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I came so close to Linfield exit, admits Europa League scorer Stafford

Shayne Lavery (top) and Mark Stafford were the goal-scoring heroes at Windsor Park.
Shayne Lavery (top) and Mark Stafford were the goal-scoring heroes at Windsor Park.
Job done: Blues boss David Healy told Stafford to stay put

By Steven Beacom

Linfield's European hero Mark Stafford has revealed that he thought he would leave Windsor Park earlier this year.

Back in January, the uncompromising defender wasn't in manager David Healy's plans and felt, having joined the Blues in 2015, it was time to move on.

There would have been no shortage of takers.

"I thought my time was up at the football club in January. I really did. The manager didn't have anything for me but he told me he didn't want me to sign for another club until he saw how things panned out," said Stafford, who has scored twice for Linfield in the Europa League this season.

"I obviously spoke to other football clubs, and I don't want to name them, but I spoke to a few. Probably at that stage I would have wanted to leave at the end of the season because I was putting so much in and getting nothing out, and that was with the boys doing so well.

"It doesn't matter if you're not playing, you're not happy and I wanted to leave, but the manager spoke to me in March and that was a long time for me to wait and not sign for anyone."

In April it was announced that Stafford had agreed a one-year extension to his contract.

Stafford added: "I could have signed for other clubs in January, but I was loyal and held off, and (in March) he (Healy) told me he really wanted me to be a part of this season's plans.

"I signed the deal and, looking back, it was probably the best decision I ever made. Coming into pre-season, I knew it would probably be my last one and I wanted to give it a good, honest rattle and be the best I could be.

"You need a bit of luck here and there. There have been a few injuries and some bad luck for others, but I got my opportunity and I wanted to try do well. Thankfully I've got my head on a couple of set-pieces and we've had a couple of decent results."

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