Erling Braut Haaland enhanced his burgeoning reputation with a sensational showing as Molde ended Hibs’ Europa League adventure with an impressive 3-0 triumph at the Aker Stadium.
Haaland, rated at £10 million and a reported target for clubs as varied as Manchester United, Juventus and Borussia Dortmund, lived up to the hype in a show of prodigious pace and power, scoring twice and setting up another for Fredrik Aursenes.
It is astonishing to think he is still just 18 years of age and if, as is expected, he usurps John Carew as the most expensive ever export from the Norwegian top-flight by joining Salzburg, it will surely be merely a stepping stone to one of the continents most prestigious leagues.
Hibs never gave up the ghost against Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s stylish side, striking the post in the second period, but were simply unable to handle Haaland. In years to come, one suspects that will be seen as no shame.
The reverse brings a decent continental campaign that saw victories of NSI Runavik and Asteras Tripolis to an end, with Molde heading to Zenit St Petersburg – 8-5 aggregate winners over Dinamo Minsk – next week as the Hibees put their passports away from another year.
Adam Bogdan returned between the sticks following a hip injury, replacing Ross Laidlaw despite the latter’s fine showing in Sunday’s 1-1 draw at St Johnstone. In attack, the potent partnership of Jamie Maclaren and Florian Kamberi were reunited. This was not a team designed to shut up shop.
Haaland led the line for the hosts, having missed the first-leg stalemate after travelling to Austria for transfer talks with Salzburg. That move is becoming increasingly protracted, while a host of the game’s biggest clubs monitor his progress.
He scored one and created another as Solskjaer’s men battered league leaders Brann 5-1 at the weekend, taking his tally in the Eliteserien to nine goals in 15 outings. Ominous.
Around 600 Hibs fans descended upon the ultra-modern Aker Stadium after making their presence felt in the sleepy seaside town throughout the day, creating a raucous atmosphere much to the amusement – and bemusement – of the locals.
And they saw their heroes immediately forced into some desperate defending, with a bright short corner routine culminating in a Pawel Cibicki shot from the edge of the box which was superbly blocked by Efe Ambrose.
Cibicki, a name that may prompt some awful memories for Hibees given he played for Malmo when the Swedes obliterated Pat Fenlon’s side 7-0 at Easter Road five years ago, then sent a wonderful cross in for Haaland – only for the wonderkid to head wide. A let-off.
A dominating figure despite his youth, Haaland was making his presence felt, but was mercifully wayward with his aim, skewing another effort woefully off target. That would soon change.
Stevie Mallan’s repeated speculative drives from distance were a feature of the maiden meeting of these sides in Edinburgh and the midfielder was at it again in Norway when he stung the palms of Andreas Linde from 25 yards.
Haaland’s profligacy was never likely to persist, however, and he gave the hosts the lead ten minutes before the break. A deep Aursnes free-kick was headed across the face of goal by Ruben Gabrielsen, allowing Alf-Inge’s lad to nod home from point-blank range.
A far more heartening start to the second period saw Maclaren flash an inviting delivery across the box, evading everyone and finding Boyle at the far post – however he failed to steer the ball into the net from a prohibitive angle.
Hibs were made to pay for that wastefulness when Molde doubled their advantage. Haaland was once again pivotal, out-muscling Efe Ambrose to latch onto a through-ball before coolly squaring the ball for Aursenes to roll into an empty net.
In desperate need of a response to keep their European dream alive, there was heartbreak for the Hibees as Maclaren hit the post with a header following an instinctive cutback by Lewis Stevenson.
And the icing on the cake for the hosts was provided when Haaland slammed his second of the night beyond Bodgan after a Hestad shot had deflected into his path via Paul Hanlon.
Molde (4-3-3): Linde, Remmer, Gabrielsen, Forren, Gregersen (Strand 70), Hussain, Haugen, Aursnes, Hestad, Haaland (James 83), Cibicki (Wolff Eikrem 57). Subs not used: Ranmark, Ssewankambo, Mostrom, Chima.
Hibs (3-5-2): Bogdan, Ambrose, Porteous, Hanlon, Stevenson (Gray 87), Mallan, Bartley, Slivka, Boyle, Maclaren (Shaw 76), Kamberi. Subs not used: Laidlaw, Whittaker, Swanson, Hyndman, Martin.
Referee: Dennis Higler (NED)