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Robbie Neilson admits Hearts struggled for match-fitness in season opener

Hearts manager Robbie Neilson (Mark Runnacles/Getty Images)
Hearts manager Robbie Neilson (Mark Runnacles/Getty Images)

HEARTS head coach Robbie Neilson admits his side’s lack of competitive fitness was a factor as they narrowly beat Infonet 2-1 in the Europa League.

The Gorgie outfit will take a lead to Estonia for next Wednesday’s first qualifying round second leg after coming from behind to beat the Tallinn club, who are already 17 games into their domestic campaign.

The visitors went ahead in the 21st minute with a stunning volley from Jegveni Harin but Hearts levelled through Prince Buaben from the penalty spot seven minutes later.

Infonet captain Andrei Kalimullin then scored an own goal 10 minutes before the break after Jamie Walker’s corner caused panic.

Neilson, whose side were playing in their first competitive game of the campaign, admits his side struggled to get up to match speed.

He said: “The fitness aspect made it twice as hard. We looked rusty in the first half an hour.

Prince Buaben celebrates scoring from the spot (Mark Runnacles/Getty Images)
Prince Buaben celebrates scoring from the spot (Mark Runnacles/Getty Images)

“These games are always difficult. When we saw them, we looked at the CVs – they’re a good team, guys with 100 caps.

“They have good players who have played at decent levels so we knew it would be tough. We’ve got a lot of guys who haven’t played any European football.

“My concern was it was really open at the start. Then both teams started to shut down towards the end of the game and they were probably happy with 2-1.

“We were desperate to score again but just couldn’t do it.

“It’s the first 90 minutes of competitive action our guys have had. In six days’ time they’ll be in better condition.

“I expect it to be tough out there but we’re in the driving seat. They’ve got an away goal but they have to come out and score.

“We don’t need to score if they don’t but if we can score the first goal it keeps us in control.”

Infonet manager Aleksandr Pashtov said: “We realised that we can play as equals and the second leg will be an interesting game.”


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