Sandro Scharer (SUI)
Linfield Scorers :
Shayne Lavery (45', 74'), Stafford (40')
Qarabag FK Scorers :
Rherras (15'), Gueye (90')
Linfield Yellow Cards :
Qarabag FK Yellow Cards :
Michel, Emrelli, Rherras
Linfield Team :
Rohan Ferguson (GK), Chris Casement, Jimmy Callacher, Mark Stafford, Matthew Clarke, Jamie Mulgrew (C), Bastien Hery, Andrew Mitchell, Joel Cooper (Kirk Millar 89'), Niall Quinn, Shayne Lavery (Andy Waterworth 79')
Linfield Subs not used :
Moore, Larkin, Stewart, Kearns, McGivern
Qarabag FK Team :
Vagner (GK), Gara Garayev, Maksim Medvedev, Michel, Jaime Romero, Dani Quintana (Magaye Gueye 65’), Mahir Emreli, Rashad F. Sadygov ©, Abdellah Zoubir, Faycal Rherras, Abbas Huseynov
Qarabag FK Subs not used :
Magomedaliyev, Ailton, Slavchev, Abdullayev, Ibrahimli, Hajiyev
Despite being heavy outsiders against a team ranked higher than the likes of Leicester City and AC Milan, David Healy and his team produced something truly special on a memorable night at Windsor Park in the first leg of their play-off against Qarabag for a place in the Europa League group stage.
Linfield let the visitors have the ball early on as they took up a compact shape off the ball but a loose pass was almost punished after 90 seconds as striker Mahir Emreli picked up possession and fired a curling shot towards the far corner, but much to Linfield’s relief it whistled just past Ferguson’s post.
The visitors would take the lead after 15 minutes, however. The ball was recycled back into the mix after Linfield only half-cleared a corner and Morocco international Faycal Rherras latched onto the ball to produce a clinical finish over Ferguson and into the far corner.
Rherras turned provided minutes later with a darting run beyond Chris Casement down the left side before putting in a pinpoint cross, only for outstretched Spaniard Jaime Romero to strike the post from close range.
The former Udinese and Osasuna star was denied again midway through the first half, this time by Rohan Ferguson as the Linfield ‘keeper saved with his feet after Romero had cut inside onto his stronger left foot.
Scotch ‘keeper Ferguson produced another good save to keep out the Azerbaijan outfit five minutes before the break. Instrumental left back Rherras was once again involved as he linked up with striker Emreli whose low shot inside the box was brilliantly saved by the athletic goalkeeper.
Incredible scenes would follow soon after. Andrew Mitchell fired in a deep free-kick which was stationed just inside the Qarabag half and cult hero Mark Stafford was the man who would pop up with a historic goal to level the score on 40 minutes.
Windsor Park erupted and the Blues fans were in absolute dreamland on the stroke of half time as Shayne Lavery gave the Blues a shock lead, rising superbly well to bury a header from Andrew Mitchell’s corner against all odds.
Half Time: Linfield 2 – 1 FK Qarabag
Linfield looked dangerous on the break in the second half and it almost brought a third when Andrew Mitchell’s brilliant diagonal ball founds Matthew Clarke surging down the left, he took it down and drilled a volley at goal but goalkeeper Vagner saved well.
The very impressive Ferguson was called upon again on the hour-mark when Jaime Romero tried to squeeze a shot in from a tight angle but the ‘keeper was alert and got down well to push the ball behind for a corner which was well dealt with.
Shayne Lavery might be only through the door in terms of his Linfield career, but he wrote himself into Linfield folklore with a stunning third on 74 minutes. He hassled and harried a Qarabag defender into conceding possession before racing through on goal, and although a defender caught up, Lavery performed a delighted chop inside before firing a deadly finish into the far corner for his second of the night.
The visitors looked certain to pull one back on 78 minutes when the ball broke kindly in the box for striker Mahir Emreli and with just Ferguson to beat, he struck the base off the post as fortune truly did favour the brave.
Former Everton striker Magaye Gueye got a shot away from inside the box late on from a dinked cross from the right but as he did so often on the night, Ferguson gathered with assured hands.
The striker would find the net in added time, however. A Qarabag attacker was caught late in the box and the referee pointed to the spot. Former Everton and Millwall man Gueye was ice cool despite the Kop stand’s best efforts as he dinked the ball down the middle and into the net.
It's advantage Linfield in the play-off ahead of next week's second leg in Baku, but no matter what happens, this was a truly special night. Heroic effort from David Healy's men to defeat a team with no shortage of international players .
Full Time: Linfield 3 – 2 FK Qarabag
LinfieldFC.com Man of the Match: Shayne Lavery