Linfield manager David Jeffrey last night hailed a “phenomenal effort” from his players as they made Rosenborg sweat right to the death in a tight Champions League battle.
Still on a high from their stunning Windsor Park show that left the tie on a knife-edge at 0-0, the Carling Premiership champions produced one of their finest away performances on the continent to make the Norwegian giants toil for their victory.
Rosenborg ran out 2-0 winners but the second goal didn’t arrive until the 87th minute as the visitors ran out of steam and Linfield created several chances with Peter Thompson, Brian McCaul and Philip Lowry coming close to ripping up the favourites’ script.
Rade Prica netted the opener on 32 minutes and Markus Henriksen killed off the Blues’ brave challenge late on.
“It was a phenomenal effort from the players in both legs and I am so proud of them,” said Jeffrey. “I thought we passed the ball around very well and could have scored one or two goals.
“We had to go for it at 1-0 as we needed that goal but we were still in the tie right until the last few minutes. It would be unfair to pick out individuals as they are all heroes.
“I am more satisfied than after the first leg because they upped their tempo and we still gave them a game.”
Linfield bowed out of Europe last night with that awful, lingering feeling of what might have been hovering around them.
Norwegian champions Rosenborg failed to kill off David Jeffrey’s side until the 87th minute of the second leg last night — but the Carling Premiership champions carved out enough opportunities to realise their European dream.
Philip Lowry, Brian McCaul and Peter Thompson all came close to scoring as the Blues produced stunning back-to-back performances in the Champions League.
The Windsor Park men were left exhausted but not deflated at the finish as their brave defence was only conquered twice over the two legs.
Former Sunderland striker Rade Prica headed in the opener on 32 minutes and near the end Markus Henriksen landed the knockout blow in Trondhiem.
The Lerkendal Stadion was nowhere near full to capacity, making the atmosphere less hostile for Jeffrey’s men.
Jeffrey acknowledged his side’s heroics at Windsor Park by naming the same starting eleven for the more daunting challenge in Norway.
The expected Rosenborg onslaught in the early stages never arrived though. In fact the visitors looked a menacing attacking threat as Damien Curran sent two shots flying over the crossbar.
Lowry also had a penalty shout rejected as the Norwegian giants failed to stamp their authority on the contest.
On 20 minutes the former Institute man directed a low shot just wide of the upright while at the other end, Prica missed a glorious chance as his header sailed wide from just outside the six yard box.
Anthony Annan’s long-range effort drifted harmlessly wide as Rosenborg continued to lack a cutting edge and Linfield almost rocked them on the half hour.
A wonderful run from McCaul took him beyond the home defence but after bursting into the box, he unleashed a weak shot that missed the target.
Linfield were left kicking themselves a minute later as Prica made up for his earlier miss by netting the opener. Alan Blayney was beaten by a deep cross, allowing Prica to head the ball across the line.
But the Blues number one then produced great two superb diving saves to frustrate Morten Moldskred and Henriksen.
Linfield almost made a dream start seconds after the restart but
Thompson’s curling shot cleared the post by inches.
Aaron Burns also sent a header over the crossbar but the home side hit back with Annan directing a low shot straight at Blayney.
On 65 minutes Rosenborg should have doubled their lead but Per Ciljan Skjelbred produced an air shot when Prica lobbed the ball into his path.
Blayney produced another stunning save in the 69th minute to claw away a header from Mikael Lustig. Annan then looked away in disbelief as Blayney produced a wonderful diving stop to keep the Ghana star searching for his first goal for the club.
But Rosenborg finally killed off
Linfield’s challenge in the 87th minute when Roar Strand fed Trond Olsen who cut the ball back for Henriksen to lift the ball over Blayney from close range.
The Norwegian big guns will now face AIK Solna in the third qualifying round.
Linfield will look back on their Champions League adventure with mixed emotions, but they depart the stage with their heads held high and a renewed determination to go one better on the continent next year.
Rosenborg: Orlund, Lustig, Dorsin, Annan, Moldskred (Strand 81), Demidov, Stadsgaard, Iversen, Skjelbred (Olsen 74), Henriksen, Prica (Winsnes 74). Subs not used: Brathen, Lago, Traoré, Bakenga.
Linfield: Blayney, Lindsay, Curran, Lowry (Carvill 68), Thompson, Bailie, BJ Burns, A Burns (Munster 81), Garrett, Mulgrew, McCaul (Allen 63). Subs not used: Addis, Douglas, Ervin, McAllister.
Referee: Robert Schorgenhofer (Austria).