Hearts were sent crashing out of the Europa League by two Birkirkara sucker punches that brought boos ringing out at Tynecastle.
Second-half goals by Christian Bubalovic and Edward Herrera stunned the home crowd and put the Maltese side firmly in charge of the tie.
Conor Sammon’s header raised hope, but Hearts were left reeling.
Prince Buaben also missed a first-half penalty, while Jamie Walker and Sam Nicholson both hit the woodwork.
Hearts had approached the game full of confidence after drawing the away leg 0-0 last week, not least because Birkirkara had won only two of their previous 23 ties in Europe.
The Maltese team were more adventurous than in their performance at home, though, and their ability to break swiftly and sharply on the counter carried them through to face Krasnodar of Russia in the third qualifying round.
Hearts were frustrated by their own shortcomings. Despite periods of possession, they were ragged in their passing and could not use their width to good effect against well-organised opponents.
There were early scares, with the goalkeeper Jack Hamilton having to block from close range. Hearts knew patience would be required, but wastefulness was their undoing.
Nicholson was the home side’s brightest player, and he won a penalty kick when he skipped into the box and was brought down by Cain Attard.
As Buaben prepared to take the spot kick, Birkirkara’s manager Josef Mansueto shouted to his players that it would go to the goalkeeper’s left and the goalkeeper Miroslav Kopric heeded the advice, diving to that side to save a weak effort.
Hearts were unable to create openings, and even when they did they fell short. Walker met a Callum Paterson cross with an acrobatic volley that sent the ball over his shoulder but onto the underside of the bar.
The same fate befell Nicholson after the break, when he skipped infield on the left and sent a shot careering off the bar, with the ball bouncing clear. By then, though, Hearts were behind.
Bubalovic was calm and ruthless when the ball dropped to him inside the penalty area after a free-kick wasn’t cleared by the Hearts defence, and he struck a shot high and hard into the corner of the net.
Anxiety began to course through Hearts’ play as they urgently tried to rescue the tie, and Arnaud Djoum lacked composure as he steered the rebound over after Juanma’s shot was blocked by Kopric.
Birkirkara took advantage of that mindset. When one attack broke down, the visitors moved the ball upfield and out to Herrera, who ghosted in from the right of the penalty area, and he prodded a shot through Hamilton’s legs.
Hearts eventually pulled a goal back, when Sammon headed Djoum’s cross into the net, but the home side had left themselves too much to do.
- 24SmithSubstituted forDelgado Lloriaat 58′minutes
- 4RossiSubstituted forMuirheadat 75′minutes
- 8BuabenSubstituted forCowieat 81′minutes
- 7WalkerBooked at 90mins
- 9Delgado Lloria
- 2HerreraBooked at 68mins
- 21SciclunaBooked at 43minsSubstituted forCamenzuliat 90+2′minutes
- 22AttardBooked at 32mins
- 10DimitrovBooked at 62minsSubstituted forGuillaumierat 73′minutes
- 18BajadaSubstituted forJovicat 66′minutes
- Ville Nevalainen
- Shots on Target