Dylan McGeouch today promised John McGinn his Easter Road team-mates will rally round and help him get over the heartbreak of the penalty miss which saw Hibs crash out of the Europa League.
The Scotland midfielder was the first to step forward after the second qualifying round tie against Danish outfit Brondby ended in stalemate, skipper David Gray’s strike in Copenhagen cancelling out Kamil Wilczek’s stunner after 16 seconds in Edinburgh a week earlier, even 30 minutes of extra time failing to separate the sides.
But the 21-year-old was left distraught when Brondby goalkeeper Frederik Ronnow guessed right, getting down to push his spot-kick away, a moment the former St Mirren player described as “by far the worst moment in my career”.
Although Paul Hanlon, Grant Holt and Martin Boyle all converted their efforts, the Danes were clinical, rattling all five of theirs past debutant Hibs goalkeeper Ross Laidlaw to earn the trip to face Hertha Berlin this week, one which Hibs boss Neil Lennon firmly felt his players had earned, describing them as the better side in both legs of the tie.
Hearing Ronnow reveal afterwards that he didn’t have a great record for penalty stops was merely rubbing salt in the wounds as far as McGinn was concerned.
“I was absolutely devasted,” he confessed, “After the effort we put in, I’m gutted to be the one who missed the penalty and I feel for all the boys in the dressing-room. I’ve go to pick myself up and move on, but it really is a hard one to take.
“It was by far the worst moment in my career. I’m always confident when I hit my penalties. I wanted to go up first like I did in the Scottish Cup semi-final against Dundee United, but the goalie has spooked me a little bit my moving before I hit the ball. It put me off a wee bit, but I’m disappointed I wasn’t able to put it away.”
Even hearing the 1023 Hibs fans who’d travelled to support their team – perhaps more in hope than expectation given the Capital club had never recovered from losing the first leg of a European tie at home – belting out “We’ve got McGinn, super John McGinn” was of little consolation to the youngster. He said: “I want to thank the fans for their support, chanting my name after Brondby scored their winning penalty. They supported me and supported the team all night and it was special for them.
“It was a nice moment but, honestly, I’d much rather we had gone through and they were singing the name of one of the other boys who had scored a winning penalty. The fans represented the club brilliantly, they caused a racket from the warm-up and never stopped singing. They deserved a trip to Berlin and, although the boys can be proud of an incredible performance, I’m devasted we couldn’t get that next tie.”
McGinn and his team-mates enjoyed another display of the fans’ appreciation for their efforts over the 210 minutes home and away, greeted by a round of applause from those supporters who had travelled with the official party as they boarded their plane for home in the early hours of yesterday morning. However, while admitting everyone felt for McGinn, fellow midfielder McGeouch insisted the Easter Road dressing-room will stand full square behind him.
He said: “Football is a really cruel game sometimes. John has been outstanding from the minute he walked into this football club and one missed penalty is not going to change that one bit. You could hear the fans singing his name after the game – they know what he has done for this football club.
“He is a good mate of mine and I’ll be telling him to keep his head up. He has absolutely nothing to be disappointed about. He showed the courage to step up and the goalkeeper has made a good save – it happens. You just need to move on.
“John needs to shrug it off, that’s the only thing for it. We have a good bunch of lads, we are a close-knit bunch and we’ll make sure he is not sulking on it. That’s something you’d never expect him to do. We’ll all just pick ourselves up because we did really well to take it to penalties and we have a lot to be proud of.”
However, as bitterly disappointed as everyone was, McGeouch and McGinn united to insist the experience will stand Hibs in good stead as they begin their bid to win promotion from the Championship at the third time of asking.
McGinn said: “That’s the standard we have set for ourselves now. We wanted to go through, of course, and we have lost the tie. However, we have reached a level of performance that we need to match in every single game. We can take heart from the display and hopefully take that into the league campaign.”
And former Celtic player McGeouch added: “It was massivley diappoointing to go out in the end but we can take an awful lot from this game. I don’t think anyone gave us any chance of going to Denmark and winning, so we can be really proud of that.
“We are still in pre-season, getting up to pace, so to perform so well away from home against a really good European side is huge for us. We’ve got to keep our heads up and we’ll hopefully go into the start of the season flying. With the new manager coming in, the main objective is to go up. From the start of the season, that is the aim. With that in mind, we’ll take so much – confidence, fitness and a win over 90 minutes – going into that league campaign.
“There is no point playing this well in the Europa League and then slipping up in the league – that is not something that will be acceptable to the gaffer either.”