Europa Conference League
Goal hero Christy Manzinga insists he wants to repay the faith Linfield manager David Healy has shown in him.
The 26-year-old French striker certainly went it about it the right way by turning in a brilliant performance in the Blues’ outstanding 4-0 win over Borac at an electric Windsor Park on Thursday night.
Healy’s boys are now only 90 minutes away from a Europa Conference League third qualifying round tie against Shakhtyor Soligorsk or Luxemborg’s Fola Esch — who lead their opponents 2-1 following their first leg tie in Belarus.
It was another one of those famous European nights at the international arena — it’s just a pity there were less than 1,000 of the Linfield faithful there to witness it due to the Covid restrictions.
On a night that began so well with Michael Newberry scoring after only two minutes, it just got better and better. Manzinga bagged a wonder strike before the break, with skipper Jamie Mulgrew and defender Jimmy Callacher adding second half goals.
When Manzinga arrived on these shores last season, his chances at Linfield were not only stifled by the performances of Shayne Lavery, but serious injury and suspension also added to his agony.
Now given a pivotal striking role by Healy, Manzinga’s performances in Europe have not only justified his manager’s faith, but also has helped him win over the hearts of the sometimes hard-to-please Windsor Park fans.
“The manager has been really good with me,” claims Manzinga.
“He was patient with me last season, but some players were improving with every game and performing to a high standard which limited my chances.
“It was hard for the boss to leave them out of the side, but this season the boss has given me my chance and I just want to repay him for that.
“I worked hard over the pre-season period and I’m starting games and scoring goals, so it is paying off for me so far — but we must keep our focus.
“I’m really happy, not just for my goal, but for the performance the lads put in. They gave everything on the pitch, it was a really good performance.
“We were wary about this tie, but we know the job is not done yet. We are expecting a tough battle over there.”
Manzinga admitted he had only one thing on his mind when he gobbled up a superb pass from Stevie Fallon.
He added: “It was a great ball from Stevie and the rest was pure instinct. When you are a striker, the only thing you think about is getting into the box and having a shot on target. If it works, great, if it doesn’t, try again.
“Lucky for me, it worked. It was a nice goal — it was ok, but it certainly wasn’t my best one. I’ve hit better.
“I’m delighted to be playing in front of the fans again, the team certainly feed off their energy.
“There may have been only 1,000 in for the game, but they created a great atmosphere, it’s great to have them back.”
Although Healy lost a number of experienced and influential players over the summer, Manzinga believes there is something special happening at the club;
“We were disappointed to out of the Champions League when beaten by Zalgiris Vilnius last week,” he added.
“But good things came out of the two games, we are growing as a team. We lost a few important players, but we are improving all the time, with some new boys in.
“It was tough because we had only two weeks off, but we now need to build for the season. We are getting better game after game. It’s not about any individual — it’s about the team and the club.
“I took me a bit of time to settle. To be honest, I don’t really want to speak about last season — anything that could go wrong went wrong. It’s over and done with now.
“For any player, if you are not playing, it’s difficult. For me, last season is done and dusted — I don’t really want to think about it. It was more of a mental problem than anything else.
“This is a new season, and we are looking forward. Now that I’m playing, I want to show everyone what I really can do, especially the boss.
“My confidence is coming back and I now look forward to every game. I’m still not at 100 per cent — I feel I’m just reaching that point.”