Hibs stun Nantes to set up UEFA Youth League play-off against one of Europe's big guns
Goals from Josh O’Connor and Rudi Molotnikov gave ten-man Hibs a 2-1 victory over hot favourites Nantes in France, sealing passage to the play-off round of the UEFA Youth League and a glamour tie against one of Europe’s big guns.
Ethan Laidlaw’s penalty in the first leg had given the Easter Road side a slender 1-0 advantage going into the return match at the Stade Marcel-Saupin and when Adel Mahamoud scored for the hosts after just 17 minutes it gave Hibs work to do. But a close-range effort from O’Connor following a swift counter-attack restored parity on the night and nudged the visitors back in front on aggregate and Molotnikov made it two early in the second period.
Not even a late red card shown to Murray Aiken for a second bookable offence could offer the much-fancied Nantes a route back into the game and the Hibs kids held out for a famous victory. Their victory in the Loire-Atlantique département sets up a one-legged home game against one of the eight runners-up from the group stages.
With the draw due to be made on November 8, Hibs could find themselves coming up against the highly-rated youngsters of Ajax, Porto, Internazionale, Eintracht Frankfurt, Red Bull Salzburg, Shakhtar Donetsk, Borussia Dortmund, or Juventus.
Nantes started the game strongly and Murray Johnson was called into action to field a header from Stredair Appuah before Warren Mountsangui sent a long-range effort narrowly wide of the post.
Mahamoud then got the goal Nantes’ early play deserved but Hibs hit back five minutes later. Aiken started the move from the Hibs half, driving forward and slipping the ball to Laidlaw, whose square ball found O’Connor at the near post and he finished strongly past Tom Mabon.
There was a degree of similarity for the second goal, O’Connor picking out Molotnikov as Hibs countered again and the Scotland under-17 cap hit a fierce effort across goal and into the far corner.
Robbie Hamilton forced Mabon into a good save at his near post as Hibs sought to extend their lead, and Dehmaine Assoumani came close for Nantes but dragged his shot wide. Aiken was dismissed for a second booking in injury time after a skirmish on the half-way line but Hibs held on for a fine victory.