A great week on the European continent was rounded off in Brussels last night, as Linfield recorded a stunning victory against the giants of the Greek champions, PAOK.
Linfield’s eye catching 2-1 win in Montenegro on Tuesday night has been followed with this exceptional 3-2 win against PAOK.
This was a victory for a 4th seeded team against a second seeded team, just as earlier in the day in another shock result in the group, third seeds and hosts Anderlecht had defeated the hot favourites and top seeds Lillestrom.
In Linfield’s third year in a row in this most prestigious and fantastic tournament, it was a first point and a first win on a never to be forgotten night in the Belgian capital.
In Linfield’s games at this level over the past 2 years, all previous defeats had been close affairs and indeed, Linfield had come close on a couple of occasions to earning a hard earned point, so last night’s win was not just a pleasing first for the club, but also fitting reward for the huge efforts and sacrifices made by every one of the staff and players involved over the past few seasons.
The Linfield team lined up as follows in the Van Roy Stadium, Denderleeuw, Belgium.
1 - Lauren Perry
3 - Louise McFrederick
5 - Ashley Hutton
8 - Casey Howe
11 - Kirsty McGuinness
14 - Kelsie Burrows
18 - Rebecca McKenna
19 - Abbie Magee
26 - Caitlin McGuinness
27 - Victoria Ashton Jones
97 - Chloe McCarron
12 - Anna McCleary
2 - Mia Fitzsimmons
9 - Rebecca Bassett - replaced Casey Howe (70 mins)
16 - Clare Timoney
17 - Hayley O’Donnell - replaced Ashton Jones (64 mins)
23 - Kirsty Cameron
25 - Naomi Donnan
Linfield suffered an early setback when the Greek number 10 Vardali scored a scrappy goal on just 6 minutes - the ball trickling in off a post.
However, Linfield responded in the best possible manner and Central defender Kelsie Burrows drove a shot into the far corner from the edge of the box for a 14th minute equaliser.
It got even better for Linfield when in the 24th minute experienced international centre half Ashley Hutton put Linfield in front when she got on the end of a superb Kirsty McGuinness free kick from near the corner flag and bundled the ball home from close range at the back post.
Linfield's 2-1 lead lasted until the 34th minute when number 17 Mitkou scored from an excellent free kick from a wide position into the far, top corner.
Linfield’s Louise McFrederick was yellow carded for an infringement that led to the free kick.
It was an exciting, close, end to end opening 45 minutes.
Half time - PAOK 2 Linfield 2
The second half was on occasions a feisty affair, as both sides went in search of the next goal and the game swayed from end to end, as a further goal proved elusive to both teams.
Linfield came close to taking the lead a couple of times but equally, Lauren Perry pulled off a couple of great saves to keep Linfield level at 2-2.
Just as the game looked like it was going to end in a hard fought stalemate, there was one late, final, dramatic twist.
As Kirsty McGuinness fired a free kick deep into the crowded box in the 88th minute, the Slovenian referee spotted an infringement on Linfield’s Louise McFrederick and she immediately pointed to the spot.
Inspirational captain Kirsty McGuinness picked up the ball and the responsibility and after what seemed like an eternal wait while the referee ensured everything was in order, McGuinness smashed home the penalty, giving the keeper no chance as the ball flew into the corner of the net.
It was a perfect penalty from the ice cool McGuiness who displayed nerves of steel to win the tie for Linfield with her last gasp penalty strike.
PAOK threw everything forward in 3 minutes of additional time but Linfield held firm to record a famous win.
Every Linfield player gave their all.
And Linfield are technically in with a chance of reaching the knock out stages, although that would require a large victory over group leaders Anderlecht in the final game in their own Lotto park stadium on Tuesday. The Belgians won 5-0 against PAOK and 3-2 against Lillestrom.
Heroines all across the pitch on a night of Glory for Linfield on the European stage.
Final score - PAOK 2 Linfield 3
Tuesday v Anderlecht
Saturday v Crusaders in Bangor in the Irish cup semi final.