Maribor 3, Hibs 0. Europa League. July 29, 2010
Hibs’ lack of European experience was cruelly exposed as Slovenian outfit NK Maribor, a club immersed in playing at this level on an annual basis, all but ended the Edinburgh club’s hopes of making any further progress in the Europa League.
Lucky to be trailing by just one goal at half time, Josip Ilicic’s 31st-minute strike was scant reward for the Slovenians’ superiority, Hibs found themselves three down by the hour mark, the irrepressible Ilicic claiming a second before playing in his captain Marcos Tavares for a third goal which all but put this third qualifying round beyond the Scottish side.
Temperatures which had soared towards 350C in the days leading up to this match dipped to a more comfortable 190C just prior to kick-off. Already without Sol Bamba, the Ivory Coast star left behind after failing to reappear on time after World Cup duty in South Africa, the Hibs manager surprised the 300 or so fans who had made the journey from Edinburgh by omitting both Derek Riordan and Anthony Stokes from his starting line-up.
Instead, he opted to field a lone striker in Colin Nish.
However, Hughes’ stated aim of at least ensuring the tie remained alive for the second leg at Easter Road were almost undone within the opening six minutes as the Slovenian side settled to their task with aplomb, Paul Hanlon forced into a timely tackle on Tavares after John Rankin’s slack pass had been picked off in the middle of the park.
Then Ilicic caught Ian Murray napping with a glorious 50-yards pass which dropped over the defender’s head and into the path of Dejan Mezga who blazed widely over before Tavares’ low ball across the ace of goal just eluded the outstretched boot of the unmarked Dalibor Volas at the back post.
Goalkeeper Graham Stack then clawed Volas’ effort to safety.
Hibs were rarely seen as an attacking force as they struggled to cope with the pace and movement of their opponents.
The outstanding Ilicic, given the freedom to roam by coach Darko Milanic, found himself in a similar position eight minutes later, stepping inside Murray who was unlucky to slip at the vital moment giving his opponent the time to deliver a curling left-foot shot which left Stack for dead as it sailed over the goalkeeper’s head and crashed down off the underside of the crossbar and into the net.
It was no more than Maribor deserved, but having endured 45 minutes of torment, Hibs almost snatched an unlikely equaliser on the stroke of half-time, Lee Miller taking David Wotherspoon’s pass 25 yards out and firing in a powerful shot which saw Maribor goalkeeper Marko Pridigar rise to his left to push away.
Whatever was said in the away dressing-room had little effect as Maribor doubled their lead six minutes after the restart as Ilicic added his second of the match. He may have been aided and abetted by a slack pass from David Wotherspoon but there was no doubting the quality of the finish, Ilicic floating a fantastic ball over the head of the stranded Stack from 25 yards.
The home side and their vociferous fans sensed blood, well aware one more goal would all but secure their place in the competition’s play-off stage and Tavares almost got it six minutes later, Stack getting down to place a strong left hand on his low shot.
A third goal, however, was inevitable and once again it came courtesy of a Hibs mistake, Kevin McBride allowing Ilicic to pick his pocket before slipping the ball to his right for Tavares to apply the finish as he curled the ball around the helpless Stack.
Hughes decided to throw on both Riordan and Stokes in a desperate bid to claim that away goal which might have put a slightly different complexion on the outcome, but to no avail, leaving Hibs with the bleak prospect of overcoming a three-goal deficit in six days, a highly unlikely scenario on the evidence of these 90 minutes.
Maribor: Pridigar, Mejac, Rajcevic, Andelkovic, Viler, Mertelj, Bacinovic, Mezga (Cvijanovic 71), Ilicic (Pavlicic 79), Tavares, Volas (Plut 91). Subs not used: Radan, Dzinic, Jelic, Majer.
Hibs: Stack, Hart, Hogg, Hanlon, Murray, McBride (Riordan 68), De Graaf, Miller, Rankin, Wotherspoon (Galbraith 77), Nish (Stokes 68). Subs not used: Smith, Stephens, Thicot, Stevenson.