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Hearts boss Robbie Neilson issues red alert to players ahead of Fiorentina visit

Hearts boss Robbie Neilson knows his team can ill afford to have players sent off (Richard Sellers/PA)
Hearts boss Robbie Neilson knows his team can ill afford to have players sent off (Richard Sellers/PA)

Robbie Neilson has warned Hearts they must avoid red cards if they are to have any chance of a Europa Conference League upset at home to Fiorentina on Thursday.

The Jambos’ hopes of making the Europa League group stage were dashed when Jorge Grant was shown a second yellow for diving while the play-off against FC Zurich was delicately poised in August.

And on Saturday, Cammy Devlin’s needless red card for stamping on the ankle of Rangers attacker Rabbi Matondo killed off any prospect of Hearts fighting back from 2-0 down as they went on to lose 4-0 to Rangers at Tynecastle.

Neilson has no worries about his team banishing their weekend disappointment in time for the visit of Serie A side Fiorentina but he is adamant their discipline must be better for the entire 90 minutes.

“That won’t be a problem,” said the Hearts boss when asked if they could rouse themselves for Thursday. “It’s a massive game, but we have to make sure we keep 11 players on the pitch.

“When you’re playing against top teams, if you don’t do that you’re in trouble.”

With Hearts down to 10 men and trailing 2-0 at the break, Neilson took the opportunity to take key duo Barrie McKay and Stephen Kingsley off at half-time to preserve them for Thursday. Top scorer Lawrence Shankland was also taken off in the second half.

“We had a few different niggles so didn’t feel it was worth getting them back out,” he said.

“It was too much of a risk. They’ll be fine for Thursday.”

One of the few positives for Hearts was the performance of deadline-day signing Stephen Humphrys.

“He’s a good player,” said Neilson. “He’s got pace, power, physicality and can play in a number of positions. He showed what he can do (on Saturday).”

Neilson was also pleased to see recent recruit Robert Snodgrass get 45 minutes under his belt.

“He’s still getting his fitness levels but you can see the quality he brings,” said the Hearts boss.

“He’s out there talking and organising. That’s why I brought him on because we had to work differently.

“He’ll be a really good player for us and that 45 will have helped him.”

Rangers striker Antonio Colak, who struck twice against the Jambos, is hoping his side can deliver a strong performance as they head to Liverpool on Tuesday in search of their first Champions League points.

“We just have to focus on ourselves,” he told Sky Sports. “We know Anfield will be a difficult game but we just have to focus on ourselves and play a good game and then we will see what we get out of it.”

Colak felt Rangers’ two goals in the opening half-hour – both scored by himself – were crucial to Saturday’s victory at Tynecastle.

“We had the (international) break and it is difficult to start (quickly) but we wanted to set our standards really high,” he said. “I think we started the game really well and scored fast goals and we controlled the game until the end.

“The fast start was very important for us because often in the season already we have created the chances but maybe we didn’t score the early goal. (Against Hearts) we did and it helped us a lot with our confidence and our style of play.”