Hibernian manager Lee Johnson insists his side will relish their status as underdogs when they take on Aston Villa in Europa Conference League qualifying, but is adamant they are not simply there to make up the numbers.
The Leith side face English opposition in a European fixture for the first time in almost 50 years on Wednesday when they welcome the Premier League outfit to a sold out Easter Road.
Villa, managed by serial Europa League winner Unai Emery, took Everton apart on Sunday in a dominant 4-0 victory – which featured a goal by former Hibs hero John McGinn.
The Scotland international will make his first appearance at the stadium since swapping green and white for claret and blue in 2018, but while Johnson expects a hero’s welcome, he is urging his side to rise to the occasion in a bid to cause a monumental upset and reach the competition’s group stages.
“It’s not about the lads turning up for a bit of fun,” he said.
“We’re not expected to win, but it doesn’t mean we can’t win.
“We’ve got ourselves in a position to give us the chance if we give everything we’ve got to go and progress in the next round.
“It’s a huge challenge, you only have to add up the factors of budgets, international caps, wages. But his is eleven humans against eleven humans and we have to do everything we can to dominate as individuals.
“This will be a sell out at Easter Road, what we want to give the fans in terms of big European nights. It’s an exceptional experience for a lot of our younger fans and we just need everyone in full voice and full support.”
Breakaway goals from Elie Youan and Martin Boyle helped Hibs past Swiss side Luzern in Switzerland last week, a 2-2 draw on the night securing a 5-3 win on aggregate.
The French forward, a former teammate of Villa pair Boubacar Kamara and record signing Moussa Diaby at youth international level, has now fired three goals in his opening six games since joining permanently in the summer.
Johnson hoped his side can continue their purple patch on the counter attack and find weaknesses in the Villa backline.
“Every team has got weaknesses. We do have pace, we can capitalise in any weakness in the back line. The athleticism of English Premier League sides narrows the gap in terms of their pace, but we are quick by quick standards,” he said.
“The composure and the decision making is going to be absolutely key. We can’t be cheap with the ball, we have to show off our threats.
“It doesn’t matter if you are playing Aston Villa, Real Madrid, Raith Rovers; the decision making is key.”
He added: “All of our players are going to have to raise the bar. Elie has played as a France international all the way through the youth.
“He’s played with a few of the Villa players at that level. This is not an unusual level for him, for Martin Boyle, who would have gone to the World Cup; We’re not without experience and we’re at home, so we have to make that count.”
McGinn made more than 130 appearances for Hibs over a three year spell, helping the side lift the Scottish Cup for the first time in 114 years and restore their top flight status before departing for Villa Park.
Johnson said there were no “special plans” to keep the Villa captain under close attention, but trusted his players to be professional in dealing with the crowd favourite.
He said: “I’m sure he’ll get a wonderful reception.
“It’s not something that we’ve focused on, even though John was a fantastic player for Hibs and has gone down south and been fantastic as well.
“But when it comes to the game and when we cross the white line, I’m sure we’ll be focused on our own performance.”