Belfast Telegraph

Gault at centre of Linfield's Euro ambition

By Keith Bailie

Linfield captain Michael Gault will start in the heart of defence, as the Blues start their European adventure against IF Fuglafjordur in Torshavn.

The Windsor Park men travelled to the Faroe Islands without new recruits Mark Haughey and Sean Ward, who are more recognised as defenders than Gault, while transfer listed David Armstrong made the trip despite being an injury doubt.

Experienced midfielder Gault is likely to partner Billy Joe Burns in defence, after performing well in a pre-season friendly against Ards on Saturday.

Linfield manager David Jeffrey believes his club captain is a more than able deputy to fill the defensive gap as the Blues look to overcome Faroese opponents in Europe for the second season in succession.

"Playing Michael in defence is something that we have looked at in the past and with Sean Ward unavailable, Mark Haughey out with a hamstring injury and David Armstrong struggling with a back and shoulder problem, this seemed like the ideal time to try it out," said Jeffrey.

"I thought Michael was excellent against Ards. He and Billy Joe Burns complimented each other well. They were both strong in the tackle, solid in the air and they both used the ball well.

"Michael has all the attributes to play in defence. Sometimes when you've injuries you discover another option, but this wasn't just pure luck, as we tried this alternative several times in the reserves last season and it's something we've been looking at for some time."

Linfield's 2-1 victory over Ards at Windsor Park on Saturday was their only warm-up game ahead of tonight's Europa League clash, with the squad only returning to pre-season training a fortnight ago.

While Jeffrey would have liked more time with his players, he is confident his side are well prepared for the clash with Fuglafjordur and the domestic season is his priority.

"I'm very happy with how our preparations have gone. Obviously, I'd like to work with the players for a longer period, but ultimately the Irish League is our bread and butter,and I don't want to bring our players back too soon and run the risk of burning them out before Christmas," said Jeffrey.

"We've had nine training sessions and one friendly game, whereas our opponents have played 15 league games this season.

"Ideally, I would have liked an extra week and another game, but unfortunately we don't have that. All things considered, I'm pleased at where we are at."

Jeffrey is expected to give competitive debuts to the summer signings Johnny Tuffey, James Knowles, Andrew Waterworth and young left-back Matthew Clarke, while Aaron Burns returns to the club after spending the second half of last season at Portadown.

David Jeffrey believes this new crop of players have the ability to forge another great Linfield side.

"You have to remember we're only fortnight into pre-season," said Jeffrey.

"With a number of new signings it will take time for things to gel, but what has pleased me is the new players desire to play for the club and the fact they're prepared to come and work within our wage structure.

"They've got the desire to come here and to win trophies. This is maybe the fourth or fifth side I've tried to build.

"Last season really was the end of an era and this is an opportunity for us to rebuild. There is plenty of potential there."

Linfield will come up against a vastly experienced goalkeeper in IF's Jakup Mikkelsen.

He is just six weeks away from his 43rd birthday and is the Faroe Islands' most capped goalkeeper and second most capped player in their history.

He played in both Euro 2012 qualifiers against Northern Ireland, being beaten by two sublime Pat McCourt goals at Windsor Park almost two years ago.

Tuffey had been on the bench for Northern Ireland in the 1-1 draw in Toftir in October 2010.

After beating B36 Torshavn in the Champions League on penalties a year ago Jeffrey is confident his side can achieve something similar this time around.

"They will be ahead of us in terms of match fitness, but by the same token it's a realistic chance for us to progress – although I've no doubt that they will be thinking the same thing," said Jeffrey.

"Our players are very hungry and they're looking forward to the challenge.

"What we lack in match fitness, we will make up for it desire and commitment."

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