Lennon geared up for Europa reunion with Brondby striker

Teemu Pukki joined Brondby permanently after a successful loan spell
Teemu Pukki joined Brondby permanently after a successful loan spell
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Hibs boss Neil Lennon has admitted he expects to come up against a familiar face when the Easter Road outfit get their Europa League campaign underway in little more than three weeks time.

The Capital club have been paired against either Valur Reykjavik or Brondby IF in the second qualifying round of the competition with the first leg due to be played on Thursday, July 14, and most likely to be in Edinburgh.

But Lennon expects the Danish side to be his team’s opponents – and that will bring him face-to-face with Finnish internationalist Teemu Pukki, whom he signed for Celtic in a £2.4 million deal three years ago.

Having moved from German Bundesliga side Schalke, Pukki looked set to live up to that fee, scoring on his debut in a 3-1 win against Hearts, grabbing the only goal of the game against Hibs at Celtic Park later that year and scoring another in a 4-0 victory for the Hoops at Easter Road just six weeks later.

Overall, however, Pukki failed to make an impact in Glasgow, scoring just seven goals in 33 appearances for Celtic and Lennon’s successor Ronny Deila, allowed the 26-year-old to join Brondby on loan, a move which became permanent as he signed a three-year deal with the Copenhagen-based outfit.

Nevertheless, Lennon admitted he was well aware of the dangers Pukki will pose to Hibs, saying: “He’s a quality player, a Finnish internationalist. It was difficult for him to settle in Glasgow, but he is a talented boy.”

Valur are already eight matches into their Icelandic league campaign, sitting seventh in the 12-team top flight, while Brondby, fourth in the Superliga last term, don’t start their domestic season until after the first leg of their opening Europa League tie on June 30.

Lennon, though, fully expects Brondby to be Hibs’ opponents, well aware of the dangers Scandinavian sides can pose at this time of year although it’s a warning he scarcely need make given the Easter Road club were humbled 9-0 on aggregate by Swedish outfit Malmo on their most recent European outing in 2013, Pat Fenlon’s players going down 2-0 in the first leg before being crushed 7-0 at home.

“Any time you get a Scandinavian side it’s fraught with danger because these guys are up and running with their season,” said Lennon. “They will be that bit sharper than British teams at that time of the year.

“I would expect Brondby to negotiate the tie, but you just never know.

“They have been strong domestically for a long, long time and they’ve had some good forays into Europe.”

Even so, Lennon insisted he’ll do his homework on both sides and ensure his sqaud will be prepared for whoever they face, saying: “Obviously, Brondby are a well-known name, but I’m sure both sides will prove to be difficult.

“We don’t have a preference over who we play so we’ll watch the games with interest and be ready for the next round. It’s a tough draw, but not insurmountable.”

Lennon’s squad report back for pre-season training on Thursday and the head coach, who has been in France working with the BBC at the European Championships where he had positive talks with striker Jason Cummings on the 20-year-old’s Hibs future, said: “I am sure everyone will be excited to have this match to look forward to.

“There will be tremendous excitement amongst the fans. The supporters are massively important for these types of games and it would be a big boost to the players to have Easter Road full.”

Lennon, however, admitted he’d have rather have had the first leg away from home but revealed he’s just delighted to have the prospect of European football to look forward to in what will be his first two competitive matches in charge of Hibs.

He said: “The priority is getting through the Championship, but it’s a massive bonus to have European football so we’re determined to make the most of the games.”