Hibs held by Rijeka
Hibernian’s first ever Europa Conference League campaign hit a snag with a 1-1 draw at home to Croatian side HNK Rijeka. Cameron Wanstall reports.
Jack Ross made just one change to the team that defeated Motherwell at Fir Park on Sunday. Holding midfielder Alex Gogić was replaced by Jake Doyle-Hayes, who slotted in alongside Joe Newell, allowing Kyle Magennis to push up and play off the shoulder of Kevin Nisbet in an attacking quartet, rather than in a midfield three.
The limited Hibees in attendance, despite their enthusiasm and roaring support from the first whistle, were granted little entertainment in the opening stages of the game.
After over 20 minutes without a proper chance for either side, the hosts finally gave their supporters a reason to get excited, with two attempts on goal in quick succession. The first came from a low Paul McGinn cross that reached Martin Boyle, though the Aussie international’s half-volley was thwarted by a strong Nediljko Labrović parry. The 21-year-old shot-stopper was called into action again when another McGinn cutback met Jamie Murphy, but the winger’s dragged shot was collected with relative ease.
Rijeka’s first shot on goal came just before the half-hour mark, when tricky winger Prince Ampem cut inside from the right flank before unleashing a fierce shot that flew just wide of Matt Macey’s front post. The towering ‘keeper was soon put to work when Issah Abass slipped in wing-back Andrija Vukčević on the opposite flank. Macey smothered the low, driven shot well from close range.
The final chance of the first 45 was also the best. Boyle, heading from the right flank to the left, cut through the opposition midfield rapidly and played in an advancing Lewis Stevenson. The veteran thrashed the ball across goal but watched as his driven strike cannoned back off the post before being cleared.
Similar to the first, the second half started slow with very few chances being created. Hibs patiently worked the ball around the Rijeka box multiple times, but every attack ended with a fine block or clever interception from a deep-sitting Rijeka defence. The best chance, ironically, came from a Macey goal kick that bounced over everybody, before Boyle raced onto the loose ball, although he hesitated on the ball and his eventual shot was blasted into the side netting.
Despite the hosts’ domination, it was Rijeka who broke the deadlock on the hour mark. Some neat footwork from Vukčević was followed by a threatening cross toward the back post. Ampem managed to find some space in between skipper Paul Hanlon and Stevenson to nod the ball downwards into the ground and beyond a desperate Macey.
Hibs weren’t behind for long, however. It took just three minutes for Boyle to level the tie after a chaotic corner fell to his feet. Hanlon rose highest to knock the deep corner back toward the front post, before Nisbet knocked it goalward himself. Labrović got his fingers to the forward’s effort, but the ball landed perfectly at Boyle’s feet and he made no mistake as he slammed the ball in from very close range.
The hosts continued to struggle with their final ball and were also punished again by the visitors. Substitute Robert Murić skipped past Hanlon outside the area before curling his shot wide off the far post.
With time running out and fans getting anxious, Hibs continued to search for a winner. A searching Ryan Porteous through ball was taken down deftly by Boyle. His low cross found Daniel MacKay, with a rash tackle on the youngster followed by a mass penalty shout but Spanish referee Juan Martínez Munuera waved away the distressed calls.
A final chance came deep into stoppage time for Stevenson. Substitute Christian Doidge, similarly to Boyle in the first half, picked out Stevenson in acres of space. The left-back raced onto the ball, set himself up but his whipped strike flew farther wide than first expected.
Hibs may have dominated the game for large periods but their indecisiveness in front of goal sends them home with just a draw heading into next week’s reverse in Croatia. Before that, however, Ross County will come to Easter Road on Sunday.