As Linfield took on Celtic in a historic fixture for the first time the team from Glasgow ended up running out 2-0 winners. The teams lined up as follows:
Linfield: Carroll, Casement, Stafford, Haughey, M Clarke (J Stewart – 54′), Smyth, Lowry, Garrett, Mulgrew, Quinn, Waterworth
Celtic: Gordon, Lustig, Simunovic, Sviatchenko, Tierney, Armstrong, Brown, Forrest (Hayes – 70′), Rogic, Sinclair, Griffiths (Dembele – 69′)
As expected, Celtic took complete control of the match from the very first whistle but resolute defending from Linfield worked for most of the match apart from two goals, which manager, David Healy, will have been disappointed to have conceded from set pieces.
Celtic started the game looking for an early goal, but Linfield’s defence and midfield, both lying deep, forced them into long shots for the most part, the first of which was by Stuart Armstrong in the first minute, but Carroll saved easily.
One player who did cause the Linfield back line difficulty was Scott Sinclair on the left wing for Celtic, with his direct running causing Chris Casement all sorts of problems throughout the match.
The next real event came about in the eighth minute when Stephen Lowry, leading ‘The Blues’ on a counter attack, was fouled by ‘Bhoys’ captain and midfielder Scott Brown, who may have been lucky to get away without a booking, possibly due to the offence happening so early in the game.
After 17 minutes, a Stuart Armstrong shot was saved by Roy Carroll. From the resulting corner, Celtic opened the scoring. The corner was initially cleared, but the ball was crossed back in by James Forrest, and Scott Sinclair’s weak header found its way into the bottom corner.
Five minutes later and Celtic had doubled their lead. The Linfield defence switched off, allowing Leigh Griffiths to find Tom Rogic at the near post, following a smart run from the midfielder, who then finished past Carroll.
As the first half started to come to a close, Linfield had loud shouts for a penalty turned down for what looked like a push by Spanish referee Alejandro Hernandez. It was one of those decisions where you feel had it been outside the box; it would have been given, but unfortunately not for the Blues.
In the second half, Linfield started impressively, with Andy Waterworth going close twice in quick succession.
In the 54th minute, left back, Matthew Clarke, was replaced by Jordan Stewart for the hosts, due to a deep gash obtained colliding with teammate Mark Stafford, as they both scrambled to block Forrest’s shot after he had gone on a mazy run.
Celtic continued to dominate possession, but for the most part were well stifled by the Linfield defence and Carroll handled well any shots they did have.
As the game started to wind down, the hosts went close to getting a goal back, as Stephen Lowry and Paul Smyth combined well down the right-hand side, with Lowry’s low cross just about scrambled away, with both Waterworth and Stewart waiting at the back post.
The visitors should have had a third in added time but were denied by a fantastic double save from Northern Ireland international, Carroll. Dembele had his curling effort saved first, which was clawed away by Carroll only for the loose ball to be picked up by Lustig but the ‘keeper recovered well to save and hold the follow-up effort.
Despite the defeat, Linfield can hold their heads high for staying in the match despite conceding two soft goals early on, and on another day could have scored a famous goal against what was one of the form sides in Europe last season.
Man of the Match for me was Scott Sinclair who constantly looked dangerous for Celtic when cutting in off the left wing.