'We will try to score': Hibs Under-19s plan of attack in Nantes revealed as they bid to extend Euro adventure
Hibs Under-19s aiming to maximise the threat posed by Ethan Laidlaw and Josh O’Connor on the counter-attack to score in Nantes and set up a potentially “massive” tie in the UEFA Youth League play-off round.
Academy chief Steve Kean insists his team won’t be setting up to simply defend the 1-0 lead they established in the first leg of their second round tie at Easter Road last week, thanks to Laidlaw’s penalty. The plan is to score a goal in north west France and hope it will be enough to book a play-off spot against a Champions League group runner-up.
Ajax, Eintracht Frankfurt, Porto, Inter Milan and Shakhtar Donetsk are among the teams who lie in wait from that path. The draw for the play-offs takes place on November 8, with one-off matches taking place in February, when a place in the last-16 will be up for grabs. The tournament will conclude with a four-team knockout event in Nyon, Switzerland, in April. For now, though, Hibs are just focussing on overcoming Nantes.
“If you have guys like Ethan Laidlaw and Josh O’Connor, who have pace and power and can run in behind, we have to exploit that,” said Kean. “We have to play to their strengths.
“If we think one goal is going to be enough, that is a very dangerous mindset. If you go out from the first minute and try to defend for 90 minutes you are going to invite pressure. So, we will go out and attack. We will try to score. Not by being super expansive. We have to be a bit calculated. We also have to be as solid as we were in the first leg. But we have enough attacking options.
“We know their strengths and weaknesses, so we can set up to contain and hit them on the break. When we do get spells when we are on top, we must capitalise.”
The squad trained at HTC on Monday at 2pm before leaving for the airport and arrived after a direct flight to Nantes shortly after 11pm. They trained in the French city on Tuesday in preparation for Wednesday night’s match, which kicks off at 6pm UK time in the 1,880-capacity Stade Marcel-Saupin, home of Nantes B team. Hibs came through the first round against FK Molde of Norway in what was a different challenge altogether and are determined to continue the adventure.
“If we get through we would find ourselves in the hat with some massive clubs on the other side of the draw,” added Kean, who has a full squad to choose from other than Josh Landers, who is away on international duty with Scotland Under-16s. “The whole experience has been excellent. The travelling, and training in different countries is all part of them feeling like professional players.
“We are playing against French international players at their age group. So guys like Jacob Blaney and Murray Johnson, who have been called into the Scotland Under-19 squad, are playing against French internationals. It shows they can compete at a high level individually.”
Blaney is looking forward to the challenge. “Preparations have been good,” he said. “We’ve done everything we need to adapt to what Nantes did in the first leg. We go into this game knowing exactly what we have to do. Defending is something we pride ourselves on. We don’t like conceding goals. Counter-attacking football is how we like to play and it works.
“It is a very exciting time for everyone at the club because everyone wants to be playing in games like this to get their name out there. We want to go as far as we can.”