Hearts battled both the conditions and Maltese outfit Birkirkara to secure a 0-0 draw in tonight’s Europa League second qualifying round first leg match.
The Gorgie Boys dominated from start to finish, putting to one side the sweltering heat at the Hibernians Stadium, but could not find the elusive away goal.
Robbie Neilson opted to keep the same XI who beat Estonian side FC Infonet a week ago, with the team lining up in all white.
The Jambos started brightly and should’ve been one-up after only three minutes. Jamie Walker ghosted past his man to send in a cross which Prince Buaben gathered at the second attempt to thread through Conor Sammon, and neatly tucked away a first-time finish into the opposite corner, though the linesman flagged for offside.
At the other end Jack Hamilton had to be alert to gather at the second attempt after a cross ball came in, while Walker pinged a 25-yard effort wide of the target.
The hosts attempted to play their way back into the game but were nullified by Hearts’ efficiency. Walker went close after meeting Buaben’s looping cross but his header lacked conviction and Miroslav Kopric collected easily.
Hearts had the upper hand in the first half and started the second with a bang too. Walker sent in a cross into the Birkirkara box and Igor Rossi connected with his head, sending Kopric sprawling to make the save.
The crossbar denied Hearts the opener after 63 minutes, with Alim Ozturk striking his trademark long distance thunderbolt, only to see the ball crash off the woodwork.
The deadlock was nearly broken with ten minutes remaining. Walker’s corner fell to Callum Paterson, who hit a snapshot inside the box, only to see the ball fall inches wide of the post.
Substitute Sam Nicholson did well to burst beyond his man and cut into the Birkirkara box, but his ball across the face of goal found no Hearts shirts.
The away goal didn’t come, but Hearts take a priceless clean sheet back to Tynecastle for next week’s return leg.
Birkirkara: Kopric, Bubalovic, Sciberras, Marcellina, Srdan (Zarate, 90'), Plut, Bajada (Temile, 81'), Zerafa, Scicluna (Marrotti, 90'), Attard, Guillaumier. Subs: Akpan, Herrera, Camenzuli, Djordjevic.
Hearts: Hamilton, L.Smith, Ozturk, Rossi, Rherras, Paterson, Kitchen (Cowie, 30'), Buaben, Djoum, Walker (Nicholson, 81'), Sammon (Juanma, 74'). Subs: Noring, Souttar, Zanatta, Muirhead.
Referee: Ivaylo Stoyanov (Bul)
Top man: Igor Rossi