Linfield manager David Jeffrey reckons his players might as well trade their traditional footwear for hiking boots in preparation for their Champions League qualifier with BATE tomorrow night.
The Blues supremo has likened the opening round clash with the Belarusian Premier League champs to climbing Mount Everest twice over, such is the size of task they face.
Jeffrey’s men have made significant strides in Europe’s top club competition in recent years, with a gutsy 1-1 away draw against Dynamo Zagreb three years ago and a commendable 2-0 aggregate loss to Rosenborg last summer — but he admits this will be their toughest challenge yet.
“I have never been a defeatist, but I have to be realistic about this match,” stated the man who landed his eighth title as Linfield boss in May.
“We know it will be a massively tough one, so what we are looking for is respectability.
“Hopefully we can get ourselves a decent scoreline — but that will depend on how we play, and how they play.”
Linfield enter tomorrow’s home leg with a depleted squad, with Mark McAllister (ankle), Damien Curran (calf) Alan Blayney (groin) and Michael Gault (cruciate) all ruled out through injury.
The injury list only adds to an already mammoth task for the Blues. However, Jeffrey admits he is getting used to having to do things the hard way.
He shrugged: “It’s been that way for a few years now. To be honest, I was gutted when the draw was first made. You look at Cliftonville; they got a great draw logistically, as did Crusaders, along with a great crowd and TV revenue.
“We get a six-hour charter flight and probably the most expensive location in terms of travel. On top of that, we are up against a team who have drawn twice with Juventus and beaten Everton in the last few years.
“But you turn that around. By the time we play Glenavon in our first match of the season, we will have played against Kilmarnock, Rangers and two games against BATE. You can’t get much better preparation than that.”
In the first of those games, Linfield lost 3-1 to Kilmarnock last Tuesday — but it was the performance which particularly pleased Jeffrey.
“I don’t think it is an exaggeration to say we could have been three or four up at half-time,” he remarked.
“I was especially happy with the fitness of the players — they have only had five weeks off and they have been responsible in ensuring they remained in good condition over that time.”
It’s clear that Jeffrey and his backroom staff will have the Blues fighting fit and eager to keep a tight hold of their Carling Premiership and Irish Cup double in their grasp when August arrives.
Saturday’s 6-1 triumph over Carrick Rangers was an indication of how well they are progressing, even at this early stage of the pre-season. The addition of Albert
Watson from Ballymena United, Gary Browne from Lisburn Distillery and ex-Glentoran midfielder Daryl Fordyce are further signals of intent.
But in a week where Glentoran fans are still reflecting on their penalty shoot-out win over FK Renova in the Europa League, Linfield would surely like to give their supporters a little continental cheer.
However, Jeffrey added: “Linfield don’t need any inspiration from anyone else — but I was absolutely delighted for Glentoran.
“Yes, there is a massive rivalry between the two clubs, but that was a super result for the Irish League. To win in such fashion deserves a great deal of credit.”
If Linfield can come close to replicating their most recent results against European opposition tomorrow night, they too will be worthy of such acclaim.
- Linfield’s Big Two showdown with Glentoran at the Oval on Monday, October 17 (7.45pm) is to be broadcast live by Sky Sports.