Remembering the time Hearts' Andrius Velicka knocked Celtic out of the League Cup
There was a familiar feeling of frustration for Hearts supporters on Halloween night, 2007. For they had the misfortune of hearing the starting XI for that evening’s trip to Celtic Park in the quarter-final of the League Cup.
This was at a time when former owner Vladimir Romanov’s meddling was at an all-time high. It could even be said the club didn’t have an actual manager in place for the first half of the season with Anatoliy Korobochka, Stephen Frail and Angel Chervenkov all seemingly sharing duties in the dugout.
The deployment of future club legend Marius Zaliukas in the centre of midfield (never a good idea) was one particular annoyance, though most of the angst came from youngster Calum Elliot starting up front all by himself. The forward had netted twice in extra-time in the previous round as Hearts struggled through against lower-league Dunfermline Athletic but in the absence of summer signing Christian Nade, experienced Lithuanian Andrius Velicka was looked upon as the likelier bet to produce a moment of magic. And so it would ultimately prove.
Consecutive 3-1 defeats in which Hearts scored late goals to save some embarrassment against Dundee United and Kilmarnock in the two games prior didn’t foster much hope either of getting a result at the home of the two-time reigning SPL champions. Not to mention the fact they’d been thumped 5-0 at the same ground in August. And yet, Hearts acquitted themselves surprisingly well on the large Parkhead turf.
Evander Sno, who deserved to be in contention for the away side’s man-of-the-match on the night, passed up a couple of great chances, but otherwise it was slim pickings for Gordon Strachan’s men as they couldn’t match the intensity of the heavy underdogs nor consistently find a way through a stubborn defence.
Hearts played well but didn’t have much themselves going forward until Velicka entered the fray on 73 minutes. One of the more popular additions from the Baltic state, the striker was in the right place to emphatically sweep home Andrew Driver’s cut-back from 16 yards. Celtic protested Driver had gone out of play as he made his advance down the wing, but the assistant referee was brave enough to allow the action to continue without the whole ball crossing the line and the visitors took full advantage.
But if that strike was impressive, it had nothing on Velicka’s second which wrapped up the tie on 86 minutes. A groan echoed around a sparse Parkhead as Sno again conceded possession near the Hearts box. From there, Audrius Kšanavičius found Michael Stewart before advancing down the wing to receive a return pass from the captain. He then knocked it into the centre of the park for Velicka, who drove at John Kennedy and unleashed an unstoppable shot which flew into the top corner of the net, sparking scenes of jubilation in the away end.
Hearts would meet Rangers in the semi-final where they were undone by a combination of some controversial refereeing around a goal scored by Barry Ferguson, after the skipper had clearly controlled it with his hand, and Velicka failing to produce his heroics from Glasgow's East End as he missed a gilt-edged chance at 1-0.
Still, regardless of how it turns out in the end, victories at Celtic are always special.