PAOK were too good for Heart of Midlothian as the Greek outfit advanced to the group stage of the Europa Conference League with a 6-1 aggregate win that ended the Scots’ European adventure for another season.

First-half goals from Taison and Brandon Thomas left PAOK in the driving seat following last week’s 2-1 win at Tynecastle before a third from Giannis Konstantelias and another from Taison sent Hearts crashing out of Europe.

Here are four talking points from a bruising night for the Gorgie club.

Question marks in the middle

There weren’t too many surprises when the Hearts team was announced, with four changes made to the starting XI that lost out 1-0 to Dundee at Dens Park at the weekend. Alex Lowry, Yutaro Oda, Aidan Denholm and Odel Offiah dropped to the bench, meaning the line-up was near-identical to last week’s first leg at Tynecastle.

There was one notable exception, though: with Barrie McKay ruled out by a knee injury, Toby Sibbick was chosen to partner Cammy Devlin in the middle. Alex Cochrane, who filled that role in the first leg, was shifted out to the left wing while Costa Rican attacker Kenneth Vargas occupied the right flank.

Sibbick – who came on in midfield for the final 20 minutes in last week’s 2-1 defeat in Gorgie – was selected to add some steel in the middle for Hearts, explained head coach Frankie McAvoy in his pre-match interview. Opinion is split amongst supporters as to whether the Englishman is better suited to a role in defence or in midfield, but Sibbick did not look particularly comfortable in this contest and struggled to distribute the ball.

Cochrane found himself directly up against Vierinha and the veteran Portuguese offered an early warning of what was to come by smashing the crossbar on 15 minutes. The right wing-back shifted past the Hearts player, exploiting a gap that really ought to have been filled by Devlin, before unleashing a powerful drive from distance that was inches away from going in. It wouldn’t be heeded, though, as the Scots found themselves trailing 3-1 on aggregate a couple of minutes later.

Early goals kill tie

Overturning last week’s 2-1 home defeat was always going to be an uphill struggle for the Edinburgh club and so it proved for McAvoy’s men. Requiring a win on the road in Europe is never an ideal state of affairs, and that molehill turns into a mountain when your opponents are the clear favourites in the tie and play in a famously atmospheric and hostile stadium.

The vociferous home fans in the Toumba Stadium certainly brought the noise, and their players responded in fine fashion as they scored two first-half goals in quick succession. The first was disappointing for Hearts; a low free kick drilled in from out wide by Taison somehow made it through the crowd of bodies in the box and trundled into Zander Clark’s bottom-right corner. There appeared to be grounds for a VAR review for offside, but the goal stood.

The PAOK players had their tails up now. Razvan Lucescu’s team didn’t give Hearts a moment’s peace as they relentlessly pressed their opponents, forcing the Scots into errors. The Tynecastle side struggled to keep a hold of the ball and get out of their own half – and when Thomas made it 2-0 with 23 minutes on the clock with a sublime overhead kick, Hearts’ fate was all but sealed. PAOK’s third and fourth goals, both scored when the away defence were caught napping, only served to underline the home side’s dominance.

Gulf in quality shows

The reverse fixture between these two teams was an evenly-matched affair, even if the result went against Hearts. For large spells they gave as good as they got against the Greeks and McAvoy’s side were a matter of inches away from taking a 2-1 lead when Shankland’s second-half goal was chopped off for offside. A few minutes later, Andrija Zivkovic’s long-range stunner handed PAOK a priceless play-off lead. Fine margins and all that.

There were no such crumbs of comfort this time around, though. Hearts had barely had a sniff before falling behind in Greece and from that point on it was pretty much one-way traffic. The PAOK players appeared to grow more confident and composed with every passing minute; Hearts simply grew frustrated. Sibbick, Shankland and Devlin were all in the book by the interval. By the time everything was said and done when the referee blew his whistle for full time, Hearts had barely laid a glove on their hosts.

Losing is no disgrace, but the manner of this defeat - especially the ropey defending - will sting. Sure, the performance could have been better. And yes, Hearts probably should have got something from the first leg. But as we have been repeatedly reminded this week, the gulf in finances between Scottish clubs and some of their European adversaries is so vast that minor miracles are required to successfully navigate the pitfalls of qualifying.

PAOK’s experience at this level showed, as did the fact that they simply possess better players. The gulf between European football’s haves and have-nots is becoming increasingly difficult for Scottish clubs to overcome, and there is no shame in Hearts falling short on this occasion.

No Euro windfall

Hearts won’t have budgeted for group-stage football and any revenue brought in via European competition can only be considered a bonus. Between ticket sales, television income and prize money, the capital club will have earned a few quid from their four Europa Conference League fixtures this term but it is hard to ignore the substantial payday that was missed.

Last season’s foray into Europe raised around £5million for the Tynecastle board to do with as it pleased, and that extra cash has been put to good use this summer in the transfer market. There is no such windfall this time around, though, which could in turn lead to a quiet January window in Gorgie.