Belfast Telegraph

Linfield are plotting a Euro fairytale

By Graham Luney

Warren Feeney has only just dipped his toes into the treacherous waters of football management but it could be argued that his team talk tonight should be one of the simplest he will ever have to make.

During final preparations for Linfield's battle with AIK Solna at the impressive Friends Arena (6pm) the former Northern Ireland striker should simply say to his troops "same again".

In other words, an action replay of the stunning performance at Mourneview Park a week ago when an 87th minute goal from striker Andrew Waterworth gave the Blues a slender, but precious advantage.

This Europa League second qualifying round scrap is still on a knife-edge but the slick, full-time Swedes are on the ropes thanks to a performance of incredible discipline and phenomenal work-rate from Feeney's men.

The Linfield defence, with skipper Chris Hegarty at it's heart, produced an awesome display but they will need a repeat performance in what is expected to be a hotter Stockholm climate.

It's no wonder then that new Linfield boss Feeney refers to this second leg test as "a different ball game".

The Swedish champions remain favourites to progress but if the Blues can be ruthless in taking just one chance, the hosts would need to beat keeper Jonny Tuffey on three occasions.

And if Linfield can perform a minor miracle this evening it would mean Feeney's reign at the club will have started with a bang in the shape of one of the club's greatest ever European success stories.

"They will come at us but we have asked questions of them and hopefully, with the right gameplan, we can cause another upset," said Feeney.

"I've said to the players before that the man who fears to lose will never taste success.

"They are technically better players but we have desire and hunger. We haven't conceded a goal and we are in the ball game.

"I thought the boys were ready in the first game and while eyebrows were raised over Reece Glendinning's name on the teamsheet, I want to promote youth and I know what the kid can do. He was excellent along with (Chris) Hegarty throwing himself in front of challenges while Stephen Lowry passed the ball well against some top players but I could praise all the boys."

Striker Peter Thompson, who made his 400th appearance for the club in last week's memorable battle, has promised fans the players will "give it their all" tonight.

"We know they are a quality side and they possess a lot of good players but we are here to do a job and hopefully we can produce another positive performance and result," Thompson told the club's website. "They will be fired up after some disappointing results including at the weekend but we will give it our all.

"We will do whatever it takes to try and progress in this competition and thankfully the first leg result has given us something to fight for. It will be a privilege to play for the club in such an impressive international stadium but our focus is on the performance.

"If we play poorly and don't get the result of course our memories of the occasion will not be great.

"But the wonderful aspect of these European games is the spirit that they create within the squad and we have come out early to Sweden to get a good rest and eat right ahead of the game.

"When the results are good people's spirits are much higher and hopefully we can keep this run going.

"I've played in great teams and with great players here so it was a huge honour to make my 400th appearance against AIK, a milestone I never imagined I would reach.

"But while the club's 100th appearance in Europe finished with a win, we know this tie is at half-time and we must give another good account of ourselves again."

Belfast Telegraph


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