Having already taken over Northern Ireland, Ethan Devine has his eyes on taking over Europe. He’s already taken over Shropshire.
When the draw was made, The New Saints were seen as winnable, despite them beating Cliftonville and Glentoran in Europe in the past decade.
Even despite a 1-0 first leg defeat, the tie was still winnable.
I didn’t go to the game. If i’d known how close Oswestry was to Liverpool, I probably would have. Lesson learnt for future reference.
Radio Shropshire it was for me, albeit only for the last twenty minutes, and it seemed to be Attack v Defence, with Linfield doing all of the attacking.
That continued in the early minutes of the game, with Linfield being camped in TNS half. You felt like they might get an early goal. If they did, it would be so vital.
Kirk Millar had an inswinging free-kick that was easily saved by the TNS keeper, while he almost accidentally set up an opener when his low cross going straight to the keeper was slashed over the bar by a TNS defender, narrowly missing his own goal.
When it’s your night, that gets smashed right into the back of the net.
It wasn’t a great night for Millar. As well as poor delivery of set pieces, there were two instances of him collecting the ball when he was off the pitch. It seemed like it would be a matter of time before Jordan Stewart would be introduced.
Spoiler Alert – Things got a lot better for Millar in the next home game.
Daniel Finlayson was just unable to get his head on the end of a cross, before he eventually did, but his effort was easily saved by TNS keeper.
Finlyson then had another header where he made a cleaner connection, forcing TNS keeper into a save.
It was Linfield’s best attacking moment of the game, but it was another moment where they would be frustrated.
Robbie McDaid was next to be frustrated, this time with a header.
The cross was too high for a shot and too low for a header, but he had to pick one. He picked the header and the keeper made the save.
Chris Johns was also adept at saving headers, making a great one midway through the second-half to deny TNS from going 1-0 up on the night.
Even though there was still plenty of time left in the match, it was hard to see where Linfield were going to get the two goals to take it to extra-time, nevermind the three to win it. It was a huge save.
TNS did have occasional moments in Linfield’s attacking third, but nothing too troublesome. Well, apart from the big save that Johns had to make.
Jordan Stewart came on for Kirk Millar as Linfield continued to chase the goal that would at least bring extra-time.
They didn’t help themselves by being wasteful at set pieces.
A lot of them were straight to the keeper. Any that were of a decent height, were usually cleared by a defender.
Frustratingly, there was no deviation. It was inswingers every time. A big of variety would have been nice when it was clear this wasn’t working.
There was even more frustration when Jordan Stewart chipped an effort narrowly wide.
That sense of it being one of those night got even worse when Ethan Devine hit the top of the bar in the opening seconds of injury time.
If he can’t save Linfield, who can?
There would be six minutes of that injury time, which perked up the crowd.
Linfield still had time to at least take the tie to extra-time.
Halfway through that injury time, Linfield got the goal they craved, from an unlikely source.
Chris Johns had come up for a corner kick, but it wasn’t him who scored it.
The corner was cleared to Jamie Mulgrew, who smashed home from 25 yards out.
Windsor Park erupted in celebration.
Jamie Mulgrew usually makes things happen, but not that. Not that anybody in Windsor Park cared.
The momentum was all with Linfield now, it now felt there was only going to be one winner.
There was still enough time for it to come without the need for extra-time.
However, they couldn’t get a goal in the three minutes that remained, which meant they would have an extra thirty minutes to do so.
Just a few minutes into extra-time, Linfield went in front for the first time in the tie when Chris McKee kept in a through ball on the touchline, and played it back to Ethan Devine to finish from a few yards out.
Even though the Away Goals Rule has been scrapped, there was still a lot of anxiety amongst the crowd. What if TNS pull one back and level the tie?
That anxiety wasn’t helped when Joel Cooper went down injured when tracking back. You could hear a collective groan go around Windsor Park.
With all six permitted subs made, Linfield would be finishing the match with ten men.
As if the nervousness and anxiety inside Windsor Park couldn’t get any worse.
Thankfully, Linfield would see out the game and the tie, getting to the Second Qualifying Round of the European Cup for the first time, guaranteeing at least six more European games this season.
The difficulty setting would go up a level, with Euro Conference Quarter-Finalists Bodo/Glimt due in Belfast just six days after this game, meaning there would be little time to dwell on or celebrate this result.