Hibs 0, Molde 0: Goals dry up but tie in the balance

David Gray gets in a header. Pic: Ian Georgeson
David Gray gets in a header. Pic: Ian Georgeson
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The goals dried up for Hibs leaving them to travel to Norway next week knowing they have to score if they are to keep their hope of reaching the group stages of the Europa League alive.

The Easter Road side had been knocking them in for fun, their previous six competitive outings having seen them score a remarkable 24 goals.

But despite going close on a number of occasions, they just weren’t able to find that vital goal which would make the second leg of this third qualifying round tie in Molde perhaps just that little bit easier to negotiate.

Stevie Mallan hit the bar with an early shot, Andreas Linde twice had to push away shots from the midfielder and Vykintas Slivka and, then, in the fourth minute of added-on time the Molde goalkeeper was at full stretch to deny Hibs substitute Emerson Hyndman.

The memories will live forever in the minds of the supporters, but it’s now up to Hibs to show there is life after John McGinn, this tie giving Neil Lennon’s players an immediate opportunity to show that they will do so.

And the early signs were that if not forgotten, they were ready to shake off the loss of their star man barely 24 hours earlier, Mallan, hoped by some to be the man to take on McGinn’s mantle, spotting Linde slightly off his line and delivering a wickedly dipping shot which left the goalkeeper grasping thin air as the ball crashed back off his crossbar.

Linde had to deal with another Mallan effort which followed a well-struck shot from Slivka but the Norwegian’s gave a glimpse of their threat on the counter-attack, the ball slipped in behind the home defence for Strand who found Paul Hanlon had read the situation, the defender stepping in to mop up the attack.

Like McGinn former St Mirren man Mallan has already found himself something of a cult hero in the east end of Edinburgh with five goals in as many games, four of them in Europe, and he almost added to that tally again with a terrific shot from range which a grateful Linde just managed to tip over.

A hip injury had forced goalkeeper Adam Bogdan to sit this one out had given Ross Laidlaw his first start since the Betfred Cup defeat by Celtic at Hampden last October and as the game passed the half-hour mark the goalkeeper had found himself with little to do.

He would though, have been happy to see Daniel Chima, finding himself free to meet Magnus Eikrem’s corner only to send a tame header well wide of target.

Chima had been deployed to play through the middle with Molde’s teenage striker Erling Haaland in Austria finalising a £6 million move to Red Bull Salzburg although he’s expected to be loaned back for next week’s second leg,

Neil Lennon had said he didn’t consider Molde to be any better than Asteras Tripolis, the Greek side Hibs had knocked out in the previous round but the Norwegians are steeped in European experience and there was a confidence and fluidity about their play as Chima quickly found himself with plenty of support whenever they went on to the front foot.

Free-scoring Hibs had found it much tougher this time round to find the net having claimed 16 goals in their previous four European matches but Martin Boyle almost broke the deadlock, sliding in to meet David Gray’s low cross at the near post only to prod the ball inches wide with Linde flat-footed.

It did, however, lift a home crowd which had gone a touch flat and they were again almost celebrating the game’s opening goal seconds later as Gray got his head to Mallan’s corner but Linde was there to save at the post.

Lennon had resisted the temptation to make any changes but as the game moved into the final ten minutes he made a double substitution in a bid to get that vital goal to take to Norway in a week’s time.

On came Hyndman, signed on loan from Bournemouth as McGinn headed for Aston Villa, for Marvin Bartley and teenage hitman Oli Shaw replacing Flo Kamberi who, just seconds earlier, had failed to make contact, admittedly on the stretch, with a Slivka pass.

However, it proved to no avail, the tie swinging in favour of Molde although Lennon will undoubtedly insist his side are more than capable of scoring in the Aker Stadium.

Hibs (3-5-2): Laidlaw; Ambrose, Porteous, Hanlon; Gray, Slivka, Bartley (Hyndman 80), Mallan, Stevenson; Boyle, Kamberi (Shaw 80). Unused substitutes: Dabrowski, Whittaker, Maclaren, Swanson, F Murray.

Molde: (4-1-4-1): Linde; Gregersen, Gabrielsen, Forren, Haugen, Sarr; Strand, Hussain, Eikrem (James 60), Hestad (Cibicki 89); Chima (Mostrom 70). Unused substitutes: Ranmark, Ssewankambo, Remmer, Brustad.

Referee: Adam Farkas (Hungary).

Attendance: 16,294.