Fiorentina 5-1 Hearts: Robbie Neilson’s men lose more ground in the Europa Conference League
Watching Fiorentina take a 4-0 thrashing at home against Lazio on Monday night, Robbie Neilson must have felt a slight unease in his stomach.
From Harten’s point of view, this was probably the worst that could have happened prior to this Europa Conference League clash in Florence.
There was always the possibility of a response from Fiorentina, especially given that their manager Vincenzo Italiano was faced with questions on Wednesday about his job being at stake.
Hearts suffered a miserable 5-1 defeat to Fiorentina in the Europa Conference League
And so it turned out. A skinny middleweight boxer seeking revenge for a shock defeat, Fiorentina invited Hearts to a sparring session, took aim and used them as a punching bag.
La Viola was fully loaded, Italiano chose not to let some of his key players rest knowing what the consequences would be if the unthinkable happened.
Just as they had in the 3-0 defeat to the Italians at Tynecastle last week, Robbie Neilson’s side lost an early goal and never recovered.
On this occasion, Fiorentina led 4-0 before half-time. While they remain a humble 13th in Serie A, the unforgiving reality is that Hearts, the third best team in Scotland last season, couldn’t come close to them.
Fiorentina feasted on Hearts’ weaknesses and Neilson’s men now have to lick their wounds for a trip to Aberdeen in Pittodrie on Sunday.
Luka Jovic opened the scoring for the hosts after just five minutes into Thursday’s game
Nicolas Gonzalez also took two as Fiorentina rode to a five-star win in Italy
What a sobering week this has been for our clubs. Rangers are now on their way to setting a host of Champions League records after a 7-1 humiliation against Liverpool at Ibrox on Wednesday.
Celtic remains porous and dissolute in equal measure, while Hearts will now travel home dazed and confused after being knocked down in Florence.
The three Scottish clubs have only won once in a total of 12 matches in the group stage of the European competition this season. It’s a sad return.
Neilson’s squad is now nearly out of the Conference League and once European football fades from the horizon, Hearts fans will wonder why their team has only won five times in 21 games.
That run goes back to the end of last season and soon loses the shine that comes with European football.
Robbie Neilson’s Hearts now faces an uphill battle to reach the knockout stage of the tournament
That said, a traveling following of nearly 4,000 Hearts fans sang long after the final whistle had sounded. This was a journey not to be missed or soured from their point of view.
Hearts always looked like they could go head to head. Down to the bone on defense due to a series of injury problems, they were without key players whose experience would certainly have helped.
Craig Halkett and Michael Smith were the foremost among them. Australian international Kye Rowles also remains a notable absentee, while young centre-back Lewis Neilson was banned after his red card at Tynecastle last week.
As for the man in charge, Robbie Neilson played in 2003’s 1-0 UEFA Cup win over Bordeaux, a match that still ranks as the club’s finest hour away from home in Europe.
The former Hearts and Scotland right-back would have been tempted to take his boots to Florence just in case. As it was, however, Nathaniel Atkinson was deployed to that position.
Atkinson had scored one last gasp against Kilmarnock last weekend and he was set to be prominent in the early stages last night, albeit not in a positive way.
Stephen Humphrys pulled one back, but it wasn’t enough to cause a miraculous revival
Despite their shortcomings, the traveling heart believers did not stop making noise everywhere
After Fiorentina came to their senses after Humphrys’ initial shock hitting a pole within 30 seconds, they began asking Hearts important questions.
With three minutes left on the clock, a free kick by Cristiano Biraghi on the left of Christian Kouame sent a header towards the goal.
Craig Gordon clawed it away, as he so often does, but Atkinson was injured among a heap of bodies in the coffin.
It looked like he might have to be taken away on a stretcher. By the time he finally left after 16 minutes, Hearts was already a goal behind.
Painful for Hearts, Atkinson had been off the field and treated for the first injury when Fiorentina scored the opener at five minutes.
They took a short left turn and Biraghi waved in an inviting cross. Luka Jovic peeled off Alex Cochrane and headed into the far corner of Gordon’s net.
They were already behind in the five minutes, with Luka Jovic taking in the opening goal
Antonin Barak also came into action and made it 4-0 from Fiorentina in just 38 minutes
Hearts has never recovered from conceding an early goal in the 3-0 defeat to Fiorentina in Tynecastle, and it showed once again last night.
Rolando Mandragora had already hit the ball against a post when La Viola doubled the lead in the 22nd minute.
Barrie McKay may have been a little unlucky when he was penalized for a foul on the edge of his own penalty area, but Biraghi’s outcome was brutal and brilliantly decisive – Gordon’s free kick into the top corner.
With a goal and an assist in just 20 minutes, Fiorentina skipper Biraghi had a huge impact on left-back play.
Humphrys had a decent chance in the 24th minute. After Cammy Devlin won the ball deep in his own half, McKay fed Humphrys into the left channel, but the striker dragged his bet wide.
But Fiorentina was now ubiquitous. They made it 3-0 after half an hour when Kouame and Jovic combined to let Nico Gonzalez slide low past Gordon in the rear.
Considering what happened in Ibrox just 24 hours earlier, you feared Hearts at this point. We hadn’t even settled down yet, it was about to become a humiliation.
After Humphrys’ consolation, Gonzalez added his second and Fiorentina’s fifth from the spot
A fourth goal fell for the Italians in the 38th minute when midfielder Antonin Barak played a one-two with Kouame and sent the ball past Scotland No. 1 Gordon.
Trailing 4-0 at halftime, the second half was a damage control exercise, as was everything else for the Tynecastle side.
Neilson made two substitutions at halftime, Orestis Kiomourtzoglou and Connor Smith replaced Alan Forrest and Jorge Grant.
Humphrys had gotten a nod to Lawrence Shankland up front – and he scored a goal back just minutes into the second half.
Hearts worked the ball really well to the left, and Andy Halliday eventually sent Humphrys clear. He showed great composure by calmly sliding past housekeeper Pierluigi Gollini.
Cue bedlam in the heart of the Stadio Artemio Franchi. Their team was battered in the first half, but here was a glimpse of consolation.
But it was only a minor footnote in the end. Fiorentina crept through the second half and made it 5-1 when Alex Cochrane made a mistake on Riccardo Saponara, with Gonzalez snapping the penalty past Gordon halfway through.