Florian Kamberi has insisted Hibs won’t travel to Greece next week simply looking to hold on to what they’ve got after his dramatic last-minute winner threw the Europa League tie with Asteras Tripolis wide open.
The Easter Road outfit looked as if they were destined to crash out of the competition at this second qualifying round stage when Asteras defender Georgios Kyriakopoulos struck twice in the first half.
But in a stunning second-half fightback, Neil Lennon’s players hauled themselves level through Efe Ambrose and David Gray before Swiss hitman Kamberi claimed his fourth goal of the campaign to send Hibs into the return leg next Thursday with a slender but hugely important 3-2 lead.
There’s little doubt the Capital side will be up against it in the Theodoros Kolokotronis Stadium, where Asteras have lost just 16 of 107 league games over the course of the past seven years.
However, Kamberi believes there is little point in him and his team-mates going there looking to simply hold out for the draw which would send them through to a probable clash with Norwegian side Molde, who hold a 3-0 advantage of FK Laci after the first leg of their double-header.
“I don’t think we will go there to play defensively for 90 minutes,” he said. “I don’t think we will play for the draw or play on the counter, we will not go there with that mindset.
“We’ll be thinking, ‘it’s 0-0 and we want to win this game’. We are a winning team and we always want to win games. Of course we go there to win.”
Although Asteras have a greater European pedigree in recent years, twice reaching the group stages of the competition, Kamberi insisted that despite that first half scare, Hibs were the better team on the night.
He said: “It was an unbelievable win for us, to go through 90 minutes like that in a European qualification game was just amazing. After going 2-0 down it was definitely not easy to come out for the second half.
“But we played really well after that, good movement and getting three goals. I actually think we could have scored more.
“Getting the win was important and now we have to rest up and be ready for the second leg.”
Kamberi claimed Hibs’ never-say-die attitude had given them confidence that they can continue on their quest to meet boss Lennon’s stated target of defying the odds to reach the group stages.
He said: “We saw we were the better team and we played the better football. We can definitely improve on losing those two goals quite quickly together but I think, though, that we deserved the win if you look at the whole game.
“We want to take this confidence into the second leg.”
Asteras coach Savvas Pantelidis claimed after the match that his side had tired in what was their first competitive outing of the season and Kamberi admitted he and his team-mates had sensed their opponents were wilting.
He said: “I think we could feel it. It wasn’t easy for them because we had a lot of the ball in the second half and they had to chase us. It was just a shock to lose two goals in roughly ten minutes, but we reacted very well and the second half was just phenomenal.
“We know it will be a difficult game in Greece. We just have to keep our feet on the ground, even after such an amazing night.”
Lennon admitted that given the circumstances, he’d have happily settled for a draw, but Kamberi claimed that on a night when he was offered few clear cut chances he always believed a goal would come his way.
“I felt something the whole game,” he revealed. “That I would leave the pitch with a goal. I just had that feeling from the start of the game.
“I felt very emotional and happy when I managed to do it, especially in the circumstances of it being such a late goal to win the game.”
The hope of a match-winning goal looked to have disappeared when Asteras goalkeeper Giorgos Athanasiadis got his left boot to Martin Boyle’s shot, but he succeeded only in diverting it into the path of Kamberi, who was left with a simple tap-in.
The striker said: “I thought I was maybe offside. I didn’t hit it all that cleanly, but I don’t care. It was just so important to win and I wanted to run away and celebrate with the fans.
“I’ve scored a couple of hat-trick since I have been at Hibs and they were both crazy, but to score the winning goal in a European qualification game is also very, very big. It is on the same level as the hat-tricks.”
Kamberi may have had the last laugh on an evening when he found Asteras centre-backs Kostas Triantafyllopoulos and Triantafyllos Pasalidas – sent off late in the game as he picked up a second yellow card – “not nice guys to play against”, but he admitted he’ll have to be just that little bit more cute in Tripoli.
He said: “They were tough to play against but I will need to watch the game back and analyse what movements I can maybe do better. They always want the body contact, so I have to look for some different movements and different ways of playing against them.
“It was not about me, though, but the team and the huge effort we made to get back into the game. I can’t do it without the ball, I need the assists. It was 3-2 to Hibs, not 3-2 to Flo. So it is a team effort.”
Kamberi believes Hibs are continuing to build on the success of last season, but insisted they must continue to improve.
“We are showing we can compete at this level and we are trying to make the club proud,” he added. “We had a great season to get here and we are showing we can achieve good things in Europe. We have to keep improving. If you go through, then you know the level of opponents will increase.”