Five footballing things we learned from Linfield's narrow defeat to Celtic
Linfield held on an impressive 2-0 scoreline against the best team in Scotland on Friday evening to tee up the second leg at Parkhead on Wednesday.
What can we take from an historic evening in Belfast? Forgetting all the rigmarole off the pitch, which has and will be discussed at length, here's the Takeaway from the football.
Roy Carroll is forever young
Roy will turn 40 in a mere three months but his performance at Windsor Park was one of a man in his prime. Scott Sinclair would have had a hat-trick but for the former Manchester United stopper. He even saved one with his noggin as Sinclair looked to bend an effort into the top corner.
As the game ticked into injury-time, Carroll made a magnificent double save from Dembele and then Lustig, pushing the first effort out wide before scrambling back up to snatch the follow-up. There was no more fitting a manner in which to end the game.
Carroll has had a big career, 16 years ago he joined Manchester United for £2.5 million, but Friday evening's display must have been up there with his best and shows just why he still makes it into Michael O'Neill's international panel. And David Healy's praise that the Enniskillen man has returned for training lighter and as determined as ever shows just why his performances are still top class as he edges into his fifth decade.
Celtic are pretty useful
Aye they weren't bad. The fact that Linfield defended well, Carroll had one of his best games and Celtic still won comfortably shows the gulf in class. Of course, it's to be expected. Celtic's squad cost in the region of £27.95 million to assemble. Linfield's? Well not quite as much. This is a Celtic side that will consider their European campaign a failure if they don't reach the group stages, Linfield have already matched their ambitions.
Celtic will have to be better than they were on Friday if they're going to live up to theirs. But no panic. The signs of quality were there. Tom Rogic influenced everything Celtic did going forward, Sinclair and Hayes were rapid on the wings and of course Scott Brown dictated the play. Things just didn't quite click and they didn't muster a goal from open play. For that, Linfield must be credited.
Former striker David Healy knows how to organise a defence
Northern Ireland's record goal-scorer is proving himself a talented and wise manager. He set his team up officially in a 3-5-2 but when Celtic had the ball, and that was the majority of the time, it quickly morphed into a 4-5-1. Every player knew where they should be and threw their bodies on the line to protect their goal. Against such a talented side, they sat in and defended superbly. Last ditch tackles were needed but the likes of Casement and Clarke did just that. As a former striker, Healy certainly knows how to frustrate a forward line.
Andy Waterworth can prove a thorn in the side of even top centre-halves
Is it just me or were both Simunovic and Sviatchenko wholly unconvincing? The Celtic centre-halves had relatively little to do but with Andy Waterworth nipping at their heals during the second half, both looked flustered and both surrendered possession to the lone striker. It was a style of game and a performance that Waterworth can't be used to playing. Linfield normally dominate their matches and chances are laid carefully on a plate for the striker to gobble up. There was none of that this time but he was more than ready to chip in with the donkey work and created a couple of breakaway chances with his incessant bothering of the panicked centre-halves.
A final thought for Matthew Clarke
Finally, we learnt in David Healy's press conference that defender Matthew Clarke will miss Wednesday's game at Celtic Park. Healy said Clarke is a "massive, massive Rangers fan" and so the opportunity to play at Celtic was no doubt a highly exciting one for the 23 year-old full-back who showed his class against top opposition until a 'freak accident' saw him go off injured at Windsor Park. Keep the head up, Matthew. There will be more good days ahead.
Belfast Telegraph Digital