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Linfield do Irish League proud but dark side prevailed


Comment: Steven Beacom

Brendan Rodgers and David Healy hugged before and after the match. There was also appreciation shown between the Celtic and Linfield players when the final whistle blew.

It's a pity a minority in the stands didn't show the same respect during the Champions League qualifier at Windsor Park, in which the classy Bhoys defeated the determined Blues 2-0.

You'd have got long odds on anyone other than Celtic captain Scott Brown being the chief villain of the piece for Blues supporters, but striker Leigh Griffiths ended up taking that dubious crown.

The problems started in the first half with objects thrown at the former Hibs striker. He put his finger to his mouth in a silencing gesture to the crowd after Celtic had scored their second goal. It did not go down well.

Worse was to follow in the second period.

Missiles, including a bottle of Buckfast, were then flung by a small section of the crowd in the direction of Griffiths when he was taking a corner at the Kop end.

Griffiths picked coins off the turf to show referee Alejandro Hernandez, protested at his treatment, delayed delivering the set-piece and then to his amazement was booked by the Spanish official.

Ugly, unwanted scenes. All watched by the eagle-eyed UEFA officials who will no doubt hand Linfield a hefty fine for the shocking behaviour of those calling themselves supporters of the club.

Whether you find it acceptable or not, hurling verbal abuse at the opposition is standard at football matches.

Hurling objects that can physically hurt is something altogether more sinister and unacceptable.

What possesses people to do such a thing? Another question, how did 'fans' get into the stadium with glass bottles in the first place?

To his credit Linfield chairman Roy McGivern jumped from his seat in his directors box and rushed down towards those causing the trouble, remonstrating with them and telling them to stop.

The vast majority of those wearing blue inside Windsor, who roared their team on in the right manner, felt the same way.

Celtic boss Rodgers also wisely tried to diffuse the tension by substituting Griffiths, only for the player himself to raise temperatures about half an hour later at the end of the game by needlessly tying a Celtic scarf to a goalpost at the Kop end.

He has previous having done the same at Ibrox, home of Celtic's great Old Firm rivals Rangers.

Even allowing for the abuse he received, surely Griffiths knew that act of defiance would antagonise an already frenzied section of supporters even more.

Riot police and dogs moved in attempting to calm a situation threatening to get out of control, though that did not stop one angry supporter running on to the pitch looking to confront Griffiths who by this stage was being ushered down the tunnel with the fuming fan halted in his tracks by stewards.

Griffiths had been handed the scarf by one of the 250 vociferous Celtic supporters in the Kop - earlier in the day it had been announced that any away fans who had bought tickets on general sale for the game would be placed behind that goal.

The irony of it. Since the reconstruction of Windsor Park, even Linfield fans haven't been in the Kop.

Post-match, both Celtic and Linfield bosses Rodgers and Healy tried to play the Griffiths controversy down but it left a sour taste in the mouth after what was a compelling game to watch for the qualities of Scott Sinclair, Stuart Armstrong and Tom Rogic in the visiting side and the brilliance of Roy Carroll in goal for the home team added to Andy Waterworth's persistence, Paul Smyth's trickery and the total commitment of captain Jamie Mulgrew and his team-mates against a superior outfit.

Next week the return leg is at Parkhead.

Hopefully it will only be the football we are talking about then.

Belfast Telegraph


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