Hearts are out of the Europa League after failing to overturn their first leg deficit in a frustrating night against FC Zurich in Edinburgh.
Robbie Neilson’s men will now drop into the Europa Conference League group stages following the 1-0 defeat but they will feel unlucky not to go through after dominating the first half and playing most of the second with ten men.
The home fans left the game thinking what could have been after watching their side fail to take advantage of an encouraging display in the first 45 when they littered the Zurich box with chances but they were unable to take the initiative.
Alan Forrest and Barrie McKay in particular were the stand outs as the Zurich defence struggled to cope and it looked only a matter of time before the home crowd had a goal to celebrate.
But when Jorge Grant was shown a second yellow card for a dive in the box it all started to go downhill as the Premiership side struggled to regain their foothold on the game.
A late Fabian Rohner goal gave the Swiss champions a 3-1 aggregate win and confined Hearts to a place in European football’s third tier.
Around 20,000 Jambos packed into Tynecastle and they made their voices heard early as a loud contingent of Zurich fans also added to the atmosphere as they cheered on the Swiss champions.
It was a bright start for Hearts and Alan Forrest had the best of the early opportunities but his effort was well saved by Yanick Brechet in the Zurich goals.
Robbie Neilson would have been feeling like his side really should have taken advantage of their possession as they dominated the first half hour.
They continued to prod away at the Zurich back line and Forrest came close again and the home crowd thought they had the lead but the shot was blocked by the defender who celebrated as if he scored a goal.
Barrie McKay in particular was a constant thorn in the side of the visitors as he tormented the Zurich defence and created most of the early chances.
The former Rangers winger has received rave reviews for his performances so far this season and, along with Forrest, he was again the main creative threat in the clash at Hearts chased the vital opening goal that would draw them level on aggregate.
But, despite the one-way traffic continuing, they still couldn’t find to put them ahead on the night and with two minutes from the break Forrest put a great ball into the box but Liam Boyce’s header bounced over the cross bar as Zurich continued to ride their luck in the capital.
Hearts continued to have the lions share of possession again in the second half and McKay again carved out another chance after five minutes but his shot was straight at the keeper.
Hearts were claiming for a penalty soon after but the referee judged Jorge Grant to have dived and the midfielder was shown a second yellow card leaving them with ten men for the last 40 minutes.
The red card changed the dynamic of the game with Zurich growing more confident of implementing themselves onto the game and Craig Gordon made a good save to keep it at 0-0 on the hour mark.
And Rohner’s close range strike killed the tie with ten minutes to go as the away end erupted in the knowledge Europa League football was all but secured.
Hearts will find out who they play in the Conference League groups when the draw is made on Friday.