From a seemingly hopeless position at half-time on Thursday, Hibs now head to Greece this week with a massive chance of making it to the third qualifying round of the Europa League.
A few years ago, I don’t think you’d have seen a Hibs team come back from 2-0 down against a decent European side. At half-time, I don’t think any supporters thought we’d get anything out of the game. I was thinking it would be good just to get a goal to keep us in the tie for the second leg, so to get a victory was a brilliant achievement.
We’ve generally struggled in Europe over the past couple of decades so that would have to go down as one of our best results for many years. It was made even better by the fact it came at the start of the season when the squad is looking slightly depleted and the players are still trying to find their fitness. The fightback just shows the spirit the manager has put into the team.
To see the players handle the situation so well and respond so strongly under pressure against a good side will come as a massive boost to the supporters. Hopefully we can now finish the job in Greece on Thursday and make sure we go into the league campaign on a real high.
It won’t be easy because Asteras Tripolis are strong at home, but Hibs have given themselves a great chance. The late winner has made a massive difference to the dynamic of the tie because if we hadn’t got it, there would have been a big onus on us to go and get the first goal. Instead it’s Asteras who have got to come out and try and get a goal, and that should hopefully play into Hibs’ hands. With Martin Boyle’s pace and Florian Kamberi’s ability to get a goal, I would fancy us to score over there. If we do that, we’d be in a great position to go through.
Playing in Europe is totally different to playing domestic football and sometimes it can be a bit of a learning process for Scottish teams because they don’t play in Europe particularly often. I think some of the Hibs players will have benefitted from the experience of playing against Brondby two years ago, and hopefully memories of winning in Copenhagen will help them in Tripoli on Thursday.
This Hibs team has had a lot of experience of playing big games over the past few years and that should stand them in good stead. Ultimately it will come down to how they play on the night and whether they get the rub of the green at the key moments because the tie is so delicately poised that it could end up hinging on a mistake or a controversial decision.
There’s extra incentive for Hibs to get through because the draw for the next round has been relatively kind to them. If we can get past Asteras, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t fancy ourselves to do likewise against Norwegian side Molde.
This is a real opportunity for Hibs and I hope they seize it.
Obviously playing a tough European tie three days before the opening league match is not ideal but having fixtures come thick and fast is the price of success. I’d far rather have this situation than be playing Betfred Cup matches instead of Europa League qualifiers on a Thursday night.
The fact is if we’re progressing in Europe, then it means we’re playing well and winning matches which should mean we carry additional confidence into our league campaign.
If we get through on Thursday, the players will be flying going into the Motherwell. That type of momentum can offset any potential for fatigue to kick in.
Hibs aren’t the only side in this situation because Aberdeen, Rangers and Celtic are also still in Europe. The results of all four teams in Europe has given Scottish football a boost and hopefully they can all finish the job and get through this week. I know, as a nation, we haven’t helped ourselves with our collective performances in Europe in previous years, but it can be very hard to reverse that when all your best clubs are having to kick-off at the start of July and play four qualifying rounds.
I think clubs from most countries would struggle in those circumstances, especially when playing against teams who are midway through their domestic seasons. Our league seems to be in quite good health at the moment and hopefully the results over the last week are a sign that things are starting to turn in the right direction.