Europa Conference League: Hearts set sights on Fiorentina and progress

Andy Hallyday was one of the Hearts players who impressed in Latvia

Seven days ago, Hearts was defeated 4-0 at home by Istanbul Basaksehir – the sixth defeat in seven matches. Now, they are looking at Fiorentina with amusement.

Thursday’s 2-0 win over RFS kick-started Tynecastle’s Europa Conference League campaign, breathing some life into an unfinished season opener.

They finished second in Group A after two matches, ahead of Fiorentina by three points before the Italian side’s visit to Tynecastle in two weeks’ time.

“It’s a real Robbie Nelson moment,” former Hearts boss Craig Levine told SportsSound. “If he loses this match tonight, all sorts of problems will come his way. They are now in a situation where they are talking about getting past them in this group.

“From a place where they were knocked down by Istanbul in Tynecastle. Tonight they put on a show of entertainment and perseverance.”

Hearts were tested in Riga, and goalkeeper Craig Gordon was thanking him for three excellent saves in the first half. Although centre-back Craig Halkett was injured after 20 minutes, they managed to get their first clean sheet in their 11th game of the season.

Furthermore, their attacking intent was rewarded as Josh Genley, Barry McKay and Lawrence Shankland all linked well to midfield.

“It was a so-called sticky patch but we are fourth in the league and second in the Conference League group,” Nelson told BBC Scotland.

“If it’s sticky, I’ll take advantage of that most of the time. We know the league format could be better, but with the amount of injuries we’ve all had. Hopefully it’s done and we can move on and be more of a squad now.”

Fiorentina there to take it?

Fiorentina was the charming name that came out of the lottery along with the hearts, but so far they are content to be deceived.

After a surprise home draw against RFS, Serie A was defeated 3-0 in Istanbul and went eight games without a win. Vincenzo Italiano’s side have scored just eight goals in 10 games this season and only three times in their last eight.

In that form, the Hearts would imagine a crack at them, especially with RFS earning a tie in Florence. Regardless, the Chief of Hearts doesn’t get carried away.

“They will be big matches for us,” Nelson said. “They’re a big team, let’s be honest, it’s Fiorentina. We need to be at 100%. We need to bring an A game, and hopefully they don’t come to an A game or a B game or potentially even a C-game.”

Next up at Hearts is Motherwell on Sunday, before the international break, and a chance to get back on track in the league.

With injuries and a busy schedule, this would be easier said than done. Former Hearts player Alan Preston believes other members of the squad need improvement to allow the team to remain consistent across all competitions.

“The players that Hearts can use on Sunday need to boost their capabilities,” he said. “The likes of Gary McKay Stephen and Nathaniel Atkinson will return, as will Toby Seebeck. He adds Robert Snodgrass to the equation as well.

“Hearts need this because they are going to the well Thursday-Sunday-Thursday-Sunday.”

Levine added, “Going to Motherwell when they’re in good shape is tough. If they can win that and get two straight wins, I think they’ll go out and run again.”