So much for being a long ball team! Hibernian fight back against ‘uneducated’ stereotype of Rijeka boss to salvage draw in Europa Conference League qualifier… and boss Jack Ross says his side will hold NO fear for return leg in Croatia
- Hibernian have Martin Boyle to thank for rescuing a draw against HNK Rijeka
- Jack Ross’ side were labelled a long ball team in the build up by Rijeka’s boss
- The Edinburgh-based side had flair at Easter Road but did give up an away goal
- Ross feels his side will have no fear ahead of next week’s second leg in Croatia
Riled by the ‘uneducated’ stereotype by Rijeka manager Goram Tomic that Hibs are a ‘long ball’ team, Jack Ross watched his entertaining team prove they are anything but.
However, in an otherwise fine performance against the Croatia league leaders, the Easter Road boss was left ruing a host of opportunities squandered — particular a late miss by Dan Mackay — to take a decent lead into the second leg.
But there was still plenty to be optimistic about ahead of the return in the Stadion HNK Rijeka next Thursday night.
Most notably in the way Hibs carved their gifted opponents open so regularly and in how they coped with falling behind against the run of play.
Martin Boyle roared in celebration having salvaged a draw for Hibernian at Easter Road
The forward was on hand to fire in a crucial equaliser in their Europa Conference League tie
Hit by a classic European sucker punch on the counter attack, the Edinburgh outfit could have crumbled when Prince Ampen headed the visitors into the lead.
But Martin Boyle’s finish ensured parity and a play-off round tie against the winners of Irish side Bohemians and PAOK of Greece certainly does not look beyond them.
‘It’s a strange feeling not winning the first leg but it would be very difficult to complain about any part of the performance,’ said Ross.
‘I thought we were excellent. The only frustration is the end result because I felt we deserved to win the game.
Prince Ampen headed the visitors into the lead in an early blow to a well-supported Hibernian
MATCH FACTS AND PLAYER RATINGS
HIBERNIAN (4-4-2): Macey 6; McGinn 6, Porteous 7, Hanlon 7, Stevenson 7; Magennis 6 (Allan 81), Newell 6 (Gogic 81), Doyle-Hayes 7, Murphy 6 (Doidge 63); Nisbet 6 (Mackay 81), Boyle 7.
Subs not used: Dabrowski, Samson, Doig, Wright, Gullan, McGregor, Campbell, Brydon.
RIJEKA (3-4-3): Labrovic 7; Escoval 6, Galovic 6, Smolcic 6; Tomecak 6, Pavicic 6 (Obregon 90), Liber 6, Vukcevic 6 (Kresic 80); Ampem 7 (Muric 62), Drmic 6 (Lepinjica 90), Issah 6.
Subs not used: Prskalo, Frigan, Braut, Velkovski, Cerin, Selahi.
Booked: Issah, Vukcevic, Smolcic.
Referee: Juan Munuera (Spain).
‘I think the Dan chance is the one. It was a big chance. Dan’s a young man who can be hard on himself for himself for not taking chances but he gets in good positions and he just needs to keep doing that.
‘That chance catches the eye given the stage of the game but over the course of the game we had a lot of good opportunities.
‘But I was delighted with our performance level and I want the players to use it as a barometer. We will travel next week with confidence and belief that we can win the tie.
‘I think we showed with our performance level that we are a good side and we carry a threat.
‘I expect us to do that in Croatia as well.’
Hibs’s first chance came when Paul McGinn put a dangerous delivery into the path of Boyle in the box and his shot was well saved by Labrovic.
The Hibs winger’s second effort looked to have struck Nino Galovic’s arm but Spanish referee Juan Martinez Munuera disagreed.
Next to try his luck was Jamie Murphy from 18 yards but his tame effort posed no problems for Labrovic.
But the best chance of the game so far came when Boyle set up Nisbet in the box. The Hibs forward should have scored but fired straight at a grateful Labrovic.
Up at the other end, Macy made his first save to stop Andrija Vukcevic’s shot from a tight angle.
Hibs were agonisingly close to making the breakthrough three minutes from half time when Boyle picked out Lewis Stevenson’s run down the left. The veteran’s thumping drive beat Labrovic but cannoned back off the right post.
After the break, Murphy’s shot from the edge of the box dip just over the bar.
Next, Boyle found the side netting with a blistering drive after his pace got him in behind the Rijeka defence.
Then Easter Road howled for a penalty when Boyle tumbled in the box under the attentions of captain Hrvoje Smolcic, only for Martinez Munuera to wave play on.
And disaster struck when in a rare Rijeka attack, Vukcevic’s left wing cross was headed past Macey from close range by the dangerous Ampem.
Hibs boss Jack Ross (right) is convinced his side will show no fear in the second leg in Croatia
But Hibs showed their mettle to hit back within six minutes when Nisbet’s effort was saved by Labrovic but the ball dropped kindly to Boyle who guided it home at the back post.
Hibs tried their best to take a lead to Croatia but their best chance was squandered by substitute Mackay who raced clear on goal but shot straight at Labrovic.
Afterwards Ross confirmed Josh Doig will return to the squad after interest in the £4million rated left back from Burnley and Watford — among others — failed to yield a concrete bid.
He said: ‘I’ve tried to be fairly frank in my explanation of the situation and I will do so again. We were very strongly led to believe that things would move quickly. They haven’t done so and if (those involved) don’t walk the walk like they talk the talk we will take control of the situation again.
‘From now Josh will be part of my squad unless something changes. It’s about Josh showing his form and returning to the team.’
After this Easter Road draw, Rijeka boss Tomic backed his players to be better next Thursday.
He said: ‘The tie is still open but we can improve in all aspects of football. Hibs are a good team and it will be tough but we will be in front of our own fans and I believe we can go through.’
If Hibs can get through they face the winners of Irish side Bohemians and PAOK of Greece