It was not a convincing Hearts performance by any means, but the Gorgie club did at least avoid becoming the latest Scottish club to resort to the ready-made excuse that their opponents had a competitive advantage.
Such has been the decline in the country’s co-efficient in European competition that our clubs now find themselves going up against teams that are already halfway through their domestic seasons.
On Thursday, Hearts came from behind to defeat FC Infonet 2-1 in the first qualifying round first leg of the Europa League.
It was far from straightforward for Robbie Neilson’s side, however. The Estonian team’s collective match sharpness (Infonet have already played 17 league matches this term and are a point adrift of the summit) was evident as a ring-rusty Hearts struggled to climb through the gears just a fortnight after returning to pre-season training.
Hearts’ place in the second qualifying round against either Siroki Brijeg or Birkirkara is far from guaranteed as they bid to keep their narrow aggregate lead intact next Wednesday.
The 14,400-strong crowd experienced a tense evening at Tynecastle but new striker Conor Sammon is adamant that they will be better prepared for the return leg.
“When you get 90 minutes under your belt, it really does help,” insists Sammon.
“You can do all the running and high intensity training, but nothing fully prepares you for being in the thick of it, under the floodlights, in a competitive game like that. So that will stand us in good stead. We’ll get some recovery and then some more good sessions before we travel over there.
“I’d like to think we’ll keep growing physically and fitness-wise with each 90 minutes we play. We are an ambitious group of players who are not just happy to be involved in the Europa League. We want to be successful. We want to keep bettering ourselves and testing ourselves against the best opposition out there.”
Sammon and left-back Faycal Rherras made their competitive debuts against Infonet after joining earlier this summer.
The former Kilmarnock, Wigan and Derby marksman insists it will also take time for the new recruits to settle.
He said: “That is a huge thing. There are a couple of new players, including myself, and it does take time. In training you can create the relationships but it is games where you are really tested and where you find out about your team-mates’ strengths.
“I’m sure it will take a little bit of time but it is something I am excited about. I know we have got really good players out there who can help me and vice versa.”
Sammon admits he loved every minute of playing at Tynecastle for the first time as a Hearts player.
He added: “It was brilliant, a brilliant atmosphere. It was amazing that more than 14,000 fans attended.”