NEIL LENNON hailed the performance of Stevie Mallan after the midfielder grabbed the initiative in Hibernian’s midfield following the departure of John McGinn.
Mallan hit the bar from 25 yards and forced two scrambling saves from long range during an outstanding first-half display in a goalless Europa League draw with Molde at Easter Road.
The 22-year-old has already scored five goals since arriving from Barnsley and showed further signs that he can alleviate the blow of losing his former St Mirren team-mate McGinn following his big-money move to Aston Villa.
Hibs head coach Lennon said after the first-leg draw: “He was brilliant. He was so unlucky not to score. He had a tremendous effort that hit the crossbar and had another couple of pops at goal.
“His energy and all-round play and quality on the ball was terrific. He’s been a huge source of encouragement for me since he has come in.”
The hosts also came close through Martin Boyle and David Gray while Emerson Hyndman forced a good save in the last minute, 24 hours after moving on loan from Bournemouth.
“I liked him at Rangers,” said Lennon of his new signing, who was an 80th-minute substitute.
“He’s got creativity. He picks the right pass and he was unlucky not to win us the game. But I was pleased with his contribution.”
Molde rarely threatened but they showed composure on the ball and the third qualifying-round tie remains in the balance ahead of next week’s return leg in Norway.
“It was a good game,” Lennon said. “The only tinge of disappointment is we did not take a lead. But we got a clean sheet and we played very maturely and were unlucky. Their keeper made a few great saves.
“There was not a lot of clear-cut chances and Molde are very good in possession and knew how to take the sting out of the game.
“But we are still in the tie. We have to score over there but Molde have to score too – 0-0 can be a positive or a negative. But we look liked the team most likely to score.”