Belfast Telegraph

Magnificent Blues

Linfield keep the dream alive after Lavery brace

Glory boys: Niall Quinn (right) congratulates goalscoring hero Shayne Lavery
Glory boys: Niall Quinn (right) congratulates goalscoring hero Shayne Lavery
Linfield manager David Healy

By Graham Luney

Linfield's hopes of progressing to the group stages of the Europa League are still very much alive after a brilliant 3-2 victory at home to Qarabag last night.

The Blues, who had already swept aside HB Torshavn and FK Sutjeska in a European run which has seen them win back-to-back ties for the first time since 1966, dug deep against the Azerbaijan champions with striker Shayne Lavery lighting up Windsor with a double blast.

The visitors stormed in front through Faycal Rherras in the 15th minute but the Blues steadied the ship as Michel struck the post and keeper Rohan Ferguson foiled Mahir Emreli.

But Linfield's set-piece prowess turned the tie around as Mark Stafford powered home Andy Mitchell's free-kick in the 40th minute and in first-half stoppage time another Mitchell delivery was headed into the net by Lavery.

In the 75th minute, Lavery had the big crowd on their feet again when his stunning curling shot fired the Blues 3-1 ahead.

The thrilling game, however, ended on a sour note that could prove costly for Linfield as Gueye tucked home a penalty after a Matthew Clarke challenge in the box.

It's a victory that means David Healy's side still have a fighting chance of seeing their prize money shoot up from just under £1.3m to a bumper £4m windfall.

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With the second leg next Thursday in humid conditions in Baku, the Premiership champions will focus on producing one more brave performance to reach the promised land of the group stages.

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