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Wasteful Linfield are made to pay the price by Zalgiris Vilnius in Champions League opener

FK Zalgiris 3 Linfield 1

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Up for it: Linfield’s Christy Manzinga and Zalgiris’ Nemanja Ljubisavljevic rise for the ball

Up for it: Linfield’s Christy Manzinga and Zalgiris’ Nemanja Ljubisavljevic rise for the ball

Linfield’s Jamie Mulgrew and Zalgiris Vilnius’s Saulius Mikoliunas

Linfield’s Jamie Mulgrew and Zalgiris Vilnius’s Saulius Mikoliunas

Linfield’s Christy Manzinga Zalgiris Vilnius’s Nemanja Ljubisavljevic

Linfield’s Christy Manzinga Zalgiris Vilnius’s Nemanja Ljubisavljevic

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Up for it: Linfield’s Christy Manzinga and Zalgiris’ Nemanja Ljubisavljevic rise for the ball

Linfield manager David Healy suggested before his club’s latest Champions League encounter that opponents Zalgiris Vilnius were not at the same level as Celtic, Rosenborg or Legia Warsaw, who the Blues had previously faced in the competition during his time in charge.

Northern Ireland’s record goalscorer was right. The Lithuanians have some fine players and entered the first leg of the first qualifying round clash on home turf last night with the advantage of being in the middle of their domestic season but in comparison to Brendan Rodgers’ Bhoys or the Norwegians or Poles, they were no great shakes.

That’s why the Blues should return to Belfast disappointed at the 3-1 defeat in their opening match of a new season just over five weeks on from finishing their outstanding double-winning campaign.

Vilnius were gifted a controversial penalty which Healy and his team can feel aggrieved with but their other two goals were preventable, while at the other end Linfield’s set-pieces - a valuable weapon for Irish League clubs in Europe - were awful. Time and time again they wasted opportunities.

To have any chance of turning the deficit round at Windsor Park next week, the Blues must dramatically improve on that aspect.

Remember the away goals rule has been axed by Uefa so Christy Manzinga’s early second-half goal, welcome and all as it was for the Blues, has no added weight.

To progress into the second qualifying round of the Champions League, without the aid of a penalty shoot-out, Linfield will have to triumph by three goals at the national stadium next Tuesday after Vilnius netted through a Hugo Videmont free-kick, Tomislav Kis penalty and a Chris Johns own goal.

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Unless there is a spectacular turnaround at Windsor, Healy’s men are set to drop into the new Europa Conference League in which Coleraine, Glentoran and Larne will feature tomorrow.

The plus points are that at least Linfield are not completely out of the tie and in new signing Chris Shields, they have recruited class.

Fresh from leaving Dundalk fans heartbroken at his departure, the midfielder showed some quality on his debut for the Irish League champions and you know with his attitude and ability he is only going to get better in a blue shirt.

The thing is, Linfield need more like him after losing big hitters Shayne Lavery, Joel Cooper, Andy Waterworth, Mark Stafford and Mark Haughey.

Maltese international forward Kyrian Nwoko is set to arrive from Valletta and Healy is well aware another couple of high-class performers will be required on top of that.

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Jamie Mulgrew and Conor Pepperc close down Saulius Mikoliunas

Jamie Mulgrew and Conor Pepperc close down Saulius Mikoliunas

Jamie Mulgrew and Conor Pepperc close down Saulius Mikoliunas

Manzinga scored last night and hit the bar early on when the scores were blank after a brilliant pass from captain Jamie Mulgrew in his 41st European game for Linfield, but the jury is still out on whether the ex-Motherwell ace can consistently lead the line for the Blues.

After Manzinga smacked the woodwork, solid defending from Michael Newberry helped keep Vilnius at bay until the Blues needlessly conceded a free-kick on 38 minutes which Videmont brilliantly directed into the net. On 44 minutes, the Lithuanians made it 2-0 when Stephen Fallon was harshly penalised for handball with the calm Kis slotting in the spot-kick.

With 53 on the clock came Linfield’s best moment with Manzinga on target from a rebound after Fallon’s deflected shot was palmed out by goalkeeper Edvinas Gertmonas.

Jimmy Callacher performed heroics to keep the scoreline at 2-1 but seconds later from a corner on 65 minutes unmarked Jakub Sylvestr headed against the post with the ball bouncing off the unfortunate Johns and in.

Johns made a super save from Kis shortly after. Even so, 3-1 down is still a long way back for the Blues.

FK Zalgiris Vilnius: Gertmonas, Bopesu, Gamakov (Uzela 83), Kis, Videmont, Sylvestr (Tadic 83), Mikoliunas, Verbickas (Onazi 59), Diaw, Ljubisavljevic, Kyeremeh (Karamarko 83). Subs not used: Duka, Tatormirovic, Piliukaitis, Mikulenas, Jarusevicius.

Linfield: Johns, Pepper, Clarke, Newberry, Callacher, Mulgrew, Fallon, Palmer, Quinn (Stewart 77), Shields, Manzinga (Nasseri 77),

Subs not used: Williamson, Walsh, Hume, Clarke, Carroll.

Referee: Alex de Albuquerque Troleis (Faroe Islands)

Man of the match: Tomislav Kis (Zalgiris Vilnius)

Match rating: 6/10


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