Jim Jefferies will take charge of his first European match as Hearts manager for over a decade tonight in Hungary, and will be quietly confident of his side’s chances in their Europa League qualifying tie against Paksi SE.
The Tynecastle boss was last in charge of the Edinburgh side in continental competition in September 2000, in the old UEFA Cup, as his side lost narrowly to German outfit VfB Stuttgart on away goals. In the first leg Hearts lost in Germany 1-0, meaning that a 3-2 victory in the return at Tynecastle was not enough to avoid elimination. Jefferies will know all too well that an away goal can be crucial in these ties, something that he will undoubtedly drill into his players prior to tonight’s match in Hungary.
The defeat in Stuttgart was actually Jefferies’ only away loss in European competition in his first spell as Hearts manager, a period which saw him make five trips across the continent.
Red Star Belgrade 0 Hearts 0
Cup Winners’ Cup, 8th August 1996
Jim Jefferies’ first European adventure as Hearts manager began in Yugoslavia, against a side that had won the European Cup just five years before. Hearts earned a respectable goalless draw to take back to Tynecastle for the second leg, although the lack of an away goal would cost them as a 1-1 draw saw them crash out of the competition.
FC Lantana 0 Hearts 1
Cup Winners’ Cup, 13th August 1998
Following a memorable victory against Rangers in the Scottish Cup just three months earlier, Hearts once again competed in the old Cup Winners’ Cup competition. On this occasion Jefferies took his side to Estonia, and Tallinn, to face a side who had never won in European competition – something that wasn’t about to change. A spectacular effort from recent signing Lee Makel was enough to give Hearts the win in a game they were very comfortable in.
Real Mallorca 1 Hearts 1
Cup Winners’ Cup, 1st October 1998
This was a match marred by controversy and disputes over the size of the Spanish side’s goals, and one that not many gave Hearts much of chance. Mallorca were sitting top of the Spanish league, and hadn’t lost at home yet that season, and also went into the game with a 1-0 advantage from the first leg at Tynecastle. A goal from Ariel Lopez seemed to kill the tie, but Jim Hamilton headed Hearts level with fifteen minutes remaining. Although the Gorgie side pushed gallantly till the end, it was to be yet another narrow defeat and heartbreak for Jefferies and his players.
IBV Vestmannaeyjar 0 Hearts 2
UEFA Cup, 10th August 2000
Hearts travelled to Reykjavik in the first leg of UEFA Cup qualifying against the Icelandic part-timers IBV. Following a difficult opening period, Hearts improved after the break and gave themselves a two goal cushion to bring back to Edinburgh with goals coming from Scott Severin and Darren Jackson.
VfB Stuttgart 1 Hearts 0
UEFA Cup, 14th September 2000
Jefferies’ only defeat so far away from Tynecastle in European competition as Hearts manager, although it was a result that gave the Edinburgh side a lot of hope for the second leg. Bulgarian international Krasimir Balakov struck for the hosts with a well hit free-kick, but despite sustaining heavy pressure throughout the visitors stood firm and refused to concede again.
Jim Jefferies was only Hearts manager for a further few months following the European exit to Stuttgart, and in the ten years between his first and second spell at the club there has been mixed fortunes for Hearts on their travels. Surprise victories in France against Bordeaux and in Switzerland against Basel have undoubtedly been the highlights, even if ultimately these triumphs counted for nothing in terms of qualification to the next phase.
In nine European away trips since Jefferies’ departure at the turn of the century, Hearts have won only twice, but at the same time they’ve only lost on three occasions as well. Heavy defeats in Rotterdam, Athens and Zagreb were disappointing at the time, but the calibre of opposition made them not entirely surprising.
Whilst no one will be underestimating Paksi, runners-up in the Hungarian league last season, Jefferies has every right to expect his players to achieve a respectable result this evening, and one that puts them in the driving seat for the return leg in Edinburgh next week.
Hearts are slightly weakened, with Rudi Skácel yet to sign a new contract and Andy Webster and Mehdi Taouil missing through injury, but Jefferies has assembled a squad with enough depth to cover such absences.
It may be almost eleven years since he last felt the agony of losing on away goals as Hearts boss, but Jefferies will still be determined to make sure there is no repeat this time around.
Paksi vs Hearts will kick off this evening, Thursday 28th July, at 19.00. The game is being played at the Sóstói stadium in Székesfehérvár.