Opposition Focus: Linfield

Written by Jamie Megarry;

Linfield are coming into Saturday’s tie with Dundee United with nothing to fear, despite being labelled underdogs against the current Irn Bru Cup holders. It is a match that the Northern Irish side are relishing.

The Blues, current champions of the Danske Bank Premiership, defeated The Spartans 2-1 in the last round thanks to goals from striker Louis Rooney and midfielder Stephen Lowry, although the game was arguably not as close as the score line suggested, with Linfield dominating much of the match. Despite that, Linfield still felt they didn’t do themselves justice and will see Saturday’s encounter as an opportunity to showcase the underappreciated quality of Northern Irish football. It was Linfield’s first ever competitive win in Scottish soil.

 Unfortunately, due to the late kick-off time, Linfield will not bring quite the support they would have hoped for. The match was put back to 17:15 BST to allow TV coverage, with the game being shown live on BBC Alba and as a result meaning the Linfield supporters will not make the late boat home, forcing an overnight stay. This has proved to be a stumbling block regarding ticket sales and it is likely there will be a couple of hundred in the away end at Tannadice, rather than the 1,200 that made the trip to Dumfries this time last year. That said, the couple of hundred supporters going will get right behind their team and make plenty of noise.

 Star striker Andy Waterworth made a scoring return to action on Tuesday evening as he got through 71 minutes against Ballinamallard unscathed, helping Linfield to a 3-0 victory with a well-placed header. It was the first time the striker had played since picking up a knee injury against Celtic in the UEFA Champions League three months ago. It is unknown whether he will be picked for selection as the medical team may feel that two games in one week after a long spell on the sidelines would be taking a risk.

 It is likely that Gareth Deane will start in nets, with veteran goalkeeper Roy Carroll (formerly of Rangers) on International duty for Northern Ireland’s World Cup Qualifiers against Germany and Norway. Due to the IRN BRU Cup being played frequently on the international breaks, this competition has proved a good opportunity for Deane to get some game time under his belt. The young goalkeeper is learning off Carroll with an aim of going on to become Linfield’s number one when Carroll calls it a day.

 A key factor in this match could be the midfield battle. United have the experienced Willo Flood and Fraser Fyvie in midfield. Flood has been around the top of the Scottish game for several years, whilst Fyvie showed his quality at Hibernian under previous boss Alan Stubbs. Linfield may revert to a 4-3-3, bringing Stephen Lowry into the middle beside skipper Jamie Mulgrew and Robert Garrett, or alternatively, ex Rangers and Annan Athletic midfielder Andrew Mitchell to offer more protection to the defense. The defense have been the backbone of Linfield’s success of late but will have their hands full with striker Scott McDonald if he starts for the tangerines.

 As Linfield’s steeped history and honors would suggest, the Belfast side want to win every competition they win. The supporters expect and demand success at Windsor Park, however, this competition is always viewed as an opportunity to give players a runout. David Healy will come up with a game plan which he thinks will give his side a chance, but it is likely he will have one eye on the following week against title rivals Coleraine, with the league being Linfield’s bread and butter as they aim to retain the title.

 The Blues are also managed by Northern Ireland football icon David Healy, most notably known for some historic goals for the Northern Ireland national team, including a winner against England and a treble against Spain. Healy also had a stint in Scotland with Rangers, where he spent eighteen months playing under Walter Smith and Ally McCoist. The 38 year-old was handed his first managerial job by his boyhood club Linfield in October 2015, after previous manager Warren Feeney, formerly of Dundee United, departed to take up a coaching role at Newport County.

 Healy steered Linfield to a domestic treble last season, although there is a feeling that the Blues are yet to hit top gear.  Just like Linfield’s recent Champions League tie with Celtic, this is a match where the Linfield players are relishing the challenge of testing themselves against a strong side and could prove to be a great learning curve in the days ahead, particularly for the younger players.

 Linfield will go to Tannadice and have a go. A winning mentality is a key principle of Linfield FC and they will want to win the tie. It is an eagerly awaited test and if Linfield’s sturdy back four can stand strong once again they could well upset the applecart.

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