After defeat at Tynecastle last Thursday, Hearts have it all to do in Salonika.
It’s Greece Lightning
A place in the Conference League group stage is up for grabs, can Hearts earn a second successive season of European football?
Difficult Second Album
Hearts supporters will need to pack the Factor 50 - that is if Air Traffic Control allows them to get off the ground in the first place, as they find themselves taking on a trip to the Greece city of Salonika.
While their destination will be PAOK’s Toumba Stadium, as the two teams will complete their Conference League play-off tie. A tie that currently sees Thursday’s hosts with a 2-1 advantage to their name.
One that the Greek Super League side had to earn from behind just a week ago. A lengthy wait for a Hearts penalty saw the Jam Tarts go ahead to rapturous applause, the Jam Tarts would subsequently find themselves in a sticky situation just moments later.
Parity in penalties would lead to parity in goals and as the Tynecastle outfit pushed for a winner, they instead conceded a quite magnificent goal from Andrija Zivkovic. His 25-yard effort with 15 minutes to go would ultimately prove to the difference.
A difference that is a single goal deficit. A difference that is far from insurmountable in Greece’s second largest city. With that being said, one should not overlook the previous pedigree that PAOK has in this fledging competition.
In the first edition of the Conference League, they would manage to make it all the way to the last eight. The knockout bracket would see them previously dispose of Midtjylland and Gent, they would eventually be dumped out by Marseille.
Now it is up to Hearts to avoid being dumped out before the group stage even arrives. They made that particular stage of the competition last time around – albeit after failing to qualify for the Europa League instead.
A safety net last season, no safety net this time around and if they are to progress past PAOK, they will certainly need to improve on their most recent performance in the Scottish Premiership – a 1-0 defeat to Dundee at Dens Park.
Perhaps that showing in Tayside was a hangover from European defeat just three days prior. Now the coaching team of Frankie McAvoy and Steven Naismith will be hoping to pop the champagne corks in just a few hours.
But now it is time for the first of my two tips. First up, I am going to for Lawrence Shankland to find the net for Hearts. The Tyneside talisman has been linked with a move abroad and a goal on the continent may be his final act for the club at anytime odds of 3/1.
At the same time, I can see this goal not being enough when it comes to progression. Not only that, I think the outcome will be the same as the week before. A 2-1 win for PAOK is ok in my book and the bookmakers have this one priced at 17/2.