Hearts travel to Hungary with optimism

By Liam McLeodBBC Scotland
Hearts drew 1-1 at Ibrox on Saturday
Hearts opened the season with a 1-1 draw at Ibrox on Saturday

The Hearts squad that left Edinburgh on Tuesday morning could be forgiven for being in buoyant mood.

The point earned on Saturday in the shadow of the newly unfurled SPL championship flag at Ibrox would have pleased manager Jim Jeffries.

But not half as much as the performance that the men from Edinburgh conjured up in the Govan sunshine, particularly in the first half.

Indeed, their 1-0 half time lead against Rangers could easily have been two or three.

Next up is a trip into uncharted territory and a Europa League qualifier against the unheralded Hungarians Paksi.

Hands up if you had heard of them before.

The former Hearts boss and Hungarian, Csaba Laszlo, didn't fancy Karoly Kis' side to dump Norwegians Tromso in the last round.

But they did it in style to book a third qualifying round tie with the Jambos.

Jefferies has clocked up the airmiles in the last week to make sure he knows what he's dealing with.

And despite the convincing nature of the win over Tromso last week, their return to domestic matters saw them ripped apart at defending champions Videoton.

The game ended 4-0 with Paksi finishing with 10 men.

Unfortunately for the home side, the fact their stadium is non-Uefa compliant, means they have to return to the scene of that crime on Thursday in Skekesfehrvar.

It is generally accepted in Hungary that Paksi punched above their weight last season.

They finished second behind Videoton and ahead of the more fancied Ferencvaros with this their first foray into European competition.

To say there are no superstars in their team is an understatement but what they do have is a mixture of home-grown youth and experience.

Every single player in the Paksi squad comes from Hungary.

Striker Adam Hrepka is their only full-international but may not even feature on Thursday.

They will not provide too much of an aerial threat to Marius Zaliukas and Eggart Jonsson.

And at the other end, they did not look too clever against Videoton, with three of the goals conceded more than avoidable.

If he is fit, David Templeton will be a massive player for Hearts as the Paksi rearguard could not deal with the pacey attacks by the Hungarian champions.

"We can take confidence from Saturday's result and performance, so we're looking forward to the game," Hearts left-back Danny Grainger told BBC Scotland.

Hearts winger David Templeton
The pace of Templeton could cause Paksi problems

"We haven't spoken too much about Paksi but the gaffer has been over watching them.

"So, once we're settled in here we'll start to hear about them.

"We want to go back to Tynecastle with a lead or at least a draw, but if we're still in the tie, that's the main thing."

It's unlikely the Hearts team taking to the field will be under any kind of intimidation either.

Two years ago in Zagreb when they lost 4-0, the Maksimir Stadium was only half-full, yet the atmosphere generated by the Dinamo fans was boisterous.

By contrast, Paksi were supported by around 60 away supporters during their league defeat on Sunday evening.

The last round's 4-1 aggregate defeat of Tromso is impressive on paper but the Norwegians' defending in the second leg was not.

If Hearts keep it tight at the back and manage an away goal, they should be booking their place in the Europa League play-offs.

For Grainger, faced with the task of filling Lee Wallace shaped boots after the Scotland international's move to Rangers, an impressive showing at Ibrox on Saturday will have done him no harm.

"There's a bit of added pressure with Lee being a local lad and how well he's done over the last few years," he said.

"I'm just hopeful that I can step-up.

"There's no reason why we can't have a memorable season."

Another positive result on Thursday and many in maroon may buy into that.

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