Elimination from the Europa League at the first qualifying stage would be a slap in Hearts’ face.
The precarious nature of their 2-1 lead over FC Infonet entering the second leg is not lost on Conor Sammon. However, the Irishman is adamant Europe should become an odyssey, not a brief flirtation.
Jevgeni Harin’s away goal at Tynecastle on Thursday night leaves the first qualifying tie finely poised for Wednesday’s second leg in Tallinn. Sammon, who made his Hearts debut in the game, knows the pressure is on his new team. They can’t afford to fall at the first hurdle.
“We’re an ambitious group of players,” said the striker. “We’re not just happy to be involved in the Europa League, we want to be successful. We want to test ourselves against the best opposition out there. We got the win on Thursday, we would’ve liked to score a few more goals but we’ll try to build on it in the away leg and keep improving.
“It’s very early stages in the season so we’ll look to build on Thursday’s result. They came over here to play defensively and keep the game tight. They want to make it difficult for us to break them down, which is understandable.
“It’s hard to break through when you’re facing a deep back five and they’ve got lots of men back. We knew that coming into the game. We knew we had to play at a quick tempo and I don’t think we did that as much as we should. We’ll look at the positives. We’ve scored two goals, come back from a goal down and we’ll look to go into the next leg positively.”
It would appear essential for Hearts to score an away goal of their own in eastern Europe. Prince Buaben’s penalty and Andrei Kalimullin’s own goal gave them a slender advantage, but one which Infonet will be confident of overturning.
“I would think we’ll have to score, definitely,” admitted Sammon. “When you are 2-1 up in a European tie, it’s a precarious lead. If they win 1-0, it’s game over. We can’t go into the second leg thinking we need to sit in and defend. That would be foolish. I think we do need to score.
“I know a lot of teams will come to Tynecastle this season and sit in, not just in Europe. We have to keep working on the training pitch on how to get in behind and create opportunities when a game is very tight. I’m sure they’ll be a bit more attacking over there. That can play into our hands if we defend and break sharply.”
Hearts’ fitness levels should improve slightly before the return match. Robbie Neilson’s players only began pre-season training two and a half weeks ago. The difference in energy levels was obvious against Infonet, who are 17 games into the Estonian league campaign.
“You can do all the run and high intensity training but nothing prepares you for being under floodlights playing 90 minutes,” said Sammon. “That will stand us in good stead. We’ll get some recovery in and some more good training sessions before we travel over there.”
A crowd of 14,417 was in attendance at Tynecastle on Thursday – evidence of Hearts fans’ appetite for European football after a four-year hiatus. “It was amazing the amount of fans who attended the game, over 14,000 is incredible,” exclaimed Sammon. “The league campaign hasn’t long ended and it’s not easy for fans to pay out money again. It just shows the passion and pride fans have for the club, and how excited they are to be in European competition.
“Going back a few years to when I last played in Scotland, the Hearts fans have always been up there with the best for supporting their team and travelling. Tynecastle is one of the best atmospheres in the league. It was nice to hear that sort of roar so I’m really eager to try and hit the ground running. I want to repay the fans and the manager who have shown a lot of faith in me.”