Belfast Telegraph

Linfield ace James Knowles calls for an heroic display

By Stuart McKinley

James Knowles believes that Linfield will need 11 heroes if they are to seal a place in the third qualifying round of the Europa League tomorrow night.

Aaron Burns' name was splashed across Europe when his goal gave the Blues a shock 1-0 win over Greek side Xanthi last week

Now Knowles is challenging his team-mates to dig deep yet again and finish the job.

"There is a chance for someone to be be a hero if they get the goal that puts us through, but if we're going to do it we'll need everyone to play their part," said Knowles.

"We may have to play better than we did last week – if that's possible – but that's the challenge for us and we are going to need all 11 players who start the game and whoever may come on to put in a performance.

"This is a massive opportunity for us, but we also know that the challenge is massive too.

"They may have underestimated us in the first leg, that won't happen again. We expect them to come at us looking for a goal to level the tie.

"We have to work hard to combat that because obviously if we can keep a clean sheet then we'll be through to the next round.

"We know that it's going to be tough. Xanthi are a good side and we expect them to put us under pressure, but we go into the game with a lead and there is a massive incentive for us."

Linfield's sensational summer exploits in Europe – two wins over Faroe Islands side IF Fuglafjordur before the victory in Greece – are in stark contrast to the emotions which Knowles experienced at the end of last season.

The 20-year-old midfield star had been gearing up for an Irish Cup final appearance with Cliftonville only to be told just days before the decider with Glentoran that he was ineligible and therefore couldn't play.

In the last three weeks he has been part of a history making Blues team, which firstly recorded the club's first away win in Europe since 1966, which was the first step in winning both legs of a European tie for the first time.

And that was before the famous win in Greece came along.

The swift turnaround in fortunes is partly down to the former Blackburn Rovers trainee maintaining a positive attitude throughout the entire process.

"It was very disappointing at the time to miss out on the Irish Cup final with Cliftonville, but I tried to turn it around and think that a lot of players have been in my position before, be it through injury or suspension," he said.

"Signing for Linfield gave me a boost and I've had an unbelievable start to my time at the club.

"To have made my first three competitive appearances all in Europe and to have won them all – and kept three clean sheets too – is more than I could have wished for."

Northern Ireland domestic football is enjoying a high profile in Europe at present and one way or another Knowles was going to be involved, after turning down a new deal at Cliftonville to sign for the Blues.

"The Cliftonville v Celtic games were obviously big occasions for the players who were involved and I am over the moon for them to have experienced that," said Knowles.

"What I've done already at Linfield has given me a real buzz, but we have more to do and I think that there is more to come from us.

"The European games are a good shop window for lads like myself who have hopes of getting back to England, but that's not my motivation for this game.

"We can achieve something special for the club and everyone wants to go out and get the result we need to do that."

Belfast Telegraph


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