THE first leg of the UEFA Conference League play-off between Hibernian and Aston Villa at Easter Road tonight was not so much a Battle of Britain as a Lament in Leith.

A sell-out crowd packed into the stadium despite the early evening kick-off time in the hope of seeing Lee Johnson’s side pull off a famous and improbable result against Unai Emery’s expensively assembled team.

However, Paul Hanlon and his fellow Hibs players conceded a hat-trick of  headers in the first-half and were effectively out of the competition as they traipsed dejectedly back to their dressing room at half-time.

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Matters did not improve for them in the second-half. David Marshall had to pick the ball out of his net on another two occasions before the final whistle blew. The rematch at Villa Park next week is now a pointless exercise. Here are five talking points from the encounter.


On the previous occasion that Hibs faced English opposition at home in a European fixture they had dished out a 1-0 defeat to a Liverpool team that contained Ray Clemence, Phil Neal and Kevin Keegan and was managed by Bob Paisley thanks to a Joe Harper strike.

Could the current side replicate the heroics of Turnbull’s Tornadoes in that UEFA Cup first round first leg match way back in 1975 and keep alive their hopes of reaching the group stage? Their fans were, as always, optimistic.

The Herald:  

The gulf in class, quality and even physicality between the Premier League down south and the Premiership was driven home during the 90 minutes. One-sided does not begin to describe it. The visitors took control of proceedings from kick-off and never relinquished it.  

The Villa fans who travelled up to Edinburgh in large numbers lapped up the dominant display by their men. They chanted: “Can we play you every week?” Their green and white-clad counterparts in the 19,306-strong attednance were grateful that meetings with such formidable foes are not a regular occurrence by the end.  

When Emery replaced Boubacar Kamara with Youri Tielemans in the second-half it underlined just what Johnson and his charges were up against.  


Des Bremner - the former Scotland internationalist who attained legendary status at both Hibs and Villa during his illustrious playing career – carried the match ball onto the park before kick-off and received warm applause from both sets of supporters.

How Johnson needed a midfielder with the former European Cup winner’s ability to close down attacks, break up play and protect the defence tonight.

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The visitors, who have lavished over £80m on new players during the summer, started with a strong side. Moussa Diaby, a £52m capture from Bayer Leverkusen, and Pau Torres, who cost £31.5m from Villarreal, were named in the line-up up front and in defence respectively.  

Diaby, the French winger, showed what a threat he posed in just the sixth minute when he supplied Lucas Digne at the far post with a diagonal ball. His team mate rose and got a downward header on target. Marshall was perfectly positioned and blocked the attempt with his legs. But it was very much a taste of what was to come.

The former Scotland goalkeeper, who is no stranger to facing top class English opposition from his time down south with Norwich City, Cardiff City, Hull City, Wigan Athletic and Derby County, then did well to hold a Diaby attempt which took a wicked deflection .

He could, however, do absolutely nothing about the opener. John McGinn burst forward into the area and picked out Watkins. The forward leapt above Paul Hanlon and Will Fish and sent a glancing header into the net off the inside of the right post. It was an exceptional finish.

The second and third, scored by Watkins again and Leon Bailey, were none too shabby either. Watkins bagged his third just three minutes after the second-half started after being supplied by Digne and after a lengthy VAR check had shown he was not offside. Douglas Luiz completed the rout from the penalty spot after Lewis Stevenson had tripped substitute Bertrand Traore.


Emiliano Martinez, the Villa goalkeeper who helped Argentina lift the World Cup back in December and picked up the Golden Glove award for his performances at Qatar 2022, has had busier evenings in his career.

Hibs, though, had their moments. Johnson played Martin Boyle, Dylan Vente and Elie Youan up front in the hope they could use their pace to good effect and do some damage to their opponents on the counter attack. The former certainly made his presence felt.    

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Boyle raced onto a Jordan Obita cross during the early exchanges and got a volley on target. His effort, however,  lacked power and failed to trouble Martinez. He was undeterred. He dispossessed Pau Torres, had a shot blocked by Diego Carlos and  drew a foul from Digne. His tireless endeavours, however, proved to no avail.  

Youan forced Martinez to tip over his crossbar when the second-half commenced. But the French forward would only have had a consolation goal to celebrate if the South American had not been so alert.   


Hibs fans booed their former player McGinn, just as the Scotland internationalist predicted when he spoke to the media on Monday, whenever he got on the ball. But the Villa captain enjoyed his return to the ground where he spent three years plying his trade and lifted the Scottish Cup. He marshalled is men with calm authority throughout.

The Herald:

“Meatball” is clearly enjoying a good spell of early season form – which augurs well for the national team ahead of their Euro 2024 qualifier against Cyprus in Larnaca and the friendly with England at Hampden next month.


This is Villa’s first foray into Europe in 13 long years. But their manager is no stranger to continental competition. The Spaniard won the Europa League three times with Sevilla and then lifted the trophy once again with Villarreal. Can he lead the Birmingham outfit to Conference League glory in the coming months. On this evidence, he very much can.