Linfield boss David Healy knows full well his side are on the brink of another significant milestone in the club’s history — and at the same time could even manage to bank a whopping £4million.
Healy is trying desperately to keep his delighted players’ feet on the ground after they saw off Montenegro champions Sutjeska Niksic 3-2 in Tuesday’s Windsor Park win to seal a 5-3 aggregate triumph in the third qualifying round of the Europa League.
The next round will see the Blues have a chance to virtually treble the £1.4m they have already deposited from the competition success and to do so Healy’s men will need to overcome Azerbaijan champions Qarabag over two legs, at home next Thursday and away one week hence.
It has all come about after Linfield succeeded in reaching a play-off for the competition group stages — the first Irish League outfit to do so — by seeing off 10-man Sutjeska. The ever-lively Mark Stafford’s header gave the home side an early advantage only for Bojan Bozovic to make it 1-1 — then razor-sharp Shayne Lavery grabbed an exquisite goal to make it 2-1.
A red card followed when Alexsandar Sofranac was dismissed and then Bozovic rose to head home before Matthew Clarke gleefully slotted away to restore the lead and ensure victory was taken with a 3-2 score line.
And as he prepared his outfit for the rather more mundane league clash with Coleraine this weekend, Healy says he is being careful not to underestimate the achievement he and his players have scored but at the same time trying to maintain an air of calm around the camp as they head into the next phase of a wondrous European adventure.
“I spoke to the players and reminded them not to underestimate what they achieved on the night. I’m really rather thrilled for the players and thrilled for the club. Thrilled for myself and the rest of the staff to be given the opportunity to go now next week and perform again in a big tie for the club.”
“We really look forward to the challenge. It will be a tough one but the way we are playing at the minute, we will relish the challenge. Everything we are asking of the players at the minute, they are delivering. I hope it continues.”
Healy says he has the utmost respect for Qarabag and has warned his charges they will face a stiffer test from the next opponents they come up against. He added:
“I know they are a good side. That’s for sure. They played Chelsea two years ago in the Europa League group stages. They have a European pedigree.”