Linfield 0 FC Zürich 2
Linfield have it all to do in the second leg if they want to keep their Europa League dream alive after suffering a 2-0 defeat to FC Zürich in the first leg of their third qualifying round tie at Windsor Park.
Goals from Tosin Aiyegun and Wilfried Gnonto have the Swiss outfit in control heading into the return fixture next week, with David Healy’s men needing a big performance to turn things around.
The Blues do have the safety net of the Europa Conference League Play-Off to fall into even if they do go on to lose the tie, but they will want to go out all guns blazing in the second leg in Switzerland.
And they will be encouraged by this performance in which they weren’t totally outplayed and perhaps could have had a penalty shortly before Zürich’s second goal when Joel Cooper went down in the box.
But, as it is, they will have to turn around a two-goal deficit on the road – a not impossible task but a tough one all the same.
Indeed, after nine minutes of this first leg it looked like they could be headed for a long night as Aiyegun drifted in behind the Linfield defence and was picked out by a fine back-heel, finishing into the bottom corner past Chris Johns.
The Danske Bank Premiership champions had their chances to reply, Robbie McDaid seeing a good chance denied by Yanick Brecher from close range, while at the other end Jonathan Okita rifled over and Johns made a couple of smart stops to deny Gnonto twice.
Only a few minutes after the break Cooper was left in disbelief when he wasn’t awarded a penalty after he was brought down in the box and shortly after Zürich made Linfield pay when they added their second.
This time Gnonto finally got the better of Johns, poking the ball home from inside the box just after the hour mark to double their lead and inflict a hammer blow on Healy’s men.
Stephen Fallon will wonder what could have been had he put his shot on target instead of firing over when Cooper put it on a plate for him, but it just wasn’t to be Linfield’s night this time.
And they were somewhat fortunate they weren’t another goal down late on when a brilliant free-kick landed perfectly on the head of Mirlind Kryeziu but the Kosovan defender glanced it wide instead of bulging the net.
Still, the visitors will be pleased with the lead they’re taking back home. All to do for Linfield next week.