A second-half goal from Valeriy Gromyko earned Shakhtyor a narrow victory over Hibernians in the first leg of the Europa League qualifier at the Shakhtyor Stadium, yesterday.
Shakhtyor were the most dangerous side on the field but failed to capitalise on their chances as they will return to the second leg in Malta with a slender advantage, next Thursday.
Stefano Sanderra’s side, on their part, put a solid display despite being their first competitive game of the season against a side who are already 14 games into their Belarussian championship.
Three players were handed a Hibs debut by coach Sanderra with Malta international Ferdinando Apap pairing with Andrei Agius at central defence while Leonardo Nanni and Terence Groothusen started up front, in a 4-1-4-1 tactical shape.
Late in the game, the Italian tactician deployed the other newcomer Jens Wemmer into the field, in an attempt to salvage a late draw.
Hibernians will be looking to cancel the one-goal deficit to advance into the second qualifying round of the Europa League for the first time, come next week.
The first noteworthy action of the game came through Jake Grech who let fly a shot from the edge of the area but his effort sailed over the bar.
However, the home team started to pile the pressure on the Maltese side and they replied through Aleksandr Savichko who failed to head the ball into the net.
Moments later, Yuri Kovalev squandered another chance for the hosts when he missed the target from close-range.
Hibs were looking to inch up their way on the field and they had another chance through Nanni but his effort was blocked by Andrey Klimovich.
The biggest chance of the first 45 minutes fell on the feet of Max Ebong, but he surprisingly sent the ball wide from inside the eighteen-yard box.
Although Shakhtyor were struggling to break down Hibernians’ defensive line, marshalled by the impeccable Andrei Agius, the hosts were being a constant threat from set-pieces even though they failed to forge ahead as the first half ended in a goalless stalemate.
After the change of ends, the Belarussian side made two tactical changes in order to have more offensive numbers on the field.
Gromyko came close when his close-range effort went inches wide but he was not to be denied on minute 68 when he put his side one up.
Kovalev sent an inviting ball into the box on which Gromyko connected to send the ball past Marko Jovicic.
The goal was greeted with relief by the home side as they were looking to double their lead and secure qualification on home soil.
Elis Bakaj and Julius Szoke could have doubled their team’s lead by they could not capitalise on their chances.
Late in the game, Wemmer had a towering header go wide while skipper Bjorn Kristensen hit a long-distance shot but he could not send it past Shakhtyor’s custodian as the hosts held on to their one-goal lead.
SHAKHTYOR: A. Klimovich; S. Matveychik, I. Burko, A. Savichko, N. Antic, J. Szoke, Y. Kovalev, V. Gromyko, M. Ngome (46 N. Tatarkov), V. Khvashchinski (46 N. Yanush), E. Bakaj.
HIBERNIANS: M. Jovicic; F. Apap, M. Barbosa, A. Agius, T. Desira, D. Vella, L. Nanni (89 K. Xuereb), J. Mbong, B. Kristensen, J. Grech (74 J. Wemmer), T. Groothusen.