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Hibs - Malmo: Liam Craig wants a saintly response

Tributes to Lawrie Reilly were left at Easter Road, and fans will pay tribute to the legend before the Malmo game. Picture: Jane Barlow

Tributes to Lawrie Reilly were left at Easter Road, and fans will pay tribute to the legend before the Malmo game. Picture: Jane Barlow

  • by IAIN COLLIN
 

Liam Craig insists Hibernian can take inspiration from the way his former St Johnstone team-mates pulled off the unexpected as they bid to keep their Europa League dreams alive.

The Easter Road side face a formidable task tomorrow evening in trying to set up a third round qualifier against Swansea City after going down 2-0 to Malmo in Sweden last week.

The Allsvenskan top-flight leaders would have had an even bigger lead to protect had it not been for some heroic goalkeeping by Ben Williams last week, but Craig is adamant Hibs can still turn it around.

Despite facing a team already 16 matches into their domestic season, Pat Fenlon’s team finished strongly in the Swedbank Stadion and will cling to the hope provided by Rowan Vine’s first-half shot that crashed back off the post and the free header that Owain Tudur Jones wastefully headed over after just seven minutes.

And, hoping for a fervent Easter Road support for his home debut, Craig believes St Johnstone’s shock 1-0 victory over Rosenborg in Norway last week can also act as a spur as Hibs attempt to stage a historic comeback.

The 26-year-old, who joined Hibs from St Johnstone in the summer, said: “Absolutely, we can take inspiration from what St Johnstone did last week. We saw the St Johnstone players and staff at the airport coming home as well and were speaking to them then. Not just for St Johnstone, that result is massive for Scotland as a country as well.

“For a team from Scotland, it’s not easy to win away from home in Europe and it would be great if St Johnstone could finish the job off at McDiarmid Park.

“But my focus is purely on doing the best I can for Hibs and if we could turn this tie around it would be not only a great result for the club but also a great result for Scottish football. There’s not been too much doom and gloom in training. We’re looking at the positives from last week and how we can build on them.

“The most important thing is we approach the game positively and when we get chances we need to take them.”

With tickets priced at £15 for adults and £5 for concessions ahead of the game, Hibs are keen to attract a substantial crowd to try and roar the team on, as well as large numbers to pay tribute to Famous Five legend Lawrie Reilly following his sad passing earlier this week.

With Craig being joined by the likes of Owain Tudur Jones, Rowan Vine and Fraser Mullen in awaiting their home debuts for the club, the former Falkirk midfielder is hoping the fans can contribute to the kind of famous European night at Easter Road that he has already been told about.

He added: “There’s been one or two people talking to me about the AEK Athens night in 2001 and what a special atmosphere that was. Obviously I’ve played at Easter Road a few times in league games and it’s always been a good atmosphere and the fact it’s going to be my home debut, in a European game and hopefully in front of a good crowd will be great.

“Players respond when you get a big crowd, a noisy crowd, in the stadium.

“Out in Sweden, although we were 2-0 down, we were shooting into the end where our supporters were in the second half and when we were winning free kicks or were getting the ball in and around their box that noise helped us.

“The fans were fantastic out in Malmo and hopefully the fans will turn out in big numbers again on Thursday night and the players will respond to that.

“The first goal’s massive and if we can get it, even if it takes until the second half, that will raise the noise even more inside Easter Road, and with that backing I’m sure we could kick on from there.”

The winners of the tie also already know they will earn a glamour meeting with English Premier League opposition in the shape of Welsh side Swansea City.

Craig commented: “Being drawn against Swansea City in the next round is a great incentive for us. Obviously there would be a massive media coverage of that one, with it being Scotland against a Welsh team from the top league in England, and that would be a great game to be involved in.

“But we can’t get ahead of ourselves. We need to focus on this game and do everything we can to try and get a positive result on Thursday night. If we get through it would be a massive tie in the next round.”

Life of Reilly: Tributes to an Easter Road legend

HIBS will stage a celebration of the life of Famous Five legend Lawrie Reilly at their league opener against Motherwell next month, as well as a minute’s applause before tomorrow’s Europa League tie with Malmo.

UEFA operate set guidelines on such tributes at matches in their competitions and, following consultation with the European governing body, Hibs will wear black armbands against their Swedish opponents and give fans the opportunity to pay their respects with applause.

However, a more wide-ranging tribute, expected to involve a host of former players, is planned for the day of the club’s first SPFL fixture on Sunday, 4 August, against Motherwell.

A spokesman said: “The club is pleased to confirm that there will be a minute’s applause before kick-off (against Malmo) - an opportunity for the Easter Road crowd to praise the contribution made by our greatest-ever centre forward.”

Reilly, who won the league championship three times with Hibs and also scored 22 times in 38 games for Scotland, died in hospital in the capital on Monday aged 84.

 

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