This Hibs team have pulled it off in the dying seconds before but last night it didn’t quite pan out. New signing Emerson Hyndman was almost the goal hero but, through on the keeper, his stoppage time effort was blocked, leaving the sides to settle for a draw and the chance to do it all again next week.
The build-up to this game had been overshadowed by the transfer speculation surrounding John McGinn and despite the talismanic midfielder’s departure for Aston Villa he was still a talking point.
The question being pondered by most in the stadium was how things would go without him. Manager Neil Lennon had described him as irreplaceable, while Efe Ambrose had said it was up to the rest of the squad to step up and flex their collective muscle and prove they were more than a one-man operation.
The reality is that McGinn will be a miss but this Europa League match was always likely to provide a decent indication of just how big a hole he would leave.
With no-one in Lennon’s squad a like-for-like replacement, it was left to Marvin Bartley to come in and plug a gap, while Steve Mallan grasped the opportunity to show that he could provide the drive, as well as the goal threat from distance.
But it was a night when the sum of the parts was integral to any success as they faced up to the challenge of prolonging their Europa League adventure and edging closer to the precious money-making group stage.
As well as McGinn, the Easter Road side went into the match without the defensive presence of injured Darren McGregor and goalkeeper Adam Bogdan but offence has been this team’s best form of defence for a while. In the second minute Martin Boyle robbed Molde of possession in their own territory and drove in. He managed to play the ball into the area but it was cut out. Cleared as far as Vykintas Slivka, the Lithuanian had a stab at goal but was off target.
It was a sign of the home side’s intent and a minute later Mallan, pictured, ran on to a loose ball 25 yards out and leathered a shot but it soared over.
Although efforts were of the long-range variety, Hibs were letting the visiting keeper Andreas Linde know that he was in a game and Mallan gave him a start in the seventh minute when his curler crashed off his bar, while he was forced into a save two minutes later when Slivka belted a 25-yard attempt goalwards.
Having taken a while to settle into the game, Molde then started to apply some pressure of their own. But the quick one-twos as they attempted to pass their way into a clearing proved fruitless against a dogged rearguard, with Hibs quickly closing them down and pushing them back up the field.
But in the 17th minute a diagonal ball slipped through to Petter Strand saw him send a driven pass across the face of goal. It forced Paul Hanlon to stick out a desperate leg to prevent it reaching Magnus Wolff Eikrem coming in behind him.Shortly afterwards Daniel Chima took a ball into feet at the edge of the Hibs box and laid it off to Eirik Hestad but his pass into the danger area was hoofed clear.
Hibs then went on their own foraging mission but Boyle just couldn’t get a toe to Florian Kamberi’s low cross. Boyle was causing problems with his pace and direct running and then Linde had to pull off another scrambling save in the 32nd minute following some good work by Mallan.
Aware of the counterattacking potential of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side, Lennon’s men were disciplined in that opening half hour and while Chima and Hestad worked to ignite a few breakaways, they were always tracked by Slivka, Lewis Stevenson or Bartley while the defence stood rigid any time they did slip that leash. There was a scare in the 36th minute, though, as Chima was allowed to rise unchallenged to meet a Wolff Eikrem corner but the striker could not make it count.
As the second half started Molde were looking for the away goal but whenever they engineered an opening they were just not clinical enough.
Lennon had asserted his belief that Solskjaer’s side did not represent a big step up from Asteras, the Leith side’s vanquished opponents from the previous round, and his opinion was a valid one on the evidence of this 90 minutes. Keeping a clean sheet, the only disappointment was the inability to score themselves. Boyle did not give up trying, though. He got his toe to a David Gray ball forward in the 56th minute and had another close-range effort blocked ten minutes later, while Gray’s header from a Mallan corner had Linde scrambling.
But even with Hyndman and Oli Shaw thrown into the mix with ten minutes to go there was no breakthrough and Hibs now travel to Norway looking for a win but fully aware that a score draw would do.