Marvin Bartley: Hibs can ‘do a Portugal’ and upset Brondby

Bullish Bartley insists that Hibs are ready to pen a new chapter on the European stage. Picture: Greg Macvean
Bullish Bartley insists that Hibs are ready to pen a new chapter on the European stage. Picture: Greg Macvean
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Marvin Bartley and his team-mates have already rewritten one chapter of Hibs history, ending the club’s 114-year wait to lift the Scottish Cup.

But now, if they are to progress in the Europa League, Neil Lennon’s side will have to put right another wrong – because although the Edinburgh club were Britain’s pioneers on this stage they have never, over the past 61 years, overcome losing the first leg of such a tie at home.

Once again Hibs find themselves trailing, Kamil Wilczek’s 16th-minute strike a week ago at Easter Road leaving their hopes of making the third qualifying round of the competition hanging very much in the balance, their opponents Brondby very much the favourites to do so.

However, despite the sense of disappointment which followed that match, the Danish side’s head coach Alexander Zorniger admitted Hibs had deserved a draw.

Those who witnessed those 90 minutes would not disagree, given the controversial decision which resulted in what was perceived as a perfectly good equaliser from Jason Cummings ruled out as being offside.

Bartley, though, firmly believes Hibs can defy the odds tonight, pointing to how outsiders Portugal bewildered everyone by winning this summer’s European Championship in France.

If Hibs’ Scottish Cup triumph against Rangers perhaps came as a surprise to many, participation in this season’s Europa League came as a happy bonus. Although it landed them, in Lennon’s eyes, with the toughest draw of any Scottish participant, a club which finished fourth in the Superliga and one which demolished Icelandic side Valur 10-1 on aggregate in the previous round.

Those games against the minnows of Reykjavik also gave Zorniger’s players an edge in terms of match fitness, their visit to Scotland’s capital being Hibs’ first competitive outing but one in which, 
Bartley revealed, they surprised their visitors only to be left ruing that early mistake by goalkeeper Otso Virtanen. His spill gifted Wilczek another goal to add to his already impressive tally of five in four games, with the Polish hitman also on target as Brondby began their domestic campaign with a 4-0 demolition of Esjberg at the weekend.

The powerfully-built midfielder said: “I spoke to Rodolph Austin [Brondby’s Jamaican internationalist who previously played for Leeds United] afterwards as I’d played against him a few times and he said in terms of fitness they expected us to be alright for the first 30 minutes or so.

“Obviously no-one planned for us to lose a goal after just 16 seconds, but the gaffer said before the game teams score goals, that’s the way football is, it might be a deflection, a mistake or whatever but you need to pick yourself up and go again.

“We could have folded quite easily when that happened but we had a goal disallowed which we felt should have stood but I think the gaffer was quite happy with the way the boys reacted to it.”

While the 1,000 or so Hibs fans who have descended on Copenhagen with their fingers firmly crossed still have that memorable day at Hampden to recall over their pre-match beers, Bartley insisted that although he and his team-mates enjoyed the moment and the euphoric welcome they received as they paraded the trophy down Leith Walk the following day, they are looking to the future, not the past.

But having earned themselves what is a first experience of European football for many of them, Bartley was adamant that the Hibs squad do not want to relinquish it without a fight.

The 30-year-old said: “Having worked so hard to win the cup and get into Europe it would be a pity if we don’t get a run in it.

“We want to go as far as we can in Europe, the group stages and hopefully beyond. It would be a disappointment to go out.

“I didn’t realise how absolutely massive it [the cup win] was until afterwards, it was hard to put it into words – but we enjoyed the next few days, it was absolutely brilliant.

“The cup was memorable, brilliant but it’s gone now, we move forward into this game and want to go through, that would be an achievement to do that.”

Just as he insisted that 
Lennon’s players can’t simply live life in memory lane, Bartley was equally dismissive of the bald statistic that Hibs haven’t won a European tie when they have lost the first leg at home.

He said: “That means nothing, we weren’t involved in the previous teams’ football. It’s a game of football, 90 minutes, extra time, penalties, we want to go through. We don’t look at the past but the future.”

Asked why he had such conviction, he replied: “We have a togetherness, very good players who play well as a team, we work hard for each other and belief is massive.

“Look at football, on paper there are games people don’t expect teams to win but they do, look at Portugal in the Euros, no-one would have thought it but they had that belief.”

The close camaraderie among the Easter Road squad was fostered under previous manager Alan Stubbs who signed the majority of them, only veteran striker Grant Holt having been added by Lennon. But Bartley insisted they remain as tightly knit a group despite the managerial change.

He said: “The squad has been together for a year, the gaffer brings a lot of experience having managed clubs like Celtic and Bolton Wanderers who are another massive club down south. He has his own ideas but players have been here for quite a while now.”

As you would expect Bartley was an avid viewer as events unfolded in France but, he admitted, he reached for the off-switch whenever Portugal were playing.

He revealed: “I watched a few matches but not Portugal until the final because they were boring the life out of me. I’d watch ten minutes and that was it for me.

“I think when Cristiano Ronaldo went off people thought that was it, game over. But they had that belief.”