Goal and miss of the season for Stewart as winger targets Europa League start for Linfield
Linfield 3 Institute 1
Jordan Stewart may have scored a wonder strike for Linfield against Institute on Saturday, but he's unsure whether it will be enough to earn him a starting shirt in tomorrow night's Europa League crunch clash against Sutjeska.
The Blues hold a 2-1 advantage from last week's first leg in Montenegro, where two goals from Kirk Millar rocketed David Healy's boys into dreamland.
The Blues warmed up for their biggest game of the season with a comfortable win over a Stute side that lost manager John Quigg only seven days before the start of the new campaign.
Under the temporary leadership of Paul McLaughlin and Sean Friars, the north west side had the audacity to take an early lead through a Joe McCready penalty.
After that, Linfield bared their title teeth and hit back with goals from Millar, Stewart - who scored from a ridiculous 40 yards - and Ryan McGivern.
But Stewart did blot his copybook later on by somehow shooting wide from no more than ONE yard after Daniel Kearns' cross landed on his boot at the back post.
"I was lucky to score the goal because I might have been getting my P45 after that miss," he joked. "The goalkeeper (Marty Gallagher) got a little touch on the ball which took it slightly behind me, but I'll still have nightmares.
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"We were not at our best, but it was all about getting the three points. To be honest, I thought we looked a bit tired. We've had a hectic schedule lately with a lot of travelling (for the European games) involved.
"Institute always want to play football. Big McCready is a good asset for them up front, he holds the ball up well and has an eye for goal. We certainly didn't underestimate them, we treat every team with the same respect."
On his outrageous goal, he added: "I didn't realise the goalkeeper was off his line. I was giving away so many balls with misplaced passes, I thought, 'Why not have a go?'
"I'm thrilled it went in because it hopefully takes away from the one I missed later on - probably the miss of the season on the first day."
And he added with a cheeky grin: "I really don't do tap-ins. Seriously, it was all about getting three points. The miss wasn't a deciding factor thankfully."
Although the Blues are in pole position to progress in Europe, Stewart warns the tie is far from over.
He added: "For anyone who watched the game out there (in Montenegro), they will know they are a very good side with technically good players.
"Yes, they were good in possession, but they did leave themselves exposed at times.
"To get a result out there, it shows we have a lot of quality. However, it's still a massive ask to finish the job off and get through to the play-off, which no Irish League club has done.
"That's the big incentive, but we know how difficult it will be. Obviously, Sutjeska will see it as a big opportunity as well.
"But the boys just keep going again. It shows the character we have in the dressing room and the will to succeed.
"I'm sure the gaffer will make changes again to the team because we've got a massive squad and everyone wants to play in the big games. Whatever team he fields, I hope it will be good enough to get us over the line."
Although McLaughlin was disappointed with the result, he was thrilled with Stute's display.
"I thought we were excellent," he said. "It's always difficult coming to the home of the champions, but we can take a lot of positives from our display.
"The boys are all gutted because they thought they deserved something. They left everything out on the pitch in terms of effort. The only negative we can take from the game is defeat."
LINFIELD: Ferguson, Callacher, Stewart, Millar (Waterworth, 61 mins), Lavery (Forde, 76 mins), Clarke, Kearns, Hery (Fallon, 61 mins), Mulgrew, McGivern, Casement. Unused subs: Moore, Larkin, Mitchell, Quinn.
INSTITUTE: Gallagher, Bonner, D Curry, Dunne (Tourish, 48 mins), Grace, Brown (Moorehead, 90 mins), McCready, McLaughlin, Foy, McCauley, Tweed (S Curry, 61 mins). Unused subs: Wells, Morrow, McIntyre, McBride.
Referee: Tony Clarke (Newtownabbey)
Man of the match: Daniel Kearns
Match rating: 6/10