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Football: JAMBOS ON THEIR WAY; CHAMPIONS LEAGUE QUALIFIER HEARTS 3 SIROKI BRIJEG 0, FROM MURRAYFIELD Next round is in sight as Bosnians are put to sword.

Byline: Iain Campbell NO.1 IN SCOTLAND

HEARTS booked their place in next week's final Champions League qualifying draw with what turned into a demolition job on NK Siroki Brijeg last night.

After a frustrating first half which saw the SPL runners-up booed from the pitch, the luck which had deserted them earlier turned - and three ugly goals eased any doubts over their progress.

The Bosnians offered little other than a well-drilled defence, but when their organisation crumbled after the break Hearts were cruising.

A Branimir Anic own-goal eight minutes into the second half set Valdas Ivanauskas' side on their way.

A scrambled goal from Ibrahim Tall doubled the tally before Roman Bednar seized on a miskicked backpass to give the SPL side what looks an insurmountable advantage.

Hearts missed the guile of the injured Paul Hartley, but still had enough in their locker to overpower NK.

Only an unforeseen collapse will allow the Bosnians back into the tie and on last night's evidence that is the longest shot of the summer.

Hearts had taken a calculated gamble by recalling Neil McCann following a lengthy recovery from knee surgery, but the pay-off was almost instant with the winger playing in a cross which Bruno Aguiar volleyed over after just 30 seconds.

The home fans had turned out in the large numbers the club had hoped for, with 28,486 taking their place in the stadium and there was a real sense of anticipation as the club from the other side of the railway line began its first Champions League adventure.

The Bosnians though hadn't read the script and were anxious to create history of their own, just like Artmedia last season and they won a couple of corners to put their hosts under some pressure.

Dalibor Silic's drive high over the bar eased any worries and, once again, it was McCann who almost gave Hearts the lead twice in the space of 90 seconds.

On both occasions Deividas Cesnauskis played dangerous crosses to the far post and twice the former Southampton player was just an inch away from connecting with the ball right in front of goal.

Any worries about the experienced wide man's readiness for the challenge had surely been dispersed, though he will have cursed his luck that at least one of the opportunities hadn't ended up in the Bosnians' net.

Cesnauskas and McCann linked up again in the 17th minute to set up another half-chance, but on this occasion Roman Bednar turned well but wasn't able to prevent his snap shot from rising over the bar.

By the time the first quarter had passed, Hearts were enjoying the bulk of the pressure but were still looking for the key to open up the path to the next round.

There was a slight scare for NK when Aguiar's swerving free-kick from way out on the left dipped no more than a foot over the bar.

But it was clear the side from the Balkan state were a competent, well-organised outfit which were not prepared to just roll over.

Once again Hearts were just inches away from an opener when Edgaras Jankauskas's outstretched foot narrowly failed to make contact with yet another Cesnauskas flick.

As half-time approached though, the Bosnians fired in a warning when a 25-yard free-kick from Brazilian Santos screamed narrowly over the bar.

There was some booing from the crowd at the interval as the lack of goals turned into frustration.

And there was little doubt Hearts were missing the creativity of the departed Rudi Skacel and the injured Paul Hartley - but nothing subtle about the approach which almost brought the opener less than three minutes into the second period.

Robbie Neilson's monster throw arrived at Bednar's feet at the far post and only a desperate block by a posse of Bosnian defenders prevented the shot going in.

NK didn't heed the warning and another long throw from the full-back led to the opener in the 53rd minute.

Steven Pressley and Tall both went for the ball, but it was Anic, under pressure from the Jambos pair, who headed the ball into the corner of his own net.

The relief all around the stadium was palpable and Hearts attempted to up the ante by sending on Michal Pospisil and Saulius Mikoliunas for Jankauskas and McCann two minutes later.

Gomes Gonielle was yellow-carded for a foul on Mikoliunas and with the Bosnians apparently unable to change their defensive game plan the main question remaining was whether the hosts could increase their advantage.

HEARTS: Gordon, Neilson, Pressley, Berra, Petras, Cesnauskis, Aguiar, Tall, McCann, Bednar, Jankauskas

SIROKI BRIJEG: Basic, Anic, Silic, Boris Pandza, Ivica Landeka, Lago, Carvalho, Gomes, Bubalo, Celson, Karoglan

CAPTION(S):

THIRD ROUND, HERE WE COME: Ibrahim Tall smashes in Hearts second goal' EASY STREET: Tall celebrates his goal' OPENER: Branimir Anic heads into his own net. Right, Vladimir Romanov looks on
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jul 27, 2006
Words:815
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