HEARTS produced a spirited comeback which was ultimately not enough to overturn a 4-0 first leg deficit and advance to the group stage of the Europa League.
The victory was much needed after a stuttering start to the campaign having lost their opening two matches in the SPL.
They were disciplined, committed, and they played as a team. That they could not claw back four goals against a team of such evident technical ability was no disgrace, and they walked off at the end to a deserved standing ovation from their supporters.
Having already had his selection plans affected by injuries to Eggert Jonsson and Calum Elliot, manager Csaba Laszlo was forced to rethink as a result of a hip injury to Lee Wallace. Jose Goncalves took over from him while youngster Craig Thomson came in to make his first senior start on the other side of defence, and Ismael Bouzid partnered Marius Zaliukas at centre-back.
Hearts needed to take advantage of anything that came their way in front of goal and after little more than a quarter of an hour they did exactly that.
Goalkeeper Tomislav Butina, possibly showing the first sign of complacency from any visiting player, gathered a cross and threw it straight up the middle to Milan Bajelc. A heavy first touch allowed Michael Stewart in to intercept, and the home captain sped into the box, jinked to the left past one defender and, with two more closing in, wrong footed Butina with a left-foot shot into the opposite corner of the net.
Tynecastle erupted, and momentarily the home support allowed themselves to dream of the most improbable of comebacks. The contingent of around 300 Dinamo fans were unperturbed by this minor blow to their team’s self-respect however, remaining on their feet, chanting continuously.
The glimmer of hope which Stewart’s goal had provided almost became significantly brighter a dozen minutes later. A cross by Thomson from the right was headed back across goal by David Obua, then headed back to the left by Gary Glen, and Stewart’s acrobatic effort from ten yards crashed off the bar and out, taking the slightest of touches from a defender on the way.
Hearts were playing with far greater purpose and organisation than they had shown in the first leg, and Dinamo were some way below their best. Even so, the impression remained of the team from the Croatian capital that if they really needed a goal they would be able to conjure one up, and before half-time efforts from Pedro Morales and Badelj reminded Hearts that they could not relax for a minute.
Hearts came out early after the break, eager to get back into action. They knew they needed a second goal relatively quickly, and they scored it within ten minutes at the end of a sustained period of attack. A corner by Thomson from the left was headed out, but then miskicked by Sammir only as far as Zaliukas. The big Lithuanian kept his shot low and straight and found the goal from around 18 yards out.
Dinamo were also asking far more questions of the Hearts defence than they had done in the first half. Dimitrios Papadopoulous came closest with a fierce drive, but Janos Balogh was equal to the challenge and punched clear.
With eight minutes remaining Obua had a good chance to set up a dramatic finale, but his volley on the turn went over the bar.
Hearts: Balogh, Thomson, Goncalves, Bouzid, Stewart, Zaliukas, Santana, Palazuelous, Nade, Glen, Obua.