Darren McGregor wants to put both Hibs and Scotland on the map
Darren McGregor is hoping that Hibernian can prolong their Europa League involvement and, with domestic '¨rivalries temporarily benched, he is keeping his fingers crossed that all the other '¨Scottish clubs competing in European competitions can do likewise.
“Rangers have done well to progress, Aberdeen have got a tough tie against Burnley and Celtic have a tough tie against Rosenborg but you wish them all well,” said the defender, who would love to see Hibs rattle in another hatful of goals tonight, while tightening things up at the back.
A 12-5 aggregate scoreline in the first-round qualifier against the Faroe Islands’ NSI Runavik has facilitated their progress and with ambitions of a place in the group stages, McGregor believes the whole of Scottish football would benefit if they could see off their latest challengers, Asteras Tripolis of Greece.
“It is great for the Scottish game and it can open up other corridors, with extra spaces in the European competitions if we are all doing well,” he added, “so it benefits everybody and it puts the spotlight on Scotland as well and increases the likelihood of getting better players from other European countries.
“It all has a domino effect. The financial rewards as well can have a positive effect on the club and on the playing budget and the staffing costs. It all goes hand in hand, so winning these games is important, not just to ourselves.
“We have a good opportunity here. It is a good draw and it is a team that is a similar calibre to ourselves and who have had similar preparation. It is difficult, though, because there are so many teams in Europe and so much money as well. But we need to do our own thing and try to progress and if we do that then the by product will be that we put ourselves on the map.”
But his manager, Neil Lennon, who is plotting a positive start to the latest tie, hosting the team who finished fifth in the Greek top flight last season,says that will require a certain mindset.
“They’re going to have to be smart, they’re going to have to be patient, try not to get too emotional,” said the Easter Road gaffer.
“There may be some histrionics from the opposition that they’re not used to. They just have to ignore that and it’s difficult sometimes because they won’t be used to it. Hopefully the players will stay cool.”
Enjoying the sabbatical from the domestic game, McGregor says he is relishing the fresh challenge posed by relatively unknown commodities.
Everything is a learning experience regardless of the opposition. Going to the Faroe Islands and playing in those conditions... you can take pluses and negatives from everything. You can argue it wasn’t the best opposition but we did perform well in the first leg, although maybe we let ourselves down in the second leg.”
Hibs still eased through and while Lennon wants to see a more miserly defensive display tonight, the capital manager says there is a balance to be struck.
“We want to be entertaining and score goals but try not to leave the back door open,” he stressed. “Our last three competitive games we have scored five against Rangers, conceded five, then six and lost one and then six and lost four so we need to tidy up a little bit at the back but going forward we have been very good and long may that continue.
“But they will want to slow the game down, break our rhythm so the players have to concentrate and manage that. The Greeks are experienced. They have been in the Europa League a few times and are maybe a wee bit more streetwise than us but we have the exuberance and the enthusiasm and hopefully the talent to overcome that.”
They also have the momentum. Since winning the Scottish Cup two years ago, Hibs have been surfing a wave of optimism. That trophy success gave the Leith club the springboard for promotion the following season, while that return to the top tier imbued them with a level of belief that fuelled last term’s lofty finish.
“It’s been a positive step each season, the players have grown in confidence and they’ve played well in the majority of the big games,” said Lennon. “This is another one. But the more successful you are the more of a routine it becomes.
“It’s great for the club, it’s great for the supporters, it’s great for me. When I look back it was a fantastic season and we have to hit the ground running. We don’t want to be sitting in the house on a Thursday night in a couple of months saying: ‘That could’ve been us’. At this moment we’re in the competition to progress.”