Linfeld manager David Healy has hit out at what he called an ‘incredible’ decision to award a penalty to Zalgiris Vilnius in the first leg of their Champions League first qualifying round tie.
The Lithuanian side won their home match 3-1 ahead of next Tuesday’s return at Windsor Park (kick-off 7.45pm) but the Blues’ chief was far from happy with the decision that allowed their hosts to double their lead in the last minute of the first half.
Faroese referee Alex Troleis adjudged Stephen Fallon to have handled when a cross struck his arm.
“It was what it is, it’s European football but certainly I thought the penalty was so harsh it was incredible,” Healy told the club website.
“The boy miskicks it from two yards and he gives a penalty. It goes back to people talking about penalty decisions and whatever else, VAR in the top leagues and the Euros; you may as well chip it up onto somebody’s hand as play a pass in the box nowadays, if you get referees who are going to make decisions like that.”
It was lone striker Christy Manzinga, who had earlier struck the crossbar with a rasping effort, that got Linfield’s goal on 54 minutes before Zalgiris restored their two-goal advantage.
It’s only the Belgian’s fourth strike for the club after a largely frustrating first campaign but Healy is tipping it to be the first of a much-improved second season.
“I was pleased for Christy,” the boss said. “He’s worked hard in pre-season. It didn’t work out for Christy last season in terms of the games, minutes, performances and goals that I know that he’s capable of. There were quite a lot of things that went against him in terms of the injury he got in pre-season at Ballyclare, he got suspended unjustly, so he basically missed two-thirds of the season through injury and suspension.
“He’s back now and fit. He has got all the attributes to be a good player and for all the Linfield people out there, they’ll see a far better player than what we saw last season.”
Manzinga will soon be vying for position with incoming signing Kyrian Nwoko, set to join from Maltese side Valletta subject to gaining a work permit.
The recruit will go some way to upping competition after the summer departure of striking duo Andy Waterworth and Shayne Lavery.
As defensive pair Mark Haughey and Mark Stafford also left the club in the close season, Healy has lost four big names but he’s heard enough of the debate over the experience of those left behind.
“We have good experience in the squad,” he insisted. “I’m actually sick of hearing about the experience that we’ve lost. We have Millar, Quinn, Clarke, Mulgrew, Callacher, Stevie Fallon – there are enough boys who have been around here. We have enough experience. Can we add a bit of quality to it? I’m sure we can and over the next coming weeks, we will. We want competition for places and the players want that.”
As for the tie itself, while Manzinga’s effort carries no added significance after UEFA scrapped the away goals rule for this season’s continental competitions, Healy reckons the Blues do have a chance of upsetting the odds in the return leg.
“We are still in the tie, I firmly believe that,” he said. “I have told the players they are more than capable of defending a bit better, playing a little bit better and hopefully the chances that come our way that we didn’t take tonight, we take and are more clinical at Windsor Park next week.
“It’s assuring the players that the job they’ve done tonight has given us an opportunity. You’re always wary of coming out of the first leg and you’re out of the tie, playing for a bit of pride. I don’t think we are, I think we’re playing to go through next week.
“We probably will mix the team up depending on the bodies. It’s a challenge but one that this group of players and everybody at the club will embrace.”
The Blues are waiting to discover how many supporters will be permitted inside Windsor Park, will news set to be confirmed over the coming days.
“They (the fans) have been sitting on their hands for basically the past 18 months. Hopefully we get good news and we look forward to it because they’ve been a big miss,” said Healy.