After their narrow 2-1 win over FC Infonet last week, Hearts travel to Estonia looking to avoid the embarrassment of being knocked out of Europa League qualifying before the domestic season gets underway.
I’ve been speaking to boss Robbie Neilson who is adamant his side must go there and score to be sure of progression.
How is the squad looking going into the second leg?
“We’re looking good. The players are in good spirits. They’ve worked hard this week and the competitive 90 minutes from the first leg will hopefully stand them in good stead for the second game.”
Was the first leg a bruising experience?
“These games are always difficult when you come into pre-season. When you look at some of the results from the pre-season qualifiers from other Europa League matches, a 2-1 win at home is a good result considering some of the big teams have really struggled at this stage of the competition.
“We knew they were going to be a good team but you never really know what level they’re going to come in at. They dominate games in their league but they have to come at us and try and score – we’re hoping that can benefit us.”
In terms of fitness, what difference can a week make?
“Getting that 90 minutes under their belt has made a huge difference to them. You can see it in training. The tempo is up, the speed is up and the sharpness is up as well, so we’re hopeful that the first game and this week’s training will mean we get a better performance.”
Many people were surprised it was not a more comfortable win in the first leg. Is that fair?
“Not really. Not at this stage of the season. People look at these games and see the opposition and think this should be easy, but when you do your homework, they have guys with fifty caps, seventy caps, some really experienced players who have experience of the Russian league at the top level.
“We have the players here that should beat them and we did beat them but we have a lot to do and we must improve our performance.”
Is failing to progress unthinkable for Hearts?
“We obviously want to progress but football is football and you just never know what can happen. We’re confident we can go there and win. We have to be respectful but we absolutely must perform better than we did against them at Tynecastle.”
Given last year’s success, do expectations at Hearts have to be tempered?
“No, not at all. We all want expectations. We all want to be at a big club that’s always aiming up. Nobody here wants to be part of a club that settles for mediocrity. We’re pushing forward and we want to push and push to see just how far we can go.”
Any more business to be done in the transfer market?
“We’re still looking to recruit in a couple of areas. I think it’s important that we add some quality but we’re in no rush.”