Hibs 3-2 Asteras Tripolis: Lennon's side stage incredible comeback

It wasn't the scoreline Neil Lennon and his Hibernian side had been hoping for but, given how bleak it had looked with half an hour to go, they will be relieved to be heading to Greece next week with an advantage.

David Gray celebrates after equalising for Hibs. Picture: SNS
David Gray celebrates after equalising for Hibs. Picture: SNS

Bouncing back from a 2-0 deficit, against a side who were clinical on thesecond half goals from Efe Ambrose and substitute David Gray diluted the damage done in a sloppy opening period, while a last minute Florian Kamberi tap in allowed them to end the evening with the win against 10-man Asteras.

There were celebrations at the end but Hibs will head to Tripoli well aware of their own vulnerabilities and their opponents’ ability to exploit them.

The starting line-up had been rejigged for the third successive game, with Gray relegated to the bench, along with Marvin Bartley, Ryan Porteous and Oli Shaw as the home side sought out the personnel most suited to plotting further progress on the Europa League stage.

Georgios Kyriakopoulos (centre) is mobbed by his Asteras Tripolis team-mates after making it 2-0 to the visitors. Picture: SNS

Unhappy with the way his players had conceded easy goals against NSI Runavik in the second leg of the previous round, the intention had been to offer sterner resistance this time. But, against a higher calibre Greek side who have made two of the last three group stages in this competition, and who were clinical on the counter-attack, the home side struggled with their own deficiencies and their desire to assert their authority.

They had started the brighter but while they have been scoring goals for fun, there was not the same cutting edge and they failed to translate their early possession into something more tangible.

That proved costly as the visitors began to get the measure of them and, with pace and movement, the Greeks capitalised on the openings left by the Easter Road side.

In the sixth minute they had to defend a corner and they were troubled a couple of minutes later when the ball was played in behind Efe Ambrose for Kosmas Tsilianidis to run onto and send an inviting cross in front of Adam Bogdan’s goal.

In temperatures reminiscent of a balmy evening in Greece. Asteras were looking more and more at home and in the 12th minute they opened the scoring.

Georgios Kyriakopoulous made it look all too simple as he was allowed to burst forward. He wasn’t tracked by Slivka.

And although Steven Whittaker and Darren McGregor tried to snuff out the threat as he cut along the byeline, from the tightest of angles the 22-year-old belted his effort and it sneaked through Bogdan at the near post and into the goal.

It was enough to stun the crowd and it rocked the home side.

Hibs tried to hit back and a long diagonal picked out Slivka. He found his way to goal blocked off but the ball was laid back for John McGinn about 30 yards out and, on the run, he skelped an effort that clipped the top of the bar as it soared over.

Whittaker then had a golden opportunity from a corner but, having wheeled away and found himself in acres of space at the back post, he couldn’t find the net with his volley which was rising the minute it left his boot.

In the 23rd minute Triantafyllos Pasalidis was booked and it was to prove costly as, when added to another yellow for a foul on Slivka in the dying minutes, it led to a red card.

But at that stage things still looked rosy for the visitors, especially when they added a second in the 35th minute. It was a cross in from the right as Lewis Stevenson struggled to get back to cover.

The ball found Manias, whose header was blocked by Ambrose but Kyriakopoulous, pounced as Hibs failed to clear their lines and scorched a left foot drive past Bogdan from 25 yards.

There was an edginess to proceedings, with Hibs well aware that another goal could kill of their European hopes and after half time they sent on Gray for Whittaker.

It helped Hibs as they began to apply more pressure.

In the 63rd minute they managed to pull a goal back and the belief simply grew. It came from Stevie Mallan’s corner and Ambbrose headed off the bar but it came down and richotted off the defender and over the line. Fortuitous but few inside the ground cared as they roared their men on.

A minute later there were appeals for a penalty but the referee believed the handball was unintentional. It left Lennon, who was again in the stand serving out a ban, furious but he was soothed when his men got a second in the 77th minute when Gray showed great composure as he picked his spot and drilled home an angled drive.

And with the extra man advantage they kept at it and in the dying seconds, they got their reward. Boyle had the first effort but it was Kamberi, on the line, who got the vital touch, to get the vital goal, that keeps their hopes alive.