Hearts made a winning start in their first-ever Champions League fixture at Murrayfield thanks to an own goal and fine finishes by Ibrahim Tall and Roman Bednar against Bosnian outfit Siroki Brijeg.
The Jambos had secured their place in the second qualifying round in UEFA’s premier competition by finishing as runners-up to champions Celtic in the SPL. Almost 30,000 were inside the home of Scottish Rugby to witness the Jambos build a comfortable first-leg lead on a warm summer’s evening in the Capital. French midfielder Julien Brellier had only been deemed fit enough to make Hearts’ bench, while Paul Hartley, Jose Goncalves, Calum Elliot and Lee Wallace were all missing.
So Senegalese defender Tall was given a surprise holding role in midfield at Murrayfield, while Scotland winger Neil McCann made his return to the starting line-up after six months out through injury.
Siroki’s first-choice goalkeeper, Vladimir Vasilj, was only fit enough to be named on the bench for the side that defeated Belarus outfit Shaktyar Soligorsk 2-0 on aggregate in the previous round.
Hearts started brightly, McCann’s inswinging cross from the left being knocked over the bar by midfielder Bruno Aguiar from ten yards. There was a nervous moment for McCann when the ball ricocheted off his arm inside the box after a corner, but Norwegian referee Espen Berntsen did not award a penalty.
A cross from the right by Deividas Cesnauskis was met at the front post by Czech striker Bednar, but his head flick flew wide of the far post.
McCann ought to have done better than head past the post after another curling Cesnauskis cross to the back stick. And as the chances went begging the Bosnians worked their way into the game and Brazilian midfielder Wagner Santos Lago sent a curling free kick a few feet wide from 20 yards with goalkeeper Craig Gordon struggling.
Hearts stepped up the pace after the break and a last-ditch challenge from Branimir Anic diverted Bednar’s attempt from eight yards wide for a corner.
But Anic was at fault when he headed Robbie Neilson’s long-throw into his own net under pressure from Steven Pressley on 53 minutes.
Cesnauskis drove the ball just wide from 16 yards after a mazy run past three defenders and Aguiar rattled a fine, curling free kick against the upright.
Tall added the second after a surge into the box when he converted Michal Pospisil’s cross and Bednar made the most of Ivica Landeka’s mistake to give Hearts what would prove to be an unassailable lead with a 0-0 draw in Bosnia ensuring a third qualifying round game.
Hearts: Gordon, Neilson, Fyssas, Pressley, Tall, Berra, Cesnauskis, Aguiar, Jankauskas, Bednar, McCann.