High in Easter Road’s main stand you could see mothers leading out their heartbroken children and young men ushering their shell-shocked grandparents down the stairs long before the end.
These Hibs fans had turned up in their numbers expecting a rousing performance and for Easter Road, hosting one of its biggest crowds since the new East Stand went up three years ago, to rock to its foundations.
For a while, it did, and then, without any real warning, the roof effectively caved in. The tie was all but beyond Hibs after their 2-0 first leg defeat in Sweden, but, in light of the great Lawrie Reilly passing away earlier in the week and with the mouthwatering incentive of a clash with Swansea City awaiting the winner in the next round, it was surely not unreasonable to expect them to at least make a spectacle of it.
In the end, they merely ended up making a spectacle of themselves, to the point where high-profile celebrities like comedian Kevin Bridges and Wimbledon champion Andy Murray could be found making light of their humiliation on Twitter afterwards. “Good solid result for Hibs #fortress”, the tennis superstar told his two million followers, sarcastically, effectively rendering his boyhood team a global laughing stock.
It was no laughing matter for the Hibs fans, though. Just two months after they stayed behind en masse after their devastating Scottish Cup final defeat to Celtic, here they were being asked to find the resolve to sit and watch as their team staged the type of implosion last witnessed on May 19, 2012.
In truth, this grisly outcome hadn’t looked on the cards after a bright start from the fired-up hosts, with Malmo’s first goal, which effectively killed the tie, coming against the run of play. The second removed any remaining wind from Hibs’ sails. And the third, after just half an hour, sparked the onset of the ultimate embarrassment.
“We can see you sneaking out,” chanted the barmy band of topless Malmo fans housed in the lower tier of the South Stand as the first few stunned Hibbies made for the exits.
In the first 20 minutes, when Hibs players were crunching into tackles and still in with a shout, it had been the home fans making most of the noise, with some of this coming in the form of jeers every time Miiko Albornoz, the Malmo right-back and convicted sex offender, touched the ball. On a night when everything that could go wrong for Hibs did go wrong, it was fitting that the villain of the piece helped himself to the Swedes’ fourth goal four minutes before half time. Just to clarify: it was 4-0 after only 41 minutes.
As the goals kept coming, the Malmo players themselves seemed stunned by just how easy it was. At the end, they partied with their fans and then embarked on a lap of honour in front of those Hibs supporters who had remained for the entirety of one of the most pitiful nights in their club’s history.