Match Details
Season :
2022/2023
Date :
18th August 2022
Competition :
Europa Conference League
Venue :
Skonto stadium, Riga, Latvia
Referee :
Aliyar Aghayev (AZE)
Linfield Scorers :
Stephen Fallon 38', Joel Cooper 71'
RFS Scorers :
Kevin Friesenbichler 88', Žiga Lipušček 90+6
Linfield Yellow Cards :
Joel Cooper 42', Michael Newberry 90'
RFS Yellow Card :
Žiga Lipušček 90+6'
Teams
Linfield Team :
Chris Johns, Daniel Finlayson, Ben Hall (Michael Newberry 87'), Sam Roscoe, Matthew Clarke (c), Chris Shields, Stephen Fallon (Jamie Mulgrew 79'), Kyle McClean (Cameron Palmer 90'), Kirk Millar, Joel Cooper, Robbie McDaid (Eetu Vertainen 79')
Linfield Subs not used :
David Walsh, Matthew Williamson, Connor Pepper, Ethan Devine, Chris McKee, Josh Archer, Andrew Clarke
RFS Team :
Pāvels Šteinbors, Petr Mareš, Petr Mareš, Žiga Lipušček, Vitālijs Jagodinskis, Jovan Vlalukin (Vladislavs Sorokins 78'), Emerson Deocleciano, Stefan Panić, Alfusainey Jatta (Kevin Friesenbichler 78'), Tomáš Šimkovič (Wlvis Stuglis 86'), Alain Cedric Herve Kouadio (Artūrs Zjuzins 55'), Andrej Ilić
RFS Subs not used :
Vytautas Černiauskas, Jevgēņijs Ņerugals, Vitālijs Maksimenko, Kaspars Dubra, Glebs Žaleiko, Bill, Deniss Rakels
Report
Linfield were left with mixed emotions after tonight’s UEFA Conference League play-off round first leg away to RFS Riga in Latvia. If you’d offered the Blues a draw beforehand to take back to Windsor, they’d probably have been content. However, from being two goals ahead until the latter stages of the match, the two late goals which secured the hosts a draw will feel disappointing to the brave and impressive Linfield team.

In front of 4,700 home supporters, it was Linfield who were quickest out of the blocks with Joel Cooper putting in two dangerous crosses in the opening two minutes. That said, it was the hosts who had the first clear cut chance of the match and they wondered how they didn’t take the lead on 13 minutes. A corner came in from the left and was flicked on at the near post, finding its way through to the unmarked Alfusainey Jatta whose effort from just a few yards out was well saved by Chris Johns when the midfielder ought to have scored.

A moment of controversy then arose on 17 minutes when the home team were awarded a penalty. Linfield players were shocked at what they felt was a very harsh call to penalise Kyle McClean for what was adjudged to be a handball. A cross into the box struck midfielder McClean at close range – it hit his elbow with his arm in a natural body position. The Blues will therefore feel that justice was served when the penalty was put wide of the post by Petr Mares.

After the mandatory water break midway through the first half in the 29 degree Riga heat, Linfield took the lead. A well-worked move down the left earned Matthew Clarke the right to deliver a cross which wasn’t dealt with and when Kirk Millar retrieved it at the back post, he turned back in a great ball to the edge of the box for Stephen Fallon to arrive and arrow a composed finish into the bottom left corner for his first European goal.

RFS Riga had a great opportunity to equalise on the stroke of half time but they couldn’t take it. A perfectly-timed run into the box from midfielder Cedric Kouadio ensured he got on the end of a dangerous ball into the box, behind the Linfield back line, but it was a chance he had to take first-time and he snatched at it, scuffing his effort wide.

Half Time: RFS Riga 0-1 Linfield

The Blues had a good chance a few minutes before the second water break as David Healy’s men broke forward at pace and in numbers. Stephen Fallon was supported by three teammates as he led the counter but when he looked to pick out a teammate his square ball was cut out by a defender. Chris Shields also went close when his volley from the edge of the box dipped onto the roof of the net.

Then, on 70 minutes, Linfield took a two-goal lead. It came through a quick breakaway as the ball was stabbed through to Joel Cooper by Stephen Fallon and the winger stormed into the box before arrowing a low strike into the far corner, in off the inside of the post for the first goal of his third Linfield spell.

Things started to turn on 88 minutes as the hosts pulled a goal back. Linfield will be frustrated that replays suggest that the corner which brought about the goal shouldn’t have been given, as the ball came off an attacker. RFS Riga took advantage as Kevin Friesenbichler got across the near post to head in a lifeline.

With that goal giving the hosts belief and momentum, they threw bodies forward in search a leveller which would arrive in the sixth of five added minutes. The edge of the box was crowded following a set-piece and when central defender Ziga Lipuscek took on a strike from 25 yards, Chris Johns was blinded by bodies in his eyeline. Regardless, it was a sweet strike but a blow for Linfield to concede so late.

It leaves it all to play for in next week’s second leg at Windsor Park for a spot in the UEFA Conference League group stage. The stakes are huge, and hopefully the crowds will be too, to support Linfield in one of their biggest ever matches.

Full Time: RFS Riga 2 – 2 Linfield

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