Rigas vs Hearts predictions: Scots could struggle in Latvia

Liam Flin
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Robbie Neilson will be demanding a response in Latvia
Robbie Neilson will be demanding a response in Latvia

Playing in the group stage of a European tournament for the first time since the 2004-05 season, Hearts were given a baptism of fire in the Europa Conference League last Thursday, going down 4-0 against Istanbul Basaksehir at Tynecastle. 

That puts the Scottish Premiership club on the back foot in Group A and they will be after an immediate response when they travel to Latvian side Rigas, who took a surprise point off Fiorentina in their opening match. 

Team news 

Hosts Rigas are expected to stick with the same team which earned a respectable 1-1 draw against Fiorentina on matchday one.

Hearts, meanwhile, are bolstered by the return of midfielder Jorge Grant from suspension. 

Grant had been sent off against Zurich in his side's Europa League playoff and was consequently unavailable for their opening group match against Basaksehir.

Veteran Gary Mackay-Steven will be pushing for a starting berth for the away side should Hearts manager Robbie Neilson opt to mix things up after last Thursday's defeat. 

Stats 

It has been a pretty underwhelming start to the season from Hearts, who have lost six of their last seven matches in all competitions, although they sit fourth in the Scottish Premiership standings. 

They have been especially poor on the road this season, losing three and drawing one of their four away fixtures, scoring only twice in the process. 

Rigas, otherwise known as RFS, are going well in the Latvian Higher League this term, winning 18 of their 28 league fixtures. 

Although he may not start, forward Deniss Rakels has been in decent form for Rigas this season, bagging eight goals in 15 league appearances. 

Jorge Grant is available for Hearts after suspension
Jorge Grant is available for Hearts after suspension

Prediction 

Jetting off across Europe on Thursdays is uncharted territory for the current Hearts team and it was always going to take time to adapt to the logistics of the Europa Conference League. 

They were thoroughly outplayed in their opener with Basaksehir with three of the four goals they conceded in that game coming after the hour mark and they allowed their opponents 22 shots and 70 per cent possession in Edinburgh. 

Defeat was arguably expected in that contest but it nonetheless puts more pressure on the game with Rigas, who Hearts must not lose to if they are to have any chance of making the knockout stages. 

Rigas put up a fight in their Group A opener against Fiorentina, earning a point despite the Serie A team racking up 32 shots in Florence. 

Operating with a back three, the Latvians will once again be all about nullifying the attacking threat of their opponents above anything else and shot-shy Hearts may struggle to find a way through. 

Hearts need to get back on track and a win would be a tremendous confidence-booster but given they have managed only one win in their last seven matches, they may have to settle for a share of the spoils in Latvia.

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