Hibs manager Neil Lennon’s extra one-game ban, imposed in the wake of some misinterpreted European night charades, means that when his team run out against Asteras Tripolis this week, for the second leg of their latest Europa League qualifier, he will again be confined to the stand.
But Efe Ambrose says that will not trouble the players as he is sure that they will still make out his bellowing over the noise of even the most boisterous Greek crowd.
“You can still hear him from the stands!” says the man who previously worked with the Northern Irishman at Celtic before they both headed along the M8. “He is always with the team. No matter where he is, you can hear his voice.
‘The most important thing is he’s set up how he wants us to play on the training ground and worked hard. So although his presence on the bench is extra motivation for us, we still see he’s with us. His presence is always there, you can still feel it up there.”
Ambrose said that was enough to galvanise the team as they battled back from behind to take a narrow advantage on their travels this week. And he believes another game with assistant Garry Parker patrolling the technical area instead of Lennon will not curtail Hibs’ hopes of progress.
“We just had to do everything we could not to let the game go [on Thursday]. We can still do it. With him on the bench or not, we owe it to ourselves, to him, and the fans to go through this tie. That’s the most important thing for us.”
Aim for perfection, settle for excellence. The premise of that is to avoid standards slipping by always targeting an achievement beyond that which is necessary.
With that in mind, the team will head to Greece this week with their sights set nothing shy of victory.
In the aftermath of Thursday’s triumph, Lennon pointed out that despite making hard work of things, his men would travel to the Peloponnese capital well aware that a draw would be sufficient to see them through, but Ambrose was not the only man in the ground who felt it would be unwise to allow themselves such a slight margin for error.
“We are going there to win,” said the defender. “That’s the mentality. Going there to defend is not us, we are not defending. Let’s go to attack, make sure we get the win.”
The Leith side will travel with a sense of hope rather than trepidation. The way they saw out the Easter Road leg of their latest Europa League qualifier, proved they have what it takes to overcome the team that will host them this week, but the fact they will not head there depending on a defensive display that would guarantee them a draw at worst is probably smart, with the manager and players well aware that they will have to cut out their own errors if they are to rubber stamp their ongoing progress in the competition.
Gifting their guests a two-goal advantage before hitting the afterburners and overhauling that lead with three goals in the final half an hour of the match, those away goals could yet prove costly.
On Thursday, it was a poor performance from the backline as they struggled to contain the movement and pace of the Asteras forwards as they countered quickly but three goals in the final 27 minutes, from Ambrose, David Gray and Florian Kamberi allowed them to dig themselves out of a hole.
And Ambrose says that despite the first-half deficit, there was always a belief within the team that they could conjure up the required escape act.
“Wow! That’s all I can say. It was 2-0 down against a good, tactically disciplined team. They had only two chances and they took them. We had a few good chances in the first half but we didn’t take them.
“Although we tried to keep possession and play, we just didn’t try to press them high and put pressure on them in the first half but the gaffer put that across to us and let us know that we need to do better, we need to move the ball quicker. But the most important thing was not to concede again.”
They didn’t and the goals from Ambrose, Gray and, in the dying seconds, Kamberi, keep them on the right track.
“We knew we could come back. We know we can score a lot of goals. We believe in ourselves. We never give up. Even at 2-0, our heads were held high, the spirit was high and the fans were terrific, they were behind us, never backed down. That was the motivation we had, it gave us the strength to come back and win the game.”
A veteran of many European nights as a Celtic player, he said the manner of Thursday’s comeback rendered it one of the most memorable,
“That was one of the most special European games. It’s not easy to come back from 2-0 down with the pressure to win at home.
“We owe this to the fans, to ourselves, to the gaffer who is in the stands. To get here, it was hard work. So we don’t just want to let it go just now. We wanted to fight to the end.”