Europa FC 0-4 Hearts: New signings start well during first match in Spain

Behind closed doors in searing Spanish heat, Hearts’ 2022/23 season began with a gentle friendly victory over Europa FC of Gibraltar.

Every available new signing took part with the exception of Kye Rowles, the Australian defender who is still on an extended summer break. No fans were allowed inside the pitch perimeter as the new recruits got to work.

Alan Forrest etched his name on the scoresheet twice from a right wing-back role in the second half. He looked energetic and keen to attack at pace whenever the opportunity arose.

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Equally impressive was Jorge Grant in midfield. He frequently got on the ball and tried to carry it forward with the ability to evade opponents in the process. The former Peterborough midfielder never looked stressed in possession and used his feet to move around with the ball until an opening transpired. He did pick up a yellow card off the ball, persumably for dissent.

Alex Cochrane at left wing-back simply continued where he left off from last season’s loan spell at Tynecastle. The young Englishman galloped up and down the flank and combined with team-mates to produce some decent first-half crosses.

On the right of a three-man defence, Lewis Neilson showed composure in possession even in tight areas and refused to become flustered as he tried to distribute from the back. He was the only new face to play 90 minutes.

Europa didn’t present the strongest of challenges, however the heat was a leveller to some extent. Hearts didn’t allow it to deter them as their week-long stay on the Costa del Sol nears an end.

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This was the first of seven friendly fixtures for the Edinburgh club before competitive action begins in earnest against Ross County on July 30. Europa start their Europa Conference League campaign next week against Faroese side Vikingur.

Hearts take on Europa FC in Spain.Hearts take on Europa FC in Spain.
Hearts take on Europa FC in Spain.

Temperatures pitchside at Hearts’ Spanish resort hit 30 degrees but those in maroon wanted to play at a high tempo. In amongst the new faces, Connor Smith’s aggression and competitive edge stood out both in central midfield and at left wing-back. He was the catalyst for the opening goal.

Hearts scored on eight minutes when he broke forward and Euan Henderson flicked the ball out to Gary Mackay-Steven. The winger sprinted through to finish calmly.

The Scottish side needed to be patient in the boiling heat as they pursued a second with Europa struggling to create opportunities. Several times they worked the ball in behind only to be thwarted by an offside flag or an uncompromising Gibraltarian tackle.

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Hearts manager Robbie Neilson substituted eight of his starting line-up during the interval to give players a rest. Within five minutes of the restart, three of them combined to score. Grant fed Liam Boyce who rolled a nice ball into Forrest’s path for a powerful strike into the bottom corner of the net.

The third was claimed by Henderson on 72 minutes. He rounded the Europa goalkeeper to stroke the ball home following Boyce’s pass. Barrie McKay’s neat intechanges preceded a lovely fourth moments later from Forrest, who took McKay's ball and cut inside before planting a left-footed strike in the top corner.

Europa (4-2-3-1): Banda; Jolley, Smither, Sanchez, Olivera; JoJo, McCoy; Hernandez, Orihuela, Heredia; Roman.

Hearts (3-4-3): Stewart (Stone 46); Neilson, Sibbick (Haring 46), Kingsley (Halliday 46); M Smith (Forrest 46), C Smith, Devlin (Grant 46), Cochrane (McEneff 46); Ginnelly (Boyce 46), Henderson, Mackay-Steven (McKay 46).

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