Hibs will travel to Croatia next week very much still in their Europa Conference League tie with HNK Rijeka after a 1-1 draw at Easter Road in an enthralling tie at Easter Road.
The Croatian side arrived sitting top of their domestic league and having despatched Maltese minnows Gzira United in the previous round
The biggest threat pre-match was posed by Swiss international Josip Drmic, who had hit four goals in his previous five games for Rijeka, and the hosts kept him quiet for long spells of the game as they dominated for long spells.
Hibs again opted against starting Josh Doig – although there was a return to the bench for the in-demand full-back as his future at Easter Road remains unclear.
With just under 6000 fans inside Easter Road, you’d have been forgiven for thinking there was treble that as the teams made their way out ahead of kick-off with the Hibs fans in fine voice.
There was early concern for both sides when a collision at a corner left two Rijeka players and Hibs’ Paul Hanlon requiring treatment – all three able to continue, although Hanlon and Rijeka’s Labrovic were both left wearing bandages on head wounds.
It was Hibs who looked the more comfortable of the two sides in the opening 15 minutes, moving the ball well, forcing mistakes from the opposition and trying to get forward at pace but too often in the early stages they were let down by the final ball.
The visitors, for their part, looked rattled early on as they ran simple balls out of play, shanked passes well wide of their intended target and struggled to match the intensity of Hibs’ pressing.
Labrovic was the hero on 23 minutes, denying Hibs what looked a certain goal as some incisive attacking play cut through the Rijeka defence before the keeper managed to keep Martin Boyle’s effort out as the Hibees looked to go 1-0 up.
It really should have been 1-0 on the 30 minute mark when Boyle done brilliantly to get away down the right before squaring the ball to the unmarked Nisbet but the Scotland star got his effort all wrong and the Rijeka keeper coolly gathered as Hibs were left to rue spurning a golden opportunity.
There was some controversy when Issah Abass appeared to have a kick at a Hibs player in the aftermath of a challenge but the Spanish referee had a quiet word before allowing the game to continue.
As the minutes ticked down until the break, Hibs came the closest either side had until that point, Lewis Stevenson’s long-range crashing off the base of the back post and immediately sending the noise levels inside Easter Road through the roof.
After the restart, Hibs maintained their control of the game, Doyle-Hayes impressing while Kevin Nisbet and Boyle caused all sorts of problems for the visitors without managing to break the deadlock.
The hosts were left incendes ten minutes after the break as Easter Road erupted in claims for a spot-kick following a clumsy challenge in the area, however the ref was adamant there was nothing in it.
And then with an hour played, Hibs were hit by the sucker punch they were dreading as Rijeka took the lead well against the run of play.
Issah was left with the freedom of the box to head home as silence Easter Road with the goalscorer replaced in the immediate aftermath of breaking the deadlock and sucking all the life out of the Hibs fans.
It didn’t suck the life out of the players though, and just five minutes later the Cabbage were level when Boyle fired home from close range.
The hosts had threatened to score for long spells and it was little more than they deserved when Boyle did finally get beyond Labrovic and breathe new life into the fans.
YESSSSSSS! BOYLER! ⚽️ pic.twitter.com/5J03Tit7kB
— Hibernian Football Club (@HibernianFC) August 5, 2021
As the minutes ticked down, Rijeka finally started to get involved in the game in an attacking sense and really putting a bit of pressure on Matt Macey in the Hibs goal.
Rijeka’s pressure didn’t last long though as Hibs were again back on the front foot in the final minutes of the half but a combination of playacting, niggly fouls and shoddy refereeeing interrupted the flow and stopped Hibs grabbing a late winner.
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