Hearts in Switzerland: Craig Gordon lays down Zurich challenge as Robbie Neilson insists he has learned since Birkirkara

Craig Gordon has laid out Hearts’ priorities for achieving a result against FC Zurich which would make their Europa League play-off tie winnable back at Tynecastle Park.

The club captain is confident that disciplined defending combined with ruthless attacking will trouble the Swiss champions in St Gallen’s Kybunpark on Thursday. Hearts want to score but Gordon explained the need to stay in the tie ahead of next week’s return leg in Edinburgh.

“We will have to dig in and defend well with a strong mentality to make ourselves hard to beat,” said the goalkeeper. “If we do that, we've got players with quality who can cause problems at the other end.

“That would give us a solid base to attack from. It's never easy but we want to stay in the tie. We will look to win the game. That's not always possible but we will set out to do that. If not, we will take the best possible result back to Tynecastle.

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Last time Hearts played in Switzerland, current manager Robbie Neilson scored the winning goal in a 2-1 UEFA Cup victory over FC Basel back in 2004. Gordon was in goal that night during his first spell with the club.

“Did the gaffer ask you to bring that up because of his last-minute goal?,” he laughed. “It's been a long time. It's good to be back in Switzerland. A similar result would be ideal. We had to do a bit of defending that night but it was a great result for us. If we could manage something similar here then it would be fantastic.

“I think you can feel excitement building. Everyone is buying into that. We have a group of players really trying their best. The relationship between the fans and players is good and they back us no matter what. I look forward to seeing how many are here and the noise they make.

"I'm sure they will make themselves heard, especially if it isn't a big crowd. I'm sure a lot of the noise will come from the Hearts fans.” Zurich expect around 6,000 to 7,000 supporters and just over 1,000 of those will be from Scotland.

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Hearts captain Craig Gordon spoke to media in St Gallen on Wednesday.

Neilson is thriving in his second spell managing Hearts. His first included an ignominious Europa League qualifying exit against the Maltese side Birkirkara back in 2016. This is the club’s first European tie since then.

“Yeah, it was a long time ago and as you go along you learn a lot more,” admitted Neilson of the 2-1 aggregate loss. Hearts drew 0-0 in Malta but lost the return leg at home. “The game over there was fine but we didn’t manage the home game as well as we should have, we were probably a bit too open.

“You learn from these things and I have had 200-250 games since then and that probably helps as well.”

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Neilson is not paying too much attention to Zurich’s confidence despite them sitting bottom of the Swiss Super League.

“You can have a difficult couple of games and then suddenly it all clicks and goes the other way,” he said. “They have real quality in their team, a really experienced manager and I’m sure he’’ll turn it around. I just hope he doesn’t turn it around in the next week.”

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