Linfield draw after pre-match pitch drama
Linfield 0 AEL Limassol 0 (AEL win 3-0 on aggregate): David Jeffrey hailed the influence of veteran William Murphy after Linfield's Champions League campaign came to an end at the hands of AEL Limassol — but only after the Blues had received a helping hand from fierce rivals Glentoran.
All the drama came before the game as the Blues won a race against time to avoid the embarrassing situation of the match being postponed.
The machine used to draw the white markings on the pitch broke down and a swift dash across the city — escorted by the PSNI — resulted in borrowing one from Glentoran and the game was given the all-clear after the groundsman got to work.
In the end, there was only a 10-minute delay to kick-off but it could have been much worse for the Windsor Park club had the Uefa match delegate decided to be a stickler for the rules.
With the contest already virtually over following a 3-0 first-leg defeat, the Blues were perhaps unfortunate not to at least score at Windsor Park, through new boy Ryan Henderson, but deserved a share of the spoils.
“I'm as proud as punch and very pleased,” said Jeffrey.
“The contribution of William Murphy was highly significant because we need someone to naturally attack the ball and the performance was built around him.
“I was really pleased with Ryan Henderson, too. He was everything we hoped and more and was unfortunate not to score.
“We have to be very pleased with three clean sheets in Europe too.”
After a quiet start, the Blues thought they should have been awarded a penalty when Robert Garrett's dangerous cross into the box appeared to brush the arm of defender Dossa Junior.
A successful spot-kick then would certainly have changed the complexion of the tie but it wasn't to be.
Slowly, AEL's slick passing game came to the fore and the home goal led a charmed life when Miguel Roui wasted a glorious chance on 14 minutes, side-footing wide from 12 yards when unmarked.
Having failed to score in three Champions League qualifiers so far, the home crowd were more hopeful than expectant about their side finding the net.
Their best chance over the two legs came on 21 minutes. Steven Douglas' curling cross from the right flank was met by Henderson but keeper Matias Degra produced a superb one-handed save to deny the summer signing from Donegal Celtic.
Edmar made keeper Alan Blayney sweat with a piledriver from 25 yards two minutes before the break but thankfully for the home side the ball whistled past the upright.
Murphy, who returned to the starting line-up after a family holiday, then thwarted Patrick Vouho when the striker was well placed inside the six-yard box, ready to pull the trigger.
Blayney then gathered substitute Chris Dickson's long-range strike at the second attempt, before he slammed another strike down the keeper's throat, but the Blues were rarely flustered.
The Belfast side gave a good account of themselves throughout.
Substitute Daryl Fordyce almost gave the crowd the goal they craved in the last minute but his stinging drive from 25 yards was theatrically saved by Degra.
AEL will now face Croatian outfit Partisan Belgrade in the third qualifying round.
Meanwhile, highly-rated full-back Aaron Burns is seemingly heading for the Windsor Park exit door after being left out of the squad and is yet to accept a new contract offer.
“I understand he's hoping to secure a move away from the club across the water but he is under contract until September,” said Jeffrey.
LINFIELD: Blayney, Ervin, Douglas, Armstrong, Murphy, BJ Burns, Henderson (Carvill 78), Mulgrew, Garrett (Fordyce 82), Thompson, McAllister (Browne 84). Subs not used: Glendinning, Curran, Hanley, Tipton.
AEL LIMASSOL: Degra, Junior, Arajo, Roui (Carvalho 70), Edmar (Dickson 60), Nicolaou (Constantinou 76), Paulo, Bebe, Carlitos, Ouon, Vouho. Subs not used: Hidi, Parpas, Montero, Sebastiao.
Referee: Martin Strombergsson (Sweden).