Hibernian’s European hopes are in the balance after a 1-1 draw with Rijeka in the first leg of their Europa Conference League third qualifier at Easter Road.
Hibs defender Lewis Stevenson hit the woodwork towards the end of a goalless but open first half before Ghanaian attacker Prince Ampem headed the visitors ahead on the hour mark.
However, Martin Boyle levelled six minutes later with a close-range finish but the home side could not turn their pressure into more goals.
Rijeka boss Goran Tomic may believe his side have the advantage and of course the return leg next Thursday in Croatia will be a different proposition but with away goals of no consequence this season, Jack Ross’s side are far from out of this tie.
It was an end-to-end match after referee Juan Martinez Munuera stopped the game after a few minutes when Hibs skipper Paul Hanlon, Rijeka keeper Nediljko Labrovic and defender Andrija Vukcevic all required treatment after clashing in an aerial duel from a Paul McGinn free-kick.
All three continued but Hanlon and Labrovic resumed with their heads bandaged.
The home side tried to force the pace but Rijeka looked sharp and purposeful on the occasional counter.
Hibs’ crossing was causing problems and in the 23rd minute McGinn’s delivery from the right found Boyle but his powerful effort from 14 yards was parried by Labrovic underneath his bar and the visitors survived.
The keeper then made further saves from Jamie Murphy and Kevin Nisbet as Hibs kept probing.
In the 34th minute Hibs keeper Matt Macey did well to block an angled-drive from Vukcevic at his near post after Rijeka worked some space rather easily behind the Easter Road defence.
It was a reminder of the Croatian side’s latent threat.
However, the Edinburgh side finished the first half strongly and Stevenson smacked the post with a thunderous low drive from 20 yards after Boyle had rolled the ball into his path.
In the 53rd minute Murphy’s long-range effort flew over the bar before a penalty claim when skipper Hrvoje Smolcic tangled with Boyle inside the box was ignored by the well-positioned referee.
Minutes later Easter Road was stunned into silence when Ampem leapt high to head a pin-point cross from Vukcevic past Macey.
Ross immediately brought on striker Christian Doidge for Murphy to try another route to goal and the move brought quick dividends.
After Nisbet’s header following a corner which had been knocked towards goal by Hanlon was parried by Labrovic, the lurking Boyle flashed the ball into the net to bring cheering Hibs fans to their feet.
The home side went all out for the winner with Scott Allan, Alex Gogic and Daniel Mackay replacing Boyle, Kyle Magennis and Joe Newell but Hibs had to settle for the draw – Mackay did hit a late chance straight at Labrovic – leaving next week’s second leg finely poised.
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