Bastien Hery and scorer Shayne Lavery celebrate Linfield's third goal (©INPHO/Brian Little)
Thursday, 22 August 2019
Linfield recorded arguably one of the most memorable results for an Irish League club on the European stage with victory over Azerbaijani side Qarabağ at Windsor Park.
The victory puts David Healy's side in a great position going into next Thursday's second leg in Baku with a place in the Europa League group stages at stake, although there will be obvious concern at the two away goals Qarabağ will take back with them.
Qarabağ started on the upper foot, coming close as early as the second minute when Mahir Emreli had a go from just outside the box only for his effort to fall just wide with Rohan Ferguson at full stretch.
The visitors went one better, however, after a quarter-of-an-hour through Faycal Rherras who made the most of a mix-up in the home defence to send the ball past Ferguson.
And five minutes after that Michel almost added a second only to strike an upright after connecting with a cross from the left while, later in the first half, Emreli produced another superb stop from Ferguson.
Then it all changed.
Linfield levelled with five minutes of the first half remaining through Mark Stafford who powered a header past keeper Vagner from Andrew Mitchell's left-sided free-kick.
Remarkably, in first half stoppage time, Shayne Lavery made it 2-1 to the Blues after another Mitchell set piece, this time a corner, met his head and he directed the ball into the net.
The Blues continued to keep the pressure up on their visitors after the break with Lavery seeing an early deflected shot well saved by Vagner before a strong Mitchell drive from a free-kick sailed just over.
Qarabağ enjoyed large periods of possession but failed to turn it into decent efforts in front of goal, although Michel did see an attempt saved at the near post before Dani Quintana sent a volley wide from outside the area.
Then, unbelievably, Linfield made it 3-1 with barely a quarter-of-an-hour left thanks to a superb solo effort from Lavery who held off the attentions of the Qarabağ defence before curling the ball past Vagner into the back of the net.
Qarabağ really needed a second goal to take into the return leg next week, and almost grabbed it on 79 minutes when Emreli struck an upright but, fortunately, the loose ball went back into the arms of Ferguson.
But Qarabağ did get that potentially crucial second goal deep into stoppage time when tired legs led Matthew Clarke into conceding a spot-kick which substitute Magaye Gueye expertly chipped over Ferguson.
Whether or not it proves to be significant remains to be seen, but nothing can take away from Linfield's achievement this evening.
Linfield: Ferguson, Stafford, Callacher, Héry, Cooper, Lavery, Clarke, Mulgrew, Mitchell, Quinn, Casement subs Moore (not used), Larkin (not used), Waterworth (replaced Lavery 80), Stewart (not used), Millar (replaced Cooper 90+1), Kearns (not used), McGivern (not used)
Qarabağ FK: Vagner, Qarayev, Medvedev, Míchel, Jaime Romero, Dani Quintana, Emreli, Sadıqov, Zoubir, Rherras, Hüseynov subs Məhəmmədəliyev (not used), Ailton (not used), Slavchev (not used), Abdullayev (not used), İbrahimli (not used), Hacılı (not used), Gueye (replaced Dani Quintana 67)