Belfast Telegraph

Qarabag will be trembling at the sight of Linfield's Shayne Lavery, says Stafford

Roaring success: Shayne Lavery celebrates his second goal with Niall Quinn
Roaring success: Shayne Lavery celebrates his second goal with Niall Quinn

By Steven Beacom

Linfield's on-fire striker Shayne Lavery has what it takes to be the star of the show again versus Qarabag in the Europa League tomorrow, according to team-mate Mark Stafford.

Lavery was sensational at Windsor Park, scoring twice in last week's 3-2 first-leg victory after Stafford had nodded home for the Blues. The 20-year-old's second goal will probably go down as one of the finest individual efforts ever by a Linfield player.

Stafford, like just about everyone else involved in Irish League football, finds it amazing that Lavery arrived in the summer on a free transfer having left Everton.

The centre-back believes that Lavery has the talent to return to full-time football across the water and likened him to former Linfield hero Paul Smyth, now on loan at Wycombe from QPR, declaring that the Qarabag defenders will be fearful of what the front man will do in the return match in Azerbaijan.

"Shayne makes a bad ball look like a good ball, just like Paul Smyth did when he was here a few years ago," said Stafford.

"He's a joy to have and you'd think he'd been the worst player on the pitch looking at him in the changing room after the first leg. He's so humble and honest.

"You like to see someone like that do well and hopefully he can produce a few more performances like that for us in Europe.

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"He's a special player and I can't understand for the life of me why he's here on a free, to come here and enjoy his football again.

"There are very smart people in the football world who seemingly know good players, but Shayne has been at a few clubs and somehow found himself without a club.

"Now he's here, somebody somewhere is missing a very good player. They've let it slip because he's a talent, and you all saw that in the first leg.

"For his second goal he made a fool of a very good player, an experienced player. He horsed him down, turned him inside out and to score past the keeper with his weaker foot was some finish. They'll be wary of him in the second leg.

"We believe in ourselves, we believe in Shayne Lavery, the other attacking players we have and our set-pieces, so that's what is giving us all the confidence going forward.

"When you are struggling, there's always a light there. If we get one chance we believe we are just as every bit as dangerous in their box as they are in ours."

The Blues will reach the group stages of the Europa League and pocket £4m by avoiding defeat, though Stafford, on the back of beating HB Torshavn and FK Sutjeska in previous rounds, doubts manager David Healy will play for a draw.

"If the other team is putting us under pressure, we'll sit in a shape and let them try and break us down, but as soon as the ball is in our possession, we want to stretch them the other way and you saw that in the first leg, the counter-attacking way we played," said the ex-Ballinamallard United ace.

"Obviously in the first half we had a few more chances and in the second half we were more camped in, but that's because of the lead we had."

On the week of the first-leg, Stafford celebrated his 32nd birthday and becoming a dad for a second time before heading in Andy Mitchell's pinpoint free-kick to draw Linfield level after going behind early on.

"I've been told good things always happen in threes so I'm glad. I wasn't expecting to score in the first-leg," said Stafford.

"Only in our wildest dreams did we think we might get a result, so to beat them in the manner we did was brilliant.

"In the first 10 or 15 minutes of the game they were picking us off and finding gaps, especially down our right-hand side - they were causing a lot of problems.

"Their wide left player was cutting inside, but Chris (Casement) got tighter to him and they didn't seem to have a plan B after that when we cut the channel out.

"They started going a wee bit more direct and obviously we then got the set-piece. I was surprised by how much they lacked in height in their team. When I was shaking hands with them before the game, there was no real physicality about them.

"I knew they were going to be very good footballers, there's no doubt about that, but I also knew we'd be a threat at the set-piece."

Qarabag scored a late penalty at Windsor to make it 3-2, which may prove crucial.

Stafford added: "I'm hoping that won't make too much of a difference but the second one was a big away goal for them. It was still an unbelievable result and I was very proud of all my team-mates.

"The best we might have hoped for in the first leg was to still be in the tie and we have an advantage, which is even better."

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