When Hibernian take on Molde tonight they will be without their former driving force John McGinn. But the remaining players will be boosted by the presence of another commanding figure, according to defender Efe Ambrose – that of manager Neil Lennon, as he returns to the technical area for this first time this term.
Having finally served out his Uefa-imposed touchline ban, the voluble Hibs boss will be able to urge his men on as they try to make their mark and win their third successive European tie.
Up against Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Norwegian side, that already onerous task has been made even tougher by the unfortunately-timed departure of the Scotland international.
But Ambrose says that the squad will work even harder to prove that they still have what it takes to pursue their dream of a place in the group stages and to keep their gaffer off their back.
“At the start of last season we didn’t get it right at home but in the second phase a few players came in and everything changed, especially the mentality,” said Ambrose. “We tried to make Easter Road a fortress, not just us but the fans as well, and we are flying at home. We have to keep that going because, if it’s not right, the gaffer will tell you to your face. Believe me, everyone knows that, when it’s not right, you are going to go back to the dressing room, and Lennon, and it’s not going to be a good day for you!
“It was a great miss for us not to have him on the bench but you can’t keep him quiet, we could still hear him. But we know that, with him on the bench, everyone has to be on their toes.”
While Hibs will go into the home leg of their third-round qualifier looking for a way to plug the void left by McGinn, who Ambrose described as the club’s best player, Molde have arrived in the capital with their star man. The £9 million-rated striker, Erling Braut Haaland, has also been attracting widespread attention but, while Molde have him, they intend to make best use of him. Described as well organised by Lennon, who says they also pose a massive threat on the counter-attack, keeping the teenage Manchester United target could be the trickiest proposition as Hibs adapt to the new reality of life without the likes of McGinn, as well as Dylan McGeouch and Scott Allan, patrolling the midfield.
“They’ve got good players in midfield and, in Haaland, they’ve got a player who bursts onto the scene and has shown he can score in bursts as well. He’s a big boy,” said Lennon. “They have good wide men and they can sit in and dominate the ball. But they’re beatable.
“We’re a decent outfit as well albeit we’re hampered by the loss of a very important player. We have always known he was going to go one day, that we were going to lose our best player”
Ambroise said of McGinn’s departure to Aston Villa: “The gaffer believes in the squad and, when you are picked, you have to give your best. When McGinn played, he was the driving force, so you can say it could affect a squad, but not this squad. It’s not about an individual but a team. He’s helped drive the team to where it is today and we’ll miss him. He’s like a friend, a brother, but still football goes on and we’ll go on without him.”
They could also be without Darren McGregor, who is struggling with some fluid on the knee, while keeper Adam Bogdan, pictured left, is battling to overcome a hip problem.
Like Hibs, Molde head into the game on the back of some emphatic performances in the earlier rounds and, having faced them before, while at Celtic, Ambrose knows the danger they pose.
Defeated 2-1 and then 3-1 in those 2015 group games, Celtic could not get the better of the Norwegians but the defender insists that the Leith outfit still have every reason for positivity.
While Hibs await a work permit for Manchester United loanee Thomas Agyepong, the signing of 22-year-old midfielder Emerson Hyndman, on loan from Bournemouth, was completed in time to allow him to feature this evening, if selected. Add that to the never-say-die spirit that helped them overhaul an early two-goal deficit in the home leg of the last round, against Asteras, and Ambrose sees cause for optimism.
“The belief we have here and the kind of group and the kind of coach we have...as a player you have to think positive in every game, in everything you do in life, so I believe we can achieve more,” said Ambrose. “This is football and, for 90 minutes, anything is possible. I believe in myself, I believe in this squad and we will work hard to make sure we achieve great things.”
Especially as that inner steel is now complemented by the drive of their gaffer, out on the touchline, demanding more. “You know he will be coming to you when you are not doing things right and you expect that from him. He is the kind of manager that you need sometimes to get where you want to be.
“He will always tell you to your face if you didn’t get it right or you are not trying your best, or in your best form. He will tell you if you have let the team down or if something is your fault and he will get in a rage if we don’t play well as a squad.
“But he has helped us be strong mentally because coming in to face him is sometimes something else. We never want to see him like that, so we always try to please him and he gets the best out of us that way.”