How Lee Johnson conjured up another Hibs magic trick as reunion with John McGinn and Aston Villa is teed up

There must be a top hat and stuffed white rabbit lurking at the back of Lee Johnston’s cupboard such is the Hibs manager’s conjuring abilities when it comes to outrageous, desperately required, results.
Elie Youan was the star of the show for Hibs as they progressed past FC Luzern in the Europa Conference League.Elie Youan was the star of the show for Hibs as they progressed past FC Luzern in the Europa Conference League.
Elie Youan was the star of the show for Hibs as they progressed past FC Luzern in the Europa Conference League.

And, frankly, after back-to-back league losses to open the campaign, the 2-2 draw at the home of Luzern that has banked the Leith club the juiciest of Conference League play-offs against Aston Villa – and a reunion with former favourite John McGinn – should earn the Englishman entry to the magic circle.

The smart money was on any hopes of progress disappearing in a puff of smoke in Switzerland, even with a flattering 3-1 advantage going into the deciding leg of the third-round qualifier. Instead, with telling moments from his sorcerers Ellie Youan and Martin Boyle, Hibs were somehow able to perform the footballing equivalent of sleight of hand. Withstanding pressure they have a horrible habit of buckling under to earn a spectacular 5-3 aggregate success.

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After an in-charge Luzern countered Youan’s early opener with two goals, they were left with a quarter of the second leg to turn the tie with two more goals against weary-looking opponents. This climax seemed a given, especially with Hibs backline so brittle as Kemal Ademi headed in a corner unchallenged after 67 minutes. But as if waving a wand, Youan bedazzled Marco Burch to get in control of a high punt, and after a darting run and shimmy on the byline, was able to pick out Boyle to sweep in. Hey. And presto.

The trickery Johnston had predicted in speaking beforehand of the “arousal level” of his team requiring to be “on point” to produce the result to pluck them the very definition of a plumb tie. Which seemed in sight inside 10 minutes of the encounter inside the Swissporarena as the thousand-strong Hibs travelling support would have been experiencing hot flushes over their team fashioning the start they craved. And desperately needed.

The Hibs manager maintained the restoration of Youan, Boyle and Josh Campbell would infuse his starting line-up with the energy criminal missing in their 2-0 loss at Motherwell at the weekend when Christian Doidge, Jordan Obita and Jimmy Jeggo were in their stead. The French trickster immediately seemed to provide his assessment correct when he seized on to a misplaced Luzern throw-in at the half-way line. Galloping forward before letting fly from the edge of the area, fortune favoured Youan’s fizz as his effort clipped the left boot of Marco Burch to loop over the head of the helpless keeper Pacal Loretz.

It seemed too good to be true for Hibs that they could engineer a 4-1 advantage in the tie and so it proved with the home side equalising a mere six minutes later. The goal was cruel on David Marshall, who superbly pushed Leny Mayer towards his left touchline, only for the ball to be retrieved and cutback inside for Jakub Kadak to drill in.

Hibs’ backline then displayed a sense of anxiety every time Stefan Wolf’s men launched diagonal high balls in from the flanks - a clear tactic - as the home side took control. Which by rights they should have lost just after the half hour. Only for Nicky Baloko to escape a red card the midfielder ought to have been brandished for tugging back Boyle as last man with the winger boring into the box. As unbelievable as so much of the evening was that ultimately this didn’t prove telling.