Belfast Telegraph

'Shackles are off': Linfield will have freedom to play in Europa League qualifier against FK Sutjeska, says Healy

Sutjeska Nikši v Linfield, Europa League Qualifying Rd 3, First Leg, Stadium Kraj Bistrice, Tonight, 7.15pm

Spot on: Scorer Andy Waterworth and Jordan Stewart celebrate against HB Torshavn
Spot on: Scorer Andy Waterworth and Jordan Stewart celebrate against HB Torshavn
Express yourself: David Healy

By Steven Beacom

Linfield manager David Healy will tell his players to express themselves in Montenegro tonight against FK Sutjeska and keep their Europa League tie alive for next week's return at Windsor Park.

Healy feels a sense of pride at how his team have approached their European adventure this season and would love the journey to continue.

After losing to Rosenborg in the Champions League, the Blues overcame HB Torshavn from the Faroe Islands in the Europa League to set up the third qualifying round clash with Sutjeska.

The Irish League champions will enter the first leg knowing that if they manage to triumph, they will face the losers of the Champions League encounter between Apoel Nicosia of Cyprus and Azerbaijan's Qarabag in the Europa League play-off with a spot in the group stages at stake.

Get that far and Blues fans will want a statue of the Linfield boss at Windsor Park, and the club could certainly afford it given the remarkable sums of money they would earn on the back of it.

Linfield are already assured of £1m from their efforts so far. Making the group stages would land them around four times that figure.

Healy is not one to get carried away. Northern Ireland's record goalscorer has always worked on the one game at a time adage, though he did admit to having research compiled on Sutjeska before beating HB Torshavn just in case it was required.

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The Blues boss celebrated his 40th birthday yesterday and was handed a surprise cake after lunch in the team hotel in Podgorica.

The ideal present, however, would be a big performance from Linfield.

"It's a game that we will relish," said Healy.

"The shackles should be off the players and I think we can go out with a freedom to play, and also with the knowledge led by me and the staff that there is an opportunity for us in this tie.

"We know it will be a tough ask because this team are the champions of Montenegro. They will be a good side but I want us to express ourselves in the first leg and show the pride again in Europe that has been clear for people to see since we started this run.

"The main aim in Montenegro is to come back with a positive result and make sure it is game on for when we play the second leg at Windsor Park."

Healy adopted an attacking approach in Belfast against HB Torshavn with a front four of Andy Waterworth, Daniel Kearns, Jordan Stewart and Joel Cooper. It will be fascinating to see if he plays the same way in Montenegro or decides to be more cautious.

"In the first leg in the last round, we gave Torshavn too much possession and were a bit more open, but at Windsor in the second leg the work rate starting off with the front players Andy Waterworth and Daniel Kearns closed them down," said Healy.

"People may look at players like Joel Cooper and Jordan Stewart and say they aren't grafters. Well, they put in a great shift and along with the rest of the boys deserved to win the game and make the next round.

"The players have put in a lot of graft in Europe this season and their attitude has been spot on. That's why I believe we will be competitive in our latest tie."

Healy, meanwhile, has wished Ryan Strain well for his loan move to Dungannon Swifts until January.

"It's a great opportunity for Ryan to impress and get much-needed game time at first-team level and I want to wish him well for the duration of his time at Dungannon," said the Linfield boss.

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