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Linfield must stand firm, warns Rangers hero Nicholl

NI No.2 says belief is key to toppling Celts


Northern Ireland assistant boss Jimmy Nicholl

Northern Ireland assistant boss Jimmy Nicholl

High hopes: Andrew Little says Linfield can upset the odds. Photo: Mark Runnacles/Getty Images

High hopes: Andrew Little says Linfield can upset the odds. Photo: Mark Runnacles/Getty Images

Getty Images

Northern Ireland assistant boss Jimmy Nicholl

Linfield have been given a double confidence boost ahead of their Champions League showdowns with Celtic after former Rangers favourites Jimmy Nicholl and Andrew Little backed the Blues to rattle the Hoops' cages.

Brendan Rodgers' Invincibles are hot favourites to progress to the third qualifying round of Europe's premier club competition, but Linfield boss David Healy has been a miracle worker at Windsor Park before and he could write another fairytale in tomorrow's first leg (5.00pm).

Healy, whose Northern Ireland heroics at Windsor included a winner against England and hat-trick against Spain, faces his biggest challenge as a manager, but Nicholl, who had two spells with Rangers in the 1980s that included two title triumphs, believes Linfield will not be lambs to the slaughter.

"It's going to be a great occasion and maybe David is just one of those lucky guys who has the magic touch," said the Northern Ireland assistant boss (below).

"He's a great lad and he will stress the importance to his players of not being on the end of a big hammering.

"The players have got to have belief, and I often found, when I was Raith Rovers manager, when one of the Old Firm teams scored it sucked the belief out of opposing players. Mentally the players were gone and that must not happen here. The Linfield lads will want to put in a performance they can be proud of so that people will say you guys gave it everything.

"If they can play well the crowd will give them a huge lift and I'm confident they can cause Celtic problems. The Linfield players will be fired up but they must be disciplined too."

Nicholl added: “David and his boys are up against a real quality side and it will be fascinating to see how they approach it tactically.”

Stirling Albion striker Little, who scored the winner for Rangers in an Old Firm derby in 2012, says Linfield, who take on the Celts at Parkhead on Wednesday, should dare to dream.

“This is the best Celtic team that I have watched and I was fortunate to play in three Old Firm games, winning two of them,” said the former Northern Ireland striker. “But countries have found it very difficult at Windsor so maybe this is Celtic’s time to feel the heat.

“If anyone can mastermind a shock, it’s David Healy. He’s a prime example of upsetting the odds. He’s been there and done it at the highest level and he will have the boys well organised.

“There’s always hope and you never say never in these scenarios, as tough as they seem.

“Linfield aren’t expected to go through but if they frustrate Celtic in the first leg they can go to Parkhead with a fighting chance.”

Belfast Telegraph