Exclusive: Josh Ginnelly predicts Hearts' European future ahead of Fiorentina tie

European football has renewed the vigour within Hearts winger Josh Ginnelly. Last month’s Europa Conference League outing in Latvia was arguably his finest performance in more than two years with the Edinburgh club.
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After torturing the RFS wing-back Petr Mares in Riga, Ginnelly is relishing the prospect of troubling Fiorentina’s left-back Cristiano Biraghi this week. A recent tactical change at Hearts combined with more space for individualism in UEFA ties has helped the Englishman rediscover form.

So high is his confidence and belief that he feels progress to the Conference League knockout phase is a realistic possibility. Istanbul Basaksehir are firmly on course to win Group A but Hearts sit second ahead of Thursday’s meeting with La Viola at Tynecastle Park. Victory would put them five points ahead of Fiorentina with three games to play.

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“We watched some clips of Fiorentina from the RFS game. They have some great players and it’s a massive club, but we have enough in our changing room to get through the group. I believe that, 100 per cent,” says Ginnelly, speaking exclusively to the Evening News. “We know we can beat any team if we are on our game. A lot of the focus is on us. We need to respect Fiorentina, of course, but we are at home. We need to start quickly.

“The boys deserve credit for what we have done but it isn’t over yet. We got a man sent off in the Zurich game but every game in Europe is tough. You learn a lot more from it than you would playing against someone in this league [Scottish Premiership]. That’s no disrespect, but there are some unbelievable players in European competition.”

Ginnelly probably exhaled a significant sigh of relief when Hearts switched from a three-man defensive shape to a back four a few weeks ago. That allowed wingers rather than wing-backs to provide the team with width. Ginnelly returned to the starting line-up against RFS and enjoyed perhaps his best game for the club in a rousing 2-0 victory.

“Yeah, that’s probably fair to say. Obviously the shape suited me,” he acknowledges. “I was in my best position. The boys know that, when I’m out there, if they can work the ball out to me then nine times out of ten something is coming into the box. I’m looking forward to Thursday now.

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“The gaffer is looking at it and, with the personnel we’ve got, it probably suits better to play a back four right now. I want to get as many starts as I can because that’s when I’m most effective.

Hearts winger Josh Ginnelly is enjoying this season's European matches.Hearts winger Josh Ginnelly is enjoying this season's European matches.
Hearts winger Josh Ginnelly is enjoying this season's European matches.

“Nobody wants to sit on the bench. You come in every day and train hard to everybody wants to play. We have a big squad, there’s good competition, but the more games I get then the better I’ll get. It’s down to the manager to pick the team so I just need to train well.

“Sometimes you can train well but the game coming up doesn’t suit you, so the gaffer might go with someone else. If that’s the case, I just need to be ready to come on and effect the game as much as I can.

“There might be a weak area somewhere that suits someone else’s game better. We aren’t in the Championship any more, we’re in the top drawer and we’ve got Europe as well. Every team is different but we believe in ourselves.”

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One-against-one situations are food and drink for a player like Ginnelly. It’s what he thrives on and the Continental environment can offer more opportunities to test his direct style of play.

“From what I’ve seen in the European games, each man does their job so it is one v one. In the Riga game I got the better of my opponent. Most of the boys did, that’s why we won on the night. It’s tactical. It’s mentally and physically as hard as any game you will play. It’s enjoyable as well. I like playing as high as I can up the pitch so it’s been good.”

Hearts are studying Fiorentina intensely this week in preparation for what is a vital match. They will intend to attack the Italians, who arrived in Edinburgh on Wednesday on the back of just one win in their last ten matches. That came in a Serie A game at home to Verona on September 18. Hearts have won three and lost seven of their last ten fixtures by comparison.

“Every team will analyse or pinpoint a couple of players in the opposition,” says Ginnelly. “It might be that they switch off in certain scenarios and that’s what the attacking players need to pick up on. You watch all that beforehand and then try to effect the game. I back myself to get past a player nine times out of ten. If I don’t, fair enough, but I’m confident that I will.”

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He played the last 29 minutes of Saturday’s 4-0 league defeat by Rangers, possibly because he is being preserved for Europe. “I think I did as much as I could. We had a man sent off and, against players of that quality, it’s going to be tough,” he says. “We aren’t happy with conceding the four goals, obviously, but we have to pick ourselves up.

“Thursday is another big game. We need to wipe Saturday from our minds and learn from it quickly. Everybody wants to play in these Europa games, there is a special feel to it. At the same time, we are still taking the league seriously because that’s what got us there. We will analyse things from Saturday so that, when Thursday comes, we know what we’ve learned.”