Paul Hanlon: Hibs can be European shock troops against Brondby

Paul Hanlon knows Brondby are a quality side, but revealed Hibs have a plan of their own to put the Danes under the cosh at Easter Road. Pic: SNS
Paul Hanlon knows Brondby are a quality side, but revealed Hibs have a plan of their own to put the Danes under the cosh at Easter Road. Pic: SNS
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Paul Hanlon has already watched Celtic and Aberdeen suffer shock results in Europe in the past couple of weeks, but he believes Hibs can spring one of their own against crack Danish outfit Brondby.

The Easter Road defender admitted he and his team-mates face a tough challenge against the men from Copenhagen, but, he revealed, boss Neil Lennon has pointed out weaknesses with he feels his players can exploit.

And, he insisted, Lennon’s vast experience on this stage both as a player and manager with Celtic could prove vital in helping steer his new team into the third qualifying round of the Europa League against all the odds.

Pointing to Lennon’s standing in the game – a television analyst throughout this summer’s European Championships – he said: “That was the first thing he said in the meeting yesterday morning, he has that experience of being at Celtic, much bigger European nights than we’ve been involved in.

“He’s got that experience and know-how to get through these fixtures. We’ll all be listening to him and taking in as much as we can.

“When he walks into a room when we’ve got a team meeting you can tell he has that aura about him, that presence that he knows what he is doing. He knows what he is talking about, he’s done a lot in the game and he’s got that respect right away.

“It probably shows the respect he has in the game that the big TV companies want his opinion on the big games in Europe.

“It’s something as a player that you want, As soon as he speaks everybody listens. He’s got that knowlede and experience of Europe that when he gives his team talk tomorrow we’ll all be listening and trying our best to carry out what he’s saying.”

Lennon, who played in the UEFA Cup final and steered Celtic into the last 16 of the Champions League, believes Hibs have been handed the toughest draw of any of Scotland’s Euro representatives but, insisted Hanlon, his players won’t be overawed by the reputation of their opponents.

The 26-year-old said: “We’re in the competition and we want to go as far as we can. We’ve got a really tough draw, but the group stages aren’t far away, another two rounds. We want to do as well as we can and progress, this is an extra that comes with winning the Scottish Cup.”

Finnish striker Teemu Pukki is, of course, the most familiar name in the Brondby squad after being signed for Celtic by Lennon although that move didn’t work out for him but, revealed Hanlon, there are others that have to be watched.

He said: “We’ve gone through their squad and the manager has told us bits and pieces about each player. Pukki is the one we are most familair with, but they have a good squad and it’s 
going to be a tough challenge.

“We’ve watched a bit of video. They scored a few goals in the previous game, so I think they’re quite attacking. The manager has pointed out weaknesses that we think we can exploit and hopefully we can do that.”

Asked how he felt why a Championship can have such confidence given Celtic suffered a humiliating Champions League defeat by Lincoln Red Imps in Gibraltar and Aberdeen lost to Fola Esch in Luxembourg although they did progress to this, the second qualifying round of the Europa League, Hanlon replied: “I’m not worried in the slightest by what Celtic and Aberdeen are doing, I’m only concerned about Hibs. I’m playing for Hibs and whatever happens in their results can’t be affected by us. We know we have the players in our squad that can hurt Brondby and that’s what we will be looking go do.

“Brondby are a good side. Scandanavian teams are always difficult, but we are confident in our own ability.”

Hanlon is one of the few survivors of Hibs own embarrassing night in Europe, that 7-0 thrashing by Malmo, the eventual aggregate scoreline of 9-0 the worst suffered on that stage by a Scottish club, 
although, as he pointed out, the Swedish side had beaten Rangers and went on to defeat Celtic a couple of years later.

“It was definitely an experience,” the former Scotland Under-21 captain admitted, “That was a few years ago, it was a disappointing night and not one I’m keen to touch on again. A couple of years afterwards Malmo got a bit more respect, they became more of a Champions League team.”

For Hibs, as Hanlon also indicated, this is almost an entirely different squad with a nuamber of Lennon’s players tasting Euro action for the first time while 22-year-old goalkeeper Otso Virtanen will be starting his first match for the Capital club.

He said: “We’ve moved on from Malmo. It’s a new squad here and a completely different scenario. Playing against teams from different cultures you maybe pick up different things with the way they do things. We need to concentrate on 
ourselves, not to worry about them and forget about what we’re trying to do.

“It’s a big game for Otso. He doesn’t give much away, he’s a quiet lad but I’m sure he’s really excited. We’ll all try to help each other through it. He’s a young goalkeeper, but if we are on our game we will protect him.

“It’s a chance for him to keep the gloves. I think with a goalkeeper especially if you are playing well and are on form you will keep your place ten times out of ten.”

As this will be a European first for many of Hanlon’s team-mates it follows, naturally, it will also be their first experience of a foreign referee, in this instance Spain’s Juan Martinez Munuera, who last season booked an incredible 11 players and sent off two in a Copa del Rey tie between Barcelona and Espanyol, the whistler flashing 75 yellow cards in just 18 games.

But Hanlon insisted he wasn’t concerned that challenges which might be acceptable in the Scottish Championship might fall foul of a referee used to La Liga, saying: “I think if you go in worrying about a referee you will be more hesitant. You have to play it as you see if and if it comes to the referee handing out cards then you have to adjust.

“Until then you concentrate and play it as you see it.”