David Hardie looks at what Hibs have to do to get past Molde at the Aker Stadion tomorrow night
The arithmetic is quite simple. If Hibs are to reach the play-off stage of the Europa League then they have to score one more goal than Molde, or at least match the Norwegian outfit in that respect.
Quite how they do that is the trickier question. The no-scoring draw at Easter Road has very much put the outcome of this third qualifying round tie in the balance but the notion that it has, perhaps, swung in favour of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side is open to debate.
Hibs, undoubtedly, would have liked some sort of lead to take into tomorrow’s match in the Aker Stadium as they did in the previous round against Greek outfit Asteras Tripolis, Flo Kamberi’s last-gasp winner in Edinburgh proving crucial to them coming out on top.
On their own plastic pitch where they have scored ten goals in their previous two matches in the Eliteserien, Molde will be formidable opponents and on the evidence of last week’s game they are a well organised, tactically-aware side, comfortable on the ball and quick to spot the opportunity to counter-attack, swiftly moving from a 4-1-4-1 formation to a 4-3-3 set-up when the chance arose.
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They did, however, have goalkeeper Andreas Linde - and his crossbar - to thank for keeping them level and while they’ll fancy their chances at home, Solskjaer’s players will be acutely aware of the dangers inherent in conceding the first goal.
Molde will welcome the return of teenage striker Erling Haaland, an absentee last week as he travelled to Austria to discuss a possible £10 million move to Red Bull Salzburg.
Haaland’s height and power will add a further dimension to Molde’s game and while nine goals in 16 appearances mark out Haaland as the main threat, Neil Lennon will also make his players aware that the likes of Frederik Aursnes, Erik Hestad and Etzaz Hussain are all capable of chipping in from midfield.
Hibs will be keen to keep things tight while being on the lookout to spring into attack with the pace of Martin Boyle a potent weapon, while Lennon will be hoping Aussie striker Jamie Maclaren and strike partner Kamberi can find the form which brought the pair 17 goals between them in the second half of last season.
Stevie Mallan’s ability from distance - both from set pieces and open play - is another weapon in Hibs armoury, but the clock could also prove to be a useful ally.
The longer the game goes without a goal the more anxious Molde, despite their great experience in Europe, are likely to become, knowing that one slip, one mistake, a split-second lapse in concentration - or even a touch of magic from one of their opponents - could prove fatal.