LINFIELD 4-0 BORAC BANJA LUKA 22.7.2021

The theme of this match was European History – past, present and hopefully future.

This match was always going to be historic, as it was Linfield’s first match in the new Euro Conference. It turned out to be one that would be talked about for years to come, regardless of what competition it was in.

Sadly, Linfield’s European past would become part of the story with the announcement earlier in the day of the death of Tommy Leishman, manager when Linfield reached the European Cup Quarter-Finals in 1967.

The future? Well, hopefully a place in the 3rd Round of the Euro Conference in a few weeks time.

If you’re curious about the opponents name, they take it from their home city of Banja Luka. Borac? That’s their nickname, The Fighters. Basically, a Bosnian version of Crusaders, although they turned up wearing something similar to Crystal Palace’s away kit from 2017-2018.

Despite not knowing much about them, the fact that they took serial Group Stage qualifiers Cluj to extra-time, and would have won if the Away Goals Rule was still in place meant that this should have been a difficult game for Linfield.

Linfield were straight on the attack, with Cameron Palmer getting taken out inside the first thirty seconds with a late tackle that had some members of the crowd shouting for a red card. Looking at the replay, they had some justification, but only a yellow was issued. So little time being on the clock probably did him a favour

From the play from the resulting free-kick, Linfield’s long wait (What? We’re an impatient bunch) for a goal in this competition came to an end, when Christy Manzinga’s header from a cross was saved, but Michael Newberry scored the rebound at the second attempt to become immortalised as an answer in every Linfield Supporters Club Quiz Night in the future, when they’re allowed to happen.

He will join Kirk Millar in that regard. Last goal before Irish League Football was suspended due to Coronavirus. You’ll thank me one day.

For Linfield, it wouldn’t be a case of shutting up shop after getting the early goal, they sensed there could be more in it for them.

Christy Manzinga got in behind Borac’s defence but was thwarted by a headed clearance from the keeper, who had to be alert to grab a low cross from Matthew Clarke a few minutes later. If he spilt it, it was going into his own net, or giving Manzinga an open net.

Chris Johns was then forced into his first save of the game, a low shot from six yards out that he got in the right position for. A warning for Linfield that one goal wouldn’t be enough.

That save proved to be even more important a few minutes later, when Christy Manzinga got one on one with a defender, cut in on his left foot, and smashed home to make it 2-0.

Sitting in The Kop, I had a clear view of it. As soon as he set himself up to shoot, there was only going to be one outcome.

Famous last words, but I was surprised at how bad Borac were, considering how well they did against CFR Cluj.

It almost got even better for Linfield, but Stephen Fallon curled a shot wide, but a thumbs up was the half-time verdict.

The abolition of the Away Goals Rule changes your perspective. Conceding a goal to make it 2-1 would have been inconvenient, but not potentially fatal, not that Linfield were planning it.

You would have expected a backlash for Borac at the start of the second-half, but it never materialised. In fact, Linfield looked quite comfortable.

That was, until midway through the half when Borac had a bit of pressure. The best opportunity they had was a shot easily saved by Chris Johns and a free header from a corner which went over.

They were left to rue that when Jamie Mulgrew was found in space on the edge of the box, and fired home low to make it 3-0.

There was me thinking he was to preserve his energy in his advanced (in footballing terms) years.

As the final whistle approached, Linfield had one final chance when Trai Hume made his way into the box and fired the ball over Borac’s keeper, only to be denied by a dramatic headed clearance from a defender.

The respite was only brief, as Jimmy Callacher headed home to make it 4-0. It wouldn’t be a goalfest without him.

Even as cautious and pessimistic as I usually am, surely that should be job done for Linfield?

Assuming they do, there will be no rest, with a 3rd Round tie against Shakhtyor Soligorst or Fola Esch.

Dare I dream of a Group Stage match against Hibs or Aberdeen giving me a trip to Scotland this year?

If Linfield do get through, the home leg will be 5th August, which is convenient, to avoid a clash with Chelsea v Villarreal on August 11th if that was on the 12th.

Just get through, don’t balls this up

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