PAT FENLON has insisted he’ll have no worries about pitching teenager Jordon Forster into tonight’s Europa League clash against Swedish league leaders Malmo as he battles to beat a defensive injury crisis.
The Hibs boss travelled knowing he’d already be without Tim Clancy, still recovering from a close season groin operation, but he has been rocked by the news Northern Ireland star Ryan McGivern has also been ruled out of the first leg of the second qualifying round, while winger Alex Harris is also struggling to make the match in the Swedbank Stadion.
Fenlon will now be forced into a major reshuffle of his back four, with rookie Forster likely to line up in central defence alongside skipper James McPake, himself set to make his first competitive game since being ruled out of the final four matches of last season with a back problem. Lewis Stevenson is poised to fill in at right back, while Paul Hanlon moves out to take up post on the left flank.
The possible absence of Harris who, like McGivern, was injured during Hibs’ last warm-up match, the no-scoring draw against First Division Raith Rovers last Friday, presents Fenlon with a further headache as Hibs go into the game as decided underdogs against a side already halfway through their season and buoyed by the fact they’ve now got their noses in front in the Allsvenskan.
Fenlon, however, adopted a philosophical approach in the face of such adversity, adamant he has confidence in the patched-up formation he’ll be forced to field with new signing Rowan Vine also set to be involved in the action despite his lack of match fitness following his move from St Johnstone.
The Irishman said: “Ryan is definitely out while Alex is struggling as well. Alex felt his thigh against Raith and we took him off at half-time while Ryan felt his knee was a bit sore and we don’t want to risk losing him for four or five weeks.
“We’ll give Alex a chance but that’s football, you have to deal with it and get on with it. We have some good players so we won’t worry about the ones that are not there but concentrate on the boys that can play.”
The extent of the changes likely to be forced on Fenlon
became clear, though, as he contemplated his options. He said: “Paul can play left back, he’s played a lot of football there, he’s done that a lot for Scotland as well as Hibs. Lewis is Lewis, he gives you everything no matter where you play him.
“At centre-half we have James and Jordon who played in the Cup final and did fantastically well for us on his debut at Tynecastle for all he is a young boy while James has plenty of experience. It’s not ideal but that’s where we are.”
Up front, Fenlon appears to have a straight choice between the experience of Vine and the youthful exuberance of Ross Caldwell, the Hibs boss revealing he envisages both playing a role. As in the instance of Forster, he has no worries at handing 29-year-old Vine a baptism of fire, saying: “He is an experienced player although he probably needs some more training while Ross has done quite well in the pre-season games. We’ll probably need both of them as some stage along with young Danny Handling.”
• Malmo is Sweden’s third largest city by population (303,873) behind Stockholm (871,952) and Gothenburg (528,014).
• Malmo is the capital of Scania Country – the southernmost administrative county of Sweden.
• Within Scania is the Oresund Bridge – a double track railway and dual carriageway bridge-tunnel between Sweden and Denmark which was opened in 2000. The bridge provides vital economic links for Sweden with Denmark. Around 17,000 motor vehicles use the bridge each day.
• Malmo was originally part of Denmark.
• Malmo’s economy was traditionally based on shipbuilding and construction.
• Malmo’s oldest building is St Peter’s Church which was built in the early 14th century.
• Women are permitted by the city council to swim topless in Malmo’s public swimming pools.
• Malmo’s latest landmark is its Western Harbour area where the Turning Torso – a 620ft tall skyscraper – resides. The majority of the twisting tower, the tallest building in Scandinavia, is residential.
• The 2013 Eurovision song contest was held in Malmo.
• Hibs kick off as bet365’s 13/2 outsiders to win the first leg of their Europa League tie against Malmo (4/9, Stan James).
As the hosts are halfway through their season, BetVictor offer a chunky 10/3 on Pat Fenlon’s troops managing a stalemate.
In the handicaps the Hibees, as underdogs, get a goal start from Stan James at 13/8.
Danny Handling and Rowan Vine are both 19/2 at BetVictor to grab the opening goal and fans fancying those prices might also be confident enough to back Fenlon’s team to sneak it by one at 15/2 via BetVictor.
Elsewhere, bet365 go 16/1 about Hibs grabbing the only goal, Ladbrokes make them 20/1 to nick it 2-1 and it’s 16/1 (bet365) for the visitors to shade it following a drawn first period.
• Odds supplied by www.betrescue.com / All odds subject to change