With injury ensuring he was limited to the role of support act last season as his Hearts team-mates travelled across Europe, Kye Rowles is determined to make amends for last season’s personal woe.

A broken foot sustained less than two weeks before their Europa Conference League group section started ruled the Australia international out of all six home and away matches against eventual finalists Fiorentina, Istanbul Basaksehir, and Riga.

Rowles was left at home as Hearts jetted off to Italy, Turkey, and Latvia for memorable clashes, and even though they only managed to take points from Riga on their travels, it did not assuage his pain at missing out.

PAOK now stand in Hearts’ way of a return to the lucrative £5 million group stages of the same competition, the Greeks the visitors in today’s play-off first leg at Tynecastle.

“I was unfortunate enough not to play any group games last season,” said Rowles,

“But I was super proud watching the boys out there putting themselves to the test. We had a tough group. "Two of the teams went pretty far in the competition and we just want to have another chance to show what we have got. 

“I was pretty much back home watching the games on my sofa. It was good and bad, the Fiorentina game wasn’t too bad but I was still supporting the boys and watching them play against those kinds of teams, it’s special for me. 

“Even hearing them speak about the players and the teams and crowds, it has given me some sort of insight into how it will be. I just want to witness it for myself.

“You don’t get that kind of exposure back home. To play some of the top teams and players in Europe is a challenge in itself and they’re the ones you come over here to be a part of and hopefully this year I can get a chance to do it.”

READ MORE: PAOK in focus ahead of Europa Conference League clash with Hearts

As a club, Rowles also insists reaching the group stages would atone for losing their grip of third place in the Premiership last season - a position that guarantees progress to that round of the competition.

He added: “Obviously it did not go the way we wanted it to, letting that kind of margin slip. 

“It still makes us angry to be honest. This is kind of our redemption act in a way. We are just fully committed to doing our best for this tie and hopefully we get the result we feel we deserve.”

With Greek football renowned for having some of the most hostile fans in world football, a raucous Tynecastle might not be able to throw PAOK off track the way it did Rosenborg in last Thursday’s rousing comeback against the Norwegians.

The Hearts fans rose to the occasion to inspire their team after watching them go 3-1 down in the tie during the early stages of the second leg.

“I had goosebumps walking out there and I remember seeing a few smiles on the Rosenborg players’ faces,” said Rowles, who played at the World Cup for his country last year. 

“If you can make your opponent smile when you are walking out then you’re doing alright. It’s pretty special.

“At Tynecastle the fans are on top of you and you pretty much hear every word that is being said, which can be intimidating.

“Over there I guess it’s more pyrotechnics and stuff but the stands are miles away so I think we can use that a little bit.”

Rowles, however, insists it is imperative Hearts seize an early advantage to ensure they have something to build on in Greece next week.

“I think a good start is pretty much non-negotiable. We managed to claw one back against Rosenborg over there in Norway. That went a long way. But we don’t want to start like that again. Not at home.

“We are going to go out and try to be on the front foot and give ourselves the best shot ahead of going over there next week. We are focused on putting in a good performance and hopefully the result handles itself.”

Hearts head coach Frankie McAvoy has also told the supporters they have a crucial role to play against PAOK.

“PAOK are a good team,” he added. “Very good at home, we need to take the initiative on Thursday.

"That would be ideal (to take a lead to Greece). The most important thing is making sure we are in the game. It would be great if we go with an advantage. 

"I think the crowd will play a big part. Even when we went a goal down early against Rosenborg, the support was fantastic and drove us on. “Players love that. They get a real kick and a drive from it. That will be important.

"I thought the noise levels last week were incredible. I'm maybe a bit biased but I felt it was magnificent. That was a real driving factor in us getting the win.”