Hibernian U19s progressed to the next round of the UEFA Youth League after defeating Molde U19s on penalties following a 2-2 aggregate draw in a historic night at Easter Road.
The 3000-strong home crowd helped Jacob Blaney and Malik Zaid score either side of half-time to cancel out Molde’s 1-0 lead from the first leg, but the visitors forced the game to penalties when they snatched one back five minutes from time.
The Hibees scored all their penalties in the shootout and Murray Johnson made a heroic diving save to keep out Molde’s third penalty taker, Johan Bakke, and send Hibs through to face Nantes in the second round.
Hibernian started the game brightly and won a corner in the third minute, but it was Molde who had the first clear-cut chance when Gustav Kjolstad Nyheim found space in the box and rattled the post with a thunderous effort following a well-worked counter attack.
The young Hibees didn’t allow themselves to be spooked by the Norwegians’ pace and put themselves in front ten minutes later. Molde goalkeeper Peder Lervik fumbled Robbie Hamilton’s deep corner and the loose ball dropped to Blaney who had the easy task of slotting home from close range to draw Hibs level overall.
Hibs continued in the ascendency following the goal but did little to trouble Lervik. Murray Aiken made a couple of powerful runs from midfield but was thwarted by the Molde centre halves on both occasions.
Josh O’Connor did well to win the ball at the byline and find Zaid in the box who danced past his marker but seen his effort swept off the line by the retreating Molde defender. The clearance went behind for Hibs’ sixth corner of the first half but could have easily ended up in an own goal.
Molde boss Daniel Hestad’s half-time words of wisdom seemed to have worked as his side started the second half with a much greater intensity than they ended the first. Nyheim forced Josh McCulloch to make a perfectly-timed last ditch slide tackle inside the 6-yard box, and captain Niklas Odegard blazed over the bar from 20 yards.
After a period of sustained Molde pressure, Hibs went ahead in the tie for the first time. O’Connor picked up the ball just inside the Molde half on the right flank and used his pace to beat his man before cutting back to Zaid who was patiently waiting in the middle of the box to calmly strike beyond Lervik.
As Hibs looked to protect their lead and switched to a back five, the Norwegians ramped up the pressure and spurned a number of chances before Martin Tornes headed home a floated cross with five minutes remaining to send the match to penalties.
A change of ‘keeper just before full time for the away side proved irrelevant as Aiken, Blaney, Ethan Laidlaw, Hamilton, and Oscar MacIntyre all scored their spot kicks for Hibs. However, it was Hibees’ goalkeeper Johnson who grabbed the headlines by diving low to his left to save Molde’s third penalty and ensure Hibs ran out 5-4 shootout winners.
Hibs U19s boss Steve Kean spoke pre-match about wanting his players to “play the game, not the event” but the young squad could be forgiven for getting caught up in the post-match emotion as they ran towards the Block Seven singing section to celebrate while Sunshine on Leith rung out around Easter Road.
Hibernian Player of the match:
Oscar MacIntyre: Oscar was magnificent throughout for the home side and lead by example as Hibs overturned a first leg defeat to win the tie.
Moment of the Match: The final kick of the ball in this match was also the most memorable. Oscar MacIntyre’s left footed penalty nestled into the bottom right had corner and sent the Hibs fans behind the goals into wild celebrations and the Hibs players on the pitch into the next round of the competition.
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