FK VETRA 1 Vasiliauskas 61
HIBS crashed out of the InterToto Cup last night, victims of a freak goal in the Baltics. Young goalkeeper Alistair Brown failed to deal with a high, spinning ball which dropped under his crossbar and Nerijus Vasiliauskas, friend of Dunfermline’s Lithuanian defender Andrius Skerla, deflected in what will surely be his easiest strike.
The goal left the Scots with a mountain to climb in their bid to reach the third round and another two vital pre-season matches. Tony Mowbray has been trying to teach his young side since taking over in May and in this defeat they showed they still have plenty of learning left.
Predictably, Mowbray blamed a lack of preparation for his side’s downfall as they crashed out of the InterToto Cup to lowly Lithuanian side FK Vetra.
The Easter Road side are still a month away from the start of the SPL campaign on August 7 and have only been back in training three weeks. And Mowbray reckons his misfiring side, clearly not as sharp as their hosts who are four months into their domestic season, would have been able to see off their Baltic opponents with more work under their belts.
He said: "The main reason we are out is because this game came so early in our preparations. Even the big teams like Manchester United and Liverpool lose to sides you would expect them to beat at this time of the year. So it’s understandable. I’m not saying we’d beat them nine times out of 10, but if we were to play this game at Christmas I think you’d see a different outcome."
Mowbray also refused to criticise his goalkeeper.
"Alistair’s obviously disappointed with the goal but it was a bit a freak. There’s no way I’m going to apportion blame," he said.
"We had chances at the other end and didn’t take them. I’m more disappointed about that. The main thing for me will be to see how he bounces back from this.
"He’s a talented young goalkeeper and he’ll get all the support he needs from everyone at the club."
Hibs went into the match knowing the 1-1 draw at a rain-sodden Easter Road last weekend meant they would have to score to become the first Scottish team to progress a round in the much-maligned InterToto Cup.
Mowbray made one change to the 11 sent out at home, with Northern Ireland under-21 striker Sam Morrow, who agreed a three-year deal in the build-up to the game, thrown into the action in place of Tam McManus, who dropped down to the bench.
Around 100 Hibs supporters had made the journey to the Baltics for the tie, which was played in the national Zalgiris Stadium, decked out with old seats from Ibrox Stadium.
Within two minutes, Hibs could have been in front as they were denied by a double save from Marius Poskus. Persistent work by Garry O’Connor, last week’s goalscorer, on the left-hand side of the box set up Morrow but the teenager’s shot was blocked and O’Connor’s follow-up was met with an equally impressive stop.
That early scare woke up the Lithuanians and they enlivened a vocal home support by forcing a couple of corners in reply. With 15 minutes gone, the home side almost snatched the goal they wanted to ensure Hibs would have to score twice. Darvydas Sernas got free on the right and his deep cross was met square on the forehead by Nerijus Vasiliauskas. But Alistair Brown lunged to his right to turn the powerful header round the post.
Ten minutes from the break, Hibs came closest to an opener after Scott Brown set up Steven Whittaker on the right. The full-back’s cross was headed back across goal by O’Connor, where it was met by Alen Orman’s acrobatic scissors-kick. Yet again, they met resistance in Poskus.
In the 60th minute, the home side came within a whisker of the breakthrough as Vasiliauskas crashed a header off the bar from substitute Ramuas Stonkus’ corner.
Alan Reid was then forced to concede a corner as he swept up Murdock’s mistake at the back. And from the set-piece, the Lithuanian side took the lead in bizarre fashion.
Grant Brebner’s attempted clearance from Stonkus’ corner was blocked by Raliuokonis, sending the ball spinning high into the air. Alistair Brown was put under severe pressure as the ball fell under his crossbar and Vasiliauskas appeared to get a touch as he challenged the teenager on the line.
Rather than pin the blame on Brown, Murdock claimed the goal should not have stood because of a foul on the teenager.
Polish referee Karel Slupik appeared to have no doubts over the validity of the strike, but Murdock believes Brown should have been given more protection.
He said: "It was a freak goal to lose and I think in most circumstances a free-kick would have been given.
"None of the other defenders could really have got to it because the ball was two centimetres under the crossbar and in that situation it’s keeper’s ball.
"I’m sure Alistair might be disappointed, but he made some great saves in the game and I’m sure he will bounce back from this."
The strike gave Vetra a massive boost and they looked the more likely to score in the closing stages.
However, Kevin Nicol wasted a gilt-edged opportunity with almost the last kick of the ball when he blazed his shot over from just inside the box.
FK Vetra: Poskus; Zudys, Grudzinskas, Raliukonis, Sasnauskas; Sernas, Rimkus, Beaud, Butrimavicius (Stonkus 46), Vasiliauskas (Vaineikis 90); Karvelis (Kijanskas 72). Subs: Merkelis, Kontautas, Litvinas, Mizigurskis.
Hibernian: A. Brown; Whittaker, Caldwell, Murdock, Alan Reid; S. Brown (McManus 76), Nicol, Brebner (Dobbie 70), Orman (Glass 63); O’Connor, Morrow. Subs: Andrew Reid, Smith, McManus, McDonald, Shiels.
Referee: K Slupik (Pol)