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Europa League: Linfield 3-2 Sutjeska Niksic (5-3 on aggregate)

Mark Stafford celebrates after putting Linfield ahead in the fifth minute

Linfield progressed to a play-off for the Europa League group stages by beating 10-man FK Sutjeska 3-2 at Windsor Park and 5-3 on aggregate.

The Irish Premiership champions will face Azerbaijan champions Qarabag.

Mark Stafford headed Linfield into an early lead but Bojan Bozovic levelled, before Shayne Lavery scored a brilliant goal after a goalkeeping error.

Alexsandar Sofranac was sent-off but Bozovic headed in after the break and then Matthew Clarke tapped in.

The victory sees Linfield make it through back-to-back rounds in Europe for the first time since 1966 when they reached the European Cup quarter-finals.

The Blues become the first Irish League side to make the Europa League play-offs where they will face Qarabag who lost 3-2 on aggregate to Cypriots Apoel Nicosia in the third qualifying round of the Champions League.

Linfield manager David Healy kept faith with the starting line-up which secured a memorable 2-1 victory in the away leg of their third-round-qualifier last week and the hosts soon extended their advantage with a seventh-minute goal from Stafford.

The defender rose high and in between two Sutjeska defenders to score with a header from six yards out after meeting Kirk Millar's corner from the left.

The visitors were level eight minutes later when Bozovic flicked a backward header past Rohan Ferguson from Damir Kojasevic's floated left-foot free-kick.

Lavery restored the hosts' lead with a fine individual predatory goal, showing skill and awareness to pick up the loose ball and rifle home from 25 yards after goalkeeper Vlado Giljen made a mess of an attempted clearance.

Lavery was a constant thorn in the side of the Montenegrins with his trickery and pace and defender Aleksandar Sofranac received a second yellow card from Czech referee Miroslav Zelinka for a foul on the Everton player 10 minutes before the break.

Millar, who scored both goals in the first leg, headed wide from a Clarke cross before the break as livewire Lavery continued to torment the Sutjeska defence.

Bozovic breathed life into the visitors' hopes with a glancing near-post header from a corner just after the hour mark but substitute Joel Cooper made space for himself to provide the cross for Clarke to find the net with a simple finish from close range after 76.

Linfield were already assured of £1m in Uefa prize money by reaching this stage of the competition and will boost their coffers substantially by making it through to another round.

A place in the Champions League group stages would net in the region of £4m for the south Belfast club.

Line-ups

Linfield

  • 1Ferguson
  • 16Clarke
  • 2Stafford
  • 8Héry
  • 14LaverySubstituted forWaterworthat 79'minutes
  • 47Casement
  • 12MillarSubstituted forCooperat 67'minutes
  • 20Fallon
  • 22Mulgrew
  • 31QuinnSubstituted forStewartat 76'minutes
  • 23McGivernBooked at 40mins

Substitutes

  • 6Callacher
  • 7Waterworth
  • 9Cooper
  • 10Stewart
  • 17Kearns
  • 27Mitchell
  • 40Moore

Sutjeska Niksic

  • 1Giljen
  • 5Ciger
  • 4Petrovic
  • 10Cetkovic
  • 7Kojasevic
  • 6NedicBooked at 64mins
  • 77VlaisavljevicSubstituted forVucicat 63'minutes
  • 11ErakovicSubstituted forNikolicat 85'minutes
  • 15SofranacBooked at 36mins
  • 19BozovicBooked at 51minsSubstituted forMarkovicat 73'minutes
  • 16Bulatovic

Substitutes

  • 3Grivic
  • 9Nikolic
  • 21Bubanja
  • 22Marusic
  • 25Markovic
  • 30Vucic
  • 31Licina
Referee:
Miroslav Zelinka

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