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Valdas won fans' Hearts on Cup derby day of glory

Barry Anderson
THE last Scottish Cup Edinburgh derby evolved into a personal triumph for Valdas Ivanauskas.
It was the day he gained acceptance from a Hearts support ever-suspicious of their club's Lithuanian influx.

On April 2, 2006, he took charge for only the second time as interim head coach and effected a 4-0 destruction of city rivals Hibs in the cup semi-final at Hampden Park. Paul Hartley was the hero, Ivan Sproule the villain, but it could be argued that Ivanauskas achieved significantly more than anyone else that afternoon.

By inspiring his charges to one stirring victory, he convinced Hearts fans that he was worthy of their club's badge.

The chant: "We've got Ivan-Ivan-Ivan-Ivanauskas on the bench" would be conceived just a few weeks later. Prior to that he had been a background figure, a first-team coach under George Burley and Graham Rix and many suspected he doubled as Vladimir Romanov's spy in the Riccarton camp.

The sacking of Rix two weeks before the all-Edinburgh semi-final created a platform for him to showcase his management credentials to Romanov. He oversaw a 2-1 victory at Falkirk before his tenure took on unprecedented appeal at Hampden.

Ivanauskas spoke to the Evening News from his home in Lithuania, where he will watch tomorrow's Scottish Cup fourth-round action unfold from Easter Road.

"This was the best game of all my time at Hearts," he said. "The stadium was full, the score was big and the team played their best game. It was a big opportunity for me as manager to show what I could do and it became a great day for me.

"We won 4-0. I was very satisfied to see all the supporters happy that day. They accepted me 100 per cent after this.

"My relationship with the supporters before that was nothing. They did not know if Valdas was a good coach or not but after this game the relationship was there.

"I had a big relationship with supporters as a player in Hamburg and it was important to me. Supporters understand the game and the situation and that afternoon my relationship became better than before.

"The result was big and it was Paul Hartley's day, I will never forget that. For me as manager it was a special day. I won the cup with Kaunas in Lithuania so I knew the feeling."

Ivanauskas cemented a place in history weeks later as Hearts achieved a place in the Champions League qualifying rounds, beating Rangers to second place in the SPL. They also dispensed with Gretna in the cup final to complete the club's most memorable campaign in recent memory.

Although he would be appointed permanent head coach and lead Hearts into Europe against prestigious opponents such as AEK Athens and Sparta Prague later that year, the semi-final remains distinctive in Ivanauskas' mind. "The final was very nervous, Gretna had a big chance to win but the semi-final was always the happiest," he continued.

"The day before we played Hibs we went to train and stay overnight just outside Glasgow and the team was very concentrated. Not nervous, just focused. You can see if the players are nervous or confident. Before a game like that every coach is nervous. You don't know how you will start the game or what might happen during the 90 minutes, I think this is normal.

"The situation at the time was very interesting. We had a great chance in the championship to take second place from Rangers. Before the game I did not have to speak or motivate. The players knew if we won we were in the final and the chance to play in Europe was 100 per cent. Secondly, it was an Edinburgh derby at Hampden with 52,000 supporters, a great occasion for the players.

"At that time, the team was very, very strong. Our quality was much better. The atmosphere in the dressing-room was great with Paul Hartley, Steven Pressley, Rudi (Skacel], Bednar, Pospisil, Jankauskas. It was a big team, an experienced team. A lot of the players knew what the situation was about because they had played in semi-finals and finals before. Every player wants to play in a final."

Jankauskas' goal supplemented Hartley's hat-trick against his former club as the biggest Capital derby in over 100 years was won emphatically by Hearts. Sproule was dismissed for a stamp on Saulius Mikoliunas and Gary Smith followed for a professional foul on Michal Pospisil two minutes from time.

Ivanauskas basked in the glory but his coaching career has not scaled such heights since, and he left Tynecastle in March 2007. Severing ties with Romanov was intended to allow the amiable Lithuanian to flourish as a manager in his own right without the pressure of a demanding paymaster.

He assumed the head coach's role at German Second Division side Carl Zeiss Jena in September 2007 but lasted just four months before being sacked due to poor results. He now works for the Lithuanian Football Federation as Under-18 coach on a non- contractual basis.

"I talked with the federation and they understand what I need and what I want for the players, but at the moment I am free (to look for other jobs]," he said. "I am looking for a club but not in Lithuania. I am looking at other countries."

Job hunting will be placed on hold tomorrow, however, as Ivanauskas settles down to watch the game from Easter Road. "It is not a semi-final but Hibs against Hearts is a derby and it's a very big match. It's difficult to say who will win, a derby is a derby."

Clearly, he hasn't forgotten any of his buzz phrases. Nor will he ever forget the magnitude of a cup triumph over Hibs and what it can do for your profile.

Taken from the Scotsman

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