Match Report: FC Zurich 2-1 Hearts19 August 2022
Lawrence Shankland extended his fine scoring run with a well-taken penalty after 22 minutes, before two quick-fire first half goals from Guerrero and Dzemaili secured the hosts a win on their own turf, with all to play for when we take the Swiss on back home in Gorgie in a week's time.
On our return to continental competition for the first time in six years, Robbie Neilson made three changes to the side that demolished Dundee United 4-1 at Tynecastle last Sunday. Natty Atkinson was given the nod ahead of Michael Smith for the right wing-back spot, whilst Liam Boyce and Alan Forrest dropped out from their usual forward positions to allow a partnership of Lawrence Shankland and Barrie McKay to lead the line up front in a 3-5-2 formation.
Zurich, unsurprisingly, and pushed on by the booming sounds of their ultras behind the goal, enjoyed most of the ball in the opening five minutes on a slick pitch. Hearts beat back these initial probes but were soon forced into a defensive reshuffle with just six minutes gone - Craig Halkett forced off through injury, pulling up unexpectedly, with Toby Sibbick called up from the bench to fill the breach.
Bogdan V'Yunnik grasped with more than a hint of desperation at Marchesano's floated delivery from wide right, but his attempt at a diving header fell flat, and allowed Atkinson to scoop the ball up and accelerate away from the danger zone.
It was our Aussie wing-back who was at the heart of events leading to the first goal - collecting the ball from Devlin as Hearts stormed up the park, cutting inside before being on the receiving end on a nasty stamp on his ankle from Ole Selnaes. After a moment of chaos, referee Bartosz Frankowski pointed to the spot.
Lawrence Shankland was the man charged with guiding it home, and our number nine made no mistake, cooly stepping up and burying the ball past Yanick Brecher into the bottom left corner, expertly blocking out the wall of noise produced by the Swiss ultras.
Up the other end of the park, Craig Gordon had to be alive to the threat presented by former Switzerland international Blerim Dzemaili, with Scotland's number one forced to turn his close-range effort around the post with 27 minutes on the clock.
The Swiss champions were soon rewarded for their persistence - with Adrian Guerrero's wily movement allowing him to slip into the box past his marker, lining up goal before dispatching a well-placed effort past Gordon to put the hosts back on level terms with 32 minutes played.
And just moments later, they would have their second. Blerim Dzemaili was alive to a loose ball in the Hearts area in the midst of a goalmouth scramble, with the experienced midfielder lashing home from close range to catapult FCZ into the lead.
Barrie McKay was the architect of Hearts' best chance just before half-time, with his cute, weighted delivery across goal finding its way to the feet of Jorge Grant. The Englishman made some space for himself before bringing his foot back for a shot, with his straight effort whizzing into Brecher's gloves.
HALF-TIME: FC ZURICH 2-1 HEARTS
Michael Smith was brought on in place of Atkinson after the break, as the manager looked to inject some fresh legs into the team for a crucial 45 minutes in Switzerland, and the Northern Irishman's experience proved to be beneficial over the course of the match.
Ex-Jambo Donis Avdijaj was unmarked at the back post for the first big Zurich chance of the half, but our former midfielder couldn't quite steer his effort on target towards Craig Gordon and was forced to watch it flee harmlessly out of play.
Zurich kept the pressure boiling at a comfortable level, happy to take their time constructing carefully sequenced lines of attack. A dangerous ball on the top of Stephen Kingsley rolled off, allowing Avdijaj to pounce and whip the ball across goal to a waiting Ole Selnaes at the back post, with his resulting effort halted by Gordon.
With seventy minutes gone, Alan Forrest and Liam Boyce were introduced from the bench in place of Jorge Grant and Peter Haring. Forrest went close to having a near-instant impact from the bench, with his clever turn of pace towards the byline very nearly culminating in a goal, with his effort instead shanking wide on the wrong side of goal.
Hearts kept chipping away, but the game had become a real midfield battle, and both teams were struggling to carve out chances of real substance.
With just minutes left on the clock, it was Craig Gordon who would have the last say, producing an athletic stop to deny Fabian Rohner and turn his shot behind after a swift Zurich break.
That was to be the conclusion on this part of the story, with the second act set to be played out at Tynecastle in a week's time.
Zurich: Brecher, Guerrero, Omeragic, Selnaes, Marchesano, Avdijaj (Gnoto 69'), Boranijasevic, V'Yunnik (Rohner 69'), Dezemaili (Conde 73'), Mets (Aliti 82'), Kryeziu
Subs: Kostadinovic, De Nitti, Aliti, Krasniqi, Santini, Okita, Tosin, Conde, Gnoto, Rohner, Seiler, Sauter
Hearts: Gordon, Atkinson (M. Smith 45'), Halkett (Sibbick 6'), Rowles, Kingsley, Cochrane, Haring (Boyce 69'), Grant (Forrest 69'), Devlin, McKay, Shankland (Ginnelly 90+2')
Subs: Stewart, M. Smith, Boyce, GMS, Halliday, Forrest, Neilson, Sibbick, Henderson, C. Smith, Ginnelly