First team

Kye relishing PAOK challenge

23 August 2023

Hearts defender Kye Rowles says he is ‘raring to go’ ahead of tomorrow night’s UEFA Europa Conference League play-off tie against PAOK at Tynecastle.


Following on from last week’s dramatic victory over Rosenborg, the men in maroon now face the Greek side with a place in the Europa Conference League group-stages up for grabs.


Unlike against the Norwegians, the Jambos have been drawn at home for the first leg before travelling to Greece for the second leg.


“It’s a different challenge,” said Rowles, speaking at the pre-match press conference.


“The last leg against Rosenborg was a challenge in itself, but we managed to pull it back and get through. Tomorrow, we want to start fast and I'm sure our fans are desperate to show off again, like they did last Thursday. So, I just can’t wait to see what the atmosphere is like.


“There are pros and cons to playing at home first, but it’s still a game over two legs, so whatever needs to be done, needs to be done. That’s how we’re looking at it. We’re just focussed on the first leg at Tynecastle and we’re raring to go.”


The visitors saw off Hajduk Split 3-0 on aggregate in the previous round and will bring an experienced and talented squad to Tynecastle.


“They’re a good footballing side,” Kye continued. “We’ve done our research on them, but we’ve mainly been focussing on ourselves and how we can win the game.”


The Jambos will be looking to qualify for the Conference League group stages for the second consecutive season and Rowles believes the experience gained both last season and against Rosenborg is a huge positive to take into Thursday’s match.


“That experience from last season does help massively. Just knowing that it’s a two-legged tie and therefore remaining calm, especially in the first leg is massive. We managed to do quite well in the first leg in terms of limiting the damage and then grabbing a goal to keep the tie alive.


“That gave all the boys a lot of confidence ahead of the second leg, so I think as a group, there is enough experience to understand what is required to get a through a two-legged tie in Europe.


“Those were tough games last year. Those teams have given us a great insight into what the better teams in Europe are like and that’s the level we want to get to, so hopefully we can bridge the gap.


“The tie against Rosenborg was a great learning curve for everybody in terms of remembering that it’s 180 minutes. So, keep it tight and don’t let the game get too far away from you.”


Last season, Hearts’ squad was impacted hugely by injuries, but now the Jambos have a raft of options in attack and Rowles is hoping that can help fire the Jambos to another memorable European victory at Tynecastle.


“We’ve got plenty of options up front which is what you want when the games are coming thick and fast so regardless of who is out there, we know they have great strengths. We have scored a few goals recently so our confidence is high and hopefully we can replicate our recent performances tomorrow night.”