Jacob Brown 11', 29', 49', Stephen Fletcher 22', D'Margio Wright-Phillips 85', Nick Powell 87'
David Walsh (GK) (Matthew Williamson 80’), Conor Pepper (Trai Hume 45’), Ross Larkin (Chris Shields 45’), Sam Roscoe (Michael Newberry 45’), Matthew Clarke (Niall Quinn 45’), Jamie Mulgrew © (Stephen Fallon 45’), Cameron Palmer (Ewan McCoubrey 71’), Kirk Millar (Josh Archer 45’), Ahmed Salam (Leon Boyd 71’), Navid Nasseri (Adam Carroll 66’), Billy Chadwick (Jack Montgomery 71’)
Josef Bursik (GK) (Bonham 65'), Smith (Sorenson 65'), Wilmot (Macari 75'), Batth, Fox (Jones 65'), Clucas (Joe Allen 65'), Vrancic (Powell 65') Jordan Thompson (C) (Porter 65'), Brown (Wright-Phillips 75'), Fletcher (Goodwin 65'), Tymon (Doughty 65')
For the second year in a row, Linfield were able to welcome Michael O’Neill’s Stoke City to Belfast for a friendly. The former Northern Ireland international manager who achieved legendary status by leading our country to a major international tournament for the first time in 30 years had brought his side over for a pre-season training camp.
O’Neill, who was going up against his former international talisman David Healy in the opposite dugout, named a team at full strength or certainly not far off it. Meanwhile, it was a bit of a ‘mix and match’ Linfield team with many young players gaining experience against a good EFL Championship team, as well as a number of senior players getting further gametime under their belt in between European ties, whilst Sam Roscoe, Ahmed Salam and Billy Chadwick made their first appearances for the club.
Credit to Stoke and particularly players like Stephen Fletcher who approached the game in the most professional manner. The Scotland international forward who is experienced at Premier League and Championship level was instrumental in a lot of good things Stoke did going forward. He initially went close in the opening minutes when he drilled a 20 yard strike just over the bar by a few inches.
The Potters took the lead after 11 minutes and unsurprisingly the former Wolves, Sunderland and Sheffield Wednesday striker was involved. He spotted the run of Josh Tymon down the left, slipping the ball into the advanced winger who squared the ball low across goal for Jacob Brown to convert from close range.
The closest Linfield came to beating visiting goalkeeper Josef Bursik was on 19 minutes when Matthew Clarke whipped a free-kick in from the right and defender Ross Larkin rose well, heading just over the upright.
Stoke striker Stephen Fletcher showed his class with the visitors’ second goal on 22 minutes. A cross from full-back Smith flew up in the air and Fletcher didn’t need to think twice as he unleashed a brilliant bicycle kick past David Walsh to make it 2-0.
Seven minutes later an unforgiving Stoke made it 3-0. It came from some hesitant defending and again it was Fletcher at the heart of it as we was able to nip in, flick the ball around the goalkeeper before acknowledging the angle against him and unselfishly squaring it for Jacob Brown to fire in his second and Stoke’s third.
Fletcher threatened to add his second after a neat turn on the edge of the box but it was saved by David Walsh and in the closing minutes of the first half, Billy Chadwick tried his luck up the other end with an ambitious volley after spotting the goalkeeper off his line but it was a few yards wide. Worth an effort and not a bad one.
Half Time: Linfield 0 – 3 Stoke City
Five changes were made by Linfield at half-time, whilst Stoke remained unchanged. The Blues’ second half performance was probably better than the first and included some good spells, but Stoke netted a fourth on 49 minutes. The visitors got numbers forward and Stephen Fletcher was only denied by a good block by Sam Roscoe before strike partner Jacob Brown made himself well positioned to complete his hat-trick with a good rebound finish from close range.
The Blues started to find themselves in better attacking scenarios, with Ahmed Salam firstly bursting forward to slip it to Stephen Fallon whose deep cross was just over the head of Billy Chadwick. Soon after, Cameron Palmer went on a good driving run, breaking through a challenge and getting into the box before a good, dangerous cross right across the box but Ahmed Salam couldn’t quite reach it.
As the substitutes continued to be introduced the flow slowed but substitute Chris Shields once again showed his quality, this time playing as a central defender. He made a great timely challenge to stop a 3v2 Stoke counter, and then got back to clear a shot off the line a short while later.
Stoke added two late goals which punished mistakes playing from the back. The fifth goal came on 85 minutes as winger D’Margio Wright-Phillips – son of former Chelsea and Manchester City winger Shaun – latched onto a loose ball and drilled a clinical shot low into the corner.
Two minutes later the Potters added a sixth and final goal as Nick Powell seized upon a mistake to squeeze the ball in from close range.
David Healy spoke to Linfieldfc.com after the match. “The main objective was to get minutes in the legs and get players a few run-outs. The three new signings got 60 – 65 minutes and a number of young players got gametime as well. We had a few missing for various different reasons. It’s a great experience particularly for the younger players to play against a quality side like Stoke. It’s probably a bit more difficult now for Stoke to get to their preferred destinations like in Spain or Portugal or wherever else, but for us the past two years they’ve given us the chance to play against good opposition. I speak to Michael O’Neill quite a bit and he’s always been helpful for me in my young coaching career and is always on the end of the phone when I need him. We wish Stoke well, they’re trying to assemble a good team and squad and we wish them well in the Championship this year. The least of my worries today is the result. It’s all about minutes in the legs and today will stand us in good stead going forward. All focus is on Thursday now and the players we were missing today, we hope will be back for Thursday for a really tough and really good match.”
Full Time: Linfield 0 – 6 Stoke City