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Comment: Celtic prove too strong, but gutsy Linfield deserve admiration

 

By Steven Beacom

David Healy and his exhausted Linfield players walked towards their fans inside Parkhead at the end of the match. They were greeted with roars of approval from the 1,000-strong travelling support.

The Blues may have just been beaten 4-0 by "the finest team in Scotland", as the public address announcer labelled Celtic, but this was one occasion when in defeat heads were not bowed.

The aggregate score was 6-0 in this Champions League second round qualifier, though given the vast gulf in class between the sides, Healy's men did well to keep Brendan Rodgers' Invincibles to that scoreline.

Four years ago, Cliftonville lost 5-0 overall to Celtic in Europe's elite competition, but the current Hoops team is far superior to the class of 2013.

Remember, this is a Bhoys side that went through the whole of last season without a domestic defeat - winning three trophies - and most weeks at Parkhead they hammered their Scottish Premiership opponents.

How were a part-time side, whose players train a couple of times a week, supposed to cope? They put in 100% commitment in both legs and did their very best, but quite simply it was nowhere near good enough against a rampant Celtic, whose goals last night came from Scott Sinclair (2), Tom Rogic and Stuart Armstrong.

Rodgers, who made a visit to the Linfield changing room after the final whistle to praise the Blues on their efforts, is fast developing his Celtic into a special side.

A quick scan of some of their home results last season against the teams who finished second to fifth in Scotland tells you all you need to know. Celtic 4-1 Aberdeen. Celtic 5-1 Rangers. Celtic 4-1 St Johnstone. Celtic 4-0 Hearts. Whipping their 'toughest' rivals in Scotland, Northern Ireland's best were always going to be in for more of the same.

As Rodgers made the point on Tuesday in his press briefing, a 2-0 defeat for Scottish Premiership sides at Parkhead became the 'new win' last season.

Celtic's last defeat at home occurred on November 23 in the Champions League group stages against Barcelona when a certain Lionel Messi scored twice in a 2-0 win.

They play Rosenborg next in their quest to reach what for them is the promised land for the second season running.

For Linfield, it is a trip to Bangor on Saturday for a pre-season friendly.

Healy will want to use the Celtic experience in a positive manner for domestic matters.

Last season, Northern Ireland's record goalscorer inspired the Blues to the Irish League title, the Irish Cup and the County Antrim Shield.

He has strengthened his squad, bringing in Robert Garrett, Jordan Stewart and Andy Mitchell. Others may follow.

Healy feels the bonding that has taken place between his players throughout his side's European journey will be beneficial come next month when they start the defence of the Gibson Cup.

It's a fair bet that Celtic will win the Scottish Premiership again and be back playing Champions League football next season. Linfield's plan will be to join them.

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