Vincenzo Italiano hails 'ferocious' Fiorentina but warns Hearts win hasn't decided Conference League qualification

Vincenzo Italiano hailed Fiorentina’s “ferocious approach” that saw them beat Hearts 3-0.

La Viola leapfrogged the Jambos in Group A of the Europa Conference League before meeting them again in Florence next week. Rolando Mandragora set the tone with a free header after just four minutes. The hosts huffed and puffed but struggled to worry their Serie A opponents, who doubled their lead shortly before the breakthrough Christian Kouame’s acrobatic finish.

Just three minutes after the restart, Hearts had a man sent off in Europe for the second time this season. Luka Jovic got the wrong side of Lewis Neilson from a goal kick and the teenage centre back instinctively pulled the former Real Madrid man back, which promoted the free to give him his marching orders. La Viola eventually took advantage of their extra man as Jovic finished off a flowing counter attack to remove any semblance of doubt that may have still been lingering as the game went into the final ten minutes.

Italiano’s team have been struggling in recent weeks, with goals hard to come by. But he demanded a fast start from his players after defeat to Atalanta at the weekend and a slow start in the Conference League against RFS, who held them to a 1-1 draw in Florence.

“We are happy to have achieved this victory away from home, where we had to take a ferocious approach from the very start,” said Italiano. "The second goal really got the game on track for us and we did well to control the tempo after the red card. This is how we prepared it, to come flying out of the blocks in the first minute, and that’s what we did.

“I am happy for the lads, who looked in good shape and sought out the spaces behind the defensive line. I am particularly pleased for Kouame, who has a very important attitude and team spirit. He is always at the disposal of his teammates and it is right that he is repaid with a goal.”

Fiorentina's Luka Jovic celebrates scoring their third goal

Jovic netted his first goal in European competition in over three years, He last found the net against Chelsea in the Europa League in May 2019 - 1,246 days before notching at Tynecastle. “Jovic confirmed the positive signs we saw in the game against Atalanta, where he showed a different spirit,” said Italiano. “Today he confirmed that improvement, I hope the goal can be a new beginning for him and represent a boost. He needs to rediscover his smile.”

Despite winning last night, Italiano still feels the group is wide open. RFS’ surprise draw against leaders Istanbul Basaksehir leaves it pretty tight ahead of matchday four and home clash with Robbie Neilson 's men next week. "It is just the beginning and anything can happen, although I know it is not easy,” he said. “I hope that from now on we can continue to grow and confirm this performance every week.

“A negative result tonight could’ve compromised everything. We started slow against Riga, so today were forced to put in the performance. I hope this victory can set the template going forward. It had been a while since we saw the strikers score and got an away victory, so this should boost our confidence.”

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