European history for David Healy’s Linfield heroes

Linfield delight at Windsor Park on the way to European history
Linfield delight at Windsor Park on the way to European history
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David Healy’s Linfield managed to rewrite the European record books with a famous win over FK Sutjeska at a bouncing Windsor Park.

The 3-2 victory - and 5-3 aggregate success - victory meant the Blues become the first Irish League club to reach the Europa League group stage play-off round – they will now meet Azerbaijan champions Quarabag after they made their Champions League exit.

It was another memorable European night in front of a big home support.

Goals from Mark Stafford, Shayne Lavery and Matty Clarke sent those supporters home happy even though giant striker Bojan Bozovic hit a double for the visitors.

Healy’s braves also became the first Linfield side to record back-to-back European wins since 1966.

They task was made that much bit handier when Sutjeska defender Aleksandar Sofranac was red-carded on 36 minutes.

Linfield boss Healy gave a vote of confidence to the team that claimed the fantastic 2-1 victory in Montenegro last week, when two goals from Kirk Millar sent the Belfast team into dreamland.

It meant that Stafford, Niall Quinn and Stephen Fallon were reinstated to the side that won against Institute in their opening Danske Bank Premiership game.

Lavery, who had such an inspirational game in the first leg, asked the first question of the Sutjeska defence after a patient build-up involving Bastien Hery and skipper Jamie Mulgrew, but his shot flashed wide of the target.

Healy’s boys, however, set the international stadium alight by taking the lead after only seven minutes. Millar whipped in a teasing corner from the left, which was met by Stafford, whose header bulleted past Viado Gijen.

But the visitors soon silenced the partisan home crowd by equalising on 15 minutes. Damir Kojasevic flighted in a delicious free-kick for towering Bozovic to flick past the outstretched glove of Rohan Ferguson.

Incredibly, the Blues were in front again on 18 minutes – one that will give goalkeeper Gilgen nightmares. He left his goal-line to mop up a long punt forward, but made a total hash of the clearance and, when the ball broke to Lavery, the young forward drilled home from 25 yards.

Sutjeska’s task was made that much more difficult when Sofranac was dismissed on 36 minutes after picking up two quick-fire yellow cards. When he sent the lively Lavery sprawling, referee Miroslav Zelinka had no hesitation in dishing out a dismissal.

The Blues almost struck again seconds later when Clarke sent in a wonderful cross from the left that was met by the head of Millar, but his effort flashed inches past the post.

Lavery, full of running and desire, was giving the Sutjeska defence a torrid time and, when he left Darko Bulatovic trailing hopelessly in his wake after the restart, his attempted shot with the outside of his boot flew wide.

But the Montenegrin champions almost pulled one back on the hour when Bojan Ciger crossed for Bozovic to power in a great header - only for Ferguson to somehow get a hand to the effort, which had goal written all over it.

The visitors were back in it again 60 seconds later when Kojasevic’s corner was met by that man Bozovic and this time his booming header ballooned the net.

Suddenly, the Blues looked gittery, but the mood changed dramatically again when Clarke appeared at the back post to tap home his team’s third goal of the night.

Substitute Joel Cooper worked his magic down the right and when the rolled the ball across the six-yard box, the hard-working defender was there to finish off Sutjeska.

LINFIELD: Ferguson, Casement, Stafford, McGivern, Clarke, Fallon, Mulgrew, Millar (Cooper, 67), Hery, Quinn (Stewart, 76), Lavery (Waterworth, 79).

Subs (not used): Moore, Callacher, Mitchell.

SUTJESKA: Giljen, Ciger, Sofranac, Nedic, Bulatovic, Erakovic (Nikolic, 85), Petrovikj, Kojasevic, Cetkovic, Vlaisavljevic (Vucic, 63), Bozovic (Markovic, 73).

Subs (not used): Licina, Grivic, Bubanja, Marusic.

REFEREE: Miroslav Zelinka (Czech Republic).