Hendry Blank’s winner bang on the 90-minute mark completed Borussia Dortmund’s comeback to win 2-1 at a lively Easter Road. It was a sore one for Steve Kean’s youngsters, who for large parts of the match more than matched the visitors. The wait for a Scottish club to progress past this stage of the competition goes on, with Hibs matching both Celtic and Rangers in exiting at this stage since the Youth League’s inception in 2013.
The manner of the defeat will linger with this crop of young players, but they can take great pride in the way they performed. Every player in green-and-white showed they have potential to make the step up to first-team level in the not-too-distant future but special mention must go to goalscorer and centre-half Jacob Blaney, who kept Dortmund’s much vaunted Erling Haaland prototype Julian Rijkhoff pretty quiet, while forward Ethan Laidlaw was one of the best players on the pitch.
“We gave it a good go,” said Hibs manager Kean. “We got a little bit deep, which is natural. It’s part of our learning. Everybody will look at this with fond memories. I’m gutted because I think we should be in the next round but also really proud.
Managed by former Hearts striker Mike Tullberg, who played seven matches for the Tynecastle outfit (the last being a 1-0 defeat by Hibs in 2007), many had expected Hibs to fall easily at this hurdle. Kean’s boys had overcome Molde and Nantes to get this far but Dortmund – quarter-finalist and expensively assembled – were supposed to be an altogether different beast. This team’s run has clearly captured the imagination of the Hibs fans, with 7723 people turning out on a perfect winter’s evening in Leith.
Hibs started the brighter of the two teams, not cowed by their illustrious and physical opponents. Impressive defender Kanayo Megwa drew a foul from Prince Aning on 27 minutes and Robbie Hamilton – son of man-of-many clubs Jim Hamilton – delivered a cross that just begged to be headed into the net and Blaney did just that, glancing the ball home.
Dortmund tried to respond but failed to trouble Hibs. A comical moment occurred when Rijkhoff appealed for a foul on the edge of the box but referee Henrik Nalbandyan was having none of it. Defender Owen Hastie told the Dutchman to get up as the home fans sang: “You’re just a shite Erling Haaland.”
Hibs changed formation at the interval, going to a back four, and were penned back by an improved Dortmund. The hosts suffered a blow when their captain and screening midfielder Murray Aiken came off injured and seconds later, usually reliable goalkeeper Murray Johnston failed to deal with a fairly routine shot, spilling it in front of Rafael Lubach. The German’s shot was blocked by the hand of Hastie and Rijkhoff coolly converted the penalty to make it 1-1 on 70 minutes.
Dortmund appeared the likelier team to find the winner in normal time and arrived via substitute Blank. His finish was beautifully controlled into the bottom corner after excellent work from Lubach as he charged down Hibs’ right. It was a cruel ending for the young Hibees, who so nearly found a leveller in stoppage time when Blaney’s free-kick was spilled on to the bar by Silas Ostrzinski. The Hibs player crumpled to the turf at the full-time whistle as Dortmund celebrated wildly. They knew they had been in a game.