Hibernian’s Europa League hopes remain in the balance after a goalless draw against Norwegian side Molde in the first leg of their third qualifying round tie at Easter Road.
Stevie Mallan twice threatened in the first half, while Martin Boyle poked the ball wide after the break.
Then captain David Gray’s header almost sneaked in at the near post after a fumble from the goalkeeper.
For Molde, Daniel Chima and Babacar Sarr both missed with headers.
Despite Hibs’ frustration at failing to find the net, Neil Lennon’s side travel to Norway for the second leg next Thursday knowing an away goal may be all it takes to secure a place in the play-off round.
The winner of the tie may well avoid former Uefa Cup winners Zenit St Petersburg, too, after the Russians suffered a shock 4-0 away defeat at the hands of Dinamo Minsk of Belarus in their first leg.
A cagey affair
For Hibs, it was the beginning of life without midfielder John McGinn, who had moved to English Championship side Aston Villa 24 hours earlier.
Two of the successors to his throne – Mallan and Vykintas Slivka – had early efforts, and Mallan later thumped another long-range attempt which goalkeeper Andreas Linde did well to tip away.
However, Molde settled into the game after that early flurry. A neat through ball cut the defence open and, after a cut-back, Paul Hanlon had to intervene to hook the ball away from near the goal line.
Molde were showing good movement, looking comfortable in possession and keeping Hibs on edge. As the game wore on they began to take more of a foothold, and Chima wrestled free of his marker at a corner but headed wide.
Lennon’s side were edging the exchanges, but were not creating too much in the final third – save for the odd burst down the wing. However, Hibs upped the tempo after a slow start to the second half.
Slivka’s fine through ball was almost prodded in by Boyle, with the ball going just past a post. Minutes later Gray’s powerful header was almost fumbled into the net by Linde.
Florian Kamberi then headed into the path of Boyle, but his shot was blocked.
The Premiership side could not find the goal they craved and, at the other end, Sarr could have put the visitors in front but hurriedly headed into the ground.
Emerson Hyndman entered the fray for his Hibs debut, and forced a save in the dying stages on the half volley.
‘Real hope of progressing’
BBC Scotland reporter Brian McLauchlin at Easter Road
At times the fixture looked more like a game of chess than a game of football. Both teams cancelled each other out, with chances few and far between.
Questions were also answered about how Hibs would cope without their talisman McGinn. Slivka looked solid without much creativity, while Mallan once again showed what a shrewd buy he will prove to be.
Next week’s return on the north-west coast of Norway will undoubtedly be another stern test for Lennon’s side. However, Hibs will hope they can snatch an away goal and give themselves real hope of progressing to the final stage of qualifying for the Europa League.