Hibs will take on anyone in Youth League play-offs, insist Steve Kean and Rudi Molotnikov
and live on Freeview channel 276
Ethan Laidlaw’s penalty in the first leg gave Hibs a slender 1-0 lead to take to the Loire-Atlantique département and even though Adel Mahamoud scored early for the hosts to level the tie on aggregate, a goal in each half by Josh O’Connor and Rudi Molotnikov put the Easter Road side firmly in the driving seat to progress. Not even a late red card for captain Murray Aiken could derail their efforts.
Hibs had set up the encounter with Les Canaris after eliminating Molde in the first round while Nantes had seen off Pyunik of Armenia and the French side were hot favourites to progress from round two.
Speaking afterwards Kean hailed his ‘brilliant’ young team, adding: “I don’t know if there are enough words to describe that and how we felt in the dressing room after the game. The spirit that we have within this young team is brilliant, for us to stay in the game and come here and win against an older, more physical team is an outstanding achievement. It doesn’t matter what knocks we get, or what starting XI is on the pitch. Everyone has an involvement and everyone has a role to play within the squad.”
Hibs overturned a one-goal deficit in the first round and prevailed on penalties after a 2-2 draw in normal time and didn’t allow the loss of an early goal at the Stade Marcel-Saupin to distract them from victory in France.
“We probably had 11 contenders for man of the match. To win at a place like this everyone needs to be at least an 8 out of ten and I think each and everyone was. I am thrilled for the lads to get another opportunity to play against a big club in the next round and try to get through again,” Kean added.
Hibs could be drawn to face some of the best young talent in Europe with Juventus, Internazionale, and Borussia Dortmund among their potential opponents, but the academy chief is confident of a strong showing in Leith: “We look at the teams that we might get in the next round, there are a lot of big names in the mix – so bring it on and let's get them at Easter Road,” he said.
Goalscorer Molotnikov added: "That was fantastic, we were absolutely buzzing. To win the game and to score as well just tops everything off. I wasn’t really thinking when the ball came to me – everything was happening very quickly at that moment in time. I had Ethan beside me in a good position but I thought I would just have a go and thankfully it went in."
This young Hibs side can be devastating in attack, as illustrated by both goals coming from swift breaks. The Scotland Under-17 internationalist believes the wee Hibees showed their strengths in France.
“We knew they would be open and our strength is on the counter-attack, so it was always a gameplan of ours – obviously it worked twice so we are delighted with that. We will take on anyone [in the play-off round] – we are just buzzing to be there.”