Robbie Neilson's firm message to Hearts players as he labels fans 'unbelievable' after Fiorentina tie
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The Italians sat 4-0 ahead at half-time as the visitors suffered a capitulation amid goals from Luka Jovic, Cristiano Biraghi, Antonin Barak and two from Nico Gonzalez. However, Stephen Humphrys scored to spark an improved second-half performance during the 5-1 defeat.
Hearts face RFS at home and Istanbul Basaksehir away in their remaining two Group A fixtures. They will need results in both games to have any chance of finishing second and reaching the Conference League knockout stage.
“I spoke to the players afterwards and told them, when you’re playing at this level, the first-half performance will get you nothing,” said Neilson. “The second-half performance will get us points. We hope that we can take that now into the final couple of games – and into the next campaign we get into.
“We need to learn quickly because we have another game in this competition in a fortnight. At this level, you can talk about tactics and technical stuff – but you’ve got to bring that physicality to the game as well. Hopefully the players have learned that.
“The first message to the players is we play Aberdeen on Sunday. That starts right now. That’s the most important thing for us now. We’ve got to make sure we’re ready to go up to Pittodrie against a good team.”
Neilson explained how a half-time discussion influenced proceedings at the Stadio Artemio Franchi. “We had words at half-time and I thought we showed our real selves in the second half. When you play at this level, Fiorentina are technically and tactically a top team but they are also physically strong. In the first half we didn’t match that, but in the second I thought we did. That produced a much better second half.
“I thought we started really well. We hit the post and potentially should have scored with the rebound as well. But then we lost our way a little bit. In the first half, we weren’t aggressive enough in the contact areas rather than the pressing. We were getting close to guys but we weren’t using physicality.”
Around 4,000 Hearts supporters sang relentlessly throughout the match despite their team suffering a bruising result against Serie A opposition. “The fans were absolutely unbelievable tonight. Unbelievable,” said Neilson.
“Even at 4-0 down, they stayed and they sang right to the end. I keep speaking about how this football club is unique. Every month fans put hard-earned money in. People don’t have a lot of money but they put it in.“We just have to give them back energy. We spoke about that to the players. First half we didn’t, second half we did.
“I hope the fans have a brilliant night. I’m sure they will, even though it’s a disappointing result. They’ve earned the right to come over here and have a brilliant time with the money they’ve put into the club.”
Fiorentina coach Vincenzo Italiano admitted his team earned a vital victory. “We needed this to boost our morale. We played very aggressively and scored a lot,” he said. “We managed our energy towards the end. It was a very important win for us in this group.”