Hibernians face Latvian side FK RFS on Thursday in the return leg of their UEFA Conference League qualifying third-round tie (kick-off: 8.00PM).
The idea of a second-leg tie against a Latvian team at Ta’ Qali may leave a bad taste in supporters’ mouths after a troubled fixture against Riga FC cost the side a place in the playoffs of a European competition last season which saw no less than three Hibs players sent off. However, coach Andrea Pisanu believes his team has as much chance to go through as their opponents this year.
“We have to be focused and ready,” Pisanu told the pre-match press conference on Wednesday, “We have to have a big personality because the level goes up with every game and now the quality is higher.
“We must stay in the game for 95 minutes and we have to be positive. The players showed that we can be positive and have our chance. At this moment, it’s about belief – there are two teams and one goes through. Why not us?
“We know that (RFS) are a very strong team and also physical. For this, we have to be good enough to turn the game in our way. At certain times, we will suffer for sure but as soon as we can, we have to play our game. We have to use our weapons and be positive.”
Hibs will have to make do with Spanish attacking threat Thaylor for Thursday’s match after he was shown a red card last week, as well as the injured Kurt Shaw. However, they will be boosted by the return of defender Andrei Agius as well as a better-involved Bjorn Kristensen.
“Andrei (Agius) and Bjorn (Kristensen) are in the squad for tomorrow. They are not ready 100% to play the full match but they have to be ready to give us some help. I have to look at the training today but I’m sure they will be in the squad.”
Both Agius and Kristen’s late return to play comes from suspensions following the Riga FC match last season, together with defender Ferdinando Apap who had his suspension reduced and featured earlier. Asked about the importance of composure on Thursday, Kristensen, who accompanied Pisanu at the press conference, told the Times of Malta he hopes they had all learned their lesson.
“I hope that we learned from our mistakes last year first of all. Secondly, I think it’s a different game against a different team and hopefully, we can learn and push forward from there,” Kristensen said.
“As a team, it’s a great opportunity but we have to go there focused and concentrated on the game because it will not be easy. The first ball is as important as the last, so we can’t let any excitement get the better of us and we have to stay focused.”
While it is all square between the two sides after a 1-1 first leg score, RFS will have the added pressure of making amends for a weekend loss to SK Super Nova over the weekend. Added to this is the dilemma between resting players or not ahead of their Latvian Cup tie against FK Tukums right after Thursday’s match. Despite this, Pisanu believes “it changes nothing in our approach”.
“The games of Rigas are not my business and we are fully focused on what we have to do in tomorrow’s game,” he explained.
“To put pressure on them we have to play our game and be the best part of ourselves. I’m not asking my players to change style or be someone that they are not. It is an important game for us both, no use hiding, but it changes nothing in our approach. At the end of the day, if we deserve it, we will go through, otherwise, we try again next year.”
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