Heart Of Midlothian 1 Aberdeen 0: Hartley's penalty propels Hearts into European elite

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The Independent Online

Hearts are in the Champions' League, tiny Gretna are in the Uefa Cup and Rangers' new era under Paul Le Guen next season will begin devoid of the riches of Europe's top table. Those are just some of the implications of last night's win for the home side, earned during an edgy evening via a second-half penalty by Paul Hartley.

Not that the Hearts fans gave two hoots about anything but their club's achievement in guaranteeing second place in the Scottish Premier League. At the final whistle, pandemonium. Rarely can Tynecastle have seen such unconfined joy. The DJ already had Handel's Zadok The Priest - the Champions' League theme - cued up, and let rip. Hearts have never played in that competition before and are now in the qualifiers. They last played in the European Cup in 1960-61, when they lost in their first tie, to Benfica, who were about to sign a promising youngster called Eusebio.

"Vladimir Romanov!" screamed a packed house of 17,000 in acknowledgement of the role played by the club's Lithuanian multi-millionaire dictator-owner. In the directors' box, Romanov smiled thinly and then took to the pitch to milk the applause.

Hearts' last game of the season is on Sunday at Ibrox against third-place Rangers, over whom they now have an insurmountable four-point lead. With Hearts finishing second, Gretna are guaranteed Uefa Cup football next season regardless of how they fare in the Scottish Cup final on 13 May against Hearts.

The match itself was nervy, patchy in quality, and Hearts had the better of the few genuine chances. The penalty came after a clear handball by Russell Anderson. The visitors' woes were compounded when Scott Severin was sent off.

Romanov had cast doubt on the future of a key player, Rudi Skacel, before kick-off. Hearts only exercised their option on the Czech winger on Tuesday, turning a one-year loan from Marseilles into a permanent deal. But Romanov claimed Skacel now wants to move to the English Premiership. Romanov will demand a high transfer fee, but hopes to convince the player to stay, or force him to.

Heart of Midlothian (4-4-2): Gordon; Neilson, Pressley, Tall, Fyssas; Cesnauskis, Aguiar (Brellier, 90), Hartley, Skacel (Mikoliunas, 66); Bednar (Pospisil, 88), Jankauskas. Substitutes not used: Banks (gk), Berra, Wallace, Barasa.

Aberdeen (3-5-2): Langfield; Diamond (Dempsey 66), Anderson, Byrne; Smith, Severin, McNaughton, Nicholson, Foster; Lovell (Mackie, 33), Crawford. Substitutes not used: Esson (gk), Considine, Macaulay, Maguire, Griffin.

Referee: S Dougal (Scotland).

* Maciej Zurawski and Stanislav Varga gave Celtic a 2-0 home win last night to bury any last hope of a Uefa Cup place for Kilmarnock.

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