Lee Johnson challenges victorious Hibs youngsters to earn open spot in matchday squad

Lee Johnson has challenged Hibs’ victorious Uefa Youth League stars to earn themselves a spot in the club’s first-team squad.

The Easter Road manager was in attendance on Wednesday evening to watch the youngsters defeat Nantes 1-0 in the first leg of their Domestic Champions Path second-round tie.

Ethan Laidlaw bagged the only goal of the game to give Steve Kean’s side every chance of progressing ahead of the return fixture in France next Wednesday.

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Getting such an impressive victory with the head coach in attendance can only be a good thing for the burgeoning talents and Johnson, despite the depth of his first-team pool, revealed there’s a spot open on the substitutes bench for a youngster who stands out above all others.

Ethan Laidlaw celebrates scoring the only goal of the game from the penalty spot as Hibs defeat Nantes in the first leg of their Uefa Youth League clash. Picture: Contributed

“I think so,” said Johnson when asked if there were any who were in his thoughts. “We have got quite a big first-team squad at the moment in terms of the numbers we've got. But there probably is one spot open on the bench for one of the young players in that team. It'll be interesting to see which one we go with.”

The players earned the right to play on the continent, including the defeat of Molde in round one, after winning the under-18s league in Scotland last season. Johnson reckons this kind of winning culture is a wave that can be ridden all the way to the cinch Premiership.

"I spoke to the lads after the game because I love watching this team. It's got so much charisma,” he said. “Physically, it wasn't men against boys, but they were a big, strong, athletic Nantes side. The first 20-25 minutes, you're thinking we'll be good to keep this under three or four. Then all of a sudden, bang, the boys come through.

“It comes down to the psychology element. This is a team that's used to winning at their age. They've been really good in terms of their results, they've been together a while. That's what we want. We want them having these experiences coming through. Then, when they're coming into the first-team, bringing this freshness and commitment to the club, along with the values we've instilled in them and their parents have instilled in them. That then all goes into the first-team performances.”

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