CHAMPIONS LEAGUE: Five Linfield talking points from Celtic tie

Champions League.
Champions League.

Linfield will line out tonight (Wednesday, 7.45 kick-off) for the second leg of the club’s Champions League second qualifying round tie against Glasgow Celtic.

A 2-0 defeat last Friday at Windsor Park ended with the focus turning to events on and off the field outside the football.

However, with kick-off hours away for the second competitive meeting in history between two of British football’s most successful clubs, we take a look at five talking points from Belfast:

1: Healy’s high standards

David Healy will forever hold a place in the hearts of the Northern Ireland football family thanks to his international goalscoring exploits.

However, a club career at a series of teams and across different leagues has had a significant impact on Healy’s approach to management.

His pre-match press conference last week included the line he would be “hugely disappointed” if his players were to concede - a comment possibly considered light-hearted in the context of the task facing Linfield against a Celtic side unbeaten across last season’s domestic campaign.

But, when combined with his post-match frustration at the manner of the openings afforded Celtic scorers Scott Sinclair and Tom Rogic, then Healy’s statement offers a glimpse into the drive of the ambitious Irish League boss.

2: Fitness first

Linfield’s march to a domestic trophy treble last season arrived aided by a run-in defined by character and consistency towards the title-winning return of 40 points from 42 on offer.

Fitness levels played a central role in that Irish League glory - and again last Friday when faced with full-time professional opponents in Celtic.

Healy praised the player rotation on show from Celtic, especially across the first half, as “total football” in recognition of the slick pass-and-move philosophy demanded by Carnlough-born Brendan Rodgers of his teams.

Two early goals afforded Celtic a significant cushion, of course, but the Glasgow giants’ constant probing and pressing at pace served up a demanding and draining evening for Linfield.

In the face of Celtic’s ‘death by a thousand cuts’ patient approach to shifting the ball around practically every inch of Windsor Park in search of space, Linfield required high levels of both fitness and tactical discipline.

3: Carroll’s Windsor Park wonderland

On a night of collective praise for Linfield it would be impossible to ignore the individual contribution by 39-year-old Roy Carroll as the first name on the teamsheet proved time and time again an imposing last line of defence.

Carroll called on his extensive experience from an impressive career with club and country to remain calm in the face of Celtic’s prolific attacking strength.

The modest Carroll turned the post-match spotlight on to his team-mates but manager Healy encapsulated his goalkeeper’s value by highlighting the “exceptional person and player” who travels hundreds of miles each week for training, ignores offers of time off and embraces the responsibility of a senior voice within the Linfield changing room.

4: Future goals

Healy may present a public image which could be viewed as guarded but within the internal circles of the Irish League he is admired by management and players for his co-operation and judgement.

Occasional moments offer a small measure of insight into his attention-to-detail approach and one example was Carroll’s post-match praise for the professionalism expected by Healy from his squad in all aspects of life with Linfield.

As an indication of Healy’s plans to build on the success of last season, it was telling how Carroll established the importance of mental maturity gained from big games on home soil and European competition.

The view appears from within the walls of Windsor Park that Healy’s Linfield is a squad very much in a constant state of evolution towards continued glory.

5: Money talks

Personal pride and the sense of professionalism previously discussed left the 90-plus minutes of football as an exercise in each Linfield individual who crossed the white line at Windsor Park aiming to impress and make his mark.

Healy’s hope for respect beyond any result was certainly a goal met at the final whistle of the first leg but, aside from the disciplinary issues, the Champions League tie remains a significant financial boost to the club coffers irrespective of any closing scoreline.

Linfield finished the season as the leading team in the Irish League, a position expected to be strengthened by summer signings - based on the impact of Jordan Stewart during his previous Champions League cameo plus familiar combative and dynamic presence of Robert Garrett back in blue - before the long-term bottom-line cash bonus generated from this Celtic meeting.