HEARTS players vomited in the dressing-room from heat exhaustion after last night’s Europa League qualifier in Malta. However, head coach Robbie Neilson praised a job well done and implored them to finish the tie at Tynecastle next week.
A 0-0 draw with Birkirkara in stifling heat tees up the second leg of the second qualifying round nicely. Some of Neilson’s players were sick at full-time as their bodies had overheated during an exhausting 90 minutes.
Their manager acclaimed a mature and professional display and said his squad must now recover before completing the job next Thursday.
“It was really pleasing,” said Neilson. “Having watched the videos we knew what Birkirkara would do. A less mature team would have got frustrated. Our two centre-halves organised well and there was a lot of maturity in the defence.
“We have to try and create better chances and score to go through now. European football is totally different to Scottish football, there are two legs and we are in a good position going to Tynecastle. I was really pleased with the lads’ fitness levels too. A couple were sick in the dressing-room from being too hot. It’s really difficult to play in that heat. You leave Scotland and it’s 15 degrees, then you step off the plane and the sun is beating down and it’s 35 degrees. It was a really good performance, a mature one considering we have lots of guys who haven’t played in Europe before this season. Teams will come here and get beat and turned over. We leave here in a good position. If you’d said we have one game against them at Tynecastle, I’d have taken it.”
Neilson admitted being frustrated that Conor Sammon’s third-minute strike was disallowed for offside, denying Hearts a coveted away goal. “There is frustration but overall I’m pleased.
“Birkirkara were exactly what we thought they would be like. When they beat West Ham out here last year they stifled the game and sat in with two banks of four. They wait for you to open up, get frustrated then look to score on the counter attack. But we stopped them doing it. They might change their gameplan at Tynecastle. The temperature will be lower, the pitch will be better and there will be a huge crowd. So I’d expect us to perform at a higher level and get a result.”
American midfielder Perry Kitchen was forced off after tweaking a hamstring in the first half. “He’s tweaked it so he’ll get a scan. We might have him back for next week but, if not, then the following week,” said Neilson.