Apap 17; Degabriele 23; Muritala 90
LEVADIA TALLINN 2
Ugge 87; Agyiri 90
I. Kone, Z. Grech, G. Llerna, R. Soares, F. Apap, D. Vella, J. Grech (77 A. Attard), A. Diakite, G. Izquier, J. Degabriele, T. Groothusen (77 Y. Muritala).
K. Vallner, A. Pikk, M. Mitrovic, M. Ugge, R. Peetson (77 I. Antonov), B. Lepistu, M. Putincanin, M. Roosnupp, Z. Beglarishvili (77 M. Velijev), E. Agyiri, Liliu (52 R. Kirss).
Referee Volen Chinkov (Bulgaria)
Yellow cards Z. Grech, Lepistu, Llerna.
Hibernians hold the edge in their UEFA Conference League tie against Estonian side Levadia Tallinn as the Malta champions battled to a 3-2 win at the Centenary Stadium.
Defender Ferdinando Apap enjoyed an excellent return to the side when he headed the Paolites ahead on 17 minutes before Jurgen Degabriele, fresh from his MFA Player of the Year Award success, grabbed a second goal to put the Paolites firmly in control.
Levadia Tallinn managed to pull a goal back three minutes from time through Maximilian Ugge but the Paolites soon restored their two-goal lead through new signing Yunusa Muritala.
But the Maltese side failed to see off the remaining minutes as Agyiri scored a crucial second goal for Levadia deep into stoppage time that keeps the tie firmly open ahead of next week’s match in the Estonian capital.
Hibernians coach Andrea Pisanu restored the returning Ferdinando Apap back to his starting formation as the Malta international defender served his two-match ban and made his first appearance for the club in this season’s UEFA club competitions.
On the other hand, Andrei Agius and Bjorn Kristensen remained sidelined from this match as they must continue to serve suspension. Yunusa Muritala, the Nigerian striker who was presented as the club’s new signing on Monday, was named among the substitutes.
On the other hand, Levadia Tallinn had a familiar face to Maltese football in their starting formation as Brazilian striker Liliu, who enjoyed a successful spell with Birkirkara and then Gżira United a few years ago, led the Estonian side’s forward line.
Hibernians started brightly and after five minutes Gabriel Artiles failed to capitalise when the Levadia defence struggled to clear Jake Grech’s cross but the Spaniard fired into the sidenetting.
The Paolites kept pushing forward and on eight minutes Jake Grech turned past his marker and unleashed a powerful drive that flashed just wide.
Hibs’ dominance in the early stages was rewarded with a goal after 17 minutes.
Izquier’s cross did not find any takers but Zachary Grech quickly centred the ball into the path of Apap who had time and space to head firmly past Levadia goalkeeper Karl Vallner.
Levadia looked rattled and Hibernians went on to double their lead on 23 minutes.
Dunstan Vella made space for himself on the edge of the area and his curling drive came off the upright.
Groothusen was first on the rebound and he nodded the ball into the path of Degabriele who headed firmly into the net.
On the half hour mark, Groothusen had a good chance to put his name on the scoresheet but the Dutch forward failed to make contact with the ball following a Degabriele’s pass.
Levadia Tallinn tried to mount some sort of a reaction but Hibernians looked solid in defence and never gave a sniff at goal to their opponents.
Instead it was Hibernians who almost a third when Artiles pounced on a favourable rebound on the edge of the area and hit a low drive that flashed just past the upright.
Seven minutes from the break, Apap almost grabbed a second when he raced inside the area but was denied by the onrushing Vallner.
After the break, Levadia started to press more high up the pitch as they started to enjoy a higher percentage of possession but still they were struggling to create any sort of danger to the Hibernians defence.
Levadia finally had an attempt at goal close to the hour mark when from a Beglarishvili corner kick, Putincanin fired well over.
At the other end, Vallner denied Hibernians from adding a third goal when from a Degabriele corner kick, Diakite saw his dipping header somehow kept out by the Tallinn goalkeeper.
Twenty minutes rom time it was Levadia who came close when Ernest Agyiri raced clear and hit a thumping drive that was well pushed away by the diving Kone.
Hibs seemed to be happy to administer their advantage with Levadia Tallinn struggling to get hold of the ball.
However, the Estonians did manage to pull a goal back, which could be crucial in next week’s second leg, when from a corner action, Maximilian Ugge headed the ball past Kone.
But the Paolites quickly managed to restore their two-goal advantage when Muritala, who had earlier replaced Groothusen, turned past his marker and hit a firm drive past Vallner.
The Paolites failed to clear the ball inside their area and in came Ernest Agyiri who hammered the ball into the net to keep the tie wide open ahead of next week’s second leg.
Still, Hibernians failed to preserve their lead in the final stages of the match when Levadia grabbed a second goal.
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