Belfast Telegraph

Linfield hero Stafford tips Blues to hit back as Lavery gets Northern Ireland call

 

Mark Stafford
Mark Stafford

By Graham Luney

Linfield hero Mark Stafford has admitted he's "devastated" at the Blues' Europa League exit but the defender is backing his side to turn on the power again in the Danske Bank Premiership.

David Healy's side travel to Cliftonville next Saturday hungry to prove there will be no European hangover from their journey to the brink of the group stages.

The Premiership champions drew 4-4 with Qarabag on aggregate in their play-off but lost out on away goals.

"Obviously I am disappointed and, in fact, devastated might be a better word," said Stafford. "We feel the same in the changing room after coming so close.

"We just made a few mistakes and got punished at this level but I left my heart and soul and everything in between out on the pitch.

"I suppose you could say it's a consolation prize to see the way they celebrated at the finish but we are still devastated as a little decision or right pass here or there could have made all the difference. We are flat at the minute but we must pick ourselves up and go all guns blazing against Cliftonville on Saturday. The next game is always the biggest one."

Linfield striker Shayne Lavery, meanwhile, has been called into the Northern Ireland senior squad for the forthcoming games against Luxembourg and Germany.

Lavery had been due to join up with Northern Ireland's U-21s for games against Malta and Finland, however Northern Ireland boss Michael O'Neill has instead promoted him to the senior set-up.

Lavery’s elevation is a reward for his performances with Linfield in the Europa League qualifiers.

The young striker scored again in Europe on Thursday night as Linfield narrowly lost out 2-1 to Qarabag in Azerbaijan in the second leg.

Lavery scored twice for the Blues against the same opposition last week in a memorable 3-2 victory.

“We are very proud of what we have achieved and from a good pre-season we were well prepared,” said Stafford. “I’m just devastated it has ended as I thought we had a wee chance.

“I want to take the opportunity to thank my team-mates, the staff and especially the supporters. Some of the backing we got at Windsor Park over the summer has been incredible.

“I am just disappointed we couldn’t give them another couple of games but it’s done now and we will get ready for the big league games,” he added.

Meanwhile, Healy said he was “surprised” Uefa appointed a Russian referee for the second leg in Azerbaijan

“The majority of the referee’s decisions went to the home team — little throw-ins, little 50-50 decisions,” said Healy.

• There are two new names in the Northern Ireland Under-21 squad while four Irish League players have been called up by manager Ian Baraclough.

Southampton goalkeeper Tommy Scott and Cardiff City defender Ciaron Brown, both English-born, have been brought into the panel for the upcoming Uefa U-21 Championship qualifiers, at home to Malta on Friday, September 6 at Ballymena Showgrounds and away to Finland on Tuesday, September 10.

Scott joined Saints from National League side Yeovil Town earlier this month, while Brown spent time on loan at Livingston last season. The 21-year-old made almost 50 senior appearances for Wealdstone before joining Cardiff in January last year.

Neither player has previously represented Northern Ireland at any level.

Northern Ireland U21 squad: Goalkeepers: Conor Hazard (Celtic), Tommy Scott (Southampton)

Defenders: Caolan Marron (Glenavon), Kofi Balmer (Ballymena United), Eoin Toal (Derry City), Pierce Bird (Notts County), Ciaron Brown (Cardiff City), Lewis Thompson (Blackburn Rovers), Bobby Burns (Hearts)

Midfielders: Cameron Palmer (Partick Thistle), Alfie McCalmont (Leeds United), Kyle McClean (St Johnstone), Jake Dunwoody (Stoke City), Ethan Galbraith (Manchester United), Chris Gallagher (Glentoran), Shea Gordon (Partick Thistle), Caolan Boyd-Munce (Birmingham City)

Forwards: David Parkhouse (Derry City), Lewis McCann (Dunfermline).

• Northern Ireland under-19 international Liam Hassin has left Larne by mutual consent.

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