AGAINST arguably the toughest opponents of their three-game Austrian tour, Hearts gave an assured and at times lethal display as Spartak Trnava were dispatched on Saturday.
The turning over of Trnava will instil much confidence for the club's forthcoming European campaign, as fitness levels continue to rise in the mountain resort of Windischgarsten.
And there was also an inspirational performance by 18-year-old Andrew Driver, who created two of the three Hearts goals, to emphasise an all-round fine evening's work.
Hearts' match squad contained three trialists, all of whom started as substitutes. The versatile Georgian Giorgi Popkhadze was joined on the bench by Portuguese Tiago Costa and Czech Ales Urbanek.
Costa, 25, and 26-year-old Urbanek arrived in Austria on Friday night from Benfica and Spartak Moscow respectively and could provide vital squad depth for Valdas Ivanauskas if they impress. Costa is a versatile midfielder who can also play in defence, while Urbanek is at home at left midfield.
Casting their eyes from the tiny main stand at Stadion Windischgarsten were majority shareholder Vladimir Romanov and chairman Roman, eager to see the prospective new signings first hand before reaching a decision with Ivanauskas on whether to offer contracts.
They were accompanied in a crowd of around 100 by new sporting director Eduard Malofeev and Hearts fan Gordon Connor, who took a two-hour drive from neighbouring Germany to see his side.
The Slovakians were also keen to make serious use of this outing as they build towards a UEFA Cup campaign after a third-place finish in the Slovakian Superliga, so although pre-season encounters are primarily used to enhance fitness levels this one had plenty of intrigue about it. Coached by Jozef Bubenko, Spartak Trnava began the game displaying a crisp passing style as they tried to stretch Hearts, but the Tynecastle side were producing their own brand of attractive football.
Chief instigator was Bruno Aguiar in an attacking midfield berth ahead of Julien Brellier.
Vladimir Labant's deep cross from the left was hit first time by Peter Duris in the fourth minute, and the ball scuffed off the foot of Steven Pressley and wide for a corner. Seconds later, Calum Elliot fired wide with his right foot after a good run in the inside right channel.
Hearts were then denied a cast-iron free-kick right on the edge of the Slovakians' penalty area when Andrej Filip hauled Deividas Cesnauskis to the floor as the Lithuanian prepared to burst through the defence. In truth, it was one of many incidents throughout the 90 minutes in which Spartak cynically put the boot in.
There was an engrossing battle between Pressley and Spartak striker Lubomir Blaha. The 6ft 6in Czech, who helped Aberdeen beat Hearts in the briefest of careers at Pittodrie the season before last, was content to lean and barge his opponent at every opportunity. But Pressley stood up well and Blaha was withdrawn at the interval.
On 31 minutes came a moment which exemplified the potential of young winger Andy Driver. He had already delivered several dangerous crosses, but his best yet found the left foot of Cesnauskis on the edge of the Spartak penalty area for a cushioned volley low into the corner of the net. And it could have been more seconds later when, this time on the right, Cesnauskis crossed for Aguiar to shoot first time but his connection took the ball wide. At this point, Hearts were almost totally in command with a performance vastly improved from Wednesday's draw against Linz.
They extended their lead as Driver again proved problematic to his marker Souleymane Fall. The teenager curled in another cross from deep on the left which Edgaras Jankauskas nodded powerfully at goal. Spartak goalkeeper Miroslav Hrdina got a finger to the ball low to his left, but the on-running Cesnauskis was first there to drive it into the roof of the net for his second.
As half-time arrived, there was little doubt that Hearts deserved their 2-0 lead and Spartak looked like a side stung by the ferocity of their opponents.
Ivanauskas seemed satisfied as he sauntered across to the dressing rooms, and even allowed himself a wry smile as Mr Connor launched into a one-man chorus of "We've got Ivan-Ivan-Ivan-Ivanauskas on the bench".
The good-natured humour continued into the second period as Hearts were instructed to "kid on you're playing Hibs" by their vocal fan.
Popkhadze was introduced on 59 minutes along with fellow trialists Costa and Urbanek, and within three minutes the Georgian full-back had made his way into referee Thomas Prammer's notebook for a late tackle on Dalibor Semanko.
Next for a caution was Jaroslav Hrabal for scything down Elliot in the corner simply because the young Scot had the temerity to rob him of possession. Aguiar drove the free-kick inches wide.
All three trialists gave good value when introduced for 31 minutes of action, Popkhadze in particular offering an assured touch, composure and a mean tackle in defence for one so young. Costa operated at right-back with Urbanek taking up a position wide on the left of midfield.
The needless and sometimes brutal fouling by Spartak continued in the second half as Elliot in particular became a target for the cynicism. The 19-year-old replied in the most effective way, however, by playing a central role in Hearts' third.
He drove into the box to take Urbanek's pass and drive the ball across goal, where Mirsad Beslija was waiting at the back post to slot home for his second goal of this tour. As expected, the Bosnian record signing was delighted at making an impression at a crucial juncture in his time with Hearts.
Spartak pulled a goal back on 79 minutes as Urbanek paid the price for failing to track runner Duris from midfield. The Slovakian got into the box to execute a low right-footed finish past substitute goalkeeper Jamie MacDonald.
But as the match closed out there was a deep sense of satisfaction amongst the Edinburgh contingent. They will now face FC Cluj of Romania on Wednesday with a spring in their step, for the Champions League preparations are now progressing very much according to plan.
Hearts (4-4-2): Banks (MacDonald 68); Neilson (Costa 59), Pressley, Berra (Wallace 53), Fyssas (Popkhadze 59); Cesnauskis (Beslija 59), Brellier (Barasa 45), Aguiar, Driver (Urbanek 59); Jankauskas (Makela 59), Elliot.