There was no shortage of drama as Hibernian seized the upper hand in their Europa Conference League clash with Santa Coloma courtesy of a Martin Boyle brace and Kevin Nisbet strike.
Boyle scored either side of a 31st minute red card for Joe Newell after the midfielder caught Robert Ramos with a sliding tackle.
With a man advantage, the Andorrans briefly threatened to make it a tricky night for the Leith side.
Hibernian beat Santa Coloma 3-0 in the first leg of their Europa Conference League second qualifying fixture
There was no shortage of drama with Joe Newell sent off for the home side in the 31st minute
But Boyle’s second settled the nerves and Kevin Nisbet added gloss to the scoreline, with the ill-disciplined Andorran side having two men sent off in the second half.
Jack Ross’ side will now head to Estadi Nacional for next Thursday’s second qualifying round second leg confident of reaching the next stage, when they are likely to meet Croatians HNK Rijeka.
There were no surprises in Hibernian’s starting eleven as Ross opted for his tried and tested set-up.
There was a return to competitive starting action in a green jersey – a first since last August – for Scott Allan after heart issues and a subsequent loan spell at Inverness.
His night would only last half an hour, however, as he made way for Kyle Magennis in a tactical substitution following Newell’s dismissal.
As expected, both Josh Doig and Christian Doidge were only deemed fit enough for a place on the bench following their recent battles with Covid-19.
Paul Hanlon, Ryan Porteous, Martin Boyle and Lewis Stevenson were the only survivors of the Hibs team that last ventured into Europe some three years ago.
They were put to the sword that night in Norway in a 3-0 loss to Molde, for whom the irrepressible Erling Haaland – now one of the world’s most coveted strikers – scored twice.
Hibs were awarded a penalty when Miguel Angel Ramos clattered into Kevin Nisbet
Martin Boyle stepped up to cooly slot the ball into the bottom corner to put his side ahead
Thursday’s visitors, however, were not of the same calibre and this should have been a more comfortable evening than what transpired.
Santa may be Andorra’s most successful team with 13 league titles in the trophy cabinet, but they are invariably cannon fodder in European football.
Only 4,700 fans were allowed into Easter Road for the game but they made themselves heard; the roar of welcoming their heroes on to the pitch gave a timely reminder of Easter Road’s status as one of the country’s most atmospheric stadia.
There was plenty to get excited about, too, during the early exchanges.
No fewer than four openings had been created within the first six minutes.
Danny Mackay would have been disappointed that his balance let him down as he chased down a Nisbet flick and the danger was ultimately cleared.
A low whipped cross from Boyle then had no takers but it was a sign of Hibs’ intent to keep the travelling team pegged back.
Santa’s propensity for playing out from the back also played straight into Hibs’ hands, the home side often pinching the ball in dangerous areas.
Santa Coloma had two players sent off in the second half as they lost their composure
Nisbet headed wide before the home team made their dominance count with the opener from the penalty spot.
Coloma goalkeeper Miguel Angel Ramos chased down his own punched clearance from Newell’s corner before carelessly clattering in Nisbet.
Boyle stepped up and cooly planted an effort in the bottom corner.
It was all looking rosy for Hibs. That was until Newell was shown a straight red card by Icelandic referee Vilhjalmur Thorarinsson in the 29th minute after sliding in on Ramos to block his clearance.
The visiting defender may have been caught but he certainly made the most of it.
The Santa players then swarmed around the referee demanding punitive action and, after speaking to Newell, he duly obliged by flashing his red card.
The hosts were naturally stunned by the decision and in the minutes that followed they appeared to lose their composure as the Andorrans, buoyed by their numerical advantage, grew into the game.
Juanma Torres curled an effort from the edge of the box just wide of Matt Macey’s far post before Guillaume Lopez stabbed a close range shot off target.
Nisbet got on the scoreesheet himself with a neat finish from inside the box in the 80th minute
The Hibs fans took to their seats for the start of the second half wondering how nerve-racking the next 45 minutes would be.
But the tension inside the stadium was lifted when Boyle scored his second within two minutes of the restart.
He drove at the Coloma defence before firing a deflected drive beyond the despairing outstretched arms of Angel Ramos.
Boyle was upended moments later on the touchline in a challenge not too dissimilar to the one that warranted a red card for Newell. Hibs boss Ross angrily made that very point to the fourth official after defender Juanma Miranda was only cautioned.
The Icelandic referee then sent off Hamza Ryahi in the 66th minute for a last man challenge on Boyle before issuing a second yellow card to Ramos six minutes later as the away team finished with nine men.
Hibs were now the team in command and Nisbet added a third with a neat finish from inside the box in the 80th minute.
Source: Daily Mail