Hibs striker Florian Kamberi has revealed how he begged to be allowed to claim his place as the first Easter Road player to score a hat-trick in Europe in 45 years.
The Swiss hitman had already scored twice as Neil Lennon’s side raced into a 4-0 lead by half-time against Faroese minnows NSI Runavik on Thursday night but was set to be replaced after the interval having felt some pain in his knee.
The 23-year-old was able to persuade assistant coach Garry Parker, in charge of the home dug-out with boss Neil Lennon banned from both there and the dressing-room due to a UEFA sanction, to allow him to play on, his reward coming just three minutes into the second half as he knocked home his third goal of the game.
It was the first time since Alan Gordon had scored three against Hadjuk Split in the European Cup-Winners Cup in 1973 that a Hibs player had scored a hat-trick on such a stage, a fact Kamberi only learned afterwards.
And he disclosed how close he come to missing out on that feat, saying: “I had some pain in my knee at half-time and they wanted to take me off at the break but I said I wanted to play another ten minutes because I wanted my hat-trick. When I got that goal, I was happy to come off.”
Kamberi was replaced by Simon Murray just three minutes later with Hibs 5-0 up, Oli Shaw and new boy Stevie Mallan having also found the net and, while Runavik midfielder Petur Knudsen claimed a consolation strike with a deflected free-kick, Mallan restored Hibs’ five-goal cushion which, effectively, has clinched a second qualifying round tie against Greek side Asteras Tripolis.
It was Kamberi’s second hat-trick for Hibs, his first coming as he scored all three in a home win against Hamilton in April as he claimed nine goals in just 14 appearances during his loan spell from Swiss side Grasshoppers Zurich, a record which convinced Lennon to trigger a clause in that deal to make his move to Edinburgh permanent, the player agreeing a three-year contract.
Kamberi said: “If I can, I want to score a hat-trick every week. It’s not easy, sadly. But I am delighted to have scored another one and to win my first European game. It’s amazing. I didn’t know I had broken that record, so I am very happy to have done so.”
Kamberi got Hibs off to the perfect start, scoring from the penalty spot in just the third minute when he was bundled off the ball by Runavik defender Einar Trondargogv, who was later sent off for a wild lunge on Hibs winger Martin Boyle whose pace was running the part-timers ragged. It was the third match in succession Kamberi had scored a spot-kick having done so against Hearts and Rangers at the end of last season but, he admitted, he needed a bit luck this time round as his shot as goalkeeper Tordur Thomsen got a hand to the ball.
He said: “It was a poor penalty. I scored against Hearts and Rangers much better. At least it went over the line but I’ll have to imporve on this one. But it’s not just about me, it was a great team performance.”
There were signs of early-season rustiness in this, Hibs’ first competitve match against a side halfway through their season, as Kamberi acknowledged, but he believes Lennon’s squad can build on their impressive return to the Premiership despite the loss of Dylan McGeouch and the potential departure of his fellow Scotland midfielder John McGinn, the former St Mirren man in the sights of Celtic and a number of clubs south of the Border.
Scott Allan, who spent the second half of last season on loan, has also gone but Kamberi believes Mallan, signed on a four-year contract from Barnsley, will prove to be the ideal replacement.
He said: “We are not a team that just plays long balls or tries to get headers. I think we play very nice football, which we showed last season. When we play in Europe it is different, with tougher opponents but I think we will have a real chance if we play like we did last season and improve more.
“Stevie is a good footballer, has nice feet and I think he is a litle bit like Scotty. He is a nice guy, has trained very well and was excellent in the game. He will need time, but he will be good.”
Kamberi was part of the Grasshoppers squad which reached the Europa League play-offs two years ago only to lose to Turkish side Fenerbahce and he admitted he’d love to go one better and reach the group stage of the competition.
“To make the group phase would be aamazing for the club, but not an easy task,” he said. “This was Runavik and, if you want to go to the groups, then you have to play against much bigger teams. Everything is possible and we just need to focus on ourselves, play our footballl and see what happens.
“Fenerbahce was a fantastic experience, a nice stadium and a great atmosphere but it shows how difficult it can be to reach the group stage. Now everyting seems to be perfect – but it gets tough.
“Beating Runavik was a perfect start for us but we can’t think it’s over, we have to be focused for next week’s game in the Faroe Islands.”
HIBS’ EURO HAT-TRICK HEROES
Florian Kamberi v NSI Runavik (Europa League), July 12, 2018
Alan Gordon v Hajduk Split (European Cup-Winners’ Cup), March 7, 1973
Jimmy O’Rourke v Besa Kavaje (European Cup-Winners’ Cup), October 25, 1972
Jimmy O’Rourke v Sporting Lison (European-Cup Winners’ Cup), September 27, 1972.
Joe McBride v Malmo (Inter-Cities Fairs Cup), September 16, 1970
Joe McBride v Lokomotive Leipzig (Inter-Cities Fairs Cup), November 13, 1968