Hibs' best chance '˜is to frustrate free-scoring Brondby'
David Murphy believes Danish hopes of enjoying another festival of goals could be Hibs' secret weapon as they seek to rewrite the Easter Road club's history books in Copenhagen tomorrow night.
The Capital club have never recovered from losing the first leg of a European tie at home to qualify for the next round, a statistic which underlines the enormity of the task facing Neil Lennon and his players when they take on Brondby on Danish soil a goal down.
But while ex-Hibs star Murphy admits Alexander Zorniger’s side are firm favourites to progress to the third qualifying round of the Europe League, he insisted the tie is far from beyond his old club.
Pointing out that the Brondby fans, having seen their side trash Icelandic outfit Valur 6-0 at home in the previous round (the first leg in Reykjavik having been won 4-1) and then open their Super Liga campaign with a comprehensive 4-0 victory over Esjberg at the weekend, Murphy said: “They’ve enjoyed seeing their team score a lot of goals and I’d imagine that having won in Edinburgh they might feel they’ll enjoy a few more tomorrow night.
“But that could work in Hibs’ favour. It will be tough, but the aim must be to frustrate them. Fans everywhere expect to see their side score at home and if you can prevent they doing that then they begin to let their feelings be known.
“The longer the game goes at 0-0, the better. The Brondby players might get a bit nervous knowing that losing one sees Hibs right back in the tie and that’s when mistakes can happen.”
Having said that, Murphy admitted the key for Lennon’s players will be to avoid losing the first goal in the Brondby Stadion, as he recalls from bitter experience the last time Hibs faced a Danish side in Europe.
Ten years ago Tony Mowbray’s side returned from facing Odense in the old InterToto Cup believing that although they were a goal down, they were still in a highly promising position. However, Odense struck first, leaving them needing three goals to qualify and although skipper Rob Jones struck back almost immediately before Paul Dalglish put them ahead with ten minutes remaining, the clock ran out on them.
“Being knocked out on the away goals rule after two games was really tough to take,” admitted Murphy, who had scored in the 8-0 aggregate rout of Latvia side Daugava in the previous round. “Losing the first goal at Easter Road left us needing three and that’s a tough ask anywhere away from home, never mind Europe.
“Hibs need to start tight tomorrow night, not give Brondby any encouragement at all and look to grow into the game. Being a goal down and away from home obviously makes Hibs the underdogs, but that means there’s no pressure on them.
“They have to remember they’ve got 90 minutes to turn things round. There’s no need to go for it from the first whistle. There may, of course, come a time when they need to chase the game, but until that point comes they need to make things difficult for Brondby, concentrate on not giving anything away while being alive to capitalising on any opportunities they might get to inflict a bit of damage on them.
“Even getting just one goal without conceding would mean 30 minutes of extra-time and that might just see the momentum swing in Hibs’ favour. I’m sure the Brondby fans wouldn’t be happy if that were to happen and having been a goal ahead and firm favourites to go through, it could have a negative impact on the players feeling they’re letting things slip through their fingers.”
If Hibs face a strength-sapping evening both physically and mentally, Murphy believes Lennon’s players have already displayed their battling qualities, having refused to buckle after being rocked by Kamil Wilczek’s 16th-second strike, ending the first leg desperately unlucky not to have at least one goal to their name.
The Jason Cummings’ effort which was wrongly ruled out by an offside flag incensed boss Lennon, who found himself sent to the stand after remonstrating with assistant referee Miguel Martinez and, Murphy admitted, the absence of the former Northern Ireland internationalist from the away dug-out as he serves an automatic one-match ban will be felt.
But Murphy – who will be in Edinburgh on Sunday to watch Hibs take on another of his old clubs Birmingham City – still feels Lennon’s vast experience both as a player and manager in Europe can be brought to bear.
“If anyone can come up with the right game plan it will be him,” said Murphy. “What the players need to do is stick rigidly to it. Even if they were to fall a goal behind – and let’s hope that doesn’t happen – they need to believe in the plan he’s come up with.
“Not having Neil on the bench issomething they could do without, but he and Garry Parker have been a management team for many years. They’ll be very close, share the same philosophy and the fact is Neil will trust him and the rest of his coaching staff 100 per cent.
“Having had those 90 minutes a week ago will stand Hibs in good stead although, obviously, Brondby have now had four competitive matches. Cummings and Grant Holt will also have had another week to work on things up-front together.
“Jason has shown over the past couple of seasons that he’s a goalscorer. Brondby will know they got a break last week when he was called offside, but that will have alerted the Danes to the threat he carries.
“Grant is vastly experienced. He isn’t one for running in behind defences, he’s one for holding the ball up and bringing others into play and I’m sure that will develop into a really strong partnership, one which hopefully pays off tomorrow night.”