Neil Lennon has revealed that he doesn’t see too much between Thursday night’s Europa League opponents Molde and Asteras Tripolis, the Greek side Hibs knocked out last week.
Hibs go into the double-header against the Norwegian outfit, bossed by Manchester United legend Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, knowing victory would pitch them against either Russia’s Zenit St Petersburg or Dinamo Minsk of Belarus in the play-offs, one tantalising step away from the competition’s money-spinning group stage.
Lennon had Molde watched twice as they defeated KF Laçi of Albania home and away in the second qualifying round as his own players made progress, drawing 1-1 against Asteras in Greece after winning the first leg at Easter Road 3-2.
While conceding Molde will provide a “severe test” for his players, the Hibs boss said: “I’m not convinced there’s much between them and Asteras. That was a great learning curve for us and we showed tremendous amounts of character.
“It will be a severe test as Molde are half-way through their season. They have goals in them, but we are looking forward to it.”
Given his players had only returned from Greece less than 48 hours before facing Motherwell in their opening Premiership match of the season, Lennon took the opportunity to rotate his squad and was delighted with the performances of youngsters Ryan Porteous and Oli Shaw in the 3-0 win as Darren McGregor sat the match out with a knee injury and Flo Kamberi, also struggling with fluid on his knee, and Vykintas Slivka, took a seat on the bench alongside the returning Jame Maclaren.
He said: “It’s a case of trying to find that balance between Thursday and Sunday. Flo was on the bench and we thought we were maybe going to give him half and hour, but we didn’t need to which was a real bonus. Hopefully his knee will settle down for Thursday.
“Vykintas had suffered from a bit of cramp in Greece, but Marvin Bartley came in and was superb. He’s been a bit frustrated [at his lack of game time] but his attitude has been superb and he had a huge influence on the game along with John McGinn and Stevie Mallan.
“And you cannot stop the progress of the young lads, you have to give them the chance to play and they took it. Both Ryan and Oli can be pleased with their contributions.”
Lennon admitted seeing almost 17,500 fans pack Easter Road for the match had been “brilliant”, and now he’s hoping the supporters turn up in their droves for what could be a night to remember.
He added: “It was a fantastic crowd for us at this time of year that created a cracking atmosphere.”