Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 17 April 2014

Linfield boss, David Jeffrey, is desperate to avoid yet another tragic turnaround

Aaron Burns(L) FC Linfield celebration. FC Skoda Xanthi v FC Linfield UEFA Europa League 2nd leg qualifiers in Xanthi, Greece. Photo by Aleksandar Djorovic/Press Eye
Aaron Burns

David Jeffrey is urging his Linfield players to make sure that they don't suffer a repeat of the Greek tragedy that he experienced with the Blues 29 years ago.

And he has also warned them that the second leg of their Europa League tie against Xanthi will be even tougher than last week's first meeting, which Linfield won 1-0.

Thanks to Aaron Burns' goal the Blues enter tonight's return battle with real hope of progressing to the third stage of a European competition for only the second time, but that's what awaited Jeffrey and his team-mates in 1984 when they also face opposition from Greece.

After beating Shamrock Rovers in the first round of the European Cup Linfield responded from a 2-1 first leg defeat against Panathinakos when they raced into a 3-0 at Windsor Park.

The dream was crushed, however, when the Greeks hit back with three goals of their own before they went on to suffer a defeat to Liverpool in the semi-finals -- just weeks before the decider against Juventus, which turned into the Heysel Stadium disaster.

A draw would be enough for the Blues to book a third round tie, likely to be against Belgian side Standard Liege, in next week's third round.

"Panathinakos has been talked about more than once this week," said Jeffrey.

"I remember that tie well. We'd done very well to come back to Windsor with an away goal from a 2-1 defeat and we made a magnificent start to the second leg to lead 3-0, but we were a young team, inexperienced in Europe and ultimately their class and experience told.

"Although we have a 1-0 lead there are similarities to that tie -- and not just because the opposition is Greek.

"It's about producing another top class performance and if we are going to finish the job and make it through we will need every single player to be at the top of his game -- we can't even afford one player to average."

The Blues not only stunned Xanthi, but all of Europe when they won the first leg.

It was only three weeks ago against IF Fuglafjordur that Linfield won away in Europe for only the second time in their history, so to repeat the feat a fortnight later was a remarkable achievement.

"I think that it's easier for Irish League teams to play away from home in Europe," said Jeffrey.

"I saw last week how our players how they eased their way up to the level of intensity that was required.

"You can do that when you are away from home and are concentrating only on football.

"At home there are other pressures from work etc that have to be dealt with. Players can maybe take a day or a half-day off work before the game, but the focus isn't the same."

Jeffrey, however, believes that his team's shock value is no longer worth anything.

"Any element of surprise that we might have carried into the first leg is now gone," he said.

"They now know what they are facing and for a club like Xanthi from a league that is ranked in the top 10 in Europe, they will be thinking that being knocked out of the Europa League by a part-time team from a small country like Northern Ireland is unthinkable.

"I don't know if they underestimated us last week, but we produced an incredible performance. I certainly don't think they would have expected us to produce the level of performance that we did."

Whatever happens this evening there will be history made.

For Linfield it's about going further than any team representing the club has been on the continental stage since a European Cup quarter-final in 1967.

Xanthi don't have anything like that kind of European pedigree. This is only their fourth venture into Europe and they have never even won a match, let alone a tie.

"What we have asked the players to do is give their best in every game and if they do that then history looks after itself," said Jeffrey.

"Having said that, what we have done already in the last three weeks tops anything that we have done in Europe during my 16 and a half years as manager.

"This is a massive opportunity for us and we've been in positions before where we haven't been given a chance -- like the Setanta Cup final in 2005 against Shelbourne -- and won."

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