Belfast Telegraph

Andy Waterworth's late goal gives Linfield the edge over AIK Solna

Linfield 1 AIK Solna 0

By Graham Luney

It was a special occasion and Linfield fans will remember it with huge affection. The Blues' 100th fixture in European competition will live long in the memory of the supporters who witnessed one of their greatest ever performances against massive odds.

Linfield's European journeys, which began in 1959, have often ended in embarrassment but this 1-0 victory sees Warren Feeney's side arrive at the Friends Arena in Stockholm next Thursday with genuine hope of a stunning Europa League second qualifying round triumph over AIK Solna.

Substitute Andy Waterworth was the hero, hammering in the game's only goal in the 87th minute to silence the rowdy travelling support who hurled toilet rolls onto the side of the pitch and unveiled a banner reading: 'These 51 Toilet Rolls are worth as much as your titles'.

Blues boss Warren Feeney, who started with Peter Thompson in attack instead of Waterworth, said: "I did my homework and I was fortunate to have enough people around me to give me DVDs and clips.

"Some of the clips I was afraid to show the players, but we were massive underdogs. I was quietly confident though as it's 11 v 11 and I was delighted with the way we kept the ball.

"We showed a hunger and desire and our fitness levels were strong. Andy's got his strengths and I don't see why he can't get more goals, maybe 35 in a season. He has pace, enthusiasm and eagerness and his finish was outstanding."

On the vocal AIK fans who unfurled the unusual banner, Feeney laughed and added: "We always knew they would bring strong support with them as their home games can feature 20,000 but we are out to do a job on the football pitch and I'm just delighted we have done that."

Andreas Alm's side, who sit second in the Allsvenskan League behind Malmo, will still believe they are in the tie but the 1,741 fans who were at Mourneview Park know the Irish League part-timers are still dreaming.

The visitors were comfortable in possession and stroked the ball around the playing surface with composure.

Goalscoring opportunities were limited in the early stages but Stephen Lowry did direct a header over the crossbar from Michael Carvill's right wing cross.

AIK also looked to get on the front foot but a free kick from Stockholm native Nabil Bahoui struck the defensive wall and rebounded to safety.

Linfield were forced to make a change in the 21st minute when Jamie Mulgrew hobbled off and Sean Ward came on for his first appearance of the season.

Carvill, who scored in both battles with B36 Torshavn, aimed a low shot goalwards but keeper Per Karlsson wasn't troubled.

The Swedish giants lacked invention in the final third and AIK's frustration surfaced again before the break when Bahoui was deservedly booked for diving in the penalty box.

Thompson was given a sight at goal in the 40th minute but he looked away in disappointment as his volley cleared the crossbar.

Just before the break the Blues did survive a scare when Kennedy Igboananike let fly from long range but the ball whistled past the post.

Linfield keeper Jonny Tuffey would have anticipated a busier evening and Kenny Pavey's tame effort was easily scooped up after the restart.

AIK did try to find an extra gear but it was the fans who appeared more up for the challenge.

While the Blues defence had been outstanding they were caught napping in the 58th minute when Celso Borges, back from World Cup duty with Costa Rica, floated in a dangerous free-kick which Igboananike headed over.

The Swedes had failed to carve out a clear cut chance but in the 72nd minute Bahoui rattled the base of the Linfield post from a tight angle and Igboananike couldn't force the rebound into the net while under pressure from skipper Chris Hegarty.

But then Ward almost grabbed the opener himself with a sensational volley from 25 yards in the 79th minute but Carlgren produced a stunning fingertip save.

And three minutes before the end Linfield stunned the Swedes by storming in front. Waterworth, a 74th minute substitute for Thompson, used his pace to sprint clear of Noah Sonko and drill a powerful low shot past Carlgren.

It was the perfect finish delivered at the perfect time for the Blues who had earned themselves a slice of luck at the end of a courageous display.

Linfield: Tuffey, Reece Glendinning, Hegarty, Richards, Matthew Clarke, Sproule, Mulgrew, Lowry, Burns, Thompson, Carvill. Subs: Ross Glendinning, Callacher, Waterworth, Ward, Morrow, Quinn, Ross Clarke.

AIK SOLNA: Carlgren, Lorentzson, Karlsson, Johansson, Pavey, Sundberg, Borges, Saletros, Bahoui, Igboananike, Goitom. Subs: Stamatopoulos, Ofori, Moro, Owusu, Nikolic, Eliasson. Ref: Rene Eisner (Austria).

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