Goals from Mark de Vries and Andy Webster put Hearts in the driving seat against Zeljeznicar in the first leg of their first round UEFA Cup tie.
Hearts made two changes to the side which had begun Sunday’s 4-0 league defeat by Rangers, with Steven Boyack and Paul Hartley coming in for Phil Stamp, who failed a late fitness test, and Joe Hamil. There were places on the bench too for Austin McCann and Graham Weir.
Boyack began in Hamill’s position on the left of midfield, with Hartley in Stamp’s on the right, although the two swapped round for the 22 minutes they were on the field together. It was from the left that Boyack forged Hearts’ first chance in the opening minute, a cross which De Vries headed straight at Kenan Hasagic in the Bosnians’ goal.
A couple of minutes later a shot from Dennis Wyness forced Hasagic to parry, but the opening stages of the game were not entirely dominated by the home team, who were finding it hard to win control of the midfield. As Craig Levein had warned they would do, Zeljo were flooding the middle of the park, inviting Hearts to bypass that area with some hopeful aerial balls up to the closely policed De Vries.
As well as suggesting the Bosnians would play 4-5-1, Levein had insisted his team and the home support would have to remain patient while seeking the breakthrough against their technically adept opponents. It was in the 28th minute, as the first signs of restiveness were being heard from the stands, that the breakthrough came.
Getting numbers into the last third of the box for almost the third time, Hearts looked for an opening through the middle. It was Alan Maybury who found it, feeding De Vries who spun round then shot first time into the net from around 12 yards.
The team from Sarajevo were beginning to have an insipid look to them, their self-belief low as a result of their poor domestic form. Just under 15 minutes into the second half, the potentially crucial second goal came – although it seemed to take an eternity before it went in.
First De Vries headed against the bar from a Jean-Louis Valois cross, then Hartley’s shot from the rebound was blocked. De Vries was first to that rebound, and when his shot was also blocked, Webster was there to head into the unguarded net. The Hearts camp would probably have settled for a 2-0 first-leg advantage if asked before the match, and having kept their own scoresheet blank, they will have departed the field in a relatively contented mood.
The result built the foundations for a draw in Sarajevo, which set up a tie against French side Bordeaux in the second round.
Hearts: Moilanen, Maybury, Kisnorbo, Pressley, Webster, Severin, MacFarlane, Hartley (Hamill 81), Boyack (Valois 30), Wyness (Weir 74), De Vries.