After talk of tickets and trouble dominating the pre-match conversation for weeks, it finally came time to focus on the football.
The hype surrounding affairs outside events on the field was eventually set aside as Linfield met Glasgow Celtic on the common ground of 22 players between the four white lines of Windsor Park.
Speculation over the Champions League second qualifying round tie proving a dream or nightmare for Linfield became reality with kick-off after 5 o’clock on Friday evening as continental competition provided the historic first senior meeting between two of British football’s most successful clubs.
Celtic arrived aiming to build on domestic dominance with European progress following a treble-winning campaign and the Scottish giants produced the performance of an assured side fresh from a season unbeaten in home play.
Goals by Scott Sinclair and Tom Rogic wrapped up the final first-leg scoreline of 2-0 following a display of great tactical discipline and genuine determination from Linfield.
Linfield manager David Healy spoke of a determination to gain respect beyond the result and his own treble-winning squad left the Windsor Park pitch having performed with pride against a slick Celtic unit under the management of Northern Ireland-born Brendan Rodgers.
Mark Stafford produced a series of well-timed blocks as Celtic enjoyed the anticipated command of possession. Chris Casement battled on the right, Robert Garrett produced the competitive and combative midfield performance that secured him a return to Linfield and Paul Smyth used the game to showcase his fleet footwork.
Between the posts, the brilliant Roy Carroll called on his professional experience across club and country to provide a calm presence in the face of a string of Celtic attempts. The last line of defence stood firm to frustrate Celtic.
He capped a memorable display with an injury-time double save to deny Moussa Dembele then Mikael Lustig off the rebound.
Linfield managed to produce rare but welcome periods of possession to spark the Linfield support into increased backing.
Mark Haughey was presented the most promising opening when Casement’s cross found the defender but his shot cleared the crossbar.
Celtic broke the deadlock on 17 minutes when Leigh Griffiths’ teasing corner-kick was cleared but James Forrest collected the loose ball and delivered a ball which Sinclair guided home with a weak header.
The second arrived with 22 minutes on the clock thanks to another success from a set-piece situation by Griffiths that ended with the superb Rogic racing in to smash home a shot on the run.
LINFIELD: Carroll, Stafford, Haughey, Waterworth, Lowry, Clarke (J.Stewart, 53), Casement, Mulgrew, Garrett, Quinn, Smyth.
Subs (not used): Deane, C.Stewart, Robinson, Millar, Burns, Mitchell.
CELTIC: Gordon, Simunovic, Brown, Griffiths (Dembele, 68), Sinclair, Armstrong, Rogic, Lustig, Sviatchenko, Forrest (Hayes, 69), Tierney.
Subs (not used): de Vries, Izaguirre, Bitton, McGregor, Eboue.
Referee: Plautz (Austria).