Shankland urges Hearts to embrace challenge of tricky tie at PAOK

Hearts travel to Greece looking to overturn a 2-1 deficit.

Lawrence Shankland urges Hearts to embrace challenge of tricky tie at PAOK SNS Group

Lawrence Shankland insists he and his Hearts colleagues will relish the challenge of trying to silence a hostile PAOK support as they chase an “historic” Europa Conference League victory in Greece next week.

The Jambos trail 2-1 following a closely fought play-off round first leg at Tynecastle on Thursday and now must win at the notorious Toumba Stadium if they are to have a chance of qualifying for the group stage.

“It will be difficult but we need to thrive on it,” said captain Shankland. “It’s a great opportunity for us. If we could go over there and get through it would be a pretty historic result for the club. It’s one we’ve got to look forward to.”

Searing Greek heat and an intimidating atmosphere await Hearts next Thursday, but Shankland – whose side visit Dundee in the cinch Premiership on Sunday – feels their trips to Zurich, Riga, Istanbul and Trondheim over the past two campaigns have prepared them for such challenges.

“When you’re on the pitch, football’s football,” he said. “The crowd and all that takes care of itself.

“It will be a good atmosphere. We experienced the European crowds last year so it’s another one for us to look forward to.”

Shankland put Hearts in front with an early penalty but the Greeks hit back with a spot-kick of their own soon afterwards and then claimed the initiative with a 75th-minute strike from Andrija Zivkovic against the run of play.

Shankland is adamant his team showed enough on Thursday to suggest they can defeat the Greeks on their own patch.

“We’re still in the tie, that’s the most important thing,” he said.

“We had enough chances that we missed – and we had one chalked off – to know we can cause them problems so we can take the positives out of that.

“The missed chances probably tell us that we can turn it around. There was enough there.

“It will be difficult but it’s only one goal, we know that’s all we need to get to get back into the tie. We’re looking forward to it.”

At 1-1, midway through the second half, Shankland thought he had put Hearts ahead when he curled a lovely finish into the top corner after being slipped in by a pass from Liam Boyce, but the celebrations were halted around a minute later when VAR ruled that he had strayed offside.

If it had stood, it would have made the forward Hearts’ joint-record scorer in Europe with seven goals, alongside John Robertson.

“I wasn’t sure,” he said, when asked if he had an inkling he was offside. “I had a doubt, I asked Boycey and I asked (Costa Rican winger Kenneth) Vargas but I don’t think he knew what I was saying!

“I knew it was tight but it’s just unfortunate. That’s what VAR’s there for.

“It would have been nice for that one to count and be the joint-record goalscorer in Europe but it wasn’t to be. I’ll go next Thursday and try to get another one.”

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