After seeing off B36 last week, there wasn’t time for Linfield to relax, as they faced another, but vastly superior, Nordic opponent, in the face of AIK at Mourneview Park.
The match, was Linfield’s 100th in European competition. It was Swedish opposition they faced in the 1st.
(In case you’re wondering why an even numbered milestone is in a first leg tie, it’s because the second leg of a match against Vorwarts wasn’t played, as the East German side had Visa issues)
It might have been as high profile as a European Cup Quarter-Final, or as headline grabbing as beating European Cup Winners Cup holders Manchester City, but it was a worthy result and performance for the occasion.
Scandinavian opponents are quite common for Linfield in Europe. In fact, there’s been matches against Swedish teams in the last decade, against Halmstad (2005) and Elfsborg (2007) which have brought hope, and ultimately heartbreak.
Matches against Norwegians and Danes such as Rosenborg (2010), Randers (2009) and Viking (2002) weren’t much better. Don’t even start me on Copenhagen.
Having lost at this stage in extra-time to Skoda Xanthi, there was a desire amongst players and fans to better that. There was a bigger crowd than last week, with most of the stand Linfield usually use being filled. We were even allowed to sit as far as the corner flag at the Crescent End, such as the demand for tickets.
AIK brought a couple of hundred fans, situated in the traditional home end, very noisy, indulging in vocal sparring with Linfield fans.
There wasn’t really much to the first ten minutes, but Linfield came more into it, having a few situations and winning a few corners and attacking free-kicks.
In games like this, you often look at milestone minutes, at keeping the score 0-0. With each passing minute, it became more about “Can we take the lead?” as opposed to “Can we keep it 0-0?”
Linfield’s best chance came when Peter Thompson got behind the defence but fired over. Despite having a couple of defenders chasing him, it looked like a great chance. We’re all Lionel Messi on the terraces (or, in the case of Mourneview Park, stand) aren’t we?
As the second-half began, the feared backlash from AIK didn’t materialise, as Linfield continued to hold their own.
There were no clear cut chances, but situations and shots at goal. The ball was just not bouncing for Linfield. Crosses were just going wide, shots weren’t going where they should have.
It looked like being a frustrating night, that could be ruefully look backed on in seven days time.
Linfield’s best attacking moment came when a Sean Ward shot from the edge of the penalty area was saved and put behind of a corner. Seeing how the players were endeavoring to take a lead to Sweden, the crowd raised the voices in appreciation.
Most of Linfield’s support where in the stand they usually sit at Mourneview. All bunched together, it helped to create and atmosphere that would spur the players on.
When playing higher ranked opponents, you always fear they will score with every attack they have, even if they haven’t done anything in the game to merit that fear.
AIK’s best attacking moment saw them hit the post, only for Chris Hegarty to block the rebound. It summed up one of the more noticeable aspects of the early games of Feeney’s Linfield – that extra percentage.
In the B36 game, Aaron Burns strove to play a wide cross back across the penalty area, and was rewarded with an assist. Earlier in the AIK game, Michael Carvill pressurised a defender shepherding the ball out for a goal kick, and ended up winning possession in AIK’s penalty area and kept an attack alive, albeit, it eventually came to nothing.
Games are decided on such small margins. IF AIK went 1-0 up, despite not playing well, they would have seen the game out and taken a lead, and away goal(s) to Sweden.
Just when it looked like being a frustrating 0-0, Linfield got the winner. A goal kick up the field was flicked on to Andrew Waterworth. He got a space away from his defender. He wouldn’t have been able to get a run on goal, he had to hit it first time, which he did.
Mourneview Park went wild as players ran to the stand where Linfield fans were. Linfield supporters on the grass bank behind the goal walking towards the exits celebrated. A valuable lesson learnt about why you should never leave a football match early.
The goal, was a smash and grab. The result, was anything but.
AIK’s fans weren’t slow in showing their displeasure at their team’s performance. Linfield fans, applauded their team off the pitch.
A lead and a clean sheet going to Sweden. We have a chance. More than many people thought we’d have at the halfway stage of the tie.