Neil Lennon warns Hibs against Europa League complacency
Neil Lennon has warned that Hibs shouldn't take progress for granted after they were handed a favourable Europa League first qualifying round tie against NSI Runavik of the Faroe Islands.
The first leg takes place at Easter Road on Thursday, July 12, with the return leg in Toftir the following week.
The Edinburgh side are hot favourites to oust the minnows, who have never won a two-legged European tie before, and set up a second qualifying round clash with Greek side Asteras Tripolis in the second qualifying round.
However, Lennon, wary of the fact plenty Scottish teams have succumbed to less illustrious opponents in the early rounds of European competitions in recent seasons, insists Hibs must give full focus to overcoming their first hurdle as they bid to qualify for the lucrative group stage.
“We can’t afford to be complacent,” said the manager. “There are always surprises at this time of the season in Europe – lack of sharpness or focus, playing in tough conditions, or a lack of knowledge on the opposition.
“We need to concentrate on the first set of fixtures and get the job done before any thoughts of what comes after. The first leg is at home and hopefully we’ll see another good turnout – our attendances last season were excellent and we need more of the same for the game against Runavík.”
Runavik are midway through their season and currently sit third in the Faroese league. Hibs, by contrast, only returned for pre-season training this week, but Lennon, whose first two games in charge of the Easter Road side brought a penalty shoot-out defeat by Danish side Brondby after a 1-1 aggregate draw two years ago, is confident his team will be ready for the first leg three weeks tonight.
“It’s exciting for the players and the supporters – the draw makes it feel a bit more real and something to aim towards,” said the manager. “When we knew we’d qualified, the pre-season schedule was confirmed with a view to us being ready for the 12th, and that’s what we need to be.
“Against Brondby a few years ago it was my first game in charge and we hadn’t had much time to prepare, whereas with these matches the squad is more settled and we have the experience of those ties to call upon.
“We’ll be up against a side midway through their league season so they’ll obviously be well prepared, so it’s important we get our work in over the coming weeks to get the fitness levels up and try to get a bit of sharpness for the game. The pre-season matches with Linlithgow, Berwick and Blackburn have been designed to give everyone minutes and get us up to speed, so hopefully they’ll help us.”
Lennon, meanwhile, is due to learn his fate at an SFA hearing today after being charged with misconduct when he ran on to the pitch to celebrate his team’s late equaliser in the 5-5 draw with Rangers on the final day of last season. The manager is facing the possibility of a four-match touchline ban as, if found guilty of the charge, he would receive a two-match ban, which would, in turn, activate a suspended two-match ban after he was found guilty of misconduct following his criticism of referee Kevin Clancy in a match at Kilmarnock in February.
Lennon is already banned for Hibs’ next four European matches after incurring the wrath of UEFA for contesting a refereeing decision in the first leg of the Brondby tie in 2016.