running his early bath, Hearts were refused a strong penalty appeal when Andy Driver's shot struck Bougherra on the arm. "If the referee doesn't give the penalty I can't change this," said Laszlo, wisely refusing to become embroiled in public criticism of officials.

"It's not so important to talk about this, it's more important to talk about our mistakes and we had some of them in the game. I don't think we played the wrong game. Even after the red card we had a chance. I think it was an interesting football game but we lost 2-0. If you lose a game I don't think you should always talk about the other mistakes and about the referees. We played good football against Motherwell, we won 3-2. We also played interesting football against Rangers. Jamie MacDonald did not have so much work and we were always in the game."

MacDonald was making his competitive debut in place of Steve Banks, who appears to have played his last game for Hearts. A statement on the club website stated that the 36-year-old is to coach the club's youth-team goalkeepers and relinquish playing duties, but it remains to be seen if this is a long-term arrangement.

MacDonald, at the age of 22, was simply elated to sample first-team football ahead of substitute goalkeeper Marian Kello, recently loaned from FBK Kaunas. "It was a strange week," said MacDonald. "Obviously I was disappointed when the new goalkeeper came in. It's a challenge for me but I was delighted to get the nod on Saturday. Hopefully I've done well and the manager will maybe have a look at me for next week.

"My year and a half at Queen of the South made me grow up a bit and it's better when you're playing first-team football rather than reserve football.

"Getting to the Scottish Cup final helped me because I'd experienced playing in front of a big crowd, so that wasn't a factor on Saturday. I felt relaxed and treated it like another game of football. It would be good for me to get a run of games. It's hard coming in and out of teams because the only way you're going to improve is by playing games. That's what I've had and I feel I've improved a lot."

As have Hearts collectively since Laszlo's arrival. Saturday provided more evidence of their willingness to play cohesive football even under pressure with Christos Karipidis and Michael Stewart constantly striving to dictate play from midfield. "We lost the game but we don't lose the pride," added Laszlo. "The players came in, they have their heads up because we played good football."

Taken from the Scotsman

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