How Hibs contrived to throw away European tie in 4-1 loss to Rijeka
In the pre match press conference, a Croatian journalist asked Jack Ross if Hibs had been practicing penalties.
For all the trash talk emanating from the Rijeka camp, that question was a give away – Rijeka had travelled to Edinburgh last week and been surprised and Hibs were no longer the only ones who believed in the possibility of them reaching the Europa Conference League play-offs.
Jack Ross’ men were never going to have everything their own way, never likely to enjoy the level of control they experienced on their own turf but they did believe they had enough to tip the 1-1 scoreline from the first leg in their favour.
But just as they had in the head to head one week ago, they undermined themselves.
In that first encounter their inability to convert more of their goal chances into a tangible advantage was their undoing. In Croatia it was their defensive showing that caused the problems and left them on a flight back to Scotland bogged down by the excess baggage of so many what ifs.
Hibs headed out to Croatia without captain Paul Hanlon and Scott Allan and, although Christian Doidge travelled, the Welshman picked up a knock in training and was ruled out of the match day squad.
It meant there was a spot in the starting line up for Darren McGregor. There was also a welcome return for last season’s top scorer Kevin Nisbet, who had suffered a dead leg in the first meeting of these sides and, just as they had in Leith, Jamie Murphy and Kevin Nisbet had chances to give the Scots the lead.
Rijeka were more dangerous though. Josip Drmic, who had been contained so well by the Hibs defence, was an absentee but last week’s scorer Prince Ampem was again a thorn in Paul McGinn’s side down the flank, while Issah Abass was obviously hungry for a goal.
Ampem had a penalty claim waved aside when McGinn tried to prevent the Ghanaian bursting by him early doors.
McGregor picked up a booking in the 13th minute and although Robert Muric’s free-kick was marginally off target, the yellow card would return to haunt Hibs.
The home keeper had to deny Murphy on a couple of occasions, but the better chances belonged to Rijeka.
In the 37th minute McGregor didn’t sense the danger over his shoulder and Domagoj Pavicic was given time and space to find the net.
Matt Macey kept Hibs in it, though, with a massive save just before the interval.
But if Hibs’ performance in the early stages of the second half offered hope, with Kyle Magennis capitalising on Nino Galovic’s mistake and surging forward to send an angled drive into the bottom corner to level the score in the 55th minute, it all fell apart soon after as McGregor was shown a needless second yellow card and some sloppy defending handed Rijeka a second goal – Abass credited as the ball sneaked in at the near post.
After that it was a losing battle as Abass grabbed a second, deflected off McGinn. They wrapped it up with a fourth goal, from Denis Busnaj.
When they had their chances they took them. Hibs must wish they had done that last week.