Five key points from Hibs 0, Brondby 1
We look at five key points for Hibs' Europa League second qualifying round first-leg defeat by Brondby.
• Otso Virtanen had a nightmare start
The 22-year-old Finnish goalkeeper’s full debut couldn’t have begun any worse as, with less than 20 seconds on the clock, he failed to hold a tame shot and allowed Kamil Wilczek to tap Brondby into the lead. He wasn’t overly worked thereafter, although did make a good double save to deny Christan Jakobsen. Will need to quickly banish his error from his mind if he is to retain the gloves for the return leg.
• Neil Lennon is fired up for the job
Hibs won’t want their manager getting sent to the stand on a regular basis, but his first-half ordering off, after protesting about Jason Cummings’ disallowed goal, showed Lennon still has plenty fire in his belly despite dropping down a level. Prior to incurring the wrath of the Spanish referee, the new manager had cut an animated figure in his technical area and even after being dismissed, he could be seen bellowing instructions to assistant Garry Parker from his seat in the directors’ box in the front row of the main stand’s top tier. Lennon was clearly still exasperated with the display of the officials when he faced the media afterwards. There promises to be fun and games in the technical area if the new manager’s first game in charge at Easter Road is anything to go by.
• The positive vibe around Hibs was evident
There was a time not so long ago when the concession of an early goal at Easter Road, especially one lost in such hapless fashion as that which Brondby scored, would have prompted widespread rancour among the Hibs support. Yet the supporters, who turned out in good numbers, remained right behind their team throughout the match. There was a point, during a lull in play, in the first half where the Hibs fans spontaneously started singing the name of Scottish Cup hero David Gray, underlining the lingering sense of joie de vivre surrounding the club from the tail end of last season. The team were warmly applauded off the pitch at the end of each half by a support who recognised that they had put in a good shift against a decent side.
• Subtle tweaks rather than wholesale change by Neil Lennon
There was never likely to be major changes to the team that won the Scottish Cup and generally worked well under Alan Stubbs last season. Aside from the goalkeeping position where Virtanen stepped up following the departures of Conrad Logan and Mark Oxley, the most notable difference to Lennon’s team selection was the injection of extra width, namely in the shape of Martin Boyle who played on the right and, particularly in the first half, was the main source of ammunition for new striker Grant Holt and Jason Cummings. Dylan McGeouch, who often played centrally as part of a midfield diamond under Stubbs, was stationed wide on the left of midfield, in what was a subtle tweak, with John McGinn, who generally played left of the diamond last year, taking on a more prominent role in a two-man central midfield alongside anchorman Marvin Bartley. The Scotland internationalist looked back to his best after a short but well-earned summer break.
• Hibs have an outside chance of progressing
It will still take a monumental effort in Copenhagen next Thursday if Hibs are to progress to the third qualifying round of the Europa League, but, as Neil Lennon suggested beforehand, Brondby are not a formidable side. Hibs were the better team for long periods of Thursday night’s match. The Danes are sure to be able to raise their game a notch on home soil, but, as St Johnstone showed when winning 1-0 away to Rosenborg three years ago, it is not impossible for a well-organised Scottish team to stun a reputable Scandinavian side on their own patch. The key objective at Easter Road was to keep the tie alive for the second leg, and Hibs have done that.