Warren Feeney’s second season as Linfield manager began the same way as his first one, with a UEFA Cup tie against opposition from the Faroe Islands.
In fact, David Jeffrey’s last two seasons as Linfield manager also began with European ties against Faroese opposition.
The previous three seasons had seen Linfield progress to the next round, and began as favourites to do so again against Runavik.
The game also was a welcome return to Windsor Park for Linfield after a four month absence due to the problems in the redevelopment of Windsor Park.
Linfield began the game rustily, with Runavik’s number 11 Arni Frederiksberg getting a lot of joy and space to set up chances and get crosses in. Sean Ward was isolated and struggling.
Eventually, Linfield got more into the game, with the trio of Waterworth, Bates and Sproule bubbling under, threatening to get in behind Runavik’s defence.
Despite this, Linfield were having some shaky moments defensively, having to get bodies in the way to get some blocks in.
Finally, Linfield got a grip on the game, putting Runavik under pressure and making gains in their attacking third. The best moment came when Andrew Waterworth got in behind the defence but dragged his shot wide.
Runavik were now worried that Linfield had a key to unlock their defence. They quite literally did, well a Kee, who had a tidy game and had some impressive corners.
Sean Ward had a shot at goal well saved. His wait for a first Linfield goal goes on.
As the half neared it end, a well worked moved saw Andrew Waterworth head home. Porblem was, Ivan Sproule was offside in the build-up.
The half-time whistle blew with the score at 0-0. You had the feeling, that if Linfield could get an early goal in the second-half, they could comfortable see the game out.
A succession of corners saw an almighty scramble but no goal. Eventually, the goal did come, when Andrew Waterworth fired home from close range.
At 1-0, Linfield were comfortable, but just needed a 2nd goal to give them breathing space.
Guy Bates, on his debut, glided past two defenders and fired home. It was a lovely goal.
It wasn’t quite game over, as Ross Glendinning made a brilliant save from a deflected free-kick to deny Runavik an away goal.
As the clock ticked down, it was Linfield were looked most likely to score, with Kee having a shot blocked, and Aaron Burns firing over after a well worked move.
Bates was substituted as injury time approached, getting a standing ovation from Linfield fans. David Kee also played well. Daniel Wallace was an unused sub, while Mark Stafford was injured.
A 3rd goal at the end would have been brilliant, but there’s not a lot to complain about – a healthy lead and a clean sheet. Famous last words, but Linfield should have enough about them next week to complete the job and set up a tie against Spartak Trnava or FK Olimpic, who drew 1-1.
Hopefully, Linfield can see this tie through and return to Windsor Park with the tie alive. It could be a special night at Windsor Park on July 23rd, as Linfield aim to get past the 2nd Round hurdle they have fallen at in the last two seasons, before an away friendly at Knockbreda on July 25th, a ground to visit for the first time, just like the Belfast Loughshore Arena (Don’t laugh) on August 12th.
Meanwhile, this week, Cardiff was announced as host city of the 2017 European Cup Final.
I was in Cardiff for last season’s European Super Cup Final and it was a fantastic trip. I fully intend on being in Cardiff that weekend.
I’m getting ahead of myself. The next European match I want to watch is Linfield taking on Spartak Trnava or FK Olimpic on July 23rd with the tie very much up for grabs.