Football can fuck right off sometimes. How on earth do you explain what happened here?
If you want to relive it, here you go.
Linfield headed back to Windsor Park from their trip to The Baltics with a 2-2 draw.
Under normal circumstances, you would have been happy about it, but when you’re leading 2-0 on 88 minutes, it’s hard to feel that way, especially when the abolition of the Away Goals Rule means the 2-2 draw didn’t give them that cushion.
The passing of seven days meant that was soon forgotten as fans arrived at Windsor Park, it was now a one-off game, win and go through, lose and go out, draw and it’s extra-time and possibly penalties.
It would be a game Linfield would be trying to win without Joel Cooper, missing through suspension.
The injury also highlighted that Linfield could do with an extra winger to the squad.
Linfield would have been wary of the fact that RFS got through to this tie by winning away from home in the second leg after drawing at home.
Attacking The Kop, they set out to get an early goal, to unsettle their opponents.
That early pressure was almost rewarded when Robbie McDaid glanced a header goalwards, but the RFS keeper was able to save.
RFS responded immediately with a scuffed shot that was blocked by Ben Hall and a bicycle kick that went over the bar.
Linfield were next to be frustrated when Robbie McDaid was unable to get on the end of a Stephen Fallon cross. If he did, it was 1-0.
Soon after, it looked like Sam Roscoe would be getting that vital goal when he glanced a header at a free-kick, but it was straight at RFS keeper. Either side, and it was 1-0 to Linfield.
Even at this early stage, if Linfield could get into a lead, they could use it as a springboard to win this game quite comfortably.
Robbie McDaid was next to be frustrated with a glancing header. Over the bar this time. If he was a few yards back, it would have looped in.
I actually thought he was offside but there was no flag raised.
And then McDaid again with another glanced header, this time forcing RFS keeper into a low save.
The first-half couldn’t bring a goal for either team.
Despite RFS having a few sights at goal, Linfield were the better team. If they kept at it for the next 45 minutes, they would surely win the game and the tie.
There was a half-time change for Linfield. Not an attacking one though, it was Jimmy Callacher coming on for Ben Hall, who I presume was injured. One back and one out.
Within the opening few minutes of the second-half, he got on the end of a free-kick but just headed over.
Kirk Millar soon got on the end of a cross instead of firing in the cross, but a RFS defending was able to get in the way at the expense of a corner. The pressure was building. It needed to have a goal to show for it.
After all those attacks, it looked like Linfield were going to be gifted a goal when RKS tried to play it out from the back, losing possession to Robbie McDaid but the keeper came out and made himself big.
From the rebound, it looked like Kirk Millar was going to pick it up and smash it in, but as he flicked it over the keeper, Robbie McDaid headed wide.
It’s an easy game in the stand, but why didn’t he just leave it for Millar?
McDaid is doing everything but score. He’s not hiding from getting the ball.
The goals will come, they just weren’t going to come tonight.
It was by far, Linfield’s best chance of the night.
Possibly the oldest cliche in football is that if you don’t take your chances, it can come back to bite you. Linfield almost fell victim to that.
Santana got in behind Linfield’s defence, through on goal.
Just as Windsor Park was about to be silenced, Chris Johns made himself big and made the save. It was celebrated like a goal.
The get an actual goal that Linfield fans could celebrate, David Healy brought on Ethan Devine and Eetu Vertainen.
With the game there to be won, it was only natural to bring on more bodies up front.
As the clock ticked closer towards 90 minutes, this was looking like goal the winner.
On 82 minutes, it looked like Linfield might get that vital goal, but Ethan Devine’s header was easily saved by the RFS keeper.
Devine was then denied again a few minutes later when his goalbound effort hit an RFS defender.
Next it was Eetu Vertainen, who tried to bundle the ball in after a scramble, as much of the ball going over the line as possible without it being a goal. The ball would just not go in.
As Linfield fans hoped for a dramatic finale, they almost got it with twenty seconds remaining as Daniel Finlayson headed towards goal.
His header hit the post. Of course it did. Then it went out for a goal kick, couldn’t even go back into play for someone else to try their luck.
With so little time on the clock, there would have been no way back for RFS.
If only it had went in.
Biggest word in football.
If only Linfield had seen out the lead in the first leg, the job would have been done. If only the Away Goals Rule was still in place, the job would have been done.
They still have another thirty minutes to get the job done when it should have done long before the regulation ninety minutes had finished.
Extra-time would provide another missed opportunity in the early minutes, when Ethan Devine set up Eetu Vertainen just like Chris McKee set him up against TNS.
However, there would be no repeat as Vertainen hit his effort wide.
On 103 minutes, Linfield got the breakthrough when a Kirk Millar cross was only punched out as far as Kyle McClean, who smashed the ball home despite three defenders being between him and the goal.
Windsor Park erupted. The dream was now agonisingly close to being reality.
The minutes ticked by slowly. Of course they did.
Linfield were managing ok. All that RFS could offer was a header that was easily saved by Chris Johns.
Chasing a goal, RFS were at risk of getting caught on the counter attack.
On 118 minutes, that’s what happened as Linfield raced clear.
Eetu Vertainen played in Cameron Palmer whose low and tame shot was easily saved.
He had to blast it. Get the power and placement and it is 2-0.
In the worst case scenario, the keeper saves it at the expense of a corner or a throw, or parries the ball straight to Niall Quinn to make it 2-0.
Or in the very worst scenario, it goes high into the Railway Stand. The ball wouldn’t be coming back until Friday morning. Time gets eaten up and is on Linfield’s side. They’re able to get into shape to defend this one last attack.
I don’t why, but I just had a bad feeling. I know it’s easy to say that after the event.
You when you just get a “bad feeling” about something?
No logic or reason to it, you just get a “bad feeling”.
RFS were able to work space for a cross which was sliced into his own net by Jimmy Callacher.
The ball smashed off the bar and over the line.
From where I was, at the other end, it looked clearly over the line, but you just that little bit of hope that it wasn’t, that it would be a late scare rather than a late catastrophe.
At no point in the tie did Linfield ever look like losing. Now as the game went to penalties, it was hard to not see RFS winning.
You can ask why Cameron Palmer didn’t take the ball to the corner flag, but if did that and lost the ball resulting in an RFS goal, people would be complaining that he didn’t shoot.
He did the right thing, just not very well. There was still a bit of time between the ball being in the keeper’s hands and over the Linfield goal line though.
Even though you just knew that RFS were going to win now, you just had to block those thoughts out ahead of the penalty shoot-out.
The actual penalty shoot-out began in farcical circumstances.
What is the one thing you need to have a football match? Well, we didn’t have it.
After a wait for a football, Matthew Clarke had his penalty saved.
RFS scored their first penalty. Linfield were now up against it.
Ethan Devine then saw his penalty go wide. Some people headed for the exits.
RFS now needed to miss three.
They scored their second. Linfield responded by scoring their first of the night, but RFS responded to make it 3-1.
It was now match point to RFS.
Kyle McClean scored to make it 3-2, a situation he never thought he would have been in when he put Linfield 1-0 up during the match.
It would be in vain, as RFS made it 4-2 to go through.
The draw they got, would be Hearts, Fiorentina and Istanbul Basakeshir.
Hearts would have been a great trip (easier to get to than Buckie Thistle, and I haven’t been to Tynecastle since 2015) and Fiorentina would have been a glamour game, even if it would have been scheduled for a Thursday afternoon at 3.30pm. Skive off work.
Although, Binmen are on strike in Edinburgh, we’re not missing much.
Lies, i’m still gutted.
Now it is back to domestic duty.
It is so important to get back into Europe next season, especially in the European Cup.
The best way for an Irish League team to get into a Group Stage is by winning a European Cup tie, and set up a Euro Conference Play-Off at least.
Or even better, win a generous UEFA Cup draw and get to the Play-Off (like Shamrock Rovers) and at worst be in the Euro Conference Groups.
It is so important for Linfield to get back into Europe, but if they are in the European Cup, they will have an increased chance of being seeded when they enter due to the co-efficient points from this season, and 2019 still being banked.
This won’t be the last European action for me this season, as I am booked to see Manchester United’s UEFA Cup group match against Sheriff Tiraspol in late October.
My first time seeing Erik Ten Hag’s United.
I didn’t see any games under Ralf Rangnick, the first United manager I didn’t see any games under since Ron Atkinson for me.
No real loss. I did toy with going to the Brighton game in May. Had a lucky escape there.
People have already compared this to Copenhagen in 1993.
It’s important to remember, Linfield won the double that season.
Or you could compare it to Watford v Leicester City and Brentford v Doncaster Rovers in 2013.
Leicester win the Championsip the following season and then the Premier League two years later.
Brentford won promotion the following season, got to the Championship Play-Offs the following season and eventually became a Premier League.
Linfield will eventually get to the Group Stage of European Competition, more likely the Euro Conference.
Just not in 2022-2023. They really should have.