ANY fears that the departure of John McGinn would represent the death knell for Hibernian’s European aspirations were assuaged at Easter Road as the capital club played out a fraught 0-0 draw against Molde.

As the Scotland international, for so long a talisman in Leith, settled into his new surroundings at Aston Villa, his former teammates were turning in a fine showing and will travel to Norway next with buoyed by belief.

Neil Lennon’s side created the better opportunities, most notably with Stevie Mallan striking the woodwork and David Gray forcing a magnificent save from Andreas Linde, and restricted the visitors to such an extent that Ross Laidlaw did not have a solitary save to make.

This is a tie from which Hibs can progress and, with Dinamo Minsk demolishing Russian giants Zenit St Petersburg 4-0 in Belarus in the meeting of their prospective playoff round opponents, reaching the group phase does not seem quite as fanciful a prospect as it did at 7.45 p.m. last night.

As well as losing the irrepressible driving force of McGinn, Hibs were without number one goalkeeper Adam Bogdan, who was ruled out with a hip injury. Laidlaw came into the side for his first senior outing since a 4-2 defeat to Celtic in the Betfred Cup semi-final last October.

Molde had there own substantial absence to mitigate, with wonderkid Erland Håland in Austria completing a £6 million switch to Salzburg. He is set to be loaned back to them for the remainder of the campaign, so could yet have a say in this tie, but left a notable void in attack last night.

Hibs, by contrast, have had no issue with potency up front - finding the net 19 times in five games this term - and Mallan sent a warning shot across Molde bows after just six minutes when his stunning drive from distance rattled the cross-bar.

Mallan was in the mood and, never shy of a speculative effort, stung the palms of Linde from distance three times as the duo embarked on something of a private duel.

Molde were tidy and evidently comfortable on the ball but, on the rare occasions they threatened to carve the Hibees open, they found Paul Hanlon and young Ryan Porteous in prime position to make key interceptions.

When Daniel Chima, handed the onerous task of replacing Håland, did find precious space in the Hibees box, he could only direct a free header wide of the post.

Following a sleepy start to the second half, Hibs came agonisingly close to breaking the deadlock when Boyle latched onto an incisive Vykintas Slivka through-ball, only to slide the ball wide of the post.

From the resulting corner, David Gray saw a thunderous header brilliantly saved by Linde.

The Molde keeper was the hero again in stoppage time, making a fine low stop to deny debutant Emerson Hyndman who - less than 24 hours after joining on loan from Bournemouth - surged into the box and unleashed a low effort.