HEARTS should have been looking forward to a trip to Madrid, knowing that only a remarkable collapse would prevent them from taking the prized scalp of one of Europe’s biggest names in the UEFA Cup.
But a split second’s lack of concentration 13 minutes from time left the UEFA Cup future of Sandy Clark’s side balanced on a knife-edge – nevertheless it was a memorable European triumph especially for those who made up the 15,596 crowd at Tynecastle.
The Colchoneros arrived containing members of the 1992 Spanish Summer Olympics side which secured gold on home soil, including striker Kiko and the formidable Juan Manuel Lopez at centre back.
Hearts were served well by a predominantly Scottish contingent, with English striker Justin Fashanu the only non-Scot in the starting XI, joining John Robertson up front.
Atletico wilted under a relentless second-half assault in the driving rain and looked in danger of conceding more than the two goals they had surrendered in the opportunism of Robertson and John Colquhoun.
Then, out of the blue, Hearts were Pole-axed. Roman Kosecki, the Polish international striker who replaced the ineffective Luis Garcia, collected a pass with his back to goal 30 yards out on the right touchline. He spun and burst away from Alan McLaren in one movement, shuffled the ball from one foot to the other to get away from Gary Mackay then rifled a low, right-foot shot past goalkeeper Henry Smith to turn the tie on its head.
Suddenly, the last 13 minutes were an exercise in survival for Hearts, as Atletico at last showed the quality they possessed.
A fairly even first half ended on a high with Robertson firing in a tremendous drive which goalkeeper Diego diverted over the top. Earlier, Colquhoun squandered a chance after a surging run from Scott Leitch had sprung the offside trap.
If the duo were out of luck before the break, they made up for it in a blistering five-minute spell midway through the second half. Robbo, who didn’t let some appalling treatment from Lopez prevent him from having his best game of the season, scored the type of goal which had become his trademark, pouncing on a rebound off Diego after Fashanu had shaken off his marker to head a Gary Locke cross goalwards.
Atletico were still reeling when Locke carved them open again, giving Colquhoun just enough time to control the ball on his chest and squeeze a great right-foot shot past the Spanish keeper. For two minutes, Hearts looked home and dry in the monsoon. Then Kosecki struck. Hearts crashed 3-0 in the return to exit the competition.
Hearts: Smith, Locke, McKinlay, Levein, Weir, McLaren, Colquhoun, Mackay, Fashanu, Leitch, Robertson.