Birthday boy Lawrence Shankland gave Hearts some much-needed Euro encouragement with a crucial second-half goal in a 2-1 defeat by Rosenborg in Trondheim.
Emil Frederiksen put the home side ahead in the 14th minute of the Europa Conference League third qualifying round first leg at the Lerkendal Stadion before 20-year-old Canada international Jayden Nelson made it 2-0 in added time in the first half.
The Jambos had been well off the pace but they responded positively after the break and pulled a goal back in the 78th minute through their skipper on his 28th birthday to perhaps turn the tie in the Gorgie side’s favour ahead of the return game at Tynecastle next Thursday night.
Hearts head coach Frankie McAvoy will certainly be pleased that his side fought back after a ropey first half.
He tweaked his line-up from Saturday’s 2-0 cinch Premiership win over St Johnstone, notably Beni Baningime starting for the first time in 17 months after recovering from a torn knee ligament in March, 2022 – but he had a wretched time and was replaced at half-time.
Rangers loanee and fellow midfielder Alex Lowry came in for his first start, with left-back Alex Cochrane reinstated.
Svein Maalen’s side, eighth in Norway’s Eliteserien after 18 games, had the first attempt on goal inside the opening two minutes when Carlo Holse stabbed a cross wide of the target before 16-year-old Sverre Nypan fired a long-distance effort over the bar.
However, the home side did deservedly forged ahead when Nypan turned Baningime inside the Hearts box and crossed for Frederiksen to knock into the net from a few yards out after getting in front of Cochrane.
It was midway through the first half before Hearts had a shot on goal but Alan Forrest’s low drive was comfortably saved by keeper Andre Hansen.
Moments later, Jambos keeper Zander Clark made a better save from the ever-dangerous Nelson, whose curling shot was heading for inside the far post.
Then, on the half-hour mark, Rosenborg’s Tobias Borkeeiet came close with a long-distance drive which shaved Clark’s left-hand post.
But in the second minute of added time, Nypan raced away from struggling Baningime who pulled up and with the Hearts defence in shreds, he simply slipped the ball to Nelson to beat Clark from close range.
Peter Haring took over from Baningime for the second half and the visitors looked more at ease, and in the 52nd minute Shankland missed the target with a header when he should have hit the target.
There was a penalty shout when Lowry was sent spinning by the Rosenborg keeper inside the box as he tried to reach a Cochrane pass but Romanian referee Andrei Chivulete was unmoved.
Rejuvenated Hearts got the goal they deserved with 12 minutes left when substitute Stephen Kingsley crossed from the left for Scotland striker Shankland to direct a header past Hansen.
The Edinburgh side went in search of a leveller which left Rosenborg looking a bit shaky but they held on for the win, although Hearts will leave Norway confident they can recover the tie in the second leg to set up a meeting with either Hajduk Split or PAOK.