There was no shortage of drama as Hibernian got the upper hand in their Europa Conference League clash with Santa Coloma thanks to a Martin Boyle brace and Kevin Nisbet attack.
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 that it would be a tough night for the Leith side.
Hibernian defeated Santa Coloma 3-0 in the first leg of their second Europa Conference League qualifier
There was no shortage of drama with Joe Newell being sent home in the 31st minute
But Boyle’s second eased the nerves and Kevin Nisbet added brilliance to the score, with the ill-disciplined Andorran side taking two men off the field in the second half.
Jack Ross’ squad will now head to Estadi Nacional for the second leg of Thursday’s second qualifying round, confident that they will reach the next leg, when they will likely face Croatian HNK Rijeka.
There were no surprises in Hibernian’s starting XI as Ross opted for his tried and true set-up.
There was a return to competitive starting action in a green jersey – a first since last August – for Scott Allan after heart problems and a subsequent loan spell at Inverness.
His night was only to last half an hour, however, as he made way for Kyle Magennis in a tactical substitution after Newell’s sacking.
As expected, both Josh Doig and Christian Doidge were only deemed fit enough for a seat on the bench after 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 cornered that night in Norway in a 3-0 loss to Molde, for whom the unstoppable Erling Haaland – now one of the world’s most coveted strikers – scored twice.
Hibs got a penalty when Miguel Angel Ramos against Kevin Nisbet. clattered
Martin Boyle stepped up to coolly slide the ball into the bottom corner to bring his side forward
Thursday’s visitors, however, were not of the same caliber and this should have been a more comfortable evening than what happened.
Santa may be Andorra’s most successful team with 13 league titles under their belt, 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 onto the pitch was a timely reminder of Easter Road’s status as one of the country’s most atmospheric stadiums.
During the early exchanges, there was also plenty to get excited about.
No fewer than four openings were created in the first six minutes.
Danny Mackay would have been disappointed that his balance failed him when he was chasing a Nisbet movie and the danger was eventually passed.
Boyle’s low cross then had no takers, but it was a sign of Hibs’ intent to hold the traveling team back.
Santa’s propensity to play out from the back also played right into Hibs’ hands, with the home side often squeezing the ball into dangerous areas.
Santa Coloma had two players sent off in the second half for losing their cool
Nisbet headed wide before the home side let their dominance count with the opener from the penalty spot.
Coloma goalkeeper Miguel Angel Ramos chased his own punched distance from Newell’s corner before carelessly clattering into Nisbet.
Boyle got up and cooled an effort in the bottom corner.
It all looked rosy for Hibs. That was until Newell received an outright red card in the 29th minute from Icelandic referee Vilhjalmur Thorarinsson after swallowing Ramos to block his consent.
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 with Newell, he duly did so by flashing his red card.
The hosts were naturally stunned by the decision and in the minutes that followed they seemed to lose their cool as the Andorrans, bolstered 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 fired a shot from close range on target.
Nisbet himself came on the scoresheet with a neat finish from the penalty area in the 80th minute
The Hibs fans took their seats at the start of the second half and wondered how unnerving the next 45 minutes would be.
But tension in the stadium was lifted when Boyle scored his second within two minutes of the restart.
He drove to the Coloma defenses before firing a deflected drive past Angel Ramos’ desperate outstretched arms.
Boyle was turned upside down on the sidelines moments later in a challenge not too much like the one that warranted a red card for Newell. Hibs boss Ross made that point angry to the fourth official after defender Juanma Miranda was only given a warning.
The Icelandic referee then sent Hamza Ryahi off the field in the 66th minute for a last-man challenge to Boyle, before giving Ramos a second yellow card six minutes later when the away side ended up with nine men.
Hibs were now the team in the lead and Nisbet added a third with a neat finish from the penalty area 80 minutes into the game.