Drogheda boss Mick Cooke today tipped Hibs for European glory after watching his Irish part-timers give Swedish side Malmo the fright of their lives.
Although Malmo eventually disposed of his side thanks to a 2-0 win in their own Swedbank Stadion, Cooke insisted his own team could easily have pulled off a shock in the first qualifying round of the Europa League with the Malmo players only able to relax after scoring their second goal deep into added-on time.
Cooke believes all the pressure is on Malmo boss Rikard Norling, revealing he had to go into the crowd to appease his own fans after they turned on his players following a first leg 0-0 draw in Dublin’s Tallaight Stadium. And he feels the Swedish supporters could quickly get on their own stars’ backs again if Pat Fenlon’s players can make it a nervous night for them tomorrow.
He said: “Their players went over to acknowledge the supporters who had travelled to Dublin at the end of the match but they abused them something terrible. The manager himself had to go into the crowd to try to appease them. I got the impression over the two legs that he is under tremendous pressure to make progress in the competition.” Cooke said the relief among the Malmo players and fans was palpable when Simon Koon clinched the tie by scoring a second goal in the 93rd minute a week ago while claiming it could easily have been Drogheda celebrating instead.
He said: “We created three very good chances in Dublin which we obviously didn’t take and then in Malmo we had another two great openings in the first half.
“They scored their first goal just before half-time but they got very nervous in the second half knowing one goal from us would put them out. They took off strikers and put on holding midfielders while we were throwing the kitchen sink at them trying to get an equaliser. For the last eight or nine minutes we went with two at the back and they didn’t get their second until the 93rd minute.”
Cooke revealed Fenlon, a long-time friend, had been “absolutely brilliant” in helping him and his backroom staff prepare for their double-header against Malmo and now he is prepared to reciprocate.
He said: “It was surprising just how much information Pat had on them. He gave us DVDs and he was a big help providing so much information. I can’t thank him enough.
“People have to understand the experience Pat has in Europe. This will be something like his tenth time and he has done very well through the years with Shelbourne Rovers and Bohemians so his experience at this level will be a big help.”
Cooke expects to have a further chat with Fenlon and his chief scout, Dave Henderson, ahead of kick-off. He said: “Pat, Dave and I are good friends and I will help him in any way I can. I spoke to him after the match and we’ll talk again.
“Pat is very meticulous and goes into the opposition at great length but he’s open-minded. Close your mind to any suggestion and you are in trouble. We all pick up on different things in games, we all miss little bits and pieces when you are caught up in it all and the smallest thing can help.”
While Drogheda, like Malmo, were halfway through their respective seasons, Cooke agreed Hibs’ lack of competitive action is a problem but he believes the Swedes could be guilty of under-estimating them, having watched Fenlon’s players in action just once, that disappointing draw with Raith Rovers.
He said: “They also watched just one of our games, videoing all the set plays as they did with Hibs, but it was a game we lost 3-0 and they didn’t really see the best of us. Likewise, they’ll have got a false impression of Hibs from the Raith game.
“I genuinely feel Hibs can go through. I think Pat was pleasantly surprised by the way we played against them but we are part-time, this is only our second season in Premier League football and I only had two players in the squad who had played in Europe. Pat has brought in a bit more experience in Kevin Thomson and Rowan Vine, Hibs are playing at a higher level than us, they are full-time and I do believe they have a good chance.
“Bringing Drogheda to Edinburgh was my dream. The team won’t be coming but I have family over there and I’ll be at the second leg hoping they can do it.”