As Hibs begin life after McGinn...
Improving Rangers ready for step up in class
Steven Gerrard is well aware of the threat posed by Maribor (pic: SNS Group)
Rangers’ progress under Steven Gerrard is set to be tested to the full when Maribor visit Ibrox in the Europa League third qualifying round.
The Gers successfully negotiated ties against Macedonian outfit Shkupi and Osijek of Croatia to set up the meeting with the Slovenian league leaders.
Although not getting carried away with his new-look side’s development, Gerrard has been pleased with how things have gone so far as he targets the play-offs in the next round.
A better gauge of just where the team is, however, will come in the 90 minutes against Dirko Milanic’s side, which possesses goal threats throughout the team.
“They are a good team, they have a bit of Champions League experience, will be feeling very confident so they come to Ibrox in a good place,” said the Rangers boss.
“We will have two very difficult tests against Maribor and we have a lot of respect for their manager and their team and the challenge in front of us.”
Gerrard has made 11 signings as he rebuilds the Rangers team, the latest arrival left-back Borna Barišić from Osijek. The defender is ineligible for the tie having faced Rangers in the previous round.
Ryan Jack is also likely to miss the first leg against the team which has seen off Rangers, Celtic, Hibs and Aberdeen in the last eight years in European competition.
“It will be a difficult challenge,” added Gerrard.
Neil Lennon: can’t replace McGinn (pic: Terry Murden)
Lennon admits McGinn loss weakens Hibs
Molde’s visit to Easter Road will give Hibs the first taste of life without John McGinn after the midfielder signed for Aston Villa in a deal said to be worth £2.75 million.
Coach Neil Lennon admitted: “I can’t replace John. I’d need to bring in a £20,000 a week player and I can’t do that. The challenge is for me to motivate the players and say ‘who’s next?’ and ‘can you play without John McGinn?’
“We are weaker, there’s no question about that, but that happens in football.
“Molde’s European record over the years is pretty impressive. Technically, they’re good, they’re fit, midway through their season, and they’ve got a good mentality.
“They are very good outfit in the way they play the game, but they’re beatable – even if we’re hampered by the loss of a very important player.”
His opposite number, former Manchester United star Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, believes the hosts will still be a tough nut to crack even without their midfield talisman.
“I don’t think Hibs will be a lot different,” he said. “This team are very good at home, loads of enthusiasm, supporters behind them.
“The main goal is to get into the group stage. If we come away with an away goal and a chance to win at home, we’re happy.”
Lennon welcomes back striker Florian Kamberi for the first-leg clash, while new arrival Emerson Hyndman could feature if international clearance arrives in time. Thomas Agyepong will watch from the sidelines as authorities process his visa application.
McGinn ready for next stage
John McGinn revealed a trip to Villa Park helped convince him the move was right, amid persistent interest from Celtic.
“It’s been a crazy few days, but I sat in the stand at Villa Park and I could imagine myself playing out there. It felt right,” he said.
“It’s a Premier League club and deserves to be there. Everyone in the Championship has that aim. For some of them, it’s a fantasy, but here there is a real ambition that it could happen.
“We’re under no illusions, but the way the club is going is something that’s great to be a part of.
“I was walking around the Edinburgh Fringe Festival when I got the call on Monday and flew down. I got a really good feeling about the place and I can’t wait to get started.”
McGinn, a Scottish League Cup winner with St Mirren in 2013, joined Hibs from the Paisley side two years later.
He helped the Edinburgh club end their 114-year wait to lift the Scottish Cup in 2016, and was part of the team that clinched promotion to the top flight the following season.
Former Hibs teammate Efe Ambrose told the BBC that McGinn has the potential to lead the Scotland national team.
Strong Hibs performances earned nine-cap McGinn his Scotland debut two years ago, and Ambrose expects him to emerge as a force for the national side.
“He has the quality to be the future star of Scotland,” Ambrose said.
Nigeria defender Ambrose, 29, is confident losing the pivotal McGinn will not affect Hibs’ performances.
“Everybody wants to keep a player like John, but we have others that can fill his shoes,” Ambrose added.