GOALKEEPER Ben Williams is adamant that it would be premature to write off Hibernian’s European dreams just yet, insisting: “It’s far from over.”
The former Manchester United signing pulled off a string of stunning stops in the Swedbank Stadion on Thursday night as he prevented what could easily have been a mauling by Malmo. Instead, the Easter Road men escaped Sweden with just a 2-0 defeat and optimism that a historic comeback and a tie against Capital One Cup holders Swansea City in the next round is possible.
Goals by the magnificent Jiloan Hamad and Magnus Eriksson inside a costly two minutes left Pat Fenlon’s outfit on the verge of exiting the competition just 13 minutes into the first leg of their second qualifying round tie. Williams, however, who put up a impenetrable barrier that time and again left the home side with their heads in their hands, particularly during the start of the second half, believes he and his team-mates can turn the tie around in Edinburgh next week.
He said: “It’s always difficult when you concede two goals in quick succession. You realise that if you are not careful the tie can run away from you, but we rallied well. We were pressing in the last few minutes and there are a lot of positives we can take out of it. Hamad’s free-kick was excellent. He managed to get it up and down over the wall. I think it took a nick off Jordon Forster’s head and slammed in off the crossbar. For the second, Eriksson was in the right place at the right time. The shot went through Jordon’s legs and these are the fine margins that you live and die by.
“Malmo are comfortable on the ball. They have tricky wingers and you can tell they are 16 games into their season. They are patient and knock the ball about well, but the tie is far from over. I was happy with my performance and we managed to keep the score down. I was just in the right place at the right time on a few occasions.
“It means we can go into the second leg knowing it’s far from over. It’s still within our reach. If we get the first goal, it changes everything. It was a good game for me. I was disappointed to concede two, but it’s a team game and the two legs matter.”
Hibs’ best chance came with the scoreline still blank, just seven minutes in, as the Swedish league leaders – already nearly halfway through their domestic season – began slowly. Winning the kind of set-piece they would have hoped for, Liam Craig whipped in a fantastic free kick, but fellow debutant Owain Tudur Jones sent his free header over from just eight yards out.
At 2-0, new recruit Rowan Vine’s 25-yard drive deflected off a home defender and crashed back off the post when it looked all the way as if it would nestle in the back of the net. And, after a late rally with substitute Alex Harris to the fore, Williams admits the capital outfit were rueing not getting the away goal they craved, with the first goal now key at Easter Road.
He added: “We’re disappointed that we didn’t score. We deserved at least a goal. I’m not saying we should have got a draw or a win, but we should have got an away goal. Rowan Vine hit the post and Owain Tudur Jones had a good chance. Owain is disappointed, but it’s one of those things. He’s one of the biggest lads on the park and he had time and space, but he just got underneath the ball and it’s easily done.
“Unfortunately, these are the chances we have to take if we want to progress against quality sides. The match sharpness they had was the big difference – and the clinical way they took their goals. There are fine margins in football. When you play at this level, that’s what matters. We missed a couple – even towards the end – but an early goal will change the tie and that’s what we are aiming for.”