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Hearts strike twice to beat RFS in the Europa Conference League

Lawrence Shankland and Alan Forrest scored as Hearts took three valuable points.

Hearts strike twice to beat RFS in the Europa Conference League SNS Group

Hearts moved up into second place in their Europa Conference League group after beating Latvian side RFS 2-0 in Riga.

Lawrence Shankland put the visitors ahead with a first half penalty and Alan Forrest wrapped up three points with an injury time goal as the Edinburgh side bounced back from their opening day defeat in style.

In an open game where both sides had numerous chances, Robbie Neilson’s side took theirs when they came, and impressed with an energetic performance that saw them regularly trouble a side that drew in Florence a week ago.

Pre-match, Neilson had talked about how the return of Craig Halkett could provide some solidity to the team and help them with their European challenge.

The defender was in the starting line-up but had barely settled when RFS showed their danger. Seconds after kick-off a diagonal pass found Emerson Deocleciano and he twisted past Michael Smith and fired in a shot that Craig Gordon diverted on to the cross bar.

Hearts had an even better opportunity within ten minutes when RFS keeper Pavels Steinbors made a mess of coming for a cross and left Josh Ginnelly with an open goal to shoot at but his prodded finish was week and cleared by the hosts.

Having just returned from a four-week absence, Halkett lasted only twenty minutes. The centre-half challenged Decoleciano and thought he Brazilian ended up floored, Halkett suffered and was replaced by teenager Lewis Neilson.

The end-to-end pattern continued through the first half, with Andrej Ilic and Andy Halliday both having chances but neither side could find a killer touch. Hearts were handed that opportunity four minutes before the break.

Halliday burst into the RFS box on the left and put in a low cross , only for Vitalijs Jagodinskis to lift his arm to block. Referee Alexandar Stavrev took a moment before pointing to the penalty spot.

Shankland took the responsibility, stepping up to smash a powerful effort into the top corner.

RFS bounced back and forced Gordon into a save from Ziga Lupuscek but Hearts then had a chance to double their lead just before the break. Ginnelly broke and looked like he had a clear shot on goal but opted to play in Shankland for a better chance. His pass was just in front of the striker, who failed to get a connection at the far post.

The second half brought more of the same, with Hearts getting chances to create but often failing to get in right in the final third. RFS continued to pose a threat on the counter but were being forced to soak up pressure.

Andrej Ilic kept Gordon on his toes with a header, then the Hearts keeper had to be sharp to stop an inswinging corner from creeping in under the bar.

Shankland tesked Steinbors again and the keeper then saved low at Halliday’s feet as Hearts looked to extend their lead.

With the clock ticking towards the final whistle, RFS stepped up their efforts, throwing everything forward and they were forced to pay the price in injury time.

Three Hearts players broke forward in a counter and Cammy Devlin had choices left and right as he closed in on goal. He slipped the ball right to substitute Alan Forrest and the winger put a low shot past Steinbors to seal a win and valuable three points for the visitors.

Istabul Besaksehir were 3-0 winners over Fiorentina in the other group game, meaning Hearts sit second in the section ahead of their double-header against the Italian side.