Steven Naismith explains Hearts' approach for PAOK Salonika and why he criticised Rangers' Alex Lowry

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Edinburgh club are gearing up for another huge European night

PAOK Salonika visit Tynecastle Park on Thursday as Hearts look for a springboard into the lucrative Europa Conference League group phase. If Sunday’s 4-0 Viaplay Cup win over Partick Thistle was straightforward, the imminent European tie will be anything but.

Steven Naismith, the Hearts technical director, explained how the Edinburgh side plan to tackle the Greek side after last week’s thrilling comeback to knock out Rosenborg on a 4-3 aggregate. The first leg of the Conference League play-off will be tense with the return leg in Salonika seven days later. Naismith is confident six changes against Partick offered the required freshness.

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“This game suited a lot of the players who did come in,” he said. “Each game is different, so what we need on Thursday is different to what we will need next Sunday and that will be different from the following Thursday. So everybody is starting to understand. It is not that there is one stronger team over the other.

“There are different games for different players and today the guys who came in brought energy and hard work. Especially in the first half, when we won the ball back, we were in good positions and we very rarely gave up an opportunity for them to attack us. They are a team that have shown that they have good quality in possession. That was a pleasing aspect of the game.

“We are sill catching up on competitive games. On Thursday, the roles have been reversed since the last fixture because they [PAOK] are behind us in terms of the competitive games they've had. They are a really good team with loads of threats going forward, so we will need to defend really well.

“We will need to be solid. I consistently say that we must have a threat in this tie and I think we will have a threat. Players have come in today and scored some good goals. To go through in any of these games you have to carry a threat and we will do that in this tie as we did in the last tie.”

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An own goal by Thistle’s Brian Graham preceded new loan signing Odel Offiah’s debut Hearts goal before half-time. Lawrence Shankland made it 3-0 before Kyosuke Tagawa’s first strike in maroon completed the scoring. Alex Lowry was heavily involved in three of the four goals and drew praise from Naismith.

Hearts technical director Steven Naismith watches the 4-0 win against Partick Thistle. Pic: SNSHearts technical director Steven Naismith watches the 4-0 win against Partick Thistle. Pic: SNS
Hearts technical director Steven Naismith watches the 4-0 win against Partick Thistle. Pic: SNS

"That’s just one of the qualities Alex has got. He is a real talent. He has probably not played enough football for a guy his age. In past games, I have probably been a wee bit critical of him in those moments where he loses the ball: ‘What are you doing? Are you going to be involved in the game or not?’ I thought today he probably drove us in those moments.”

Kris Doolan left Tynecastle frustrated at his team’s slack use of the ball, which cost them on a couple of occasions. “It’s not like us to gift things so easily but if you do that against Premiership or Championship teams, you will get punished,” he said. “Hearts have depth in their squad. They are a European side for a reason.”