We win as a team, we lose as a team. That was the clear message from Stevie Mallan as the Hibs playmaker refused to lay the blame for their Europa League exit in Molde at the feet of Martin Boyle.
The waspish winger was arguably the Capital club’s most potent threat over both legs against the classy Norwegians, with his typical direct running and dangerous deliveries causing plenty of problems.
However, there was no getting away from the fact Boyle passed up two good opportunities to claim a crucial away goal at the Aker Stadium, failing to convert when an inviting Jamie Maclaren cross found him at the back post. The angle was prohibitive, but he should have done better. The former Dundee and Montrose forward also scooped a shot wildly over the bar after manufacturing some space in the box in the second period.
Nevertheless, Mallan had nothing but praise for Boyle – clearly marked out as a danger-man by Molde boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer – and has no doubt he will continue to excel on home soil this season.
“Boyler has been quality for us so far this season, even compared to what I saw last year,” said Mallan. “He’s a vital player for us and all the boys felt we could’ve done better – it’s not about one person.
“You can see over the two legs that Molde knew about him. They doubled up against him – when he got the ball the left-back and the left-midfielder were on him. That’s how important he is.
“They tried to nullify our main threat, which is Boyler’s pace and his deliveries into the box. That was still apparent on Thursday night and last weekend when his cross set up Oli Shaw’s goal against St Johnstone.
“He’ll be a vital player for us this season and I’m we’ll see the best of him.
“It just wasn’t for us in Norway. On another day, we might have got the win but all we can do now is take the positives from the game – and there were a few.”
Boyle was far from the only culprit, with Maclaren heading against the post from six yards after meeting a Lewis Stevenson cut-back.
Mallan also struck the cross-bar in the first-leg stalemate at Easter Road, while Molde keeper Andreas Linde was magnificent in Edinburgh.
Little wonder, then, head coach Neil Lennon stated his players would leave Norway’s scenic west coast nursing ‘regrets’. With a combination of more clinical finishing and some good fortune, they could comfortably have found the net five times over the two fixtures.
Instead, it was Molde who benefited from lax defending – Erling Braut Haaland’s opener was particularly preventable – to register three unanswered strikes.
“You’re always going to have regrets individually and as a team,” Mallan added. “We know we had a couple of chances we could’ve scored. That was the difference, really. They took their opportunities and we didn’t.
“We have to work on being more clinical in front of goal. We hit the post and Boyler good chances.
“And we need to stop giving away silly goals. The manager spoke before the game about how vital set-pieces were and to lose the first goal from a set-piece was something we were disappointed about.”
Mallan will seek to take that frustration out on Ross County in tomorrow’s Betfred Cup last-16 clash at Easter Road.
He added: “Everyone’s going to have regrets but there’s nothing we can do about that. All we can do is take the hurt we feel and move forward into the [Betfred] Cup against Ross County on Sunday.”
Hibs’ profligacy was certainly not mirrored by Haaland, who claimed a brace and powered past Efe Ambrose to tee up another for Frederik Aursnes.
The 18-year-old, who is set to join Salzburg in a £10 million move, was unplayable at times and possesses prodigious pace and power for one so young.
He was absent for the first leg at Easter Road after travelling to Austria for discussions regarding that prospective transfer, and the contrast between Molde’s displays in the two fixtures underlines his importance.
“That’s the financial difference,” added Mallan. “The man up front [Haaland] was good, but we still feel the tie was there for the taking, we feel.”