Having decided to give Edinburgh Fringe a miss this year due to it going to be an absolute Covidfest, it would have taken something quite spectacular to change my mind and make me go.
Linfield playing Hearts in the UEFA Cup would count as something spectacular enough for me to go and navigate my way around Americans standing about in Pleasance trying to spot the Loch Ness Monster.
Unfortunately, a 2-0 home defeat to FC Zurich meant that dream died quicker than an Alex Salmond Chat Show in Assembly.
The frustrating thing was, Linfield could have been going to Switzerland level if they had taken their chances. A harsh lessons in fine margins at the highest level.
This was always going to be a step up for Linfield from Bodo/Glimt, who incidentally beat Zalgiris Vilnius 5-0 at home the night before.
FC Zurich had an Italian international in their starting line-up. An actual current one, not one in his 40s like La Fiorita in 2017.
They also lost their manager to Hoffenheim, and are beginning to adapt to life under former Austria manager Franco Foda.
During his time as Austria manager, Foda visited Windsor Park twice, winning in both 2018 and 2020.
He was hoping to secure a third successive biennial win in South Belfast, and then start making plans for 2024.
Foda would spend the opening minutes of the game worrying about halting Linfield’s momentum as the hosts made a bright start.
It looked like Linfield were going to get a dream start when Matthew Clarke primed to head home, only to be denied by a Zurich defender getting a touch to divert the ball away from him.
That would have been nice early birthday present for David Healy, the day before his 43rd birthday.
Kirk Millar was a few days away from turning 30, but would be watching this match from the stands after his red card against Bodo.
Within a few minutes, Linfield’s good start was undone when Zurich took the lead when Aiyegun Tosin was played through and made no mistake.
It was one of those, you just know he’s going to score as soon as he starts bearing down on goal.
Having just lost 8-0 to Bodo, you did fear that Linfield could still be scarred by that result. This had the potential to be a long evening.
Especially when they couldn’t get the ball for the next ten minutes. Thankfully, there were no clear opportunities for Zurich, but it looked like they were biding their time, waiting for that opportunity to come.
Thankfully, Linfield were able to hold out, and then found their feet in the game, the crowd reacted to it, giving the players a much needed energy boost.
It was as simple as winning a free-kick in Zurich’s half. They were able to kill the game for a few seconds, and have some territorial possession in the opposition half.
They almost made the most of it.
A free-kick fell perfectly to Robbie McDaid a few yards out, but Zurich’s keeper was able to make himself big.
I’m not sure McDaid realised how good a chance it was, he probably thought he had to hit it first time, expecting Zurich defenders to be swarming around him.
Sam Roscoe then headed across the six yard box but nobody in a blue shirt was able to get there first.
Another agonising moment of frustration for Linfield.
Eetu Vertainen then had a cross come shot that forced Zurich’s keeper into a save.
Zurich replied with a long range shot that went over the bar.
1-0 to Zurich at half-time, but a half in which Linfield held their own despite the early setback.
The teams left the pitch to the sound of Running Up That Hill on the tannoy, which is what it felt like Linfield were doing at times.
They were needing to reach some Wuthering Heights in the second-half to get something to take to Swtizerland.
A 1-0 home defeat wouldn’t have been terminal for Linfield, but you felt that they had to go to Switzerland at least level.
Getting a one goal win there could be doable if a lot of things fall into place, but a two goal win would be too much to ask for.
Linfield made a bright start to the second-half, with Eetu Vertainen having a low shot saved, but it was Zurich who almost scored on the counter, too many touches allowing Linfield to eventually clear the danger.
An injury to Robbie McDaid saw Joel Cooper introduced as a substitute, earlier than expected after being stretchered off against TNS three weeks previously.
David Healy wasn’t expecting him to be involved, stating so in his programme notes.
He was very much involved in all of Linfield’s attacks, getting in behind Zurich, making things happen for Linfield.
As soon as a Linfield player got the ball, they had sure they got the ball to him as quickly as possible.
Just as in the first-half, Linfield were left to rue not making the most of it when they had the ball, when Wilfried Gnonto got in behind Linfield’s defence and made no mistake to make it 2-0.
Similarity to the first goal, you just knew what the outcome would be as he headed towards goal.
He’ll be hoping that this goal will be enough for a place in the squad for Italy’s next match, a sentence you don’t normally write when describing a goal in a Linfield match.
That goal secured the match, and probably the tie, as the goal deflated Linfield.
They almost issued a response when a pull back found Stephen Fallon but he fired over.
At the time, I thought it was a shocking miss.
Looking back at the TV replays, i’m probably being too harsh, as he had a Zurich defender bearing down on him to try and block the shot.
If only it had went in, we might have had a grandstand finish.
We didn’t, and Zurich went home with a 2-0 win, their players heading to the North Stand to celebrate with a relatively sizeable (eight days notice of the match and nor direct flights) and very noisy away support, some of whom came home from Belfast with souvenir match worn shirts, thrown upwards by players who headed into the Bottom Deck of the North Stand.
It was always likely to be the case that Linfield’s best chance of Group Stage football would be the Euro Conference.
And so it proved, winning the second leg 3-0.
That means Linfield will face RFS of Latvia for group stage football in the Euro Conference.
One last push for one great prize
Pingback: 2022 IN PICTURES – AUGUST | Analogue Boy In A Digital World