BY IAIN COLLIN –[email protected]_sport
ROBBIE Neilson admitted Hears’ Europa League exit to Maltese minnows Birkirkara was a ‘devastating’ one but he has urged that the result be put ‘into perspective’.
Second-half goals from Christian Bubalovic and Edward Herrera rendered Conor Sammon’s header 18 minutes from time no more than a consolation.
The shock defeat left Hearts, who saw Prince Buaben miss a first-half penalty and Jamie Walker and the excellent Sam Nicholson hit the crossbar, crashing out of the Europa League at the second qualifying round 2-1 on aggregate.
Neilson said: “Obviously, we are devastated. I thought we actually passed the ball well and we created a lot of chances, we got the penalty, hit the bar twice, but we were hit with a sucker punch.
“That’s European football for you.
“These games are difficult. If we had scored early on or scored the penalty, it would have been different game. We had opportunities to score but we missed them and paid the price.
“We have a lot of guys in there who haven’t played any European football before, kids who are still growing. You need to make sure you put these things into perspective.
“Yes, we are devastated, but we have worked all year to get here and we are upset we have lost, but the work begins to get back next year.”
Drazen Besek confessed Birkirkara’s victory was the biggest for a club from Malta, but, as he gave a withering assessment of Hearts’ display,the visiting manager claimed it was not unexpected.
Besek said: “For us, it’s a big success, but I and my team are not surprised by this result because we know how we work against who we play.
“The Hearts team played very simply and we read how they play.
“They played with the long ball and then when we scored we put an extra defender on the pitch and they still played with a long, which we liked.”