Before the action even got under way at Tynecastle, the result from Florence, where Fiorentina ran out 2-1 victors over Istanbul Basaksehir, had ended any dwindling hopes either Hearts or RFS had of progressing beyond Group A. However, with pride at stake and over £400,000 on offer for the win, there were incentives to bag their second triumph, especially in their final Euro encounter in front of a packed Tynecastle crowd that did its damndest to roar them on.
The early Lawrence Shankland goal upped the volume of the fans and the belief of the players charged to do their on-field bidding.
As has been the case all season, there had been enforced changes to that line up as Cammy Devlin and Stephen Humphrys failed to recuperate from niggles, while Robert Snodgrass’ ineligibility forced him back into the shadows. But this was a team that Hearts had beaten in Latvia and there was a determination to replicate that feat on home turf as they looked to build on the positive mood generated by the bullish performance against Celtic at the weekend.
The fourth-minute opener was the perfect start as Jorge Grant slipped Josh Ginnelly in on the right flank and he drilled a low cross invitingly towards the inrushing Shankland, who slid in to prod the ball beyond RFS keeper Pavels Steinbors.
Ginnelly was a star performer against Premiership leaders Celtic on Saturday and, given freedom by a RFS backline that liked to tuck in, he showed the same intent and when Andy Halliday and Grant linked up to gain territory after six minutes, the Hearts winger was again able to exploit the space but this time the ball was intercepted by the head of Petr Mares.
The attitude was spot-on at that stage and the foundation for success was laid when Halliday made it 2-0 after 11 minutes, sending a shot in from the edge of the area with the aid of a deflection.
If there had been concerns that Hearts would miss the energy of Devlin and Humphrys the way in which they took control in that early period prevented any anxiety, but the Latvian side have proved they are no mugs, taking points off both the Italians and the Turks. And, they found a foothold. As Hearts sought to close out the game, poking and probing for the killer third goal, they left gaps behind for the guests to play long balls and pounce on knock downs. Eventually, the visitors got their reward. Edging towards half time, Andreij Illic nodded down and Kevin Friesenbichler bulleted a strike from distance that beat Craig Gordon.
It made things edgier than seemed likely in the opening period and the injury that forced defender Stephen Kingsley off in the second half was a high price to pay but, holding out throughout a second half where both teams pushed for another goal, Hearts left the field enriched by the evening’s endeavours and helped by a very late sending off for Vitalijs Jagodinskis. Having come through a tumultuous period, centre-half Toby Sibbick rose to the occasion and was serenaded by the home crowd at full time.
Europe may have been a distraction but nights like this explain why Hearts are so keen for a swift return.