The Hearts were the winners of an entertaining competition with RFS from Latvia as they began their campaign in the European League.
Lawrence Shankland’s first-half penalty put the lead before the break, and Alan Forrest scored in injury time to win.
Hearts goalkeeper Craig Gordon had his thanks on points, especially for wasting one attempt to the woodwork, but they also missed good opportunities to add to their tally – including Shankland’s failure to find an empty net.
In the end, it didn’t matter as Hearts finished second in Group A after Istanbul’s Basaksehir – who beat Fiorentina 3-0 – as Robbie Nelson’s side prepare to face Serie A at home and away afterwards.
The win in Riga maintains some hope of progressing alive for the injured Hearts, who lost their sixth defeat in seven matches at the hands of Basaksehir last week when the Turkish side left Edinburgh with a 4-0 victory.
Looking at the show, this was a must-win match for Nelson and his team and at various points in the first half they looked nervous, especially when centre-back Craig Halkett came off 20 minutes after coming back from injury.
RFS – last season’s Latvian champions who upset Florence in their opening match – hit the trees two minutes later when Gordon was at his acrobatic best to flip Emerson’s shot on wood.
The Cuban goalkeeper stopped two more stops in quick succession to keep his team ahead before the end of the first half.
But Hearts were just as dangerous in spells before the break, and were better off in the second half without exercising complete control throughout.
By this point, Shankland had his penalty kick emphatically in the top corner after Elvis Stuglis parried Andy Hallyday’s cross with his arm, and missed an open goal along the field when Josh Genley slashed his pass slightly across the six-yard area.
However, Hearts did more than enough for a tough victory, his first in the European group stage in 18 years, and he made sure of it when Cammy Devlin finally raced before beating Forrest to net.
Man of the Match – Andy Hallyday
Hearts get a reward for attacking intent analysis
Nelson switched to a four-way defense in this match, and indicated his intent to use Barry McKay and Josh Genley to cause head-to-head dribbling problems.
This was the right approach against an inferior team, albeit with a recent history of trauma. It paid off too, with McKay’s incredible touch and drive that came in handy in the lead up to the penalty kick, while Ginnelly was active.
Halliday was also ready to move forward from midfield and had many chances to score.
Obviously, the obligation to broadcast more bodies forward came with risk, but Hearts still ceded more opportunities than they would have liked, as Gordon saved them on several occasions.
One gamble that didn’t pay off was the decision to play Halkett, whose hamstrings didn’t hold out even half an hour.
His absence has been harshly felt amid a long list of injuries, and his absence for a few more weeks could do more damage to the team in the long run.
Overall, though, Hearts appeared to swell in confidence as the match progressed and with struggling Fiorentina to visit Tynecastle afterwards, the dream of qualifying for the last 16 still remained.
Hearts will miss Motherwell in the Scottish Premier League on Sunday (15:00 GMT) before club football comes to a halt in the international break.
Riga football school
formation – composition 3-4-3
- 92YagodinskyBooked in 42 minutes
- 66falukinhas been replaced bySorokinin 58 ‘Minutes
- 28panicBooked in 80 minutes
- 24I will show you
- 25maresBooked in 52 minutes
- 81SimkovicBooked in 45 minuteshas been replaced byFriesenbachlerin 59′Minutes
- 9Santana Diocletiano
formation – composition 4-3-3
- 1GordonBooked in 74 minutes
- 4Halketthas been replaced byNelsonin 22 ‘Minutes
- 19CochraneBooked in 8mins
- 7Granthas been replaced byHaringin 70′MinutesBooked in 83 minutes
- 30JinliBooked in 79 minuteshas been replaced byhumphriesin 79 ‘Minutes
- 9ShanklandBooked in 45 minuteshas been replaced byForestin 79 ‘Minutes
- 18make up
- 11Mackay Stephen
- Alexander Stavriev
Match ends, Rigas FS 0, Heart of Midlothian 2.
Second half ends, Regas FS 0, Midlothian 2 overturned.
Goal! Rigas FS 0, Midlothian Heart 2. Alan Forrest (Midlothian Heart) right-footed shot from the right side of the penalty area into the lower right corner. Assisted by Cameron Devlin after a quick break.
Attempt is prohibited. Ziga Lipuscek (Rigas FS)’s left-footed shot was blocked by the right side of the penalty area.
Alex Cochran (Midlothian’s heart) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Error by Ziga Lipuscek (Rigas FS).
Bean Book by Stephen Humphries (The Heart of Midlothian).
Vitalijs Jagodinskis (Rigas FS) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Cameron Devlin (Midlothian’s heart) won with a free kick in the defensive half.
Error by Peter Maris (Regas FS).
Fault Louis Nelson (Midlothian Heart).
Andrej Elik (Regas FS) wins a free kick on the left wing.
Peter Haring (Midlothian heart) was shown a yellow card for a bad foul.
Foul to Peter Haring (Heart of Midlothian).
Elvis Stoglis (Regas FS) wins a free kick on the left flank.
Infiltrate, heart of Midlothian. Stephen Humphreys attempts a through pass, but Michael Smith is caught offside.
Attempt is prohibited. Stephen Humphreys (Midlothian’s heart) was blocked with his left foot from outside the penalty area. Assisted by Cameron Devlin.
Stefan Panic (Rigas FS) was shown the yellow card for a bad foul.
Alan Forrest (Midlothian’s heart) won with a free kick in the attacking half.
Error by Stefan Banek (Regas FS).