Hibernian’s hopes of reaching the Europa Conference League are as good as over after they were thumped 5-0 by Aston Villa in the play-off first leg at Easter Road.
The English Premier League side showed their quality throughout a difficult 90 minutes for Lee Johnson’s side, with Hibs on the receiving end of a scoreline they have almost no chance of overturning in the second leg next week.
Ollie Watkins scored a hat-trick, with Leon Bailey and Douglas Luiz also on the scoresheet as Unai Emery’s team began their European campaign in style.
Villa took the lead after just 17 minutes when Lucas Digne, who would go on to cause Hibs problems all night, found space to motor down the left and deliver a cross that Watkins headed high beyond David Marshall.
Moments later the striker had a chance to double his tally when John McGinn crossed but he headed over. Watkins didn’t have long to wait for further opportunities.
Hibs had a penalty claim just before the half hour mark when Martin Boyle went down in a challenge with Douglas Luiz but protests were waved away and the Easter Road side were soon on the back foot again.
Villa’s second came on 33 minutes. A corner was whipped in and flicked on by Diego Carlos, with Watkins slipping his marker to nod in at the back post.
Hibs were aiming to limit the damage and regroup at half-time but their English opponents effectively settled the tie before the break. Digne raced down the left again, and his deep cross was met by Bailey this time, another close ranger header finding the back of the net.
It only took three minutes after the restart for Villa to score again. Digne was the creator again, sweeping a pass into the path of Watkins and he snapped up his chance to get his hat-trick, finishing smartly beyond Marshall.
Villa were showing their class and creating chance after chance, with Hibs unable to live with the quality in front of them. Bertrand Traore was introduced from the bench and he enticed Lewis Stevenson into bringing him down in the box.
Douglas Luiz stepped up for the penalty and sent Marshall the wrong way from the spot.
A raft of changes from both sides brought fresh legs but little change to the direction of play, but Villa settled for five and can approach next week’s return leg in Birmingham knowing their place in the group stage draw is all but assure.