Late fightback seals famous European night for Hibs

With half an hour on the clock it appeared Hibernian’s Europa League journey was coming to a brief end, but a second-half fightback, topped with a stoppage time winner from Florian Kamberi, breathed new life into the tie. Gregor Kerr reports from Easter Road.

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A last-minute goal from Florian Kamberi completed an unlikely comeback for Hibernian, who appeared down and out at half-time against Asteras Tripolis in the scorching heat at Easter Road.

The Greeks took the lead through Georgios Kyriakopolous, with questions asked of Hibs’ Adam Bodgan, though he had less chance for the second as Kyriakoplous struck an even sweeter shot to put his side two goals ahead at half-time.

But Hibs never lie down under Neil Lennon, and sparked the comeback through Efe Ambrose, before club captain David Gray equalised with just over ten minutes remaining, his third European goal in four games.

After conceding two away goals Hibs couldn’t stop at a draw, as Florian Kamberi’s quick reactions inside the box helped complete a memorable comeback for the Hibees.

Before the match both teams paid their respects to the tragedy in Greece this week with a minute’s silence, with the players donning black armbands as tribute.

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Hibernian opted to shift the system which saw them ship four goals in the Faroe Islands in the previous round, as Paul Hanlon and Darren McGregor were restored to the starting lineup, while Martin Boyle partnered Kamberi upfront.

The hosts began strongly, allowing Asteras little time to settle on the ball, but were caught cold on the counter attack ten minutes in. Tsilianidis released the advancing Kyriakopolous on the left, who ghosted beyond Darren McGregor to advance on goal.

His shot contained power but lacked placement, although somehow Hungarian goalkeeper Adam Bogdan allowed the shot to fly through his grasp at his near post.

The goal knocked the stuffing from Hibs who struggled to maintain the ball and appeared sloppy, though they still could have equalised had Kamberi sorted his feet at the near post to convert Vykintas Slivka’s low cross, but the Swiss mistimed his effort.

Steven Whittaker, looking uncomfortable and well off the pace in midfield, should have also found the net, as a Mallan corner found him unmarked at the back post, though a side-footed effort was perhaps the wrong option as he shot well over the bar.

One goal quickly turned into two after half an hour. Efe Ambrose did well to block a close-range header from Manias, but Hibs seemed to have forgot about Kyriakopolous’ danger, unmarked he unleashed a fierce effort from 25 yards which clipped in off the post. It was hard to see a way back as the Easter Road crowd seemed deflated, and the unrest clear for all to hear.

Whittaker was hooked at half-time and Slivka, struggling in an unfamiliar wing-back position, moved into midfield. Gray slotted into the Lithuanian’s role, instantly Hibs looked more balanced.

Boyle cut inside from the left and his fierce drive forced Athanasiadis into his first save of the night. Apart from that, the chances were drying up.

Asteras could have scored their third away goal on the hour mark, had Tsilianidis kept his curling effort down.

But the margins are fine at European level, and the home fans had their moment to cheer in the 65th minute. Mallan’s corner was attacked by Ambrose, who cannoned a header off the bar, but saw the rebound bounce back off him and in.

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Slivka missed a golden free header from 8 yards out, before Bodgan tipped over an effort from the rampant Tsilianidis, a man to watch out for in the second leg.

The game changer may not have been Ambrose’s goal. The visitor’s Argentinean captain Iglesias had played the pantomime villain role all night, breaking up play, fouling and generally not endearing himself to the locals.

McGregor looked to have had enough, clattering the big midfielder and leaving a few afters. Iglesias, who required treatment, looked a bit shaken up from the incident.

Hibernian manager Neil Lennon was still serving a suspension from two years previous and watched the game from the stands. Garry Parker, not for the first time, took charge in the dugout, and the assistant’s substitution proved inspired with fifteen minutes remaining.

Stevenson, causing problems with his crossing, again found Kamberi in the middle, who flicked a header on to the substitute Gray. The captain, a walking legend in this part of Edinburgh, controlled and fired a shot across the helpless Athanasiadis.

Easter Road, shaking and raucous, was on the edge of another famous European night. Considering the events of the first-half, a draw would have been a respectable result. But a Neil Lennon team will never accept anything other than victory. Pasadilis’ second yellow card of the night ten minutes from time certainly helped things.

Mallan, probing, found Paul Hanlon pushed very high up the pitch. In what would be a panic moment for many defenders, he slipped in Martin Boyle. His shot was saved, but Kamberi, eager to avenge his earlier miss, was first to pounce and score in a frantic finish. Right at the very death, the improbable was accomplished.

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Euphoria, mixed with disbelief, spread across Leith. Two away goals may have been lost but heading to Tripolis next week with any victory was the goal. Hibs will need to keep things tighter at the back in the second leg, but if this team have proved anything, it’s that they can never been counted out.

Neil Lennon insisted that the margin of victory should have been greater for his side. “We’ve given ourselves a real foothold, which didn’t look likely at half-time.

“I’m really proud of the team, we could and should have won by more.

“They’re a good side but we could’ve done better with both goals. We need to work on that. There’s definite rust there but they came through and it’ll stand them in good stead for next week.”

 

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