Usually, when Linfield exit the European Cup in July, that’s it, European Football is over for another season. But not now.
A rule change in 2018 means that teams who go out of the European Cup in the 1st Round now drop into the UEFA Cup, joining at the 2nd Round stage, which is where Linfield were paired with HB Torshavn.
Facing opposition from the Faroe Islands isn’t a new experience for Linfield, however, it was for David Healy, as Linfield’s previous meetings with Faroese sides from 2012 to 2015 came under the management of David Jeffrey and Warren Feeney.
Those four ties brought four wins for Linfield. To give them even more optimism, in the three games they played at Windsor Park, they didn’t concede a goal, a statistic that would send them through following a 2-2 draw in the Faroe Islands in the first leg.
I didn’t see any of the first leg action, but the text commentary suggested that Linfield were thankful to Rohan Ferguson, making his debut after signing on loan from Motherwell as cover for Gareth Deane, for making a series of saves.
Despite that, the draw was frustrating, having got off to a perfect start with a goal after a minute, as I left work with a spring in my step after checking the score before I left. Seriously, who schedules football matches for 4.45pm on a Tuesday afternoon?
Even more so, going 2-1 up with a few minutes to go.
Early Linfield pressure didn’t result in the goal the home fans craved. The best moment came when Andrew Waterworth got in behind HB’s defence, only to see his low shot saved by the HB keeper.
HB then began to have some possession of their own, giving moments of concern for Linfield, the most concerning being a shot which beat Rohan Ferguson but flashed just wide of the post. From where I was sat, at the opposite end, I thought it was in.
On 20 minutes, Linfield got the opportunity to get themselves in front when Joel Cooper was fouled for a penalty.
In the minutes prior, Linfield and especially Cooper, had started to get a lot of joy down the left, and a neat passing move played him in, getting ready to cross before he was fouled.
Having scored a penalty in the first leg, it would be Andrew Waterworth to take this spot kick.
Windsor Park fell silent as he stepped up to take the kick, it was like being at a Rugby match. Waterworth stepped up, and fired home.
Just about, he hit it as closed to the post without hitting the post. I initially thought that’s where the ball was going to end up.
It would be only goal Linfield would register in the first-half. The best, and most agonising moment, came when a low cross from Joel Cooper just evaded Andrew Waterworth.
Jordan Stewart had a goalbound shot blocked by a HB defender, as Linfield searched for that elusive second goal. They needed it.
The inability to get it almost came back to haunt Linfield when a poor backpass from Chris Casement, who wasn’t even looking, fell to a HB forward whose first time shot went wide.
I don’t think he realised how much time he had. He could have controlled it and/or gone round the keeper. It was a lucky escape for Linfield.
Linfield were able to hold out for a 1-0 win.
There wouldn’t be much time to rest, with a quick turnaround, and a trip to Montenegro just five days later, a game that would result in a 2-1 win for Linfield away to Sutjeska.
It’s stating the obvious to say it is a great position for Linfield. Those two away goals are so vital, it means Sutjeska need to score twice at Windsor Park to have a chance of going through.
The scheduling of these two legs on a Tuesday works out well for Linfield in terms of a lack of disruption of Saturday games due to Thursday night games.
Linfield aren’t totally unaffected though, with the away match against Ballymena on August 13th being postponed.
There’s still nine months to slot that game in, so no panic. Obviously, it’s something that would need to be monitored if we progress further in Europe.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves and start dreaming of Gdansk, let’s take it one game at a time.
That’s not the second leg against Sutjeska, that’s the start of our title defence against Institute.
It’ll be important to get as many points on the board early on, especially with us already having a match postponed.