Paksi SE 1 - 1 Hearts: Hearts take control with away goal

TOP teams tend to score away from home in Europe, it's the fashionable thing to do. Jamie Hamill's penalty against Paksi last night was Hearts' first competitive strike on foreign soil since Robbie Neilson's 89th-minute winner in Basle in November 2004. The long wait made the goal seem even more priceless.

The Hungarians travel to Edinburgh next Thursday facing the proverbial uphill task against an intimidating home crowd and a Hearts team who know they hold all the aces in this Europa League third qualifying round tie. The 1-1 first-leg draw in Szkesfehrvr highlighted plenty flaws in Paksi's gameplan, whilst also proving the worth of attacking teams away from home in Europe.

Hearts were bold without being silly in their approach to the match and consequently enjoyed control of possession for large spells. Paksi could not deny they had been outplayed. Had John Sutton converted an opportunity early in the second half, the hosts might have been facing defeat. As it was, Hearts settled for the one goal from Hamill to scratch that seven-year away goal itch.

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Hamill expertly drilled the ball beyond Norbert Csernynszki from 12 yards in first-half stoppage time, much to Paksi's disgust. The Hungarians had moved ahead through Istvan Sipeki against the run of play and struggled to contain their anger when parity was restored. They claimed Sutton's fall whilst challenging Tibor Heffler for Danny Grainger's free-kick was accidental and accused the Finnish referee, Mattias Gestranius, of favouring Hearts. That mattered little to the visitors as Hamill marked his competitive debut with a priceless away goal.

Karoly Kis, the Paksi coach, ranted in the technical area as the teams left the field at the interval. He termed this game "the biggest in our history" and believed Gestranius was out to spoil the occasion. "Before the penalty the referee was against us three or four times," Kis complained. "I never speak about referees, the last time I did it was about a year ago. At this moment I don't feel the referee made the same decisions for both teams."

Jefferies moved to defend the decision. "The referee had given him (Heffler] a warning before we took the free-kick. He stopped the play but the defender didn't listen. Our forward said he put in a rugby-type challenge on him and pulled him to the ground.

"It's something you don't get away with. We told our players at half-time not to touch them at corners because you're worried of the referee trying to even the score. We were very conscious of that."

Boundless energy up and down the right flank, crisp tackling and sensible use of the ball made Hamill Hearts' outstanding player. Inside him was David Obua, who started the match despite missing training all week and only arriving at the team hotel after midnight on Wednesday night due to passport and visa problems. He was effective without being a stand-out.

Paksi were determined to spring a surprise on Hearts as a relatively unknown club out with Hungary. Eliminating Tromso on a 4-1 aggregate in the previous round meant taking them lightly would be a dangerous ploy. Conditions were in Hearts' favour following a day of rain in the region, and at kick-off the open terraces that make up the Ssti Stadium were largely empty. The visitors sensed an instant chance to seize the initiative in this tie in front of around 400 buoyant visiting supporters.

However, despite Hearts taking command of the early exchanges, Paksi's surprise materialised on 32 minutes. Ian Black was receiving treatment on the touchline and Bartha Laszlo roamed forward unchallenged towards the edge of the penalty area. His attempt at goal struck Eggert Jonsson and the rebound fell to Sipeki for a well-executed lob over Kello from 25 yards.

Hearts had controlled the majority of play until that point and required some resolve. It duly arrived and in stoppage-time Hamill received the chance of an equaliser from the penalty spot. Heffler ignored the referee's verbal instructions to keep his hands to himself and as Grainger's ball arrived in the box, Sutton was sprawled on the floor. Gestranius pointed instantly to the spot and Hamill stepped up to score on his debut by planting the ball high in the opposition net.

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The second half saw Paksi increase the pace but fail to fashion any clear scoring chances. They hemmed Hearts inside their own half for a period of around 15 minutes, but the visitors weathered the storm and regained control. Tamas Sifter's header and Gabor Vayer's free-kick were the closest Paksi came to a second goal, and Hearts closed out the match in relative comfort if the truth be told. The only exception was Ryan Stevenson, who was stretchered off in stoppage time for nine stitches in a deep hand gash.

Looking ahead to the return leg at Tynecastle next week, Jefferies explained how Paksi would encounter a far more hostile atmosphere to that in Szkesfehrvr last night. "You know what it's like, European nights at Tynecastle. It's a different pressure," he said. "We restricted Paksi to very few chances and we were always threatening. We will have a right go in a week's time but we have to be careful after what happened in Tromso when Paksi won 3-0.

"The tie is not over, it's only halfway. If we'd won 2-0 it wouldn't be as big a crowd next week, but now it will be a big crowd. We came here to do a job but it's only half-time because Paksi drew 1-1 with Tromso and got a good result away. It will be a different game in Edinburgh. We came here to get an away goal and we've accomplished that."