Linfield Team :
Chris Johns (GK), Jack Scott, Daniel Finlayson, Ben Hall, Matthew Clarke, Chris Shields, Kyle McClean (Jamie Mulgrew 86’), Kirk Millar, Joel Cooper (Michael Newberry 90’), Chris McKee (Liam McStravick 86’), Matthew Fitzpatrick (John Robertson 79’)
Linfield Subs not used :
David Walsh (GK), Matthew Williamson (GK), Aodhan Doherty, Ryan McKay, Max Haygarth, Andrew Clarke, Rhys Annett, Ethan Devine
KF Vllaznia Team :
Kristi Qarri (GK), Marko Juric, Milos Stojanovic, Redon Dragoshi, Konstantin Cheshmedjiev, Ersin Hakaj, Esat Mala, Rejan Alivoda, Lorik Boshnjaku, Mehdi Coba, Bekim Balaj
Linfield manager David Healy marked his 400th game in charge of the Blues with a well-deserved 3-1 win over Albanian side KF Vllaznia in the first leg of their UEFA Conference League Q1 tie at Windsor Park this evening in front of almost 4,500 spectators.
If you’d offered David Healy a two-goal advantage to take to Albania next week he’d have happily received it prior to the match. However, on the balance of play and considerate of the circumstances around the visitors’ late goal, he might feel a little disappointed that Linfield’s lead is not a bigger one at half-time in the tie.
The Blues were the team in the ascendancy from the word go. There was a high tempo and a real sharpness about their play from the off which Vllaznia struggled to get to grips with. The tone was set within two minutes as Kirk Millar whipped in a free-kick from wide left which brought a near miss by the head of Daniel Finlayson at the back post with the ‘keeper struggling.
A crisp breakaway then saw Joel Cooper send Chris McKee away down the left and his first-time cross was perfectly measured for strike partner Matthew Fitzpatrick whose header flashed not far wide of the far post.
Fitzpatrick proved effective in linking play and on two occasions he did well to create good chances. Firstly, he teed the ball off to Joel Cooper whose low shot was defected just wide from the edge of the box, and soon after, Fitzpatrick’s knockdown set Chris McKee who fired just over with a sweet volley.
Half Time: Linfield 0 – 0 KF Vllaznia
Whilst David Healy would have been pleased with his team’s overall performance in the first half, he most likely will have challenged them at half-time to turn their dominance into making the opposition goalkeeper work more. That was the case in the second half, although there was almost a goal against the run of play with a rare opportunity for the visitors as striker Bekim Balaj went through on goal on the counter-attack and he opted to shoot early with what proved to be a very tame effort, comfortably saved.
Linfield then deservedly took the lead on 56 minutes with the excellent Kyle McClean at the heart of the move as he cut through the centre of the Vllaznia team before seeing his shot take a major deflection which the goalkeeper did well to claw off the line, however there was nothing he could do when the ball was blasted over the line on the follow-up by Chris McKee.
The Blues doubled their lead twelve minutes later when they broke after winning the ball high up the pitch. It was a really decisive and clinical move from there as Chris McKee gave it left to Cooper who returned the favour by clipping a ball up to the back post area where McKee netted his and Linfield’s second of the night with a good, composed finish.
Fast forward another eight minutes and the Blues netted a third goal. One of many excellent performers, Jack Scott capped an excellent all-round display when he cut in off the right before beating a man and brilliantly finishing into the far corner with a left-footed shot from the edge of the box.
The Blues then threatened on further occasions with Joel Cooper causing havoc for the visitors, however there was a late twist as Daniel Finlayson was sent off for a second booking over a foul just outside the box. He might feel hard done by. Vllaznia then scored from the resultant free-kick, with the delivery knocked down to defender Marko Juric to volley in at close range.
Full Time: Linfield 3 – 1 KF Vllaznia