Neil Lennon has claimed Hibs have been handed the toughest draw of all Scottish clubs in Europe, but insisted tonight’s Danish opponents Brondby are “no world beaters”.
The Easter Road side go into the second qualifying round of the Europa League thanks to their historic Scottish Cup triumph and Lennon has implored his players to make the most of the opportunity it has given them.
Admitting it will be very difficult to defeat Brondby, he firmly believes it is not beyond Hibs although he conceded they’ll need to take something from tonight’s first leg, his first competitive game in charge of the Capital club, to keep the dream alive in Copenhagen next Thursday.
Lennon dispatched his assistant Garry Parker to watch Brondby defeat Valur 4-1 in Reykjavik while an Easter Road scout was on hand to witness their 6-0 demolition of the Icelandic side in the second leg so he is well aware of the dangers they pose, particularly the threat of Finnish striker Teemu Pukki whom he once signed for Celtic.
He said: “Technically, they are very good, athletic, with a goal threat, obviously with Pukki. They play a diamond so they have midfield players who can handle the ball. But they are no world beaters so we are looking forward to the challenge. The only thing that concerns me is we’re under-cooked. We’ve only had a couple of pre-season friendly games and some of the boys have not had ninety minutes yet. You want to avoid injury early, but our preparation has probably gone as well as we could have asked for.”
Lennon agreed an element of surprise might work in Hibs’ favour, Brondby boss Alexander Zorniger having had little chance to see Hibs in action while many of the Easter Road squad won’t be overly familiar to him. He said: “They’ve had a look at what we did against Motherwell at the weekend, although how much they can take from that I don’t know. They won’t know many of our players – maybe John McGinn as he’s been capped at international level and Paul Hanlon and Darren McGregor, who have played at Premiership level – but I’m sure they won’t know too much about the guys, which is a good thing.”
Although he pointed out the 4-1 win over Motherwell was no more than a friendly, Lennon admitted he’d been greatly encouraged by his team’s performance. He said: “I’ve been really impressed with the players and the qualities they have shown. Their application and attitude has been fantastic. We are in a good place at the moment, but we know this tie is fraught with danger.”
Asked how big an achievement it would be to make the third qualifying round at the expense of Brondby, Lennon, who played in the final of the UEFA Cup and guided Celtic to the last 16 of the Champions League as manager, replied: “I don’t want to get too far ahead of ourselves, but it would be great. We will take it as it comes. We got the toughest draw out of all the Scottish teams and we will try and negotiate it best we can. But it is do-able.
“We’re not going into this game to roll over, to use it as a pre-season game. We are going to compete. I said to the players ‘you’ve earned the right to be here’. They did something no other Hibs team did for more than 100 years so it would be a waste to lose all that momentum in the space of two games. Put as much into the European games as you did in the cup games and let’s see where it takes us.”
And Lennon insisted the experiences his players enjoyed in reaching the finals of both the League and Scottish Cups will stand them in good stead against a side he brackets as capable of being at the top of the Premiership.
He said: “It’s nothing the players haven’t come up against before. Last season, they reached the League Cup final and won the final of the Scottish Cup and along the way they beat a lot of Premiership teams. So there is nothing out of this world they will come up against in Brondby.”