Belfast Telegraph

Away fans can help Linfield stand tall at Celtic Park, says Blues defender

Linfield v Celtic, Champions League Second Qual Second Leg, Celtic Park, Wednesday 7.45pm

By Graham Luney

Mark Stafford has warned his Linfield team-mates that Celtic will show them no mercy tomorrow night, but he believes the travelling Blues support can help them deliver another special performance in the Champions League.

The Danske Bank Premiership champions are in Glasgow and are braced for a first ever taste of Paradise after the first leg at Windsor Park finished 2-0 to Brendan Rodgers' Invincibles.

First-half goals from Scott Sinclair and Tom Rogic put David Healy's side on the ropes, but a sensational display between the sticks from Roy Carroll contributed to a stunning rearguard performance.

Close to 1,500 Linfield fans will be at Parkhead to roar their heroes on but it's a daunting challenge, even for a Blues side encouraged by their battling display on Friday evening.

When Cliftonville arrived at the home of the 1967 European Cup winners four years ago they lost only 2-0, but the general consensus is that the class of 2017, who were unbeaten domestically last season, are a much more slick and ruthless force.

Centre-back Stafford knows his side face a monumental challenge in Glasgow tomorrow but he says the players will give it all for themselves, the club and the fans.

"I've never been to Parkhead and I've no doubt it will be an experience and a half," said the former Ballinamallard United ace. "I'm really looking forward to it but we know Celtic are going to put in a really big performance against us as they want to put on a show in front of their home fans and finish off the tie convincingly.

"We will need to be prepared for that but there's no doubt they have so much quality and talent in their ranks. Celtic are a top-class, full-time team with wonderful players and their fitness levels are very high too.

"We battled well, particularly in the second half, and to restrict them to the two goals was a great achievement.

"We will need to approach this game in a similar way and get bodies behind the ball, not allowing them gaps to exploit.

"We'll be looking to keep it tight and hopefully make the most of any set-pieces that come our way. I thought the atmosphere at Windsor Park was unbelievable and the fans really got behind us, especially in the second half when we kept them out and

created a few half chances ourselves. Unfortunately we didn't take them, and against a side like Celtic you really need to be clinical, but we managed to get into their danger zone.

"The players could really feel the support of the fans and we are just disappointed not to reward them with a goal. But we responded the right way after going 2-0 down and the boys' fitness levels were superb."

Friday's game was overshadowed by missile throwing at Celtic ace Leigh Griffiths, while the striker has also been charged with "provoking spectators" after the match.

Linfield have been charged with the "throwing of objects" and a "field invasion," with the case to be dealt with by the Uefa Control, Ethics and Disciplinary Body on Thursday.

"The missile throwing was disappointing to see but the overwhelming majority of the supporters were brilliant," added Stafford (below).

"Nearly 1,500 of our fans will be at Parkhead and we want to put in a good solid performance to make them proud."

While former Manchester United keeper Carroll was on song for the Blues, Celtic's players showed their class and Stafford was impressed by Australian Rogic, who swept home the second goal from a Griffiths corner.

"I really liked Tom Rogic in the middle of the park," he added. "I thought he was unbelievable and at times was running the show. Moussa Dembele is another top-class player and with the slightest of movement he can outsmart you.

"The top players are so comfortable on the ball and use it well. We just aren't used to playing against players of that calibre. We will never forget these games and we've got to try and enjoy them as much as we can. Roy Carroll pulled off some absolutely unbelievable stops and if it wasn't for him we could have conceded five or six goals. Roy really showed what a class keeper he is, he was brilliant."

• Torquay United have signed former Wrexham and Accrington striker James Gray following a successful trial.

The 25-year-old played for Southport and Glenavon last season, and has agreed an undisclosed-length contract.

Belfast Telegraph


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