Steve Kean hails 'outstanding' Hibs after Dortmund heartbreak and makes first team claim
Hibs academy chief Steve Kean believes his under-19s are on the verge of commanding regular starting berths in the Easter Road first team after watching them go toe-to-toe with Borussia Dortmund in the UEFA Youth League play-offs.
Hibs were aiming to be the first Scottish club to reach the last 16 of the competition and dared to dream when Jacob Blaney headed them in front midway through the first half. But a Julian Rijkhoff penalty restored parity and substitute Hendry Blank fired in a winner in the 90th minute to leave Hibs devastated.
Speaking afterwards, Kean insisted his players should be proud of themselves for running an elite European team as close as they did.
“It’s a silent dressing room but we gave it a good go, I’m really proud of the players involved, the substitutes, and the staff. It’s been a brilliant European campaign and one we’ll all look back on with fond memories,” he said. “The way Dortmund’s bench reacted when they scored, they were elated because they were struggling to break us down, they couldn’t deal with our counter-attacks. If Ethan Laidlaw had scored that chance, which was only a whisker away, then it would have been a different game and we probably would have been in the next round.”
There was a perceived gulf in quality between the two teams but you wouldn’t have known it from the first half. Hibs were on top for much of it and the Germans struggled to find a rhythm with misplaced passes and a lack of cohesion between midfield and attack. Hibs had further chances to score with Blaney, Laidlaw, and Malek Zaid all going close in the second half.
"We can only be proud of what we’ve done, not just in this game but against Molde and Nantes, and all the games leading up to this one,” Kean continued. “Our fans have been great in this competition and because of the involvement of the young players in the first team – some of them have come off the bench, there’s a lot of them been among the subs – the fans are coming to get a glimpse of the future. Seven or eight of them played at the top of their game against Dortmund and it would be hard for us to pick a man of the match.”
Many of the Hibs team that started have been in and around the senior squad with some already getting game time under manager Lee Johnson but Kean is hopeful that more debuts could be on the way.
"There were some outstanding performances and hopefully some of the lads who were out there will be pushing for first-team starts soon. I hope it’s just a matter of time. I certainly think they put themselves in a good position against a top European side and for us to almost beat them shows that they are getting closer.
"I’ve enjoyed the run but I’m gutted because I feel we should be in the next round. We did enough and we were so close. I’m really proud of them but I’m disappointed they didn’t get an opportunity to play another massive club and be the first team in Scotland to get that far in the competition.”