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Hibs outplayed but Malmö not out of sight

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Hibs simply came up against a better side at the Swedbank Stadion, with Malmö securing a 2-0 win in the first leg of the Europa League tie.

The Blues took the lead after eleven minutes from a great free kick from captain Jiloan Hamad and were two goals to the good only two minutes later via a clinical finish from top scorer Magnus Eriksson.

Malmö should have taken an even greater lead to Easter Road for the second leg next week but a combination of terrific goalkeeping from Ben Williams and a little help from the woodwork left Hibs with a chance of advancing in the competition.

Malmö made two changes to the side that defeated Åtvidabergs so comfortably at the weekend with Tokelo Rantie and Markus Halsti replacing Erik Friberg and Pawel Cibicki who drop to the bench. Hibs meanwhile went with a 4-3-3 formation with new signings Liam Craig, Owain Tudor Jones and Rowan Vine all making their competitive debuts.

Hibs went closest to scoring in the opening minutes when Tudor Jones headed over from a Craig free kick. Tudor Jones’ missed opportunity seemed to spur Malmö on though and the home side took the lead three minutes later.

Magnus Eriksson played the ball through to Rantie who was through on goal only to be pulled back by Hibs skipper James McPake. McPake was the last man and could easily have seen red but the referee decided the pull back was only worthy of a yellow card. From the resulting free kick, the Blues skipper Jiloan Hamad stepped up and lifted the ball over the wall and the ball floated in towards the stranded Ben Williams’ near post.

The onslaught would continue after the celebrations and would lead to a second goal for the Swedish side just two minutes later. Emil Forsberg and Ricardinho combined nicely down the left and Forsberg played the ball into the box to Eriksson who places the ball straight into the bottom right corner of the net.

A stunned Hibs team were looking nervous and with Malmö playing fast possession football, the Hibees were really chasing the game.

The visitors would go close to pulling one back after 25 minutes when a curling effort from 25 yards by Rowan Vine looked to have gone over Johan Dahlin and destined to end up in the goal. However, Dahlin somehow managed to get his fingertips on the ball and divert it onto the post.

Hibs were still being restricted to efforts from distance by the Malmö defence and their efforts weren’t troubling Dahlin in the home goal. If anyone looked more likely to score it was Malmö again and Williams had to be in fine form to keep the score respectable going into the break, saving a stinging 30-yard effort from Halsti and miraculously using his feet to keep out a shot from the lively Eriksson on his goalline.

Malmö came right out of the blocks in the second half and went close when a long ball from his own half from Halsti found Rantie who had broken through the Hibs backline but his shot was straight at Williams.

Williams then made a great save to keep Malmö from increasing their lead. Under pressure from Hibs defenders Forsberg did well to keep his balance and managed to play a ball to the overlapping Ricardinho. The Brazillian took the ball under control and delivered a great cross into the middle that an on-rushing Hamad caught beautifully with a karate kick volley but Williams dived terrifically to his side to keep the ball out of the goal.

Simon Thern was beginning to control the midfield for Malmö and he put through Rantie who shot at goal but from out of nowhere Kevin Thomson appeared to block the shot from going in.

Thern himself then had a great chance when he played the offside trap brilliantly and after turning the Hibs defender inside out he hit a fierce effort onto Williams’ upright.

Malmö then appeared to concentrate on preserving their lead and this allowed Hibs to grow into the game in the last 20 minutes, with the introduction of Alex Harris, who was an injury doubt before the game, marking a big improvement on Hibs part. The Hibees almost sneaked home with an away goal when the ball came towards substitute Ross Caldwell in the box but he could only get a weak touch on the ball so couldn’t divert it into the net. It was a great chance though, as shown by manager Pat Fenlon’s reaction in the dug out, with Fenlon kicking mid-air showing Caldwell what he should have done.

The game ended 2-0 and it is a result that leaves Fenlon believing Hibs have a chance of advancing next week.

Fenlon said: “We grew into the game and we’ll take it back to Easter Road. It’s gonna be a tough one again. If we score the first goal at Easter Road, then we will be in the game.”

Opposition manager Rikard Norling was disappointed to see his side not take a bigger lead to Edinburgh, he added: “When you see the ball isn’t going in the net you’re disappointed. We then slowly started to concentrate on not conceding a goal, as away goals are so important. In the end we have a result and something we take with us and see what happens in Edinburgh.”

Malmö [4-4-2]: Dahlin, Albornoz, Jansson, Johansson, Ricardinho, Hamad, Halsti, Thern (Friberg 68), Forsberg (Kroon 79), Eriksson, Rantie (Cibicki 68). Subs Not Used: Olsen, Helander, Fadi, Konate.

Hibernian [4-3-3]: Williams, Stevenson, Foster, McPake, Hanlon, Tudor Jones (Robertson 56), Taiwo, Thomson (Harris 74), Handling, Craig, Vine (Caldwell 84). Subs Not Used: Murdoch, Cairney, Mullen, Horribine.

Man of the Match: Ben Williams [Hibs]

Attendance: 8628

If Hibernian manage to turn the tie around and progress to the next round of the competition, they will face Welsh side and Capital One Cup winners Swansea City after the draw for Europa League third-round qualifying round took place earlier.

Written by Jonathan Slatter

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