Craig Gordon backs Hearts to get Zurich job done to claim Europa League spot

·4-min read
Craig Gordon backs Hearts to get Zurich job done to claim Europa League spot
Craig Gordon backs Hearts to get Zurich job done to claim Europa League spot

If anyone has been feeling the heat in the build up to Hearts' Europa League play-off round clash with FC Zurich, it is the Swiss team’s head coach Franco Foda.

With only a paltry two points amassed from five games in their own domestic league, the reigning champions are in a rut.

Their president Ancillo Canepa was even scathing of their first half performance in last Sunday’s 1-1 derby draw with Winterthur.

Hearts, meanwhile, arrived in St Gallen last night feeling good about themselves with seven points from a potential nine at the start of the Scottish Premiership season.

And as part of their forensic approach to playing in Europe - which will run until November in either the Europa League or Europa Conference League group stages - the Hearts squad were put through a gruelling session in a heat chamber at the University of the West of Scotland earlier this week.

They are unlikely to feel the immediate benefits of that this evening, with temperatures set to cool to a pleasant 22 degrees Celsius.

Even as a goalkeeper, Craig Gordon was not excused from the session.

“I did it as well, that was tough,” said the Scotland number one.

“Any little thing that can give us the extra percentage chance of winning the game, by all means we have to try and take that.

“It was a very hot room, I think it was about 95 degrees Fahrenheit, add the humidity on top of that.

“We were bikes going through a series of interval training exercises with the sports scientists - they lasted from 15 minutes up to 40 minutes depending on who was in the chamber and what the guys were looking to get out of it. It was pretty tough.

“I’m not sure it was the hardest thing I’ve done but definitely tough.

“It was a bit different, it takes a bit of getting used to with that air and environment.

“It’s not something we’re used to. We’ve had a few sessions now and hopefully if we do encounter that we’ll have that bit of experience to help us cope.”

Hearts, who return to European football for the first time since 2016, got their first look at St Gallens’ 20,000 seater Kybunpark stadium last night.

The first leg is taking place an hour’s drive from Zurich because their opponent’s home is hosting a music concert.

The distance and apathy among the home fans following their team’s poor start to the Swiss Super League are likely factors in the low uptake of tickets.

Gordon, however, is refusing to consider that the atmosphere could work in Hearts’ favour.

"You could spin that both ways,” said the 39-year-old.

“It could take the pressure off them after a relatively poor start to the league.

“You could say it's better for us not playing in front of their home fans.

"I don't think it really matters. It's 11 against 11 and we will need to play very well to get a result to take back to Tynecastle.”

Hearts manager Neilson, meanwhile, insists the safety net of having guaranteed European football until November does not come into his thinking.

For the victors, there will be progression to the group stages of Europe's secondary club competition, while there is the consolation prize for the losers with a place in the equivalent round in the Europa Conference League.

Neilson, however, has made it clear that their primary objective is to maintain their place in this competition, particularly when going up a team whose confidence is fragile.

"It's about coming here to win but we are under no illusions that we are playing against a very good team,” said Neilson.

“They are the Swiss champions and have international players. We are away from home and at a different venue so it's going to be tough.

"We think we have a good group here and we believe if we give it our best shot and bring our best game then we think we've got a chance.

“I say it all the time - when you play with Hearts you’re expected to win every game.

“Our fans expect us to come here, put a performance on and win the game.

“If we do that we get into the Europa League, that’s what we’re aiming to do.

“Then it will be the same when we go to Parkhead on Sunday, and again next Thursday.

“So we’re not going: ‘Let’s try and get a draw, let’s give ourselves something to play for at Tynecastle, we want to win the game.”