BY IAIN COLLIN – @CCP_sport
HIBERNIAN head coach Neil Lennon has confessed that Thursday’s encounter with Brondby is a tie ‘fraught with danger’ after witnessing first hand how quickly a Europa League dream can turn into a nightmare.
Lennon was in the crowd at Easter Road three years ago when the capital outfit suffered a humiliating hammering at the hands of Swedes Malmo and, so early into his reign and his squad’s pre-season preparations, admits it is a chastening experience that could be repeated.
Then the Celtic manager, the Northern Irishman was in attendance to consider moves for Malmo pair Tokelo Rantie, who went on to join Bournemouth, and Jiloan Hamad, now with 1899 Hoffenheim in the Bundesliga.
After a 2-0 defeat over in Sweden, Hibs went into the return leg full of hope of a famous European comeback but were instead left embarrassed by the 9-0 aggregate loss – the club’s worst-ever defeat in continental competition.
With Brondby having bared their teeth in setting up Thursday’s second round qualifier with a 10-1 thrashing of Valur of Reykjavik – and with the well-known figure of former Celtic striker Teemu Pukki having netted three over the two legs – Lennon has admitted Hibs are facing another formidable task,
“I think Brondby will be superior,” he said. “They’re a big Scandinavian team and one of the more experienced teams, a big Danish team. We are a Championship team in Scotland.
“So, we go into the game as underdogs, but you just never know.
“The home game is obviously going to be important, and how we approach that. We’ve got to be careful not to be too gung-ho, but at the same time try to take the game to them whenever we can.
“I was at that (Malmo) game. I absolutely do not (want something like that on my CV) – but it can happen if you get caught cold and Malmo are a top Swedish team.
“So, it is fraught with danger and you don’t want a hangover from it in the league either.
“But we’ll certainly compete. I’m playing it down but, you know me, I always think we’ve got a chance.”
Meanwhile, Lennon believes Pukki may be right if he felt hard done by during his unsuccessful spell at Celtic, with the Finnish striker struggling to make an impression before being allowed to leave for Brondby, first on loan and then permanently, just 12 months into a four-year deal.
“He’s a quiet boy and, listen, he’s not the first person to come to Glasgow and not hit the ground running,” added Lennon. “He had a few injury problems as well and at a club like Celtic, when you’re brought in for money, you have to score goals – and he wasn’t really an out-and-out goal-scorer.
“He played within himself a little bit, I thought. He didn’t really show his capabilities. He was never prolific but we felt he had the qualities we wanted but he would maybe say he never got the chance to show that on a consistent basis.
“It doesn’t take away the fact he’s a very good player.
“I think his time probably was harshly assessed. He did okay but I wouldn’t say he was a complete disaster by any means. But he may feel he didn’t get enough chances, which maybe is fair. “