Hearts tumble at home in Conference playoffs to PAOK


Hearts' hopes of reaching the Europa Conference League group stage have suffered a major dent as they suffered a frustrating 2-1 home defeat to Greek side PAOK in the first leg of their play-off round tie.

The Jambos, who brought Australian midfielder Cammy Devlin into the starting side, made the ideal start when they went ahead through Lawrence Shankland's early penalty, but the visitors equalised with a spot-kick of their own shortly afterwards.

Hearts enjoyed the bulk of the pressure thereafter and Shankland saw a goal ruled out for offside just before Andrija Zivkovic's superb 75th-minute strike against the run of the play handed the Greeks the initiative.

The cinch Premiership side now face the formidable task of needing a victory at the hostile Toumba Stadium in Thessaloniki next Thursday if they are to prolong their European run into the group stage.

Hearts made four changes to the team that started Sunday's 4-0 Viaplay Cup victory over Partick Thistle as Odel Offiah, Toby Sibbick, Calem Nieuwenhof and Alex Lowry were replaced by Nathaniel Atkinson, Stephen Kingsley, Devlin and Liam Boyce.

The hosts were backed by another packed Tynecastle crowd but they were silenced when Zivkovic fired home his ferocious low strike from just outside the box, sparking wild celebrations among the visiting players and supporters.

The loss followed fellow Scottish club Hibs's 5-0 first-leg defeat to Aston Villa the day before with Socceroos ace Martin Boyle, ex-Central Coast defender Lewis Miller and Jimmy Jeggo almost certain to miss out on European action this campaign.

At the AFAS Stadion, Mathew Ryan's AZ Alkmaar drew 1-1 at home with Brann.

The Socceroos skipper was beaten in the 59th minute by Niklas Castro, but the Dutch side found an equaliser through Pantelis Chatzidiakos in the 71st minute.

In some of the other Conference League playoff action, Osasuna went down 2-1 at home to Club Brugge while Midtjylland and Legia Warszawa were involved in a pulsating 3-3 draw.