Referee Rob Hennessy must be one of the most unpopular people in Malta right now.
Hibernians were right on the verge of becoming the first ever Maltese team to reach the play-off stages of a UEFA competition. After beating FC Riga in Latvia, Hibs only had to achieve a draw or better at home to set up a play-off tie against Gibraltar’s Lincoln Red Imps.
And if they did end up beating the Imps, they would have found themselves in the group stages of the UEFA Conference League, where they could have found themselves playing against the likes of Tottenham Hotspur, Roma and Feyenoord.
However, yesterday’s game turned out to be a perfect nightmare for Hibs, with practically every major decision going against them.
A highlight reel of the goals can be found here
View this post on Instagram
It all started in the first minute when Hennessy awarded Riga a penalty, but Hibs goalie Ibrahim Kone saved Ivan Paurevic’s shot.
Riga opened the scoring in the 49th minute through Jean-Baptiste Leo but Hibs equalised 10 minutes later thanks to a curling shot from Malta international Jurgen Degabriele.
Then, in the last few minutes, all hell broke loose.
Degrabriele scored a second goal but it didn’t count as the linesman deemed it to be offside, with replays showing it was an extremely controversial decision, to put it mildly.
Hennessy then awarded a whopping seven minutes of injury time and right towards the end, Ivan Paurevic scored a header to take the match to extra time.
Naturally, chaos broke out on the Hibs bench, culminating in the ref sending off two Hibs players – Jake Grech and Bjorn Kristensen – as well as coach Stefano Sanderra.
Forced to play an extra 30 minutes with nine men, it was mission impossible from here on out, and indeed Riga scored two goals in extra time to set up a game with the Imps.
It was truly heartbreaking, not only for Hibs but for all Maltese football fans, who put aside their individual club differences knowing that a local team had a chance of making it all the way to the group stages.
Hibs weren’t afraid to let everyone know their opinion of the referee’s decisions, denouncing them as “disgraceful”.
And Bjorn Kristensen wrote two words on social media, which really summed up how most Maltese football fans felt – “daylight robbery”.
Maltese politicians also weighed in, with Home Affairs Minister Byron Camilleri describing the ref’s decisions as “dubious” and PN MP Jason Azzopardi, who is also Hibs’ honorary president, shouting at the refereeing officials from the stands.
And Replay journalist Matthew Mamo didn’t mince his words in his criticism of the referee.
Do you think Hibs were robbed last night?