BY ALAN TEMPLE – @CCP_Sport
STEVIE MALLAN has revealed that Hibernian will target a record-breaking domestic campaign to mitigate the heartbreak of their frustrating European exit in Norway.
The Easter Road outfit saw their continental exploits reach a shuddering conclusion against Molde, with the clinical hosts registering a 3-0 triumph to book themselves a glamour date with Russian giants Zenit St Petersburg in the Europa League playoff round.
That ruthless efficiently was in sharp contrast to the wastefulness of Neil Lennon’s charges, who paid for a host of costly missed opportunities, both in the first leg stalemate in Edinburgh and on Thursday night.
While devastated to see their adventure come to an end, Mallan knows the visitors were far from outclassed and there was no sense of despondency in the air.
Indeed, the summer signing from Barnsley was downright bullish, insisting Hibs will now focus on topping last season’s Premiership points tally of 67 – which was an all-time high for the capital club in the top-flight.
“Hurt and disappointment is the main feeling after Thursday,” said Mallan. “We felt we could go to Molde and get a result. That’s obviously not the way it’s panned out.
“But we are a club in a good position. We achieved our highest points total last season and the manager’s already said that he wants to surpass that.
“We feel we’re capable of doing that – we have a good enough squad to do it. I think that will be our next goal.”
Martin Boyle was perhaps Hibs’ biggest offender in front of goal, failing to convert when an inviting Jamie Maclaren found him at the back post. The angle was prohibitive, but he should have done better.
The former Dundee and Montrose man also scooped a shot wildly over the bar after manufacturing some space in the box in the second period.
Boyle – who, with the exception of his finishing, was excellent throughout – was far from the only culprit, with Maclaren heading against the post from six yards after meeting a Lewis Stevenson cut-back.
Instead, it was Molde who benefited from lax defending – Erling Braut Haaland’s opener was particularly preventable – to register three unanswered strikes. Little wonder, then, head coach Neil Lennon stated his players would leave Norway’s scenic west coast nursing ‘regrets’.
“You’re always going to have regrets, individually and as a team,” Mallan added. “We know we had a couple of chances we could’ve scored. That was the difference, really. They took their opportunities and we didn’t.
“Their lad up front [Haaland] was good, but we still feel the tie was there for the taking, we feel.
“We have to work on being more clinical in front of goal. We hit the post and Boyler [Martin Boyle] and had a few good chances.
“We need to stop giving away silly goals as well. The manager spoke before the game about how vital set-pieces were – so to lose the first goal from a set-piece was something we were disappointed about. That wasn’t good enough on our part.”
Mallan was quick to laud the impact of Boyle despite his high-profile misses, emphasising that it is not only the winger who will be analysing his efforts with some contriteness.
“Boyler has been quality for us so far this season, even compared to what I saw last year,” said Mallan. “He’s a vital player for us and all the boys felt we could’ve done better, it’s not about one person.
“You can see over the two legs that Molde knew about him. They doubled up against him – when he got the ball the left-back and the left-midfielder were on him. That’s how important he is.
“They tried to nullify our main threat, which is Boyler’s pace and his deliveries into the box. That was still apparent on Thursday night and last weekend when his cross set up Oli Shaw’s goal against St Johnstone.
“He’ll be a vital player for us this season and I’m we’ll see the best of him.
“It just wasn’t for us in Norway. On another day we might have got the win but all we can do now is take the positives from the game – and there were a few.”
Mallan will now seek to take his discontentment out on Ross County in Sunday’s Betfred Cup last-16 clash at Easter Road.
He added: “All we can do is address it and move forward; take the hurt we feel and go into the [Betfred] Cup against Ross County on Sunday.”