PAT Fenlon has urged his Hibernian side to invoke the memory of their remarkable Scottish Cup semi-final comeback against Falkirk as they bid to keep their European dream alive.
The Easter Road side face an uphill struggle to overturn a 2-0 first-leg defeat against Malmo to set up a mouthwatering third-round qualifier against Swansea City after last Thursday’s defeat in Sweden.
However, manager Fenlon believes a passionate home support can help his players recreate their remarkable recovery from a 3-0 deficit at half-time in April’s semi-final against the Bairns that ended with a stunning 4-3 triumph after extra-time.
The Irishman said: “The best comeback of my career would have to be against Falkirk at Hampden in the Scottish Cup semi-final.
“We were 3-0 down at half-time in that game and managed to pull it off by starting like a train at Hampden in the second half.
“It is half-time in this tie and we are 2-0 down and we have to score first at Easter Road, it’s as simple as that. We have to be wary of conceding and we can’t go totally gung-ho but we have to apply more pressure on them high up the park.
“We have to pack Easter Road to the rafters and make it an intimidating arena and nick the first goal, and then it becomes a different game. We have had some great nights at Easter Road when the supporters have helped us and carried the team over the line.
“The Dunfermline [relegation decider] game two seasons ago, the Scottish Cup tie victory over Hearts and the SPL win over Celtic all spring to mind. We have to make sure we get the supporters in and give them a reason to get off their seats and make the atmosphere inside the stadium as boisterous as it was in Malmo.”
Captain James McPake is also determined to turn the tie around on Thursday. Having had one career milestone ripped from his grasp when he was prevented by injury from leading Hibs into back-to-back Scottish Cup finals in May, McPake feared another longed-for achievement was about to be brought to an end before it had really got going. The defender had waited all his career to taste European football but has confessed he fully expected to see red just moments after kick-of against Malmo.
After being handed a stay of execution by Austrian referee Rene Eisner, however, he is determined the Easter Road side could now stage a famous comeback.
McPake appeared guilty of a last-man tug on South African internationalist Tokelo Rantie just nine minutes into the 2-0 defeat.
The 29-year-old’s relief at the official dishing out only a yellow card turned to dismay, however, when home skipper Jiloan Hamad curled a superb free-kick in off the underside of Ben Williams’ crossbar to kick-start a disastrous two-minute spell that saw Malmo race into a two-goal lead with just 12 minutes gone. But, with a stunning display of shot-stopping from Williams ensuring there were no more goals, McPake is adamant Hibs still have a chance.
The Northern Ireland cap, who was ruled out of May’s Scottish Cup final defeat by Celtic because of a back injury, admitted: “I should probably have been sent off. But I saw the playback of the incident on DVD and it would have been a harsh red card. The Malmo player runs across me and my hands are in the air, out of the way, before he falls. I didn’t think it was a bad one, I thought it was just a collision.
“I couldn’t get out of the road and I was absolutely delighted when the referee flashed the yellow card.
“When that happens in that area and the referee is running towards you, then you do think it is going to be a red card. We got lucky with that decision and I thought we had got away with it, but their boy then smashes the free-kick into the net.”
Hibs, the first Scottish team to play in European competition when they were invited into the inaugural European Cup in 1955 and reached the semi-finals, will need the kind of defiant response that is littered through their continental history if they are to progress past Malmo.
The last occasion to go down in club folklore came in 2001 when only a misdirected Paco Luna header in the closing minutes prevented Alex McLeish’s side from overturning a two-goal loss to AEK Athens, eventually being defeated 4-3 on aggregate after extra-time.
McPake added: “The situation is not irretrievable because we showed that we can create chances. If Malmo have a weakness it was probably their defending and that is something we are going to have to exploit in the return leg. It only takes a goal at Easter Road and we are right back in the tie.”