In this follow up to last night’s Part 1 of Jamie Megarry’s review of 2019, the Linfieldfc.com reporter turns his attention in Part 2 to the May - August period.
Linfield’s first team were on a break in May after the climax of the domestic season, however, manager David Healy was busy laying the foundations for the 2019/20 season. On the transfer front, striker Shayne Lavery joined the Blues on a one-year deal after leaving Everton. Kyle McClean went back to St. Johnstone and Marek Cervenka returned to his native Czech Republic following the expiry of their loan deals. After three years at the Club, Roy Carroll departed Windsor Park at the end of May following the expiry of his contract. Cameron Stewart, Benny Moller Neilsen and Conor Mitchell also left when their deals expired, whilst Jonathan Smith was released.
Chris Casement, Josh Robinson, Jimmy Callacher, Niall Quinn, Jamie Mulgrew, Jordan Stewart and Andy Waterworth were all named in the NIFWA Team of the Season, while David Healy was named Manager of the Year. Andy Waterworth’s 29 goals saw him share the Golden Boot with Cliftonville’s Joe Gormley.
This summer Linfield wrote another chapter into their illustrious history with a heroic journey in Europe. Preparations continued into June and Linfield were drawn against Norwegian side Rosenborg in the First Round of the UEFA Champions League. David Healy’s men returned to the pitch when they jetted off for an intense four-day training camp in Marbella, Spain as they took on Dinamo Bucharest. During this trip, Linfield were taking on double training sessions in the Spanish heat and this would pay dividends when the European campaign got underway. They returned home and followed it up with a friendly against Motherwell.
David Healy strengthened his side further by signing young defender Ross Larkin from Portadown. The Blues boss also put pen to paper himself, as he signed a two-year contract extension after guiding Linfield to League and League Cup success.
Linfield Ladies were drawn in a group with PAOK (Greece), LSK Kvinner (Norway) and Anderlecht (Belgium) in the UEFA Women’s Champions League. The group was to take place in Brussels.
After another friendly, against St. Johnstone, competitive action returned for Linfield on July 10 as Rosenborg visited Windsor Park. The Norwegians ran out 2-0 winners in the first leg of the Champions League First Round tie as French midfielder Bastien Hery made an impressive debut, just 24 hours after signing from Waterford FC in a deal which took striker Michael O’Connor in the opposite direction on loan. Linfield travelled out to Trondheim, Norway for the second leg and Ross Larkin made his debut in a 4-0 defeat, and although it wasn’t the result Linfield were after, it was just the start of a memorable journey.
The Blues subsequently dropped into the UEFA Europa League to take on HB Torshavn in the Second Round. Following an injury to Gareth Deane, David Healy had to move quickly in the market to bring a goalkeeper in as he captured the signing of Rohan Ferguson on loan from Motherwell. Ferguson had only trained with the team once before taking up between the sticks in the first leg in Torshavn and the Scotsman played a stormer. Although Andy Waterworth netted a brace, it was the heroics of Ferguson which earned Linfield a 2-2 draw in the Faroe Islands.
Talismanic striker Andy Waterworth wrote himself into another chapter of Linfield history as his brace took him to the top of the leader board as Linfield’s all-time leading scorer in Europe, taking his tally to six goals.
On a sad note, Linfield lost one of its all-time greats when Sammy ‘save us’ Pavis passed away. The striker scored 225 goals in 260 appearances for the Club, including 4 goals in 11 European appearances.
The month of August was an emotional roller-coaster that will live long in the memory of everyone associated with Linfield. Andy Waterworth took his tally to seven European goals when his penalty against HB Torshavn in the return leg was enough to send Linfield through to the Third Round of the Europa League.
The Third Round saw Linfield make the trip to Podgorica, Montenegro to take on FK Sutjeska in the first leg. Just like in 1984 when Billy Totten scored away to Panathinaikos, it was a Shankill man who grabbed the headlines for Linfield. After a superb free-kick to put the hosts ahead early on, the Blues fought back and recorded a European away win against the odds. Kirk Millar was the hero, firing in a rebound after Lavery’s turn and shot to level the scores, before pulling off a sumptuous chip over the goalkeeper to score a brilliant winner.
A great week on the European continent was rounded off in Brussels, as Linfield Ladies recorded a stunning 3-2 victory against the giants of the Greek champions, PAOK, in the Champions League. Kelsie Burrows and Ashley Hutton scored first half goals and a last minute Kirsty McGuinness penalty secured a dramatic first ever win in the Champions League for 4th seeds Linfield Ladies. In their other group games top seeds Lillestrom won 4-0 and group winners Anderlecht won 3-1 but Linfield’s reputation was further enhanced on the European stage with very creditable displays against much higher seeded opposition.
Linfield’s first leg win in Montenegro meant that Sutjeska needed a minimum of two goals in the return leg at Windsor Park, but given the international experience within the visiting team, it was never going to be straightforward for Linfield. Things started well as Mark Stafford headed Linfield into an early lead but Bozovic levelled for the visitors. Soon after, Shayne Lavery bagged his first Linfield goal when he fired beyond the ‘keeper from 30 yards with an excellent finish. The Blues were firmly in the driving seat when Montenegro international defender Aelksandar Sofranic was dismissed after a torrid 35 minutes trying to cope with Shayne Lavery. Bozovic nodded in again, however to level the scores again to add to the tension. The next goal was going to be crucial and thankfully Matthew Clarke got it to ease the nerves and send Linfield into a play-off against Qarabag - a wealthy Club from Azerbaijan – for a place in the group stage.
On Thursday 22nd August 2019, Linfield produced one of the Club’s greatest performances and a result to match. The Blues were huge underdogs against Qarabag, priced as high as 10/1 with the bookmakers. This was a Qarabag team higher ranked than AC Milan and Leicester City, full of International footballers and players who’ve played in La Liga and the English Premiership. It was only 18 months previous that Qarabag had held Spanish giants Atletico Madrid to draws home and away. If you’d listened to many, there was no point in Linfield even turning up – but David Healy’s men pulled off the unthinkable to put the Linfield fans in dreamland.
It didn’t start too well as Qarabag took an early lead with Morocco international Faycal Rherras nipping in to poke the ball over Rohan Ferguson into the net. Ironically, Linfield had found it hard to get hold of the ball, until Mark Stafford sparked Windsor Park into ecstasy with a dramatic leveller, heading in a delightful free-kick from Andrew Mitchell at the Kop end.
Qarabag were taken by surprise and just a few minutes later on the brink of half-time they were utterly shell-shocked as Linfield took an unlikely lead. Andrew Mitchell put in another top quality delivery, this time a corner where Shayne Lavery leapt like a salmon to power home a bullet header. Suddenly, Linfield were heading into the break ahead and Windsor Park was a cauldron of noise.
The Blues were hardly giving Qarabag a sniff in the second half and kept their shape well with Shayne Lavery looking threatening on the break. This paid dividends in the 74th minute when sheer persistence paid off for the striker when he hounded a defender into a mistake before racing away, chopping inside and burying a shot into the far corner with his left foot from the edge of the box.
Qarabag pulled back a goal in stoppage time from the penalty spot through former Everton striker Magaye Gueye to make it 3-2. The Blues were heading to a hostile Baku with the carrot dangling, but knew another massive task lay ahead. David Healy’s men did the Club and the Irish League proud once again, going toe to toe with Qarabag. Going into the final ten minutes Linfield trailed 1-0, but it was anyone’s game. The next goal was going to be decisive and Linfield were looking the more likely to get it, but that sadly wasn’t the case as former Hibernian winger Zubir broke away to seal it late on. Shayne Lavery responded in stoppage time but it wasn’t to be as Linfield missed out on the Europa League group stage on away goals. Nonetheless, this was a truly heroic effort from David Healy’s team who allowed the supporters to dream and a great achievement in itself to get so far.
The Champions also had to try and balance their European run with the opening month of the League season, beating Institute and losing to Coleraine, with the other League fixtures having to be rescheduled.
Part 3 to follow in next few days
Photos Below - August goal scorers in Europe
Kirsty McGunness secures a 3-2 win in Brussels v PAOK
Andy Waterworth v Torshavn
Matthew Clarke v Sutjeska
Mark Stafford v Qarabag