Manager David Healy last night saluted his boys after one of Linfield’s most famous performances in European football, admitting it was right up there with his best moments in football.
The Blues produced performance of sheer guts and tenacity, with no shortage of skill to grab a sensational 3-2 win against Azerbaijan title holders Qarabag.
A glorious double from Shayne Lavery and a thumping header from Mark Stafford has put the Blues into dream land and only 90 minutes away from a place in the Europa League group stages.
It began and ended badly for the Blues however. Faycal Reherras shot Qarabag into an early lead, while substitute Magaye Gueye hit an injury time spot kick, which will make life a lot more difficult for Linfield in the return leg in Buku next week. Linfield were creating a little piece of history by appearing in the Group stage play-off round. They have already reeled in close to to £1.3m. But that figure could shoot up to £4m in the event of them getting a result next week.
There was just no hiding Healy’s delight afterwards. He beamed: “It was one of those big European nights at Windsor Park. I’ve had many great international nights for Northern Ireland, against Spain and England, but this result is right up there with them. I’ve left Windsor Park on top of the world on occasions, but tonight the players have really astounded me. To win a game against Qarabag is quite incredible.
“The level of commitment was just unbelievable. I asked for a big performance – and I got it. Yes, we rode our luck on a few occasions. But we remained disciplined throughout the 90 minutes. Huge, huge credit to the players. They had appetite energy and our goals were great.
“To be honest, I was in shock at half-time, winning 2-1 after being outplayed for much of the half.”
Healy is realistic about the return leg and admits his boys will be still massive underdogs. “We have given ourselves some sort of opportunity,” he added. “We’ll go into the tie as big underdogs, but that was always going to be the case. I suppose the tie is in the balance. At least we have something to hold on to.
“There is no question they will be massive favourites and we’ll need to be better than we were tonight. But we’ll prepare in the proper manner.”
Healy also was high in praise of Lavery, whose second goal was special. “That’s what Shayne is all about, I knew he had that in his locker,” he added. “His work rate was phenomenal all night.”