Late kick-off in Riga but Hearts need a result despite obstacles in their way
Thursday's late kick-off is the latest challenge for Hearts in an already frenetic early-season period. They face Riga FS at 10pm Latvian time knowing a result is paramount if they are to make an impact in Europa Conference League Group A.
UEFA synchronise matches at 8pm UK time and, with Latvia two hours ahead on Eastern European Summer Time, it won't be far off midnight when the final whistle sounds inside the Skonto Stadium.
Hearts' mission is clear regardless whether they are kicking off at 8pm in Edinburgh, 10pm in Riga, or 3am on the moon. They need points after suffering a 4-0 home reverse against Istanbul Basaksehir in their opening section match.
No-one at Riccarton is prepared to let this European adventure don a negative complexion after just two group games. "That’s a chat we had after the [Basaksehir] game," revealed midfielder Andy Halliday.
"There’s a huge feeling of disappointment when you lose your opening game 4-0, especially in the manner of our second half performance. But it’s one game out of six and we played a Pot 1 team who were 23 games unbeaten going into the match.
"So we knew we were facing a very good side. I know it’s cliched but it has to be a lesson. We have to take the positives from the first half and try to use that to our benefit over the remaining five games.
"The boys feel we have to take points against Riga over the two games if we want to do anything in this group. We are going over on Thursday to try and get a positive result.
"Last Thursday was difficult. It was a heavy defeat and when the emotions are running high you think you haven’t performed at a level to give them more of a test.
"We did plenty of analysis over the last few days and it might surprise people but there were a lot of things in the first half that were good. It was just those clinical moments which can happen at this level.
"A couple of their goals were avoidable from our point of view. In the first half we had a couple of great chances ourselves and in these big games against good teams you need to take them.
"The game could have been different after that. The disappointing thing from us was we let the game get far too stretched in the second half. We made it too easy for them to keep the ball and we couldn’t get any pressure on them. We will take the lessons we have learned into Thursday."
The later start means time to spare during the day when players can become agitated awaiting kick-off. "It will be a bit different. It benefits us that we stay over on the Thursday night as well because you start to get home at silly o'clock if you get a flight home right after the match.
"You just need to deal with it. The sports scientists come into play as well. They look at your nutrition and recovery. In the past when you've had later kick-offs then you still work off UK time with schedules.
"Then when you go back there's no challenge to your bodyclock. It's all facets you have to deal with. We want to be in this competition and compete so you need to handle these things."
Hearts believe a possession-based gameplan can reap rewards in the Latvian capital. Riga's multitude of 6ft-plus players guarantees a physical challenge and obvious set-play danger. The theory is that they may not be so adept chasing the ball along the ground.
"We looked that," said Halliday. "I think their three centre-halves are all 6ft 2in-plus, the striker is 6ft 2in, the two midfielders are 6ft-plus. We aren't the biggest side, either.
"We also spoke about the fact we've conceded too many set-pieces since the start of the season. With the height Riga have, we have to deal with that better.
"We will do plenty work on it. In Europe, one thing that's really important is when you are in possession, you can't turn it over quickly. If we start playing more direct, I think it will play into their hands with the size they have.
"We showed in the Zurich games that, when we play, we cause teams problems. Istanbul play possession football and want the game stretched. We combatted that in the first half because a lot of their chances came from our turnovers and mistakes.
"They didn't really cut us open. The second half is completely different because we are then chasing the game, gaps are too big and a team with that quality just plays through.
"You want to get after teams in Europe, make contact and press, but you need to do it in a tight and compact shape or they will just pick you off."
Hearts made use of some recuperation time over the weekend with domestic fixtures postponed following the death of Queen Elizabeth II. Their hectic schedule has taken its toll with injuries but others in Group A have similarly crowded schedules.
Riga enjoyed a 3-0 league victory over Spartaks on Monday, which followed an impressive 1-1 draw away to Fiorentina last Thursday.
"Then they have got a fantastic point away to Fiorentina," stated Halliday. "They will be delighted with their start in this group. We need to try to put an end to that.
"Riga got a positive result against Fiorentina so we are under no illusions that it’s going to be a tough task. It always is at this level. But I think we have got enough quality to go and cause them some real problems in Latvia."