Belfast Telegraph

Healy eager to help earn back fourth Euro place

Pointing the way: Andy Waterworth after netting the winner from the spot for Blues
Pointing the way: Andy Waterworth after netting the winner from the spot for Blues

By Steven Beacom

Linfield's European adventure this season has earned the club £1m in prize money so far and if they continue to progress, more Irish League clubs will be in the money in the future.

The Blues reached the third qualifying round of the Europa League on Thursday night with a 1-0 victory over HB Torshavn at Windsor Park courtesy of a first-half Andy Waterworth penalty.

The 3-2 aggregate success has set David Healy's side up with a clash against FK Sutjeska with the away leg first up in Montenegro on Tuesday before the home return a week later.

The Linfield fans savoured the post-match celebrations with the players after the Blues overcame the Faroe Islands outfit and are still enjoying the triumph today.

They shouldn't be alone.

It may be hard to accept for rival supporters seeing Healy's men have success, but after too many years of failure in Europe costing the Irish League a place in continental competition, there ought to be support from all sides for Linfield's Europa League achievements, after dropping down from the Champions League, because it can help everyone in the long term.

Crusaders, Ballymena United and Cliftonville may have all been knocked out of the Europa League but they also did their bit for Northern Ireland club football by making it through one round of the competition, earning wins in the process and helping the Irish League's co-efficient in Europe as a result.

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For years Northern Ireland had four representatives in Europe but it will only be three next season after the Irish League dropped outside the top 50 of Uefa's co-efficients table.

They dipped to 52nd, though are now up to 51st thanks to performances in recent weeks.

Although this term's results won't change next season's representation in Europe, the way to grab that fourth place back down the line is for Irish League teams to chalk up more wins than other countries around them and climb the co-efficients table.

What is so interesting about Linfield's clash with FK Sutjeska is that Northern Ireland are just behind Montenegro (49th) in the table.

If Linfield were to win one leg and draw the other, Northern Ireland would jump above Montenegro and be in position to claim that fourth European place back for 2021-22.

Another way would be for Linfield to earn one more win in the Europa League this season than Nomme Kaju from Estonia, who as a nation are ranked 50th in the table just ahead of Northern Ireland. Kaju face Luxembourg's Dudelange in the third qualifying round.

Given the money available to all clubs who qualify for Europe these days, the more places available for the Irish League the better, hence the reason why Linfield may have more support than normal next week.

Healy said: "We know it is vital for the league to get that place back and if we can do our bit to achieve that we will be happy about that."

The Linfield manager was tactically spot on for the Windsor win against HB Torshavn, opting for an attacking line-up and going for glory right from kick-off with a vociferous home crowd behind them. Typically, Waterworth stepped up to net the decisive goal after the brilliant Joel Cooper won a 20th-minute spot-kick.

In doing so, he extended his European goalscoring record for the club to seven.

"It's a fantastic feeling. I was proud to be up there with legends from the club in the scoring stakes in Europe and to be above them is something I'll cherish forever," said the striker.

"In the grand scheme of things it is so good for us to go through. We understand we are still part-time but we want to be making progress in Europe and to get into the third round is a good achievement. We want to continue that."

Belfast Telegraph


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