Hibs 0 - 1 Brondby: Neil Lennon sent off as keeper blunders

Hibernian manager Neil Lennon is sent to the stands. Picture: Rob Casey/SNS
Hibernian manager Neil Lennon is sent to the stands. Picture: Rob Casey/SNS
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It took 114 years to win the Scottish Cup, 54 days to be allowed to savour the achievement and then 17 seconds for brutal reality to hit Hibs.

The home side’s status as Scottish Cup holders counted for little when they fell behind to Kamil Wilczek’s early goal after a terrible error by goalkeeper Otso Virtanen, making his first competitive start.

But even this might not have been the most newsworthy moment of the first half of competitive football since Hibs left Hampden in such triumph in May. Neil Lennon lasted only 30 minutes of his first match in charge since replacing Alan Stubbs. Infuriated by the ruling out of a Jason Cummings strike, Lennon’s protests were considered over the top by Spanish referee Juan Martinez Munueara, who made few friends at Easter Road last night.

After some initial confusion about who exactly the referee was inviting to head to the stand, Lennon left the dug-out.

He re-emerged in the directors’ box and was handed a phone to communicate with the bench, but that was quickly dispensed with for whatever reason. In the end Garry Parker, his assistant, was reduced to shouting up at Lennon prior to making a double substitution in the second-half as Hibs sought to at least level the tie. It was a far from ideal beginning to this new era.

This Europa League second qualifying round tie was a reward for breaking their Scottish Cup hoodoo. A bonus it might have been considering Lennon has other priorities. But it was still a shock to witness Hibs speared inside the opening 20 seconds. Brondby had clearly done their homework. Aware 22 year-old Virtanen was raw, they resolved to test him out with a shot inside the opening minute.

There was some debate over whether Martin Albrechsten’s effort was even on target but an understandably nervous Virtanen sought to gather the ball in any case. Sadly for the Finn the ball spilled from his grasp and fell at the feet of Wilczek, who swept home.

Perhaps Virtanen wasn’t well served by the delay to kick-off because the players had emerged too early. Both sides had to kick balls around in order to stay warm. But still, if he is to have a future as No 1 Hibs goalkeeper, he really had to seize this chance after failing to impress in the few minutes he was on in last season’s Scottish Cup victory at Inverness Caledonian Thistle.

A large banner commemorating the win over Rangers at Hampden was held up at kick-off in the east stand. “Heroes,” it proclaimed. The name of each member of the side was also included above each player’s shirt and number. So Conrad Logan was still very much in fans’ thoughts last night.

The big goalkeeper, however, has been allowed to go by Lennon, who has also consented to Mark Oxley heading south. The new manager has given every indication that he wants to give Virtanan a chance to secure the goalkeeper jersey.

So to make such an elementary mistake inside the first minute was an awful enough moment to witness, never mind experience. But credit to Virtanen, who pulled himself together and saved twice with his feet from Christian Jakobsen to prevent Hibs slipping further behind.

Hibs as a whole recovered well after such a shattering start and might have earned a penalty in the second-half had Grant Holt fallen a little less theatrically. Cummings also tested Frederik Ronnow with a shot before his goal from a Martin Boyle cross was chalked off for offside.

The manager watched from above as Teemu Pukki, his former player at Celtic, came on near the start of the second-half. Pukki was unable to pile on the misery for his old manager, who will surely treat this first leg outcome as far better than feared when the game was just a minute old.