Belfast Telegraph

'The players want more': David Healy immensely proud after Linfield's heroic Europa League run ends

Blues miss out on group stage action after away goals agony

Final hurdle: David Healy‘s side came so close to reaching the group stages of the Europa League
Final hurdle: David Healy‘s side came so close to reaching the group stages of the Europa League

By Graham Luney

David Healy last night spoke of his "immense pride" in Linfield's stunning European journey even though it came to a heartbreaking end in Baku.

An opportunity to make the Europa League group stages and pocket around £4m slipped agonisingly from the Blues' grasp as they lost out on away goals to Qarabag.

Leading 3-2 from the first leg, Linfield fought like tigers in Azerbaijan and, by the finish, the hosts were relieved to see off the Danske Bank Premiership champions. Qarabag took a sixth-minute lead through Jaime Romero and Abdellah Zoubir's late goal proved crucial as Shayne Lavery's injury time strike wasn't enough to turn the tide.

"I'm proud of the players, staff and the way we as a club together went about the experience," said the Blues chief.

"It was gutting in the end to lose in the manner we did but I'm immensely proud of the players and how we stayed in the game.

"We were done by a sucker punch late on."

Healy believed his men could become the first Irish League side to make the group stages of a European competition and defeat was a bitter pill to swallow.

"Rohan (Ferguson) had to make a few saves and I thought their second goal was offside.

"We are disappointed with that but, overall, it's been an incredible seven or eight weeks for me personally.

"We never expected to be this close to the group stages but the longer the game went, we felt we had players who could create an opportunity. It was frustrating to concede the goals but, as disappointed as I feel, I will reflect on the positive feelings and move on.

"Credit to the players for keeping their shape. They were disciplined, organised and we rode our luck at times like I knew we had to.

"The players earned the right to stay in the game so long, we are trying to be positive but there is still frustration. At crucial moments, we just couldn't find the right delivery.

"This has been an incredible journey and we all want more of it.

"There have been many heroic performances."

It's a loss which will hurt the players and management for a few days but it's also been a European journey which will leave Linfield in good shape, mentally and physically, as they turn their attentions to domestic matters.

"Now it's back to the bread and butter of can we retain our title?" added Healy.

"The players have the capabilities of playing against quality sides and we also have players who can score goals.

"We will emerge from this stronger.

"The big positive is we stayed in this game for so long.

"The players will want more experiences like this and we need to move forward, not just settle for this achievement."

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