They made their mark in the first minute and cut through Jack Ross’ team with ease. That gave Hearts fans their voice and left United struggling to settle down. It should also have given Hearts the impetus to move on.
FC Zürich may be struggling at the wrong end of the table domestically, but they have pedigree, having topped the Swiss league last season. And they probably won’t be as impotent should Hearts temporarily shut down and let standards slide on Thursday.
It seemed the home side were engaged and up for the task as they rattled the first set in under 50 seconds.
Presenting a lively threat, they swept towards the United goal with skillful interaction. Liam Boyce linked up with Cammy Devlin, who had been picked ahead of Peter Haring on the case when Neilson began weighing squad rotation, and the small but energetic Aussie starred in Lawrence Shankland, who ended the move.
Such is the skill and drive of the front four players that there was a suspicion that Hearts had just opened a whole new can of Whoop Ass. But instead of maintaining the pace and maximizing width, they pointed things down, trying to play things through the congested central area, missing an opportunity to continue driving at their shocked guests on the flanks, where people like Alan Forrest and Barrie McKay are capable of instilling fear in most defenders, let alone those still grappling with their European demons.
But while Neilson was less than thrilled with his team’s performance over the remaining 45 minutes, it was still enough to keep them ahead as Shankland and Jorge Grant tried to make things work in a central area, and the broad men, including full-backed Alex Cochrane and Michael Smith, made a few cameo appearances.
In the second half there was a significant increase in standards. Another early goal just three minutes from the restart pretty much put the game out of the question and it was no surprise that it was made on the wing as McKay then sliced inside and sent a nice strike past Mark Birighitti.
The third came in the 62nd minute. Smith’s attempt was parried, but Grant was the first to react and open his Hearts account.
Despite Steven Fletcher having a 71st-minute opportunity to sink a penalty at home, Hearts completed a half-hearted defeat at the hands of sub Josh Ginnelly in injury time. But they have more in the tank. Nielson just has to hope they use it against FC Zurich.
Dejected Jack Ross opens up on Dundee United’s latest loss and whether new games…