İstanbul Başakşehir F.K. progressed directly to the UEFA Europa Conference League (UECL) Round of 16 as Group A winners, following a 3-1 victory over an already-eliminated Hearts side at the Başakşehir Fatih Terim Stadium.
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Needing only a win to ensure a first-place finish, the hosts were ahead after only four minutes, when an unmarked Youssouf Ndayishimiye headed Deniz Türüç’s inswinging corner past Craig Gordon. Despite harbouring meek hopes of avenging a comprehensive 4-0 home defeat when the two sides met in September, Hearts struggled to manufacture any significant threat in the final third, leaving the hosts’ goalkeeper Muhammed Şengezer a mere spectator.
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Without the assistance of VAR, the hosts were lucky to remain with 11 players on the field, as Ndayishimiye escaped punishment from referee Giorgi Kikacheishvili when the goalscorer appeared to stamp on Jorge Grant. Against the run of play, Serdar Gürler doubled Başakşehir’s advantage in the 34th minute, when Gordon found himself stranded in goalkeeping no-man’s land after failing to deal with Léo Duarte’s audacious pass, which allowed the Turkish international to slot past a defender on the goal line.
FIrmly on course for a 12th UECL game unbeaten, the hosts began where they left off before the HT interval, as Júnior Caiçara fired Bertrand Traoré’s exquisite back-heel over the bar. However, after introducing topscorer Lawrence Shankland to reignite his side, Robbie Neilson was left to regret another disastrous defensive blunder, as substitute Berkay Özcan fired beyond Gordon to cement Emre Belözoğlu side’s place in Monday’s Round of 16 draw.
Seizing on a sudden chance, Nathaniel Atkinson tapped into an empty net in the 90th minute to give the travelling Hearts supporters something to celebrate. However, the Edinburgh side still concluded their first European group stage appearance for 18 years with a whimper, after failing to become only the second side to beat the Grey Owls here in 15 matches. Attention now solely focuses on catching up with rivals Hibernian, who currently sit third in the Scottish Premiership.
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