HIBERNIAN manager Pat Fenlon has welcomed a Europa League second qualifying round draw that could take him back to Ireland but which he expects is more likely to lead his team to Sweden.
The Scottish Cup runners-up will face the winners of the first qualifying round tie between Drogheda United and Malmo, with the first leg scheduled to take place away from home on 18 July and the return at Easter Road a week later.
Malmo, who knocked Rangers out of the Champions League in the qualifying rounds two years ago, will be favourites over the two legs on 4 and 11 July when Fenlon can assess both potential opponents. But irrespective of who Hibs face, the Dubliner is optimistic they can make progress in the tournament.
“It’s not a bad draw from a logistical point of view,” said Fenlon. “Our worst case scenario would’ve been to travel halfway around the world for one of the games. Drogheda are a decent side and one that I know very well indeed – I watched them beat Bohemians 3-0 a couple of weeks ago. I also know their manager [Mick Cooke] really well, so from my perspective that would probably be the ideal scenario. But Drogheda have got a really tough tie against Malmo, who are a quality European side with a great pedigree. The fact they are Sweden’s most successful club tells its own story.
“Now we’ve got plenty of opportunities to see both teams a few times and obtain all the relevant info.”
Drogheda qualified for the Europa League by finishing second in the League of Ireland last year, but are currently languishing in eighth place in the 12-team table.
Malmo, who were third in the Swedish League last year, are presently fourth in their domestic championship this season, just four points behind leaders Helsingborgs. Fenlon is enthusiastic about his first tilt at European football with Hibs and believes his team are on an upward curve.
“There are a lot of positives here at Hibs right now,” added Fenlon.
“The European games are another reason for everybody to be upbeat ahead of the new season. I believe our supporters can see that the team is heading in the right direction, we’re determined to push on and drive forward as a group.
“Right now we are actively trying to strengthen the squad by adding quality players. We want to build on what we did last season and show consistent improvement with resolve, character and skill.”