Linfield 4-0 Borac Banja Luka
What a scorcher! Christy Manzinga’s spectacular strike for Linfield at Windsor Park against Bosnian outfit Borac was as hot as the Belfast weather.
Throw in a blistering all round team performance and goals from Michael Newberry, captain Jamie Mulgrew and Jimmy Callacher and the Blues have given themselves a glorious chance to progress in the Europa Conference League.
David Healy wanted his team to have a shot in next week’s return leg of the second qualifying round tie. They have more than that. They are overwhelming favourites now and the manager has to take much credit for that, with his tactics and selection spot on.
Linfield felt they could have given more in this season’s Champions League defeat to Zalgiris Vilnius but there were no complaints about this dynamic display in their first outing in Europe’s newest competition.
Before kick-off there was a minute’s silence in tribute to club legend Tommy Leishman who sadly passed away earlier this week at the age of 83. The Scot was a key performer in midfield for Liverpool and instrumental in helping Bill Shankly’s side gain promotion to the English top flight in 1962. With what followed for the Reds, that was a huge season in the club’s illustrious history.
Leishman made plenty of that for the Blues in his time at Windsor Park between 1965 and 1967. He won the league title, cup competitions and was named Ulster Footballer of the Year. Most famously of all, as player-manager Leishman guided Linfield to the quarter-finals of the European Cup in 1967.
Football was a different game back then when only champions competed in the most prestigious club competition in the world and there wasn’t a host of qualifying rounds like now but, even so, for an Irish League outfit to reach the last eight was extraordinary.
There’s more chance of zero complaints in Northern Ireland about the heatwave we are experiencing than a team from here reaching the quarters of the Champions League these days, but perhaps Healy’s side were inspired by thoughts of Leishman’s staggering feat for their first ever match in the Conference League.
The Blues started in breathtaking fashion and played like a team possessed.
Within two minutes, they had taken the lead when a wicked cross from right-back Trai Hume found Manzinga in space inside the box and, although his header was saved on the line by Borac goalkeeper Bojan Pavlovic, Newberry was first to the rebound. The defender’s initial strike was blocked but there was no mistake second time around as he found the net from inside the box in front of the Kop.
How the fans behind that goal enjoyed the moment. There may have only been 980 socially distanced Linfield supporters inside the stadium but there seemed a whole lot more as the cheers echoed around Windsor as Newberry celebrated.
If that was a brilliant moment for the Blues what happened on 25 minutes was even better with Manzinga netting a beauty. Dangerous all evening, the striker ran behind the Borac rearguard and collected a clever pass from Stephen Fallon. Rather than use his pace to stretch away from his marker, the Frenchman bided his time and skillfully chopped the ball inside to give himself space before unleashing a thunderous left foot drive into the roof of the net. It was a stunning goal reminiscent of Shayne Lavery’s wonderful effort versus Qarabag a couple of years ago.
With Lavery moving to Blackpool and Andy Waterworth joining Glenavon, Manzinga has an opportunity to make a starting place his own this term. He grabbed it last night. The goal was special but his all-round display was mighty impressive too.
He wasn’t the only one delivering for the Blues in a high class team performance with Mulgrew leading by example as always and Matthew Clarke, Hume, Fallon and Kirk Millar all shining. Millar, such a threat out wide, was playing alongside Manzinga in attack in a surprise move by Healy that worked a treat.
The visitors altered their shape in the second period, giving them more possession, though with Callacher and Newberry strong in defence for the home team, chances were limited for Borac. Having the knowhow of Chris Shields in front of the centre-backs was crucial.
At the other end, Linfield remained a threat and on 75 minutes the inspirational Mulgrew calmly slotted home after fabulous approach play on the left flank from Fallon and Clarke.
The superb Cameron Palmer almost lobbed in a fantastic fourth in a rousing finish from the Irish League champions. Seconds later in injury time, Callacher powered in a header from Millar’s inviting corner.
Linfield deserved it. They were sensational. This was one of their greatest European displays. What a way to honour Tommy Leishman.
LINFIELD: Johns, Hume, Newberry, Callacher (Roscoe, 90 mins), M Clarke, Mulgrew, Shields, Millar, Palmer, Fallon (Quinn, 82 mins), Manzinga (A Clarke, 82 mins). Unused subs: Walsh, Williamson, Nasseri, Pepper, Salam.
BORAC: Pavlovic, Coric, Milojevic (Subic, 46 mins), Jovanovic, Cosic, Vojnovic (Kulasin, 67 mins), Begic (Ntchamda, 46 mins), Zakaric, Vranjes, Meleg (Vusurovic, 78 mins), Moraitis (Zivkovic, 78 mins). Unused subs: Cetkovic, Lakic, Kujundzic, Dujakovic, Cavic.
Referee: Kaarlo Hamalainen (Finland)
Man of the match: Christy Manzinga
Match rating: 7/10