Hibernian boss Jack Ross refused to blame Darren McGregor following the defender’s red card against Rijeka as the Scottish Premiership side crashed out of the Europa Conference League.
Instead, Ross insisted their failings in the first leg proved costly after a 4-1 loss in Croatia saw Hibs eliminated 5-2 on aggregate.
It was going well in the second leg until midway through the second half, when – with the score at 1-1 on the night after Kyle Magennis had cancelled out Domagoj Pavicic’s opener for the hosts – McGregor was sent off following a second yellow card.
Playing with 10 men proved too much for Hibs and Rijeka wasted no time in making full use of their numerical advantage, as Issah Abass struck and Paul McGinn netted an own goal before Denis Busnja completed the scoring in injury time.
Ross felt the scoreline flattered Rijeka and stressed the damage had already been done in Edinburgh last week.
“Those who know Darren and know how committed he is know he is sore at the moment,” said the Hibs boss.
“He had no complaints about the two cautions. The second came when we were in the ascendency and in possession of the ball then we were turned over and he was forced to give away the free-kick.
“Mistakes happen and it’s our response to it as a group that will be key. He (McGregor) knows because he’s honest that it had a major bearing on how the game unfolded.
“Kyle’s was a terrific goal but we can’t defend the way we did as a whole team. We need to be more robust in games.
“I think when we reflect on the tie overall there are a couple of key aspects – certainly not coming here with a lead from the opportunities we created at Easter Road.”
Rijeka put Hibs to the sword with three goals after the red card, but Ross is adamant it was not a fair reflection on proceedings.
“There was a real strong belief we could progress. The players have earned the right to believe with their performances over the past 18 months and we are sore because the scoreline looks like we got a doing. We didn’t get that tonight, it was just the manner in which the last part of the game unfolded for us.
“Tonight, we went toe to toe with a good team in their own stadium and the atmosphere was electric but we stood up to it.
“There are positives to take. We can be pleased with the level of performance we produced in parts of the game, but whether you have 10 men or 11 it is important to defend better and be more robust in certain parts of the game.
“There’s a lot over the two legs we can be happy with and we want to get here again, which means either finishing where we did in the league again or winning a cup.”
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