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Linfield 0 - 2 Celtic: Carroll and Linfield dig deep but Hoops are class apart

By Graham Luney

To everyone's relief, the talking stopped and the football started. Well, to everyone's relief apart from the Linfield players who had the unenviable task of shutting out this awesome Celtic team.

A momentous shock in this Champions League second qualifying round first leg tie may have featured in the players' dreams but Brendan Rodgers' powerful side, who had blown away anything in sight in Scotland last season, were here to do business.

This really was a David Healy v Goliath contest and Linfield were grateful to keeper Roy Carroll for limiting the damage.

In the end, the Blues only lost 2-0 and the spotlight should be on their heroic efforts in frustrating the slick Scottish champions but a few idiots hurled missiles, including a bottle at Leigh Griffiths in the second half, and those unsavoury incidents will land the club they claim to support in trouble with Uefa.

Griffiths was ill-advised to tie a Celtic scarf to the goalpost at the end of the game but inevitably the post-mortem was a mixture of praise for the Linfield players and criticism for the mindless few in the stands.

Carroll denied the dangerous Scott Sinclair with two stunning saves in the first half but the visitors were already in the groove.

Linfield's policy of containment included a few crucial interventions but Celtic played with a swagger and knocked the ball around with confidence.

But Healy will be disappointed with the two first-half goals which came from two corner-kicks delivered by Griffiths.

The Hoops' breakthrough came in the 17th minute when Sinclair's header from James Forrest's knock back deflected off Chris Casement and trickled over the line.

Six minutes later, Tom Rogic made it 2-0, driving home powerfully from Griffiths' corner in a well worked set-piece.

In a rare Linfield attack, Mark Haughey poked a shot wide after a Casement cross but the hard-working Linfield defence was constantly on alert.

Carroll superbly denied Sinclair twice but it already appeared a damage limitation exercise for the Danske Bank Premiership champions.

At the start of the second half, the question was would Celtic ease off?

The answer was no as Carroll collected a Stuart Armstrong shot but Linfield were forced to make a change in the 53rd minute when Matthew Clarke was stretchered off with a bad ankle injury after a collision with team-mate Mark Stafford.

Jordan Stewart, scorer of the winner against La Fiorita in the last round, entered the fray as the tempo of the game dropped.

The game had unfolded without incident but on 65 minutes Griffiths was pelted with missiles when he attempted to take a corner and Linfield will pay the penalty with a Uefa fine inevitable.

Griffiths refused to take the corner and ended up being shown a yellow card.

Blues chairman Roy McGivern and keeper Carroll urged the 'fans' to cut it out but the situation remained tense with stewards holding supporters back.

On the pitch, Linfield defended heroically and Carroll pulled off another incredible save from Armstrong while at the other end Stewart and Andy Waterworth almost forced an opening.

Man of the match Carroll showed his class again to pull off a double save from Moussa Dembele and Mikael Lustig.

Celtic, in their first competitive game this season, couldn't net a third while Linfield will be greatly heartened by their second-half resistance.

Not surprisingly, the Celtic players were given a hostile welcome but Rodgers' men aren't alien to that kind of treatment and it perhaps inspired them to recharge their batteries that little bit more. Celtic's quick-fire double in the first half certainly reduced the noise levels though their 250 fans in the Kop Stand were happy.

But Healy was rightly proud of his troops afterwards.

"I thought we were excellent considering the quality of opposition," he said. "The disappointing thing for me was they had 70 to 80 per cent of the possession and cut us open a number of times but we have conceded from two set-plays as we switched off against a good side.

"They are a good team and they can hurt you.

"We worked during the week on forcing them wide and even then you run the risk of James Forrest and Scott Sinclair or Jonny Hayes doing you down the sides.

"The second goal they scored we even tried that ourselves so that was disappointing but credit to the players for standing up in the second half.

"We regrouped at half-time and we had to defend better and be tighter at set-plays.

"They were always going to create opportunities but when we have an experienced goalkeeper in Roy, who is nearly 40-years-old, you expect him to make the saves and he was outstanding.

"I said last year that we were the fittest team in the league and sometimes it takes 12 to 15 games to get that up but we showed the progress we have been making and fitness levels needed to go through the roof because Celtic will pick holes in your back four and middle five.

"The attitude of the players was exceptional."

The Hoops will finish the job at Parkhead while Linfield players will prepare for another tough night at the office, in an even hotter atmosphere.

If nothing else, it's an education in passing and movement they won't forget.

Others need an education in how to behave.

Linfield: Carroll, Stafford, Haughey, Waterworth, Lowry, Clarke (Stewart 54), Casement, Mulgrew, Garrett, Quinn, Smyth. Subs (not used): Deane, Robinson, Stewart, Millar, Burns, Mitchell.

Celtic: Gordon, Simunovic, Brown, Griffiths (Dembele 69), Sinclair, Armstrong, Rogic, Lustig, Sviatchenko, Forrest (Hayes 70), Tierney. Subs (not used): De Vries, Izaguirre, Bitton, McGregor, Eboue.

Referee: Alejandro Hernandez (Spain).

Match rating: 6/10

Man of match: Roy Carroll.

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