James McPake has issued an emotional rallying cry as Hibernian attempt to overturn a 2-0 Europa League deficit against Malmo, declaring: “Let’s do it for Lawrie.”
Lawrie Reilly, the most decorated centre forward ever to represent the club, and last remaining member of the fabled Famous Five, passed away on Monday at the age of 84. The loss has cast a shadow over Easter Road as fans, players and staff alike mourn the passing of “Last Minute Reilly”, who scored 185 times in 235 appearances and spent his whole club career with Hibs. But McPake is hopeful that this evening – which will feature a minute’s applause in Reilly’s honour – will represent a fitting celebration of his life, with a raucous home crowd roaring the Hibees on to a famous victory.
In short, he wants to make the great man proud. “It is a sad time for the club, losing the last one of the Famous Five,” said the Hibs skipper. “There will obviously be emotion there tonight, but that is maybe something we can use to our advantage. What better way to go out and win the tie than for Lawrie and his family as well?
“People will be turning up for Lawrie because he was a great man. I only met him maybe two or three times, but every time I did he was such a genuine person. Everyone at the club loves him. You could see the huge respect everyone had for him. That was even the case with the younger fans, who had obviously been told by their parents and grandparents about how good a player he was. My dad told me the same when I asked him.
“It is such a sad time for his family and everyone who knew him. But we want to go out and win the tie for him as well.”
Despite the Swedes creating a plethora of chances in the first leg at the Swedbank Stadion, McPake believes they are “decent, but not great” and reckons the youthful Malmo side could be spooked by a packed crowd at Easter Road. He cites last season’s 1-0 win against Celtic and the 4-0 victory against Dunfermline to officially ward off the spectre of relegation in the 2011-12 campaign as examples of the power of the home crowd.
McPake continued: “When the Hibs fans are behind us and create a brilliant atmosphere, it does help us. It makes a real difference and a couple of games come to mind – Dunfermline when we had to win last year. We got off to a flier that night. It was 3-0 at half time… I’d take that again!
“Celtic last season was the same, we were 1-0 up and hanging on. It seemed as if they were willing us to get the ball up the park that day.
“If they can create that type of atmosphere again, it will definitely be an advantage for us. We want them right behind us, backing us from the off.
“I don’t know what the other grounds are like in Sweden and if we can make it hostile and uncomfortable for them when they have the ball, and the crowd can get right behind us, it will only help us.”
McPake acknowledged the importance of scoring the first goal this evening as Hibs attempt to manufacture a stunning reversal to set up a third qualifying round tie against Barclay’s Premier League side Swansea City. However, the priority for McPake, rather than scoring early, is simply not to concede – a fate that he admits would effectively end the tie.
The 29-year-old added: “A Malmo goal would take it from hard to almost impossible. That’s not to say we would give up if we concede after five minutes – we won’t. Regardless of whether it takes us 10, 30, 60 or 80 minutes – as long we score the first goal then that would be great. As long as we are not conceding, getting a goal will give Malmo a bit of a fright, no matter how late it might be.”
Meanwhile, manager Pat Fenlon hopes the return of Alex Harris can spark a remarkable revival against Malmo this evening.
The teenage winger was restricted to a place on the bench last week in the Swedbank Stadion, and his direct running and trickery were undoubtedly missed as Hibs succumbed to a 2-0 defeat.
Despite his thigh troubles, he did manage to make a 13-minute cameo against the Swedes and had an immediate impact, ensuring right-back Miiko Albronoz endured a testing finale to an otherwise comfortable victory.
Harris has since fully recovered and the Hibs manager believes that, allied with Liam Craig on the other flank, he will have formidable attacking options this evening.
The news of Harris’s fitness was, however, tempered by the revelation that Northern Ireland international Ryan McGivern will once again be missing after failing to recover from a knee injury. Fenlon said: “Ryan [McGivern] is struggling and he won’t make it but Alex [Harris] will be okay.
“He trained all week and came through the game against Malmo as a substitute. There was no recurrence and he has had a couple of really good days training.
“Alex gives us a completely different dimension to what we have, he can play on both sides and he is a real threat for us. It is up to us to get him enough of the ball to cause problems.
“He added pace last week that we maybe lacked up until that point. Liam Craig is a really good player but is completely different to Alex, so if we can get the two of them on the park then it will be a real attacking threat for us.”
Fenlon was, however, reluctant to discuss reports of an accepted £200,000 bid for Swindon Town striker James Collins. He said: “We are trying to sign players and we have two or three targets. We will continue to do that. When we’ve got anything done we’ll let people know.”