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How outstanding Linfield saw off Borac in Europa Conference League without boss David Healy

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Jamie Mulgrew battles with Dejan Meleg

Jamie Mulgrew battles with Dejan Meleg

Trai Hume clears the danger for Linfield last night

Trai Hume clears the danger for Linfield last night

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Jamie Mulgrew battles with Dejan Meleg

David Healy may not have been there, but even without their inspirational manager in Bosnia, Linfield cruised through to the third qualifying round of the Europa Conference League.

The Blues blitz in Belfast the week before proved enough. Leading 4-0 from the first-leg Windsor Park mauling of Borac Banja Luka, skipper Jamie Mulgrew and his well drilled team-mates were never going to give that up.

And they will be in no mood to give up their place in UEFA’s newest competition when they face Fola Esch from Luxembourg in the next phase next week.

In fact the Irish League champions will 100 percent believe after last night’s scoreless draw against Borac, completing a convincing 4-0 aggregate triumph, that they can win that tie too and reach the play-off round which would see them just 180 minutes away from the group stages.

Larne might be thinking the same after overcoming Danish outfit Aarhus. What a cracking evening for Northern Ireland football with the Inver Park men and the Blues doing the country proud.

With such a huge advantage going to Bosnia, Linfield had to be professional, not concede early and stay organised to avoid a similar scenario to that of 1993 when the Blues infamously lost a 3-0 first-leg lead to Copenhagen in Denmark going down 4-3 on aggregate and missing out on a dream Champions League tie with AC Milan.

Professional? Tick. Not conceding early? Tick. Staying organised. Tick, tick, tick all over the pitch with goalkeeper Chris Johns stopping anything that came his way, the defence of Trai Hume, Jimmy Callacher, Michael Newberry and Matthew Clarke putting their bodies on the line and the midfield and attackers working their socks off.

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The Blues didn’t want any drama on the pitch. That came off it before kick-off when Linfield announced manager Healy and others had not travelled.

A statement read: “Close examination of the team sheets will reveal that a number of club personnel have unfortunately been unavailable for this trip to Bosnia, due to a wide variety of injury or personal reasons that were known to the club in advance of travel to Banja Luka.

“The personnel who have been unavailable for this trip include several players and backroom staff members and the team manager.

“The club has aimed to avoid all distractions by maintaining sole focus on the task facing the party who are in Bosnia this evening and who go into tonight’s game with the full support and best wishes of everyone connected to Linfield Football Club.

“Our preparations have been professional, excellent, thorough and as close to normal as possible.

“If, as we all hope and have worked towards, we were to be successful in reaching the next round of this prestigious competition, we would hope to have most of tonight’s missing personnel available again for what would be a home first leg game next week.”

Healy was sat at home in Northern Ireland watching a video stream of the game like thousands of Linfield fans.

He will have been pleased with the effort, endeavour and discipline of his players keeping Borac at bay throughout the match with defenders and midfielders making crucial blocks, tackles and runs to snuff out any danger. The closest the home side came was on the half hour when Stojan Vranjes hit the post.

Johns was as cool as ice. He made some impressive and important saves and is going from strength to strength as Linfield’s goalkeeper.

On a night to savour for Linfield fans there was a debut for Billy Chadwick with the forward on loan from Hull City coming on in the second half.

The club have made millions under Healy with their European runs in recent years and with this latest success the money keeps rolling in. There could be more to come.

Linfield are looking good. Over two games against Bosnia’s best, the Blues were outstanding.

BORAC: Pavlovic, Coric (Vusurovic 76), Subic, Jovanovic, Cosic, Vojnovic (Kulasin 67), Begic, Zakaric (Cavic 75), Vranjes (Zivkovic 75), Meleg, Moraitis (Lukic 55).

Subs not used: Cetkovic, Lakic, Kujundzic, Dujakovic, Uzelac, Milojevic, Eric.

LINFIELD: Johns, Hume, Newberry, Callacher, M Clarke, Mulgrew, Quinn (Nasseri 84), Millar, Palmer, Fallon (Pepper 79), Manzinga (Chadwick 49).

Subs not used: Walsh, Williamson, Salam, Roscoe, A Clarke.

Referee: Zaven Hovhannisyan (Armenia)

Man of the match: Chris Johns (Linfield)

Match rating: 6 out of 10


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