Hearts 0-4 Istanbul Basaksehir: Classy Turks overwhelm Jambos with a harsh lesson in Europa Conference League opener
Teams from opposite corners of Europe and a similar distance apart financially, Istanbul Basaksehir’s victory over Hearts was no great surprise.
The opening Group A match in this season’s Europa Conference League merely underlined the chasm Scottish clubs often face in continental competition. A 4-0 victory didn't flatter Basaksehir, who controlled the game even without the services of highest earner Mesut Ozil.
He remained in Turkey after a dose of flu, but Hasan Ali Kaldirim’s sublime first-half strike, Youssouf Ndayishimiye’s header, Stefano Okaka’s third goal and Berkey Ozcan’s fourth simply overwhelmed Hearts. They suffered a heavy home defeat after parachuting into this competition from the Europa League play-offs.
With two ties against Fiorentina to come, two against Riga FS, plus a trip to Istanbul in November, the Conference League is unlikely to be any more forgiving in the weeks ahead.
These ties offer stark evidence of what is required at this level in what is a very steep learning curve for the Riccarton first-team squad. Hearts intend to be competing in Europe every season from now on and know they must adapt and improve in order to do so.
There was an unsavoury moment midway through the evening which did not help on an already-difficult night. An announcement that Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II had passed away earlier in the day at Balmoral meant a minute’s silence before the second half.
That was disrupted initially by a few shouts, and then jeering and singing by some home supporters. It was an unnecessary and regretful episode in front of a live television audience. Polish referee Krzysztof Jakubik decided to cut the minute’s silence short and few could blame him.
Tynecastle was staging its first ever European group stage match although only a handful of Turkish were in attendance to witness it. Hearts’ UEFA Cup group ties in 2004 took place across the West Approach Road at Murrayfield as their own pitch did not meet UEFA requirements at the time.
With that issue resolved, this tie was years in the making. Basaksehir are one of the less-fashionable teams in Turkey’s Super Lig, hence their small backing, but also one of the more wealthy. Many of their players earn £15,000 and £20,000 per week.
A three-man forward line of Bertrand Traore, Okaka and Serdar Gurler ensured admirable quality in the final third.
Craig Halkett’s ongoing injury absence was therefore a considerable pre-match blow for the hosts. His central defensive expertise has been badly missed in recent weeks, underlined by Hearts’ five defeats in their previous six matches. Basaksehir, by contrast, arrived in Edinburgh unbeaten in all competitions since March.
The official Europa League anthem is also used by the Conference League and, after it blared through Tynecastle’s PA speakers, this encounter began beneath the Gorgie drizzle. the 5.45pm kick-off time meant some home supporters were still shuffling through turnstiles just as proceedings got underway.
It was a predictably high-tempo opening from the visitors, full of intense movement and crisp passing exchanges. Hearts first forced their way forward on 14 minutes when Lawrence Shankland played Andy Halliday through. He was dispossessed by the Basaksehir centre-back Leo Duarte in the act of shooting.
Craig Gordon stopped two headers in quick succession, first from the Basaksehir captain Danijel Aleksic and then Duarte. Moments later following a Hearts corner, Peter Haring’s header was hooked off his own goal line by Duarte. There was certainly no shortage of incident by the first half’s midway point.
Basaksehir forced their way ahead in spectacular fashion after 26 minutes. Haring dithered with the ball on the edge of his own penalty area and promptly lost it. Deniz Turuc’s shot ricocheted out to Kaldirim and he dispatched a thundering 20-yard drive high into the top corner of the net.
As the away camp celebrated, Hearts digested the fact they had orchestrated their own downfall through a moment of indecision. They had competed without managing to gain control prior to that point.
The Istanbul side sensed a chance to kill this tie before the interval. Gordon’s chest blocked Traore’s deflected shot before Aleksic’s rebound effort arced over the crossbar.
The second half resumed after a minute’s silence in honour of the Queen, which was cut short due to the actions of some Hearts fans. Many others observed the gesture respectfully but the minority who did not created a poor impression in front of BT Sport’s cameras.
Robbie Neilson bawled instructions urging maroon shirts to press opponents but Basaksehir remained composed and confident. Traore’s left-footed shot crashed off the home crossbar before the second goal arrived on 67 minutes.
A textbook corner by Turuc found substitute Ndayishimiye in space for a free header beyond Gordon from around six yards. That put clear daylight between the two sides and Hearts didn’t look like recovering from the two-goal deficit. They needed to stay focused but would concede another twice.
The third from Okaka finished this affair completely. The giant striker held off Connor Smith and brushed past Alex Cochrane before his left-footed shot clipped Stephen Kingsley’s foot to lift over Gordon’s dive and into the net.
Buzcan, another replacement, added a fourth in the final ten minutes to emphasise the Turks’ superiority. That shot was also deflected en route to the net as Hearts’ Europa Conference League debut ended with harsh first-hand evidence of the continental standard to which they aspire.
Hearts (4-4-1-1): Gordon; Atkinson, M Smith, Kingsley, Cochrane; Forrest (Ginnelly 60), Devlin (C Smith 73), Haring (Humphrys 46), McKay; Halliday (Neilson 86); Shankland (Henderson 86).
Istanbul Basaksehir (4-3-3): Sengezer; Sahiner, Duarte, Touba (Ndayishimiye 46), Kaldirim; Turuc, Biglia (Tekdemir 63), Aleksic; Traore (Ozcan 73), Okaka (Szysz 85), Gurler (Chouiar 63).
Referee: Krzysztof Jakubik (Poland).