| 4.5°C Belfast

Linfield need to be at our best even as favourites in Europa League tie, says Healy



Up front: Shayne Lavery during brave defeat to Legia Warsaw

Up front: Shayne Lavery during brave defeat to Legia Warsaw

Clear head: David Healy wants Linfield to be in the correct mindset

Clear head: David Healy wants Linfield to be in the correct mindset

Up front: Shayne Lavery during brave defeat to Legia Warsaw

Linfield manager David Healy believes if his players approach tonight's Europa League tie against Maltese champions FC Floriana with the right mindset and play to the levels they are capable of, the Blues can reach the third qualifying round of the competition.

Healy is excited about the first competitive match for the Blues at Windsor Park since February when they hammered Crusaders 4-0 in the Irish League.

So much has happened from there. The world, and football, was brought to an abrupt halt by the coronavirus pandemic the next month.

Then there was the dragged-out embarrassment for the Northern Ireland Football League (NIFL) and their clubs about determining how to finish the season.

Ultimately, table-topping Linfield, who were four points clear of Coleraine with seven games left, were declared champions thanks to a mathematical formula and entered the preliminary round group stages of the Champions League.

In Nyon in August they won 2-0 against Fiori and were then granted a bye to the next stage after Kosovan outfit FC Drita had two positive Covid-19 cases on the day of the scheduled game. That set up a tough ask in Poland away to Legia Warsaw and, while Linfield performed well, they went down 1-0.

Dropping into the Europa League, in which they almost reached the group stages last year, Healy's men will fancy their chances versus FC Floriana knowing victory would set up another one-leg shoot-out at Windsor Park next week against Estonia's Flora Tallinn or KR Reykjavik from Iceland.

"We are excited and looking forward to the game, especially with it being at home. It seems like a lifetime since we last played a meaningful game at Windsor and we feel ready to go," said Healy.

"We feel if we perform to our capabilities that it's a game we can win, but if we go into it with the wrong mentality and short on energy and attitude it's a game we could end up losing."

Northern Ireland's record goalscorer has done his homework on the Maltese opponents and knows what to expect.

"When the draw was made it was a draw both sides would have been happy with," he said.

"They play in a way that can be difficult to play against, so we need to make sure we play like we can. There's an incentive of reaching the next round but first and foremost the incentive is to win another game in Europe. We did well last season and want to do it again, and will be doing our best to make the club proud. I have full belief in the players."

On European nights at Windsor Park in the past the place has been rocking, but with the game behind closed doors this evening, Linfield will have to create their own buzz.

Even without the suspended Kirk Millar, the Irish League champions should have enough quality with the likes of inspirational skipper Jamie Mulgrew, new signing Navid Nasseri and a collection of quality strikers in Shayne Lavery, Andy Waterworth and Christy Manzinga to progress.

Belfast Telegraph