Bednar looks to czech back in with goals

ROMAN BEDNAR has remained an impassive bystander all summer as his paymaster, Vladimir Romanov, combed Europe in search of new strikers. Yet the principle goalscoring duties against Siroki Brijeg tonight will again fall on the Czech and his Lithuanian partner, Edgaras Jankauskas.

Push has become shove as Hearts prepare for their first competitive outing of the season in Champions League qualifying round two, and for head coach Valdas Ivanauskas it's a time for entrusting those you know best.

Ahn Jung-hwan, Albert Meyong and Mauricio Pinilla are just three names from an extensive list complied by Romanov and Ivanauskas as they sought added potency for the season ahead. That they have yet to recruit a new face is no disaster, for there is well over a month until the August transfer deadline, and, for Bednar and Jankauskas, possession is indeed nine tenths of the law. Due to Paul Hartley's absence through injury for this evening and the impromptu leave taken by Rudi Skacel since June 30, Hearts are 34 goals down from the team that secured qualification for this initial phase of the Champions League. So it could be said the onus has become even greater on the club's first-choice strike pairing, who conjured 17 goals between them last term.

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It's the kind of impetus Bednar welcomes. The 23-year-old has stayed silent on the merits of brining in another goalscorer with his compatriot Michal Pospisil, teenager Calum Elliot and the Finnish international Juho Makela offering adequate back-up to the established strike force at Tynecastle.

He doesn't wish to be drawn much further on the issue whilst concentrating on the importance of his assignment at Murrayfield tonight. But given his recently-declared intention to make the forthcoming season a 20-goal one for himself whilst gaining full international recognition from his country, it would be safe to assume that Bednar has no intention of relinquishing his starting jersey.

"It's up to the gaffer if he is going to sign another striker," said the Czech. "There were times last season when the three of us - myself, Michal and Edgar - were injured but if we are all fit then perhaps the club don't need another striker.

"I love watching and listening to Edgar and Michal. I have my own style of play but this is why I'm here - to learn. Those two are fantastic examples of how I can become a better player."

Without stating the obvious, a nerve-calming goal in the early stages against the Bosnians would do no end of good to Bednar's case and that of his club, who inhibit ambitions of climbing onto a much grander level of Europe's premier club competition.

The stakes are high this evening with qualifying round two offering no safety net to compensate for error. Lose over two legs to Siroki Brijeg and Hearts' long-awaited Champions League adventure will be terminated before it has properly begun. Progress to the final qualifying round will bring a slightly less intense environment due to the parachute provided by UEFA which takes clubs who fail to make the group stages into the first round proper of the UEFA Cup.

"Nobody is speaking much in the dressing room because we are all just focused on this game," continued Bednar. "It is so important. It's the first competitive game of our season and I'm only thinking about this one. No-one has had to say, 'this is a big game for us' or anything like that because we all know it. We are all ready for war, because if you want the Champions League, you must give everything.

"I've never played in the Champions League and this is maybe the reason why I'm more excited than some other players who have been there before. Everyone who plays wants to play in these tournaments."

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The upcoming nature of his previous club, Mlada Boleslav, denied Bednar any European exposure in his native land - the principle reason he opted for a move to Edinburgh via one of Romanov's "other" clubs, FBK Kaunas of Lithuania. Crucially, there was a clause inserted in his contract at the time of the transfer which decrees that he is instantly loaned to Hearts at the beginning of each season, preventing any possibility of the striker ever leading an attack in the yellow and green of Kaunas.

But Bednar does retain a keen interest in events at Mlada Boleslav, a club Hearts could have been playing tonight instead of Siroki Brijeg. "When I was with Mlada Boleslav it was their first season in the top league so we never took part in any European competitions. They play this evening as well [against Valerenga of Norway] after finishing second in the Czech league last year, so I would like them to get through.

"They were in the pot with us and could have been drawn against us in this round. That was a shame because I wanted Mlada Boleslav but we have Siroki Brijeg, so that's okay for me.

"Michal has played against Siroki Brijeg with Sparta Prague, in the qualifying rounds of the UEFA Cup. He said they are a decent side but he believes we will be too strong provided we play to our potential. It's about how we play. If we play badly we could lose, that's not in doubt. But if we play as we can and give 110 per cent then it should be our night.

"We have trained and prepared some attacking moves that we hope to use tonight. We spoke more about Siroki Brijeg last night at training, but for us it's generally more important to think about how we play. If we play the kind of football we did last season then we can do it."

In typical footballer fashion, Bednar is not one for projecting his thoughts any further than the next game even though he could meet another group of his compatriots in the third qualifying round should Hearts get there.

Slovan Liberec are one of the less salubrious seeds waiting by the final hurdle, but for now it's all about Murrayfield this evening and Bosnia next week. "I don't want to think about the next round because we have Siroki Brijeg to deal with first. Yes, Slovan Liberec would be nice, especially for Michal because he played there. But I am only thinking about two games just now - tonight and the return leg."

Probable Hearts team (4-4-2): Gordon; Neilson, Pressley, Berra, Fyssas; Beslija/Cesnauskis, Brellier, Aguiar, McCann; Jankauskas, Bednar.

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• SIROKI BREJIG general manager Davor Ljubic today insisted people are "dreaming" if they think his side can dump Hearts out of the Champions League qualifiers.

The Bosnians jetted into Edinburgh yesterday ahead of tonight's clash at Murrayfield and with most Jambos expecting their side to progress it would appear many in the Siroki camp feel the same.

When quizzed on his side's chances, Ljubic said: "Can we cause a surprise? Now you are dreaming!

"We have already surprised ourselves just by getting here because Siroki Brijeg is not a big city with around 25,000 inhabitants. Don't you think one surprise is enough?

"We will be competitive but know our chances are really slim. Even if we are being really optimistic we only have a little chance of qualifying."