Hearts given first-half runaround by Fiorentina: Stephen Humphrys big moment, 4000 Jambos in fine voice, an anti-climatic evening

If only Stephen Humphrys had been as clinical at the start of the first half as he was two minutes into the second in Florence.

In the build up to this Europa Conference League fixture, Hearts manager Robbie Neilson said he would wait until about the fifth minute of the game to form an opinion on whether Fiorentina’s recent domestic form would impact their ability to turn it on in front of an expectant but increasingly impatient home crowd.

The hope was that the natives would turn on the Serie A side if Hearts could get an early advantage or at least hem their hosts in and minutes into the match it looked like he would get the opportunity to test his theory when, with Hearts fans still arriving from their Piazza Santa Croce party zone, Jorge Grant won possession and picked out Barrie McKay. The winger made the most of his creative vision and provided the perfect ball through to Humphrys. An energetic and dangerous forward, he wasted little time in firing in a shot, only to see it rattle off the post. Grant followed up for the rebound but Pierluigi Gollini saved his effort.

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It was a blistering show of intent from Hearts, but any panic they had stirred in the home ranks was soothed moments later. It laid the foundations for a straightforward 5-1 triumph.

Luka Jovic scored Fiorentina's first goal against Hearts - and the Italians never looked back.

The news that Michael Smith had joined Kye Rowles, Craig Halkett and the suspended Lewis Neilson on the sidelines, had prompted a light-hearted query of the Hearts gaffer, who was asked if he had brought his boots with him just in case. As Nathaniel Atkinson dropped to the turf in the fourth minute he must have wished he had the option of a younger version of himself.

The Aussie refused the stretcher at that point, hoping he could run it off, but that proved costly as he was still an observer as Fiorentina shooed away any butterflies they had in the wake of the 4-0 defeat by Lazio earlier in the week and Hearts’ purposeful start.

That had left the Italian side in desperate need of a reaction as they attempted to appease a fanbase increasingly annoyed by the slip down Serie A.

The poor start to their UEFA Europa Conference League campaign had not gone unnoticed either but victory over Hearts at Tynecastle had seen them leapfrog the Edinburgh club and move into second spot in Group A to bolster the likelihood they will progress.

Stephen Humphrys scored a consolation goal for Hearts in Florence.

The first 45 minutes at the Stadio Artemio Franchi almost guaranteed them that.

A sixth-minute corner was taken short by captain Cristiano Biraghi to Antonin Barak, who played the one-two and when the Fiorentina full-back sent in the cross it floated over Alex Cochrane to the rising Luka Jovic to head past Craig Gordon.

With a dwindling number of defensive options, Hearts had started with Stephen Kingsley and Cochrane as the centre-backs, with Atkinson on the right and Andy Halliday on the left.

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But there was another tinker as Atkinson admitted defeat in the 16th minute and was replaced by Toby Sibbick.

Hearts fans turned out in their numbers at the Estadio Artemio Franchi.

The defence was not all that was tweaked since last weeks reverse fixture at Tynecastle and the weekend draw with Kilmarnock as Cammy Devlin returned to the middle of the park, along with Peter Haring, while Humphrys was given the role of spearheading the side instead of Lawrence Shankland.

Humphrys did make his mark on the tie, but by then the contest was over.

Averaging a goal every ten minutes, the Viola were clinical in dismantling their Scottish opponents, who statistically had the fourth worst defensive record in the tournament, while despite the early draw and defeat, the data showed Fiorentina had been the second most creative side in the competition.

That marriage of those comparative strengths and weaknesses made for an uncomfortable first half for Hearts.

In the 21st minute, the Fiorentina captain Biraghi netted an exquisite free-kick into the top corner.

There was more fight in this Hearts display than had been the case a week ago and they carved out the chance to reduce the deficit in the 25th minute when Devlin won the ball deep in his own half and found Grant, who slipped in McKay. He then curved a cross in for Humphrys to run onto but the Englishman pulled his angled drive just wide of the far post.

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In the 30th minute Vincente Italiano’s men extended their lead when Nicolas Gonzalez found space and evaded Halliday’s lunging attempt at a block to bury the third goal of the night.

The Hearts fans remained in good voice. Around 4000 of them, well over the official allocation, had made it into the ground and stayed there until the end, aware their players were simply up against a better and far more expensive team.

In the 36th minute, Gordon prevented things getting worse with a diving save from Gonzalez. But he was helpless a couple of minutes later. With a couple of options in the middle, Christian Kouame chose to play a cut-back to Barak and his uncompromising strike found the net to make it 4-0 in under 40 minutes.

There were changes at half-time as Neilson looked to prevent another Scottish football humiliation so soon after Rangers had been annihilated by Liverpool 24 hours earlier.

The 47th-minute goal from Humphrys, the end product of a lovely move, helped to stem the flow, while Connor Smith and Orestis Kiomourtzoglou were sent on in place of Alan Forrest and Grant.

Halliday had made the run down the left flank and passed inside to Humphrys and this time he made the necessary adjustments and was able to slip it inside the post to make it 4-1.

In the 77th minute Cochrane fouled Riccardo Saponara and Gonzalez converted the spot-kick, but it was almost anti-climatic by that stage, even for a home support who had demanded such a commanding evening.