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Our Euro hopes will end if we switch off, warns Linfield ace Mark Stafford

 

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Cool head: Mark Stafford is not taking progress as a given against HB Torshavn

Cool head: Mark Stafford is not taking progress as a given against HB Torshavn

Cool head: Mark Stafford is not taking progress as a given against HB Torshavn

Mark Stafford admits Linfield face a huge battle against HB Torshavn as they look to keep their European dream alive.

Andy Waterworth struck twice in a 2-2 draw in the Europa League second qualifying round first leg tie in the Faroe Islands.

Although the two away goals give the Blues a slight edge going into tomorrow's second leg at Windsor Park, centre-back Stafford says there is no chance of any complacency creeping into the home ranks.

The former Ballinamallard United ace believes David Healy's new signings have strengthened the squad but he knows the team's performance levels can rise further.

Bastien Hery, Shayne Lavery, Rohan Ferguson and Ross Larkin have made strong early impressions, but the Blues, who dropped into the Europa League after being beaten in the Champions League by Rosenborg, know only a strong performance at Windsor tomorrow will book their place in the third qualifying round.

Should they progress to the next round, Healy's side will face Montegrian side FK Sutjeska after they dropped into the Europa League following a 4-0 aggregate loss to Apoel Nicosia in the second round of the Champions League.

Stafford insists HB Torshavn pose a huge threat and the players are fully focused on that significant challenge.

"It's been a good start for me personally and the team but I believe we can play much better," said the 31-year-old.

"This next game is a big one and hopefully we can produce a big performance.

"They are a good side and they played very well against us out there. I was very impressed by them. They made it very difficult for us and put us under pressure for long spells.

"This game is still in the balance, despite our two away goals. We will need to play well to get through. We might feel different if we bossed the game out there but their centre-halves caused us problems and they are a real threat from set-pieces.

"They switch the ball well and their distribution is good. They can mix their game up well and we certainly have our work cut out. We have to be happy with our two goals to leave us in a good position but there is still a lot of work to do."

Waterworth's double in the opener saw him become the club's all-time leading scorer in Europe, taking his tally to six.

"Andy is unbelievable," added Stafford. "He had two chances and he put them away. He was switched on as early as the first minute and then tucked the penalty away well.

"He's an unbelievable player and person. He's great in the changing room and with the younger players, he sets a great example for everybody.

"There's no doubt about it, he's a man for the big occasion and he knows how to find the net."

Goalkeeper Ferguson, who made a number of fine saves, has become an instant hit, while Hery, Lavery and Larkin will conjure magic. Former Ballymena United frontman Matthew Shevlin is expected to join soon.

"Bastien has settled in well and Shayne is only coming back from injury so we have yet to see the best of him," said Stafford.

"There hasn't been a huge amount of talk about Ross Larkin, the centre-half we signed from Portadown, but I've been very impressed with him in training and in games. He's a great signing for us and he's got everything you need like pace, he's athletic and composed on the ball, with a great temperament. I think he's going to be one of our best signings.

"But I haven't really thought about the start of the season because our immediate priority is to win the game on Thursday and we will only do that with a good performance.

"The European games are a reward for the club. It's nice to go to different countries and test yourselves against top teams."

• Linfield's trip to Crusaders will be the first Danske Bank Premiership match broadcast live on BBC NI television this season.

Healy's side will take on the Crues at Seaview on Friday, October 4, while the second live game will see newly-promoted Larne up against Glentoran at Inver Park on October 18.

On November 22, Glenavon's tie with Linfield at Mourneview Park will also be live on TV.

Belfast Telegraph