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Hibernians fall in third round for second year

Yunusa Muritala tries to reach the ball with a header against FK RFS. Photo: Domenic Aquilina

Malta champions Hibernians failed to make history and advance into the play-off round of the UEFA Europa Conference League for the second straight year.

Two late goals from Serbian forward Andrej Ilic handed FK RFS of Latvia a 3-1 win as they are the ones that will face Linfield in the play-offs.

For this game, Hibernians’ coach Andrea Pisanu deployed Zachary Grech instead of the absent Thaylor who was sent off in the first leg.

On the other hand, the Latvian side deployed their best formation as they were at the back of home defeat in the
domestic top-flight.

The Latvian champions dominated proceedings from the start, pegging Hibernians back into their own half as the Maltese side was looking to catch their opponents on the break. The Paolites, though, never really posed a threat to FK RFS throughout the first 45 minutes.

Andrea Pisanu’s side stayed organised and compact with FK RFS failing to make their pressure count, even though they were trying to make inways from the left half-space.

Three minutes from the break, forward Andrej Ilic met a cross with a towering header but Ibrahim Kone managed to grab hold of the ball.

Just before half-time though, Kone could do nothing to deny Petr Mares from the penalty as the Czech fullback put the Latvian side ahead.

Gonzalo Llerna’s challenge on Mares inside the penalty area was deemed offensive by the match official amid the frustration of the Hibernians fans in the stands.

Hibernians enjoyed a bright start to the second half with Gabriel Artiles with a close-range effort just to see the ball glance the outside post.

FK RFS replied through a Mares long-range freekick but failed to hit the target before Hibernians’ midfielder Ali Diakite tried his luck from the edge of the area but his effort was in vain.

Hibernians’ goalkeeper Kone came to the rescue for the Paolites with two brilliant stops on Kevin Friesenbichler and Cedric Kouadio.

Dunstan Vella had a brilliant curling effort going inches as the hosts were looking to inch their way up the field as the half wore on.

Twenty minutes from time, Hibernians were handed a glorious opportunity to level terms when a Jake Grech’s cross was handled inside the penalty area.

The Paolites midfielder took charge of the penalty and managed to beat FK RFS’ goalkeeper to the delight of the Hibernians fans.

Moments later, Grech came close to putting Hibernians ahead with a fierce first-timer with the FK RFS goalkeeper blocking into a corner.

Nonetheless, FK RFS found a second through Ilic who beat Kone from close range after the Hibernians goalkeeper had blocked an Emerson effort from long range.

Four minutes from time, Ilic added another one for the Latvian side to dash Hibernians’ hopes of making it into the play-off round.

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