Hearts’ hopes of progressing in the Europa Conference League were dealt a heavy blow on Thursday when they were trumped by Fiorentina in Tynecastle.
The Premiership team trailed 2-0 at half-time and then teenager Lewis Neilson was sent off early in the second half as he lost 3-0 in a one-sided clash.
With the result, Fiorentina overcame Hearts to move into second place in Group A. The Edinburgh team travel to Florence for their rematch next week knowing they will almost certainly have to avoid defeat to have any chance of qualifying for the knockout stage.
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How Fiorentina came to victory at Hearts…
Hearts made three changes to the squad that began last weekend’s 4-0 loss at home to Rangers, with Cammy Devlin, Alan Forrest and Stephen Humphrys being replaced by Andy Halliday, Josh Ginnelly and Jorge Grant.
Fiorentina have come to Edinburgh with just one win from their last 10 matches in all competitions and are bottom of the Conference League group with just one point to their name.
Their pressured coach Vincenzo Italiano has sent a strong team, with former Real Madrid striker Luka Jovic back in the squad after being left out in Sunday’s Serie A loss to Atalanta.
Tynecastle was teetering as the teams surged forward, but the hosts got off to a bad start when Fiorentina took the lead with their first attack of the game in the fourth minute, when Rolando Mandragora headed in after Aleksa Terzic’s cross from the right.
Hearts tried to find an answer in the eighth minute, but Michael Smith waved directly into the arms of goalkeeper Pierluigi Gollini after receiving a shot from Halliday from the left.
La Viola came close to doubling the lead in the 13th minute when Jovic headed over the bar for free after connecting with a Cristiano Biraghi corner.
Hearts were struggling to get any sort of support in the game and goalkeeper Craig Gordon had to make an impressive save in the 21st minute when he dove to the left to deflect behind a 25-yard radius from Fiorentina defender Igor.
Just as the hosts appeared to be weathering the storm, however, they conceded a second goal two minutes before half-time when Christian Kouame took advantage to hit a loose ball from eight yards after Hearts failed to clear a ball into the area from the left. .
The Jambos almost backed off at halftime, but Ginnelly was denied by Gollini after breaking free at the angle of the six-yard area.
After a promising second-half start, Hearts’ hopes of fighting back effectively evaporated when teenager defender Neilson was given a direct red card for a last-man foul on Jovic in the 49th minute.
As Hearts chased an unlikely path back into the game, Jovic sealed Fiorentina’s victory in the 78th minute when he finished off a counterattack at close range.
What the managers said…
boss of hearts Robbie Neilson lamented the loss of two “poor” goals in the first half.
“I’m disappointed. It was a big learning curve for us. What disappointed me was the goals we conceded. Although all of Fiorentina were good, the goals we lost were bad.
“It’s the first time that a lot of players have played against players of that level. There were parts of the game where we held them back and parts where we turned them off and if you turn off for half a second against those players, you lose goals.
“I felt that sometimes we were reactive rather than proactive. We have to be more proactive and have more faith.”
Fiorentina have won just one of their last 10 matches and manager Vincenzo Italiano is hoping their dominant display at Tynecastle can help bring the season to life.
“We knew how important this game was. I’m very happy that we played the game we wanted. We played most of the game in their midfield.
“I’m very proud of the lads. They kept up a good rhythm and I hope they stay that way.”