Peter Thompson grew increasingly frustrated at continually being deployed as a lone striker during his ill-fated 18-month spell at Stockport County — so much so that he turned his back on the club this summer in favour of a permanent return home to Linfield.
Now, however, he believes that the Blues’ European fortunes have turned because he is playing in just such a role again.
Last season’s embarrassing 7-0 aggregate defeat by Randers of Denmark in the Europa League was the Blues’ worst European result in 35 years.
Twelve months on David Jeffrey’s side are just a score draw away from pulling off one of their greatest — particularly given that Norwegian opponents Rosenborg were playing in the group stages of the Champions League just three years ago.
In order to progress to the third qualifying round of this season’s competition Linfield need to score in Trondheim tomorrow night, after last week’s first-leg tie at Windsor Park ended in a scoreless draw.
With Thompson back in tow that’s not something the small band of Bluemen who will make the trip to Scandinavia should worry too much about, given the 26-year-old’s previous scoring record on the continent — as well as in the Setanta Sports Cup.
He scored in Slovenia against Gorica three years ago and two years before that he was the hero as the Blues beat Ventspils of Latvia, with Thompson’s goal in the away leg the decisive strike in a 2-2 aggregate draw.
Those Linfield fans will travel more in hope than expectation, but it is Jeffrey’s tactical alterations that have given them that degree of hope.
“Before in Europe we’ve played a 4-3-3 formation, which usually ends up in a 4-5-1 and the striker ends up isolated for long periods,” said Thompson.
“Last week we went with a 4-2-3-1 system and personally I felt it made a big difference.
“We worked on it in training and got more and more comfortable with it, which I think showed in the match.
“It’s not a negative formation and it can help the front player a lot. I felt I got more support than in any other European game and we probably had more possession than ever before in Europe as well. We didn’t create a lot, but we did have half-chances and it only takes one of those to go in for us and we could be through.
“With the midfield getting forward more we got into areas of the pitch where we caused them problems more often and there was one ball into me in particular that I would have got onto only for a defender to get his toe to it at the last minute.
“It’s things like that which tell me we have a chance, although we know they are a good side with impressive European pedigree, but why can’t we go through?”
Thompson is the only player in the Linfield squad who has scored away from home in Europe, with Michael Gault, who got the goal in their last away Champions League
game, a 1-1 draw with Dinamo Zagreb two years ago, missing through injury.
That kind of result this time would see the Blues through to a meeting with either AIK Solna of Sweden — who played Glentoran in 2007 and are managed by Alex Miller — or Jeunesse d’Esch of Luxembourg in round two.
A year earlier Linfield also travelled to Scandinavia after a scoreless home game, before losing out by the narrowest of margins, going down 1-0 to Elfsborg of Sweden.
“Against Elfsborg we were unfortunate. Their goal was pretty lucky and I remember being annoyed that we didn’t make them work for it,” said Thompson.
“We had chances ourselves at the end that would have won the tie for us and that experience will help those of us who were involved in that game.
“They had a big crowd that night and that’s something we’ll have to contend with this time as well. I think there was a bit of a feeling after that match that we’d missed an opportunity to go through and we don’t want to have the same feeling again after this game.”