Belfast Telegraph

'Incredible' Shayne Lavery is already making presence felt at Linfield: Healy

Big impact: Blues ace Shayne Lavery has been catching the eye
Big impact: Blues ace Shayne Lavery has been catching the eye

By Graham Luney

It was another famous night in Linfield's history when there were many heroes in the club's red and white away strip.

Kirk Millar grabbed the headlines with a fantastic double to stun Montenegro champions FK Sutjeska 2-1 in Podgorica, but the Belfast man will be the first to admit that it was a heroic team performance by David Healy's men.

The Blues' first visit to Montenegro will live long in the memory as the players toasted the club's first away win in Europe since a 2-1 victory against B36 Torshavn in the Faroe Islands back in 2014.

Fast forward to 2019 and Linfield are moving into uncharted waters, with a seemingly impossible place in the Europa League group stages on the horizon.

If the Blues can finish the job at Windsor Park on Tuesday night they will face the losers of the Champions League clash between Apoel Nicosia of Cyprus and FK Qarabag of Azerbaijan, with a spot in the group stages at stake. Qarabag have a 2-1 lead following the first leg in Cyprus.

Millar's magic feet did the talking on the night but the phenomenal work rate and trickery of new signing Shayne Lavery was one of the major highlights for Healy.

Lavery, who agreed a one-year contract in June, is well on course to becoming a fan's favourite at Windsor.

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The Northern Ireland international, who went to Everton as a 16-year-old and had a spell at Falkirk, produced a stunning performance in the first leg of their Europa League third qualifying round tie and was unfortunate not to add his name to the scoresheet.

"Shayne Lavery's energy was incredible," said Healy. "He gave the Montenegrin centre-backs a real test.

"When you look at the size and stature of him, you might wonder if he is capable, but he was immense.

"It was a tough shift for him. When you look at the bench, we didn't have a centre forward who could come on and break it up after 75 minutes so his fitness levels, desire and attitude were top class.

"Knowing him the way I do, he was hungry and unfortunate on a few occasions when he didn't score, particularly the one in the first half when the keeper made a good save and Kirk was there to tap it in. We will need big performances going forward for Saturday's league opener against Institute as well as Tuesday and the boys are looking forward to it."

Damir Kojasevic's brilliant free-kick after 11 minutes broke the deadlock, but Linfield refused to roll over and Millar's double, including a peach of a finish over keeper Vladan Giljen, leaves the Blues favourites to progress.

"I hope the people at home got the opportunity to see some of the footage and the great goal from Kirk," added Healy.

"Kirk, unfortunately at times, has found himself out of the team because he has certainly done nothing wrong.

"I know the appreciation that I have for him and what he has delivered for me in my time here.

"There might have been a few people asking questions with no (Andy) Waterworth, (Joel) Cooper, (Daniel) Kearns or (Jordan) Stewart. We changed the front four to get a result.

"Kirk was immense in the distance he covered and all the players were immense."

As satisfied as he is with the first leg advantage, Healy will spend the next few days hammering home the message to his players that the job is only half done.

"It's important that we do have a boisterous, electric crowd and I'm sure we will get that at Windsor," he added on the club's website. "Credit to the fans who came to watch us in Montenegro. It means so much to the players.

"Hopefully these players believe it is possible to win next Tuesday."

Healy even said the victory was one of the highlights of his managerial career so far.

"I've always said from day one how proud I am to manage this football club but this has taken it to a level where these players wore their hearts on the sleeves and the badge with pride and they come away with immense credit," said Healy. I'm immensely proud. The players left everything out on the pitch and they were a credit to me, my staff and the football club.

"They were a credit to Northern Ireland football as a whole."

• Linfield Ladies lost 4-0 to Norwegian side LSK Kvinner in their Champions League opener in Belgium.

All four goals came in a 17-minute period in the first half with Elise Thorsnes (2) on target along with Therese Asland and Meryll Abrahamsen.

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