Belfast Telegraph

Linfield will love Celtic Park atmosphere, says Blues' former Rangers man

By Graham Luney

Andrew Mitchell came agonisingly close to sampling the blood and thunder of an Old Firm derby, but now he hopes to help Linfield prosper in a hostile environment at Parkhead.

A crowd of around 50,000 fans will pack into the famous venue in Glasgow's east end with only 1,500 backing former Rangers favourite David Healy and his men.

Unable to attend the first leg of the Champions League qualifier in big numbers at Windsor Park, the Hoops faithful will be determined to make their voices heard, and they won't be happy unless the Danske Bank Premiership champions return home to Northern Ireland after a defeat.

It's mission improbable for Linfield at the home of the 1967 European Cup winners, with Brendan Rodgers' Invincibles boasting a 2-0 lead from the opener and not in the mood to ease off on the accelerator.

Former Rangers ace Mitchell was an unused substitute in the first game, but he could come into the first team picture tomorrow after Matthew Clarke was ruled out after suffering a bad knee injury in the first leg. "I've been on the bench for an Old Firm game but never featured at Parkhead," said the former Northern Ireland Under-21 international. "I travelled with the squad when we went there but was left out. There will be an incredible noise but our boys will love it. It's a mountain to climb for any Irish League team going there but we are excited about it.

"We can learn a lot from the games and become better players. I've played against Celtic at reserve and youth team level and even those games were huge with big crowds and a real edge. But facing the first team at Parkhead is something special. Our fans will be there in force and hopefully we can give them something to shout about.

"It's a Champions League game at Parkhead and if you can't relish that there is something wrong with you."

This glamour second qualifying round clash has been a big money-spinner for the Blues, but it has also offered the players and manager Healy an opportunity to deliver on a big stage. Healy has guided Linfield to a domestic treble and, although he remains on a steep learning curve in management, he will have big coaching ambitions. "I am sure he will make more huge strides, but as long as I'm here at Linfield I hope we can win more trophies," added Mitchell. "You never know what can happen but I'm sure David is only thinking about Celtic."

Blues midfielder Stephen Lowry says the players are well aware that the task ahead is the toughest of their careers so far.

"Celtic are a quality side, everyone can see that," said Lowry. "The way the players control the ball and make space for themselves is brilliant, but they are full-time players training all the time on big wages and it's a different class to what we are used to. It's still great to test ourselves against them though. Unfortunately we conceded two soft goals but the boys are ready to deliver another big performance."

• Cliftonville defender Eamonn Seydak has left the club by mutual consent.

The 31-year-old, who joined the Reds from Institute in 2010, scored nine goals in 176 appearances while the team claimed two Danske Bank Premiership titles, two County Antrim Shield successes and four consecutive League Cup triumphs.

Belfast Telegraph

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