Hearts safely negotiated passage into the second qualifying round of the Europa League, beating FC Infonet 4-2 in Tallinn.
The men in maroon raced into a three goal lead before half-time thanks to Callum Paterson, Alim Ozturk and Igor Rossi. Ozturk’s own goal gave the hosts a lfeline in the second half, before Rossi struck his second goal of the game only for Vladimir Voskoboinikov to pull another one back.
Robbie Neilson made three changes to the side that won the first leg a week ago at Tynecastle, in came Liam Smith, Perry Kitchen and Igor Rossi with Sam Nicholson, John Souttar and Juanma moving to the bench.
The Jambos made a dream start, bagging a crucial away goal only two minutes into the game. Walker’s corner was floated to the edge of the six-yard box and Paterson rose highest to bullet home the game’s opening goal.
Six minutes later it was 2-0. Again, Walker was the provider, swinging in a free-kick with pace to the back post and Rossi outjumped his man to power home a close range header beyond Matvei Igonen.
A series of horrendous lunges on Walker saw Infonet’s Ofosu Appiah’s name go in the book, when a red looked a better bet. The flying winger dusted himself down to whip in a fantastic cross to the back door after 22 minutes, but no maroon shirts could get on the end of it.
The hosts started to come into the game but failed to trouble Jack Hamilton, Instead, it was the men in maroon who continued threaten, Paterson burst forward inside the box and sent over a teasing ball with no takers, then Ozturk’s thunderbolt set piece was stopped at his near post by Igonen.
Prince Buaben showed great tenacity to win the ball on the edge of the Infonet box in the 34th minute to send over a cross for Conor Sammon who flicked goalwards, but he couldn’t direct it on target.
Infonet’s Jevgeni Harin flashed a header across the face of goal with five minutes to go until half time but that was the closest the Estonians got to Hearts’ goal.
However, Hearts had enough time to get out of sight by half time. Walker’s third assist of the game saw him cross to the edge of the six-yard box, where Rossi knocked down for Ozturk to simply flick beyond Igonen and into the back of the net.
Infonet made a flying start to the second half, puling a goal back. A drilled cross from the left was turned into his own net by the unfortunate Ozturk, who could lay claim to scoring at both ends.
Any hopes of a comeback were dashed after 52 minutes when Hearts bagged their fourth goal of the game. A free kick into the Infonet box wasn’t cleared and the ball fell to Rossi, who steered home from 18-yards.
The game became end to end, with Infonet pulling another goal back in the 63rd minute. Voskoboinikov peeled away from his marker at the back post to hammer home from a free kick, with Hamilton getting agonisingly close to stopping it.
Paterson nearly nodded his second of the game, rising to meet Walker’s corner in the 67th minute, but he headed clean over from close range.
The woodwork came to Hearts’ rescue in the 77th minute when Harin reacted first to knock a cross onto the crossbar, and Hamilton took a dull one after collecting the loose ball. After a long delay and a head bandage, the ‘keeper resumed his duties.
That was the last meaningful passage of play and Hearts will face Maltese side Birkirkara in the next round after running out 6-3 winners on aggregate.
Infonet: Igonen, Kalimullin, Avilov (Domov, 46'), Appiah, Volodin (Kulinits, 74'), Voskoboinikov, Harin, Mosnikov (Draman, 46'), Kruglov, Dmitrijev, Masitsev. Subs: Lavrentjev, Kulinits, Vnukov, Golovljov, Rattel.
Hearts: Hamilton, L.Smith, Ozturk, Rossi, Rherras, Kitchen, Buaben (Souttar, 73'), Djoum (Juanma, 88'), Paterson, Walker (Nicholson, 69'), Sammon. Subs: Gallacher, Gomis, Zanatta, Todorov.
Referee: Petr Ardeleanu
Top man: Callum Paterson