Michael Newberry 2', Christy Manzinga 24', Jamie Mulgrew 75', Jimmy Callacher 90'
A. Clarke, Hume and Callacher
Chris Johns (GK), Trai Hume, Michael Newberry, Jimmy Callacher (Sam Roscoe 90+3'), Matthew Clarke, Chris Shields, Cameron Palmer, Jamie Mulgrew (C), Stephen Fallon (Niall Quinn 81'), Kirk Millar, Christy Manzinga (Andrew Clarke 81')
David Walsh (GK), Matthew Williamson (GK), Conor Pepper, Ahmed Salam, Navid Nasseri
Bojan Pavlovic (GK), Dino Coric, Marko Jovanovic, Dorde Milojevic, Dorde Cosic, Amar Begic, Aleksandar Vojnovic, Goran Zakanic, Stojan Vranjes (C), Dejan Meleg, Penagiotis Moraitis
In their UEFA Conference League debut, Linfield put on a five-star performance to come away with a four-goal win against Bosnian champions Borac Banja Luka at Windsor Park in the first leg of their second round qualifier, having dropped out of the Champions League qualifiers last week.
A day after the sad passing of the legendary former Linfield player-manager, Scotsman Tommy Leishman, both teams paid tribute in his honour by way of a minutes’ silence at Windsor Park, but what happened on the pitch during the match was equally fitting from Linfield on a great European night, given the fact Tommy was the man who led Linfield to one of the club’s greatest ever feats when they reached the Quarter Finals of the 1966-67 European Cup.
The Blues started at a high tempo with a real intent and a visiting midfielder was booked within the opening minute. From the free-kick, the cavalry arrived and it was worked out right to Trai Hume who hammered a cross in by way of a driven volley with such impressive technique, perfect for Christy Manzinga whose diving header drew a fine save at close range from the goalkeeper. The ball fell for Michael Newberry whose first show was saved and then he fired home the rebound to put Linfield ahead after two minutes with his second goal for the club. A nice composed finish for a defender.
The Blues and their 1,000 strong crowd were lifted by the early goal. In an unfamiliar system for a Linfield team, David Healy and his staff played a blinder with a diamond midfield and Kirk Millar playing off Christy Manzinga in attack. Millar played a ball over the top for Manzinga a minute after the goal and the striker wasn’t far off it as an alert goalkeeper did well to come out and head clear. Soon again after that, Millar very nearly found Manzinga with a low pass across the box but it was very well cut out by Dino Coric. Nonetheless, it was clear Linfield have unearthed something in attack with two players who were accompanying one another very well. Millar is renowned as a traditional outright winger, so it was impressive, brave and inspired by the coaching staff to use him this way.
The only real scare that Linfield had in a steam-rolling first half came at 1-0 on 19 minutes when Goran Zakaric dribbled into the box and squeezed a low cross in across the front post where midfielder Amar Begic was arriving, however, he saw his low shot from close range well saved by Chris Johns.
On 24 minutes it was 2-0 to Linfield. Christy Manzinga – a willing runner in behind with terrifying pace – was given a superb pass from Stephen Fallon to race on to and he beat the defender to it. This left him 1 v 1 with the last defender and reminiscent of Shayne Lavery’s iconic goal against Qarabag two years ago, Christy chopped inside onto his left and from just inside the box he hammered the ball into the top left corner. Adding to his recent goal in Lithuania, this was his third European goal and takes him into the top 10 of Linfield’s leading goalscorers in Europe.
The Blues continued in the ascendancy for the remainder of the first half and were probably unlucky not to go in more than two goals ahead. Jamie Mulgrew put in a great cross right across the face of goal and full-back Dino Cosic did well to get it cleared as it took an awkward bounce. Stephen Fallon also curled a shot over from the left after another great pattern of play worked from back to front. It was the first time since 1994 (Vs Hafnarjaroar of Iceland) that Linfield had led by two goals at half-time in a European tie… Stat by Marshall Gillespie!
Half Time: Linfield 2 – 0 FK Borac Banja Luka
The Bosnian champions made a change at half-time. They changed their formation from 4-4-2 to 4-3-3, whilst introducing highly-regarded Cameroonian midfielder Donald Molls, and as a result they did get more of a foothold in the game second half, with captain Stojan Vranjes cutting in off the left to get involved more.
Despite increased possession, there was no increase in chances for the hosts, with Linfield well set up. Michael Newberry made a brave block to put his head in the way of left back Dejan Meleg’s volley and then the visitor’s golden opportunity for a route back into the game came from a corner when the captain Stojan Vranjes got free, only to head onto the roof of the net when he should have done better.
Although Linfield’s intensity had dropped off in the second half – understandably – they remained very comfortable and were managing the game well, whilst remaining a threat on the break. The picked their moments well, as seen as they extended their lead to three on 75 minutes. Stephen Fallon fed the overlapping Matthew Clarke and his low cross into Jamie Mulgrew just inside the box was pinpoint as the captain did the rest with a classy finish, basically passing the ball coolly into the far corner for his third European goal.
The visitors’ main tactic was the high ball and in a rare chance late on Dino Coric crossed from deep and Dorde Cosic headed onto the roof of the net. Ultimately, Chris Johns had a comfortable enough night.
No-one would have expected Linfield to be 3-0 up and searching for more against the Bosnians in Europe, but that was the case and a fourth nearly came on 89 minutes. The ever-impressive Trai Hume stormed forward from right back, cut inside and in a very clever and ambitious effort, he chipped the ball with his right foot, catching the goalkeeper out as he was lobbed, only for a covering defender to miraculously head it off the line. Very unlucky for Trai not to score his first Linfield goal.
The fourth goal did arrive in stoppage time. Kirk Millar whipped in a venomous corner and typically, Jimmy Callacher was there to attack it and head it beyond a helpless goalkeeper making it 4-0 and despite the 1,000 being well spread out and social distanced under restrictions, they still made some volume of noise on a great European night at Windsor Park. This was against a team who’d beaten a highly-ranked Cluj a week before and were the first team in history to be stung by the abolition of the away goals rule.
Incidentally, and again, quite fittingly, this was Linfield’s biggest margin of victory in Europe since beating Aris of Luxembourg 6-1 at Windsor Park in the 1967 European Cup Quarter Final run under the late Tommy Leishman. Ironically, the Blues could meet opposition from Luxembourg in the next round if they see out next Thursday's second leg in Bosnia without losing their four-goal lead, knowing they would go on to play the winners of Fola (LUX) and Shakytor (Belarus) – and the Luxembourg side currently lead 2-1 after their Away first leg.
Full Time: Linfield 4 – 0 FK Borac Banja Luka