Otso Virtanen today insisted he’s ready for Thursday night’s Europa League clash with Denmark’s Brondby – the biggest game of his career.
Easter Road boss Neil Lennon is ready to throw the Finnish Under-21 goalkeeper in at the deep end, even although is only appearance for the Capital club was as an 88th minute substitute as Hibs knocked holder Inverness Caley out of the Scottish Cup four months ago,
Virtanen got his chance that night after Mark Oxley lost a contact lens, Alan Stubbs’ No.1 having also picked up a booking which ruled him out of the Cup semi-final against Dundee United.
That prompted the arrival on a short-term contract of Hampden hero Conrad Logan, leaving Virtanen bitterly disappointed at being overlooked after arriving in Edinburgh on a three-and-a-half-year deal.
He said: “It was a fight between me and Logan, but I just needed to swallow it and train better. I would have played if I had been better in training. The previous manager talked with me and said I’m a young goalkeeper with a lot of things to learn and I needed to watch the two guys that were there and fight with them.”
However, with Oxley poised to join English League One club Southend United, Lennon – whose only alternative is the newly signed Ross Laidlaw – has indicated Virtanen will face Brondby, the 22-year-old adamant he is ready even if the head coach hasn’t told him he’ll be playing,
He said: “Hopefully I’ll play on Thursday. We’ll see then what happens with regards to the goalkeeping situation. Not a lot has been said, nothing has been confirmed. We’ll train and I’m sure the manager will make a decision, but I’ll be absolutely happy and confident to jump in.
“It will definitely be the biggest game I’ll have been involved in. Before it was probably an Under-21 game against Germany for Finland, there was a lot at stake and they had Joshua Kimmich and Leroy Sane, who are no playing for the full national squad. We did okay, but were beaten.”
Virtanen turned his back on interest from Germany to move to Scotland in January, immediately declaring he was coming to fight for the gloves and if it didn’t quite work out that, he believes he is now ready to stake his claim.
He said: “In my mind when I came here straight away I wanted to play. It didn’t work out that well but I learned a lot of things about Scottish football and how I need to be more competitive in training.
“I feel I am ready. I played around 70 games for IFK Mariehamn in the top league in Finland plus cup matches and for the Under-21 national side.”
Virtanen also believes Lennon’s players are ready for the test that Brondby will provide after playing three pre-season friendlies in the past week.
He said: “I think we have a good chance. The team is playing really well. It’s been looking great, scoring and defending well. The manager is honest, he’s direct if he’s not happy. I think we’re shooting more, we’re taking more shots in the game and he wants us to play quite fast and direct.”