Hearts head coach Robbie Neilson admits water breaks in searing Maltese heat could pose threat



Hearts head coach Robbie Neilson admits water breaks could pose a serious threat to his team in Thursday’s Europa League clash at Birkirkara.

The second qualifying round first leg in Malta is expected to be played in temperatures in excess of 30 degree celsius and, under FIFA guidelines, the referee could temporarily halt the game to allow the players to rehydrate.

Neilson, however, is wary of any such stoppages affecting his side’s concentration levels after watching Siroki Brijeg conceding a goal seconds after the restart in last week’s 2-0 second leg defeat at Birkirkara, who won 3-1 on aggregate.

robbieneilsonNeilson said: “We need to get used to having water breaks half way through a half. We need to try and deal with it.

“If you saw the Siroki game, Birkirkara scored just after the water break, about ten seconds after it.

“The Siroki players were still getting back on the pitch and were wondering what was going on and then, bang, goal. Game over.

“It is something we need to make sure we are wary of, if we do come off we are ready to get straight back into the game.”

Neilson admits the heat will also affect how Hearts approach the game, acknowledging that his team will need to try and play at a slower tempo to conserve energy in conditions they are not accustomed too.

He added: “Going over there in the heat is going to be very difficult.

“It’s hard for us to prepare for it with a Scottish summer when it’s raining outside and it’s ten degrees. It’s going to be a big difference when it’s 85 or 90 degrees when we play.

“If you watch games over there it is a very slow, low tempo, and it comes to life for a couple of minutes and then dies down again.

“It is not like Scottish football where it is gung-ho the whole time. We need to understand that and get used to the way it is played.”

Hearts beat Infonet of Estonia 6-3 on aggregate in the previous round and Neilson is bracing himself for another stern test against a team that gave English Premier League side West Ham a fright in last season’s competition.

He added: “You just have to look at the result last year when they took West Ham to penalties. That was a phenomenal result for a team from Malta.

“We know it will be a tough one and I am sure the fans will realise that once we get there.

“They have some good players there. They have a guy who has put some money in.

“It is the same with all these nations, there are always one or two teams in each country with a backer who will put good money in.

“When they start doing thatm obviously they are going to bring in good players.

“You can take any team and if you have an owner who puts in £10 million then you have a good team, doesn’t matter where it is.

“There are people willing to do that in every country – look at the Estonian team we played against, there was someone putting in money there.

“There’s Maltese teams where there are people putting money in. As soon as someone does that it makes it difficult to compete against.”