Belfast Telegraph

Celtic duels helped Linfield reach next level: Healy

By Graham Luney

David Healy has warned the rest of the Danske Bank Premiership that his side's two European showdowns with Celtic will make them an even more ruthless machine.

The Blues lost 4-0 at Parkhead on Wednesday night and 6-0 on aggregate in a memorable Champions League qualifier, but the Irish League treble winners savoured their taste of the big time and want more of it.

After clinching the league title, Irish Cup and County Antrim Shield last season, Linfield are ready to hit the ground running again, and Healy says the Celtic experience will make his side even tougher to conquer.

"We have certainly proved we can defend," said Healy. "Especially when you concede an early goal you think anything can happen here, but going forward in our league we will be favourites to win it and everyone will expect us to.

"The players will look to prove that next season. We have shown we are a good side, a brilliant group of players with a will to win and, while some players will be disappointed not to play against Celtic, the squad will stick together and emerge stronger from these big games.

"Normally in our league we do a lot of attacking and pressing but there will be times when we have to defend well.

"Our fitness levels were exposed near the end but we're part-time and you expect that.

"The fourth goal was a real killer considering the players' efforts and we would have settled for three but fair play to Celtic."

A Scott Sinclair brace and further goals from Tom Rogic and Stuart Armstrong killed off the Blues at Parkhead, but it really was mission impossible for the Irish League part-timers.

Healy was in high spirits as he left Parkhead, joking with the press afterwards that he wasn't dreaming of facing Celtic's youth side in the Challenge Cup.

Northern Ireland's record goalscorer has had the Hoops on his mind since the Champions League draw was made and at times his head must have hurt as he feared an embarrassing slaughter.

Although beaten 6-0 on aggregate, the Linfield fans knew their players had fought for everything and that's all they could ask.

A goal against Celtic would have been a moment to cherish, but the players will never forget this adventure and it has whetted their appetite to play against big sides in big arenas in Europe's premier club competition.

"I'm sure we will be stronger but I hope we aren't drawn against Celtic's youth team in the Challenge Cup," said Healy with a smile.

"But for us this is a huge learning curve and the players have been immense since I took on the job.

"It was an incredible experience for the players, including a few Celtic fans among them, and the fans were immense. My father and son were there and it was a special night."

Hoops boss Brendan Rodgers was asked if their next Champions League opponents Rosenborg would be a step up in class from Linfield but he was respectful to Healy's men.

"They are never easy games," said the Ulsterman. "Lots of teams will come here with a defensive formation and look to stop us scoring. There are two games and teams naturally don't want to concede too many here.

"But our attacking game is progressing and we will look to develop physically and tactically.

"Big Roy Carroll made incredible saves over the two legs and it's great to see him playing back home and still enjoying his football.

"This could have been a very tricky tie against a determined Linfield side but we have dealt with it well.

"It's tough playing at Celtic Park, playing in front of nearly 60,000 but the Linfield players coped with the occasion well and did their very best until the end."

Meanwhile, Linfield are nervously monitoring the fitness of Andy Waterworth, who fell awkwardly in the second half and may have suffered a knee injury.

A spell on the sidelines for the experienced finisher will see Healy step up his search for a striker.

Celtic go marching on in Europe and Ronny Deila will gladly help Rodgers ahead of Celtic's Champions League qualifier against Rosenborg next week - but he is also willing to advise the Norwegian outfit.

Last summer, Rodgers took over the Hoops hotseat from Deila, who returned to his homeland to become boss of Valerenga.

The former Liverpool boss has suggested he could reach out to his predecessor for some advice.

Deila would be more than happy to take Rodgers' call ahead of the first leg in Glasgow, but will also speak to Rosenborg should they also request his input.

"That's no problem for me," Deila said.

"I will also take a call from Rosenborg if they call.

"It is a difficult situation for me because I want Norwegian football to succeed and at the same time I want Celtic to succeed.

"So of course if I can help with information to Celtic or Rosenborg I will do it.

"But I don't think that is going to be a big problem for either of them.

"I don't think I am going to be the most important part of this tie, it will be the players."

Whether or not his insight into both clubs is sought, Deila, who won two Ladbrokes Premiership titles and a League Cup in his two seasons with Celtic - but failed on the European stage - expects the Scottish treble winners to get through the tie.

"Celtic are big favourites," he said.

"But at the same time Rosenborg are a team with a lot of tradition and they have everything to win in this tie.

"Also, they are in the middle of their season and they should be in the best shape so that is an opportunity for them.

"Rosenborg have done everything to gear up for this game over the past months so it is an advantage for them.

"But Celtic are a better team, better player by player and also have experience in Europe.

"However, it is positive for Rosenborg that they are away in the first leg.

"They will need to get a good result at Celtic Park.

"They have no chance if they have a bad result at Celtic Park, then the game is finished."

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