Lennon: Officials’ blunders cost Hibs against Brondby

Neil Lennon, far left, watches from the directors box after being sent to the stand

Neil Lennon, far left, watches from the directors box after being sent to the stand

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Furious head coach Neil Lennon claimed the Spanish officials cost Hibs a night of European glory against Brondby last night.

Referee Juan Martinez Munuera sent Lennon to the stand after he reacted angrily to seeing what he believed was a perfectly good goal from Jason Cummings ruled offside in the 1-0 defeat at Easter Road.

Now he faces being banned for the second leg of this Europa League second qualifying round tie in Copenhagen next Thursday although he intends to fight it, describing the decision as “a piece of nonsense”. But, while raging at the injustices he believes his side suffered, Lennon insisted that although the return leg will be tough – the Danes leading thanks to Kamil Wilczek’s goal after 16 seconds following a blunder by Hibs goalkeeper Otso Virtanen – the tie itself hangs in the balance.

He said: “We have had a brilliant goal disallowed, Jason was onside. I was angry because the linesman [Miguel Martinez] was not up with play. I remonstrated with him and next thing I am sent to the stand for no reason whatsoever.

“It’s the first time I’ve been sent to the stand in Europe. It looked like he wanted to be the star of the show rather than the players.

“When you see it again, Jason at the very least is on-line with the two defenders. It was a perfect goal, a brilliant ball by John McGinn, brilliant ball by Martin Boyle and brilliant goal. The linesman should have been level.”

Lennon was also annoyed that Hibs were denied a late penalty when striker Grant Holt went down as he surged between two Brondby players, the ref waving away his claims but not booking him for diving.

He said: “I don’t think the ref had a good game, which was what I was expecting looking at his record last season. His relationship with his two linesmen was poor.

“The penalty was debatable, he’s not going to fall over on his own. It looked like contact, it was minimal but again a lot of his decisions were pretty inconsisent.”

While bitterly disappointed at the final outcome and those decisions, Lennon was delighted with his players’ performance. “My team were superb,” he said. “They have given me everything. Some have not played 90 minutes [this season], but we got stronger as the game went on. We lacked a bit of sharpness in final third, which was understandable.

“Having been hit by a very poor goal we were spooked for five or ten minutes, but after that we excellent. I was very enthused by what I saw again.

“I think we have gained a lot of respect, definitely. Once we got over the shock of losing a poor goal, we got stronger as the game went on.”

Although he acknowledged Hibs need to score next week, Lennon insisted the tie is far from over.

He said: “It’s going to be really difficult. We will be a week fitter, the belief will be there, but it is going to be tough.

“I’d like to believe we can do it. There was nothing we did not expect. They were a week or two ahead of us, but we will be stronger.”

Lennon refused to be over-critical of Finnish Under-21 goalkeeper Virtanen, who was starting his first match for Hibs. “It might have been nerves that caught him cold – a lack of concentration – but it was avoidable,” said Lennon. “I’m not here to hang him out to dry. We recovered as a team. There was rustiness, but I was very happy with what I saw.

“We have some good players here. We won’t come up against opposition like that in Scottish Championship and if we show that desire and will then we will be okay.”

Brondby boss Alexander Zorniger agreed Hibs deserved something from the game, saying: “Hibs had more possession than us but we defended very well and I’m really proud of our guys.

“But this game could have just as easily ended up 1-1 and the tie is not over yet.”