Robbie Neilson admits Hearts' Fiorentina trip is pivotal as he calls for change in approach

Hearts manager Robbie Neilson advised his players to be more proactive rather than reactive on the field following a crushing 3-0 defeat by Fiorentina at Tynecastle Park.

He is eager to see his team take the initiative instead of waiting, an issue which played into the Italians’ hands in Thursday’s Europa Conference League tie.

Lewis Neilson’s red card for tugging Luka Jovic’s shirt early in the second half left Hearts facing a numerical disadvantage. By then, they were 2-0 down to goals by Rolando Mandragora and Christian Kouamé after sitting deep in the first 45 minutes. Jovic added a third late in the game.

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“I’m disappointed with the result. I think this is a huge learning curve, playing against a very good Fiorentina team,” said Robbie Neilson afterwards. “The disappointing thing for me was the goals we conceded, for all the possession they had in good areas, the goals were poor.

“When you play against a level of opposition like Fiorentina, that was the first time a few of the players have played at that level. I thought there were areas of the park where we did well and contained them. However, if you stop and if you switch off for half a second, you lose goals.

“I felt we were reactive as opposed to being proactive. We need to be proactive and believe what is going to happen rather than wait for it.

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“If you engage them high up the pitch, they play around you and open up your back line. We felt it was better to condense the space. They play a lot of long diagonal balls. If you sit too high, there’s loads of space for them.

“We had a decision: ‘Do we press high and leave huge gaps in behind us or do we sit in and wait for the moment to come to steal the ball?’

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Hearts manager Robbie Neilson saw his side lose 3-0 at home to Fiorentina.

“Although they had a lot of possession across the pitch, we got into areas where we could press them. There is a tactic behind it. You can’t just go against a top Serie A side and say: ‘Let’s go gung-ho.’ You’ve got to take a decision to say: ‘When do we want to press them?’

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“At half-time, I thought: ‘Will I change it?’ We decided not to. They scored two goals but we weren’t getting picked apart.”

The result leaves Hearts second bottom of Group A on three points, with Fiorentina now second on four ahead of next week’s meeting in Florence. “We’re in a good position sitting on three points,” said Neilson. “Obviously the result in Riga [RFS 0-0 Basaksehir] changes it a little bit, but I still expect Istanbul to pull away.

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“Next week is going to be pivotal. Going away to Fiorentina is going to be extremely difficult but, if we take something from that game, it keeps it alive. This season is a huge learning curve for us.”

Asked about his namesake’s dismissal, the Hearts manager said: “I think it’s a red card. Lewis has been fantastic since he came into the team.

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“It’s a huge learning curve, a 19-year-old kid playing against a £62million striker who played for Real Madrid. He has made a bad decision and it’s a red card. He’ll be disappointed but we have already spoken to him about it.”

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