FC Nurnberg proved too strong for a youthful Hearts side this afternoon in Valencia, running out 5-0 winners.
The German outfit, who are one point off first place in 2. Bundesliga and have a mammoth 45,000 season ticket holders, raced into a four-goal lead before a much-changed Jambos side steadied the ship, conceding only once in the second half.
16-year-olds Chrissy Hamilton and Harry Cochrane were handed starting berths and were joined by fellow teenagers Jamie Brandon, Aidan Keena and Harrison Paton, while new loan signing Demetri Mitchell was also given his first run out in a maroon shirt.
Nurnberg were quick off the mark, attacking the Hearts goal inside two minutes. A cut back from the right found the onrushing Miso Brekic inside the box, and his low effort was cleared off the line by Hamilton.
Another cut back, this time to Rurik Gislason, brought out a fantastic Jon McLaughlin save, with the Jambos’ no.1 making a fine stop with his legs.
The deadlock was broken after 14 minutes. Gislason sprung the offside trap to go clean through before slotting beyond McLaughlin and into the corner of the net.
Brekic blasted a 20-yard free kick over the bar in the 20th minute, but made no mistake two minutes later when he ran onto Laszlo Sepsi’s cross to thunder the ball home.
Gislason was proving a handful for the men in maroon and in the 25th minute spun away from his man to try his luck from distance, narrowly missing the target.
Paton created Hearts’ first chance of the game soon after, winning possession and driving forward from the middle of the park, before pulling the trigger and firing over the bar.
Mitchell then tore down the left to send over a pinpoint ball across the face of the Nurnberg goal that found Keena in space, but the young striker failed to connect and the chance went begging.
Just as Hearts were beginning to find their rhythm, Nurnberg hit a third. Lucas Hufnagel danced his way into the box before sliding the ball right to Tobias Werner, who hit a first-time shot past McLaughlin.
Heads didn’t go down, however, and the Jambos continued to go on the offensive.
Keena latched onto David Milinkovic’s delightful cross-field pass but couldn’t find a way past the Nurnberg ‘keeper.
Moments later Paton nearly turned creator, sending an inviting ball to the back post, which just evaded the advancing Keena.
Cruelly, the German side grabbed a fourth before the half was out. Fabian Bredlow skipped away from Christophe Berra on the touchline and darted into the box to drag back for Gislason to knock beyond McLaughlin.
Half time saw the introduction of teenagers Alex Petkov, Jay Sandison, Andrew Irving and Euan Henderson, and they were soon joined by fellow starlets Daniel Baur, Dean Ritchie and Connor Smith, while Isma, John Souttar and Kyle Lafferty provided the team with top level experience.
Lafferty had the ball in the back of the net one-minute into the restart, only to be flagged for offside.
Isma’s swerving shot from 25-yards out just missed the target, and a minute later Henderson was denied a clear penalty after being scythed down inside the box by Ewerton, but the referee waved play on.
McLaughlin came to Hearts’ rescue after 54 minutes, making a one-on-one save from Federico Palacios.
Souttar’s 63rd minute raking ball was latched onto by Isma, but from 18-yards his lifted effort went over the ‘keeper and wide.
Nurnberg were stopped by the woodwork on 71 minutes. Enrico Valentini drifted inside and fired off McLaughlin’s left-hand post from outside of the box.
Eduard Lowen was next to test McLaughlin, curling an effort from 25-yards but the shotstopper pounced to his left to pluck the ball from the air.
It took a stunning strike to finally beat McLaughlin again, and it came with six minutes remaining. Ulisses Garcia Lopes gathered possession before hitting a wonderstrike from outside of the box into the top corner.
Another good runout for Craig Levein’s side who, crucially, reported no injuries at full time. Warm weather training continues in Spain until the team’s arrival back in Edinburgh on Tuesday.
Hearts: McLaughlin, Brandon (Sandison, 46'), Berra (Souttar, 46'), C. Hamilton (Petkov, 46'), Mitchell (Baur, 60'), Keena (Isma, 46'), Martin (Irving, 46'), Cochrane (Ritchie, 60' - C. Smith, 76'), Paton (Henderson, 46'), Milinkovic (Zanatta, 46'), Stockton (Lafferty 46').