Hibs chief backing Easter Road crowd to make the difference in Youth League tie
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The second leg of the Uefa Youth League Domestic Champions Path first-round tie will take place at the Leith side’s spiritual home on Wednesday evening as the club decision-makers have decided to allow the youngsters to play on the hallowed turf with hopes of inspiring them to victory.
Furthermore, they’ve been in discussions with Block Seven about a healthy number of them paying the £5 price of ticket to attend. The supporters group are known as the section of supporters who generally sing and chant the most at every home and away game. There’s even been a section opened up in the Famous Five stand especially for them to be situated together for the Molde clash, while the rest of crowd will be in residence in the West Stand.
For the Hibs youngsters seeking to overturn the 1-0 deficit from the first leg, hearing familiar sounds to go along with the awe-inspiring sights will only help them in their quest to reach the next round.
"The lads that are coming, I know there is a lot of them, hopefully create that atmosphere and put a little bit of edge on it, make the opposition nervous and drive us on,” said academy chief Kean.
“When the lads are singing and the drum is beating, hopefully that puts in a little bit of atmosphere and an edge. I always think it helps when you’re playing at the stadium and the lads have visualised themselves, as hopefully they have, playing in the first-team at some stage of their career. To get a little taste of it now, the feeling you would get about playing in a first team match, I think that would whet the whistle and get them thinking ‘one day I can make the step up’ via the development team and into the first-team.
"We trained in here this morning. Some of the lads have never even been on the pitch. So we’re getting a wee session today and the club have been good to give us the pitch.
“From the under-11s all the way up to the under-18s who are not involved, there’s no training at the academy that evening. We’re making sure that they’re all here and all their parents are here. It’s so they can get a glimpse of the oldest age group and hopefully that’ll be an inspiration to the younger ones as well and it’ll be a good turnout.”
Even if Hibs perform as they did in the first leg they’ll have a chance of advancing to the second round, where they’ll likely meet French side Nantes who hold a 2-0 lead from their opening encounter against Armenia club Pyunik. However, Kean insists it should be a very different performance from the group of boys this time around.
"Like any European tie away from home, we were quite cagey,” the former Blackburn Rovers manager said. “We weren’t really expansive. Now I think the result is there for us to go and win the game, without being silly and opening up too early.
"I think we’ll be a bit more aggressive. We were a little bit deep and we sat in a little bit more, just to make sure we were still in the tie for the second leg. So when it comes to this game we’ll be a little bit more on the front foot.
"They’ve very athletic. They have got pace and power. They’re a team who are really dynamic in their attacking shape. They play with two centre-forwards. Left and right of their midfield-three push up, almost like two No.10s. And they’ve got two high wing-backs so they’re very, very forward thinking and expansive.
"They’ve got good pace and power so we need to be aware of that. But by them committing many bodies forward in means that in a transition of possession we can get at them quickly. We’ve been working on that and it means we’ve had a good couple of weeks to bed everything ahead of tonight.”
There’s also hope that it’s not just home comforts which will play into the hands of the hosts when the match gets underway. There wasn’t too much between the sides in Norway with goalkeeper Murray Johnson not having many saves to make other than Molde’s only goal on the evening, netted from a Johan Bakke set-piece.
Each side had a man sent off as rain lashed down on the artificial surface at the Aker Stadium. Getting them on the grass at Easter Road, in what promises to be a wet surface if weather reports are to be believed, should play into the hands of the hosts.
“Yes, 100 per cent,” said Kean when asked whether conditions in Norway suit their opponents to a tee. “They don’t often play on grass so this will be a big advantage for us.
“Speaking to Elias [Melkersen], he says most of the time throughout your youth career in Norway you always play on synthetic surfaces. They’re very, very used to it, they train on it all the time, and they were excellent on it, as you would imagine.
“But, now, we’re here on the grass. Hopefully it will be drizzly and rainy and it will be slick and we can have a fast ball speed on the grass – and let’s see how they deal with that.
“It’s great to be very much in the tie in the second leg considering how young we are. We’re a young group. A lot of these lads can play in this tournament for the next couple of years, whereas they’re slightly older. To be at this stage against a team like that is a great experience.”