Hero Jordan Stewart was 'desperate' to play for Linfield, says David Healy
David Healy hailed his super-sub Jordan Stewart after the wing wizard netted what could prove to be the most valuable goal in Linfield's history.
The Blues are still on course to take on Brendan Rodgers' Celtic in the first qualifying round of the Champions League after Stewart's sublime 89th-minute winner on his competitive debut at Windsor Park last night settled nerves against supposed San Marino pushovers La Fiorita.
The financial stakes couldn't be higher for Linfield going into Tuesday's second leg as a double date with Celtic will pocket them a cool £1million.
There's work still to be done in San Marino but boss Healy hailed a priceless goal for the Danske Bank Premiership champions.
"I had to wait for the right moment to get him on the pitch," said the former Northern Ireland striker. "But that's what he is capable of - and I knew it.
"Initially, I thought Jordan was going to hit the ball with his right foot, then he moved it to the left.
"I was then thinking, 'Please hit it, Jordan.' But he had to put the goalkeeper on his backside first, before he scored an absolute cracker. It was a fantastic goal. I'm delighted for him - it was a great way to mark his debut."
Aaron Burns also had a penalty saved by La Fiorita keeper Gianluca Vivan, who repeatedly frustrated the home side.
Winger Stewart was released by League Two side Swindon Town after two years at the club and Glentoran supporters hoped he could spark a revival in east Belfast, but Linfield won his affections.
Despite his Glentoran heroics — including an Irish Cup success in 2015 — Stewart comes from a Linfield-supporting family and his late grandfather Phil Scott played for the Blues.
IN FULL: Watch Linfield FC boss David Healy's post-match presser as he discusses how much Jordan Stewart wanted to play...Posted by Belfast Telegraph Sport on Thursday, June 29, 2017
Scott plied his trade as an inside forward in the 1960s and early ‘70s. He won a league title with Distillery in 1963 and became a household figure with Linfield, where he scored 220 goals in 400 games.
Scott also scored twice in a 2-1 win against Ballymena United in the 1970 Irish Cup final, and remains Linfield’s joint top scorer in European competition with five goals.
The switch to Linfield was an opportunity for Stewart to kickstart his career after a move across the water failed to take off.
A dose of homesickness along with a knee injury curtailed his progress at Swindon but he is now hoping to enjoy his football again at Linfield under Healy and he’s certainly started with a bang.
“Jordan was desperate to come to this club and that's why we brought him here,” explained Healy.
“He lives around the corner and his grandad, the late Phil Scott, was a hero at this club.
“It also means a lot to a manager when a new player does something like that. It was great for him. He’s back (from England) with hunger and a bit of bite. It will probably take four or five games to get him up to full fitness.”
Although the Blues will take only a one-goal advantage with them to San Marino, Healy is confident his boys can finish the job on Tuesday.
“I believe we are a better team and I think we proved that tonight,” he added.
“I believe we definitely have enough to get through. I knew what to expect from La Fiorita.
“They had quite a few good players. They have experience and a lot of players who would walk into Irish League sides, but we also have quality. The players are well aware of what’s at stake. They’d have to live on the moon not to, but they also know it is all about these two games.”
Healy, however, admitted his team did it the hard way after Aaron Burns fluffed his lines from the penalty spot after goalkeeper Gianluca Vivan had flattened Stephen Lowry with a ludicrously high challenge that certainly warranted a red card instead of yellow.
The Linfield chief agreed, stating: “In the Irish League you probably get away with that but not in European football. I always go back to (Manchester United’s) Nani being sent off against Real Madrid in the Champions League and that totally changed that game.
“There was no need for the goalkeeper to put his foot up the way he did and in European football he probably should have been sent off.”