Hearts suffered a heavy defeat away to Fiorentina in tonight’s early kick off losing 5-1, with the Edinburgh side now having a real uphill battle to not exit the Europa League at the group stage. While their Italian opposition made a real statement of intent after a poor start to their league campaign.
It was a high-pressure match for both managers, with Hearts’ Robbie Nielson seeing his side 5th in the Scottish Premiership and coming off a heavy 3-0 loss at Tynecastle to Fiorentina last week, whereas his opposite number Vincenzo Italiano has seen his side languishing in 14th in Serie A, after suffering a humbling 4-0 loss at home to Napoli last time out.
The game was lively from the start, with a sloppy pass leading to Stephen Humphreys having the best chance of the first half for Hearts as his shot rattled the post, that would be as good as it would get though as Nathaniel Atkinson went down injured with barely two minutes played after defending a set piece.
It went from bad to worse for Hearts after a ruthless Fiorentina side cut them to pieces with scintillating attacking football for the rest of the half. Club captain Cristiano Biraghi was electric down the left flank, creating the first goal after firing in a brilliant cross from a short corner which Luka Jovic headed past a helpless Craig Gordon. Full back Aleksa Terzic showed Olympic speed as he burst from his own half to storm into the box, only to be stopped by Andy Halliday at the last possible second.
Relentless pressure from the hosts continued, after midfielder Rolando Mandragora cannoned a 20 yard strike off the post which had goalkeeper Gordon absolutely stranded. After yet another goal mouth scramble and last second clearance, defender Stephen Kingsley ended up on the floor after landing awkwardly under pressure, a minute later Atkinson was off as he was unable to play through the pain any longer and Toby Sibbick came on to deplete the resources of the Edinburgh club even further.
The 22nd minute brought further heartbreak as Biraghi again showed his quality lashing a 20-yard free kick into the top corner past a helpless Gordon, minutes later Hearts had a chance to get back into the game, but Humphrys could only drag his shot wide past the far post from inside the area.
Fiorentina’s excellent passing style cut Hearts open once again in the 32nd minute, after a wonderful move led to a Cristian Kouame pass which was dummied by Jovic and slotted home by Argentinian striker Nicolas Gonzalez
Antonin Barak then put another nail into the coffin after a simple 1-2 with Kouami led to the Czech international powering his shot passed Gordon, who despite getting a hand to it was unable to keep it out.
With the tie seemingly put to bed, both teams made changes with Alfred Duncan and Ricardo Saponara entering for Rolando Mandragora and Luka Jovic on the home side, and Orestis Kiomourtzoglou and Connor Smith coming on for Alan Forrest and Jorge Grant for the visitors.
Whatever Neilson said to his team at half time must have had some impact as Andy Halliday slipped in Humphreys who slotted his shot away nicely into the far corner.
As the match continued it became a much scrappier affair, a booking for Peter Haring in the 48th minute could have potentially become more as tempers began to flare.
An awkward landing from Stephen Kingsley in an effort to defend from the lively Kouami resulted in him requiring treatment, luckily for Robbie Nielson he does not need to deal with another defensive injury as Kingsley soldiers on.
In the 70th minute a pair of bookings were dished out by the ref after a reckless foul by Sibbick caught the attention of Biraghi who wanted a word with the referee.
A pair of subs for Hearts as goal scorer Humphreys and Barrie McKay were taken off for Lawrence Shankland and Euan Henderson.
Despite a sturdier second half performance, Hearts were again undone as Alex Cochrane gave away a penalty for a foul on Saponara which Gonzalez easily converted.
Italiano looked to consolidate a great performance by bringing on youngster Alessandro Bianco for Antonin Barak and Lorenzo Venuti for captain Christiano Biraghi.
However, minutes after coming on there was a scuffle after Venuti was fouled and Orestis Kiomourtzoglou decided to kick the ball at him whilst he was down, the referee managed to cool the situation and showed the substitue a yellow card.
Another substitution was made as Arthur Cabral joins for the hosts, replacing man of the match candidate Cristian Kouami.
Full Time: Fiorentina 5-1 Hearts
That result leaves Hearts on three points with two games to go and Fiorentina now look to have all but consolidated second place with seven points, Hearts host bottom side RFS in two weeks’ time whilst Fiorentina have a tie away to Istanbul Basaksehir to look forward to.