Hearts’ hopes of progressing in the Europa Conference League suffered a blow on Thursday as they were outclassed by Fiorentina at Tynecastle.
The Cinch Premiership side trailed 2-0 at the break and then teenager Lewis Neilson was sent off early in the second half as they collapsed to a 3-0 loss in a one-sided encounter.
The result saw Fiorentina overtake Hearts to take second place in Group A. The Edinburgh side travel to Florence for the rematch next week, knowing they will almost certainly have to avoid defeat to have a chance to qualify for the knockout stage.
How Fiorentina secured victory at Hearts…
Hearts made three changes to the side which started last weekend’s 4-0 loss at home to Rangers as Cammy Devlin, Alan Forrest and Stephen Humphrys dropped out to be replaced by Andy Halliday, Josh Ginnelly and Jorge Grant.
Fiorentina arrived in Edinburgh with just one win in their previous 10 matches in all competitions and found themselves bottom of the Conference League group with just one point to their name.
Their under-pressure manager Vincenzo Italiano sent out a strong squad, with former Real Madrid striker Luka Jovic back in the squad after being left out for Sunday’s Serie A loss to Atalanta.
Tynecastle were rocking as the sides emerged but the hosts got off to the worst possible start when Fiorentina took the lead with their first attack of the game in the fourth minute as the undercover Rolando Mandragora headed in Aleksa’s cross Terzic from the right.
Hearts tried to find an answer in the eighth minute but Michael Smith nodded straight into the arms of goalkeeper Pierluigi Gollini after meeting Halliday’s delivery from the left.
The Viola nearly doubled their lead in the 13th minute when Jovic launched a free header over the bar after netting a corner from Cristiano Biraghi.
Hearts struggled to gain a foothold in the game and goalkeeper Craig Gordon had to pull off an impressive 21st-minute save when he dove to his left to tip over behind a 25-yard thunderbolt from Fiorentina centre-back Igor .
Just as the hosts looked like they could weather the storm, however, they conceded a second goal two minutes before the break when Christian Kouame leapt up to crush a stray ball from eight yards out after Hearts failed to clear a ball in the left box.
The Jambos nearly pulled one back on the right at half-time but Ginnelly was denied by Gollini after breaking free on the corner of the six-yard box.
After a promising start to the second half, Hearts’ hopes of fighting back effectively evaporated when teenage centre-back Neilson was shown a red card for a last-man foul on Jovic in the 49th minute.
As Hearts pursued an unlikely course in the game, Jovic sealed the win for Fiorentina in the 78th minute when he completed a close-range counterattack.
What the managers said…
boss of hearts Robbie Neilson lamented the loss of two “bad” goals in the first half.
“I’m disappointed. It was a huge learning curve for us. What disappointed me were the goals we conceded. For all of Fiorentina it was good, the goals we lost were mediocre.
“It’s the first time that a number of players have played against players of this level. There were parts of the game where we contained them and parts where we turned off and if you turn off for half a -second against these players, you lose goals.
“I sometimes felt like we were reactive instead of proactive. We need to be more proactive and have more conviction.”
Fiorentina had won just one of their previous 10 games and boss Vincenzo Italiano will be hoping their dominating display at Tynecastle can help breathe life into their season.
“We knew how important this game was. I’m very happy that we played the game we wanted to play. We played most of the game in their half.
“I’m very proud of the guys. They kept up a good pace and I hope that will continue.”