Linfield hosted Spartak Trnava at Windsor Park aiming to overcome a 2-1 first leg defecit, and in doing so, reach the 3rd Round of the UEFA Cup, something they had narrowly failed to do in the previous two seasons.
Supporters arriving in the North Stand will have noted new seats, both in design and colour, as the North Stand is now synced to look like the Railway Stand and South Stand, as the redevelopment of Windsor Park gathers pace.
There was a slow start to the game, with not a lot happening in the early moments. As the half went on, Spartak Trnava were nervous in defence. So nervouse, that their defenders were Linfield’s best attacking outlet at times.
Aaron Burns intercepted a loose pass, running down the wing, but Trnava were able to clear the cross. It was a sign of encouragement for Linfield.
Frequently during the half, Trnava gave the ball away and lost soft tackles. They were giving Linfield a lot of the ball, but not a lot of clear scoring opportunities.
Guy Bates was causing problems for an already nervous Trnava defence, forcing them into mistakes and conceding cheap throws and possession.
There was a penalty shout when Bates went down in a tussle with a defender. I didn’t get a clear view of it. The referee said no.
Stephen Lowry had a shot at goal, created by Bates, which hit the post, a Trnava player, and landed straight in the goalkeeper’s arms.
Lowry had better luck later on when he fired home in the penalty area after a scramble. Linfield now had the lead on away goals.
Linfield were the better team in the first-half without dominating. All they had to do now was hold out for 45 minutes.
Trnava didn’t offer much in the first-half. Most of their attacks came down their right, which Linfield managed to deal with. Their best chance came when a header was well saved by Ross Glendinning.
Trnava were on the attack immediately in the second-half, it was a sign of intent, that this would be a different team Linfield would be facing.
Linfield needed to keep it 1-0 for as long as possible and frustrate Trnava. They weren’t able to, as a strike from outside the box made it 1-1 on 53 minutes.
It didn’t change a lot in the tie, if Linfield made it 2-1 the tie would have gone to extra-time, but it swung the momentum in Trnava’s favour.
Linfield were shellshocked, but managed to recover to have some attacks, one of which brought a goal. Unfortunately, it came for Trnava.
A defensive header denied a certain Linfield goal, Trnava counter-attacked and scored within seconds.
It’s easy to say that Stephen Lowry should have fouled his opponent with hindsight. If he did, people would have complained about him picking up a soft foul on the by-line of the halfway-line.
In truth, it wasn’t Lowry not fouling that was the cause of Trnava’s second goal, it was the pace and power of the run. When he was one on one with only Glendinning to beat.
From being hopeless in defence to ruthless in attack in the space of 15 minutes. Trnava dealt Linfield a harsh lesson.
Trnava hit the post a couple of times soon afterwards and showed their class in attack. The tie was over, Linfield were now crying to hang in there and avoid a thrashing.
Linfield had a chance to equalise when a Trnava offside trap from a free-kick failed, allowing Chris Hegarty to be through on goal. He didn’t realise it, and his cross was behind the two strikers running in.
Soon after, there was a Trnava red card for a second yellow. Nobody in Windsor Park believed that Linfield could use the one man advantage to get the 3 goals that would send them through.
Trnava made sure of the tie with 10 minutes remaining, when they passed Linfeld to death, breaking through Linfield’s defence, before an attacking player rolled the ball into an empty net.
For all their good attacking play, Trnava were suspect in defence. Their goalkeeper flapped a high ball to present Aaron Burns with a half-chance, but they managed to get bodies in the way.
Ross Clarke got in behind their defence but fired over when clean through.
After that, the game fizzled out and reached it’s inevitible conclusion.
Linfield didn’t push Trnava as far as they pushed Xanthi and AIK, but it’s still frustrating having been 45 minutes away from glory.
Trnava gave Linfield a lesson on why you need to be ruthless in front of goal.
Now Linfield’s attention turns to domestic matters, and the visit of Ballymena United to Windsor Park on 8th August.
The day before the match, I received some good news in the form of an e-mail informing my that my application for Euro 2016 tickets was partially successful, getting a ticket for a Group E match in Stade De France on 13th June from the 3 matches I applied for.
To say i’m delighted is an understatement.
This weekend sees the draw for the 2018 World Cup Qualifiers. Of the top seeds, i’m hoping for an away match against England on a Sunday night in March 2017. A weekend in London, see a League One or League Two match before going to Wembley.
If not England, then Wales. Same again, away match on a Sunday night in March 2017. Assuming it’s in Cardiff, go to see Newport County, Bristol Rovers or Bristol City (if they get relegated) on the Saturday.
So Linfield’s European bid ends with yet another heroic defeat. Here’s hoping that next season’s heroic exit is in the European Cup rather than the UEFA Cup.