|Venue: Windsor Park, Belfast Date: Thursday August 25 To start up: 7:45 p.m. GMT|
|Cover: Watch on BBC Two Northern Ireland & iPlayer, live text commentary, match report and reaction on BBC Sport website|
Linfield are just 90 minutes from history and land a life-changing bargain – yet, according to captain Jamie Mulgrew, they have nothing to fear.
David Healy’s side head into uncharted waters as they seek to become the first Irish Premiership side to reach the group stage of European competition and the hefty £2.45million that comes with the qualification for the Europa Conference League.
Linfield put in a superb performance to take a two-goal first-leg lead against Rigas Futbola Skola, but the Latvians managed two late efforts to bring the Irish League champions back to Belfast.
“It’s probably the biggest game in club history,” Mulgrew said ahead of Thursday’s game, which will be shown live on BBC Two NI and BBC iPlayer.
“It is what it is, I don’t think we are nervous or anxious. It is something that we have to look forward to and face the challenge head on.
“We, certainly me, might not have an opportunity like this again, so what to be afraid of?”
Despite being the biggest game for any club in the Irish Premiership, Mulgrew says his only target is Linfield and he “don’t really care about the rest of the league”.
“I care about Linfield, I care about what’s going on here,” he said.
“The league won’t care about Linfield. I don’t mean that in a cheeky way – it’s a fact and that’s how it is.
“It would be fantastic for everyone linked to the football club, it would be an incredible achievement for all of us and we can’t wait to achieve it.
“I just hope we can put in a performance that will guarantee us going through.”
It would be amazing
Mulgrew, who came on as a second-half substitute in Riga, said Linfield’s performance in the first 85 minutes of the first leg was “perfect” but the hosts’ two late goals provided further motivation.
Stephen Fallon and Joel Cooper were on target for the Blues before RFS replied through Kevin Friesenbichler and Ziga Lipuscek, who equalized in the 96th minute.
“What should add fuel to the fire are the two goals we conceded last week and their delay,” said the skipper.
“It was a little sickening and a little dampening of the performance because for 85 minutes, maybe even more, the boys were perfect and going for it.
“The wake-up call for us is obviously the two goals and that’s maybe the little tighter for us, that concentration levels have to be perfect the whole game.”
With the £2.45m prize money that would come with qualifying for the group stages, Mulgrew said qualification would go a long way to securing the Irish League’s most successful club a bright future.
“At my age, at 36, to get to the Conference group stage playing for Linfield – I’ve been here so long, I came to see Linfield as a kid – so that would be amazing.
“That would be something for the club to hopefully move forward. I’m sure they have a four or five year plan to take the club forward. With the financial gains that come with the group stage of the Conference, I hope they would be able to achieve this.
“Hopefully we can play a part in that to move the club forward and you can only do that with the finances that come with the Conference group stages.”
European nights in Windsor Park are ‘different’
When thoughts turn to big European nights at Windsor Park, it’s hard to look past Shayne Lavery’s inspired win over big hitters Qarabag in 2019.
Those famous scenes were echoed when Kirk Millar scored a superb goal against Bodo/Glimt in the Europa League qualifiers this summer, and although Linfield lost the second leg against the Norwegians, Mulgrew says the home support will be vital for the Blues to progress.
“For us to have the second leg at home was a big plus for us, especially as we are still in the game,” he added.
“That’s all you want in European football and it’s up to us to take advantage of it.
“It’s always been the aim and the goal, to still have something to fight for. We have a very good record at home and it’s up to us to maintain that record at home.
“We had some great nights at Windsor Park with Linfield. European nights are different here and if it’s busy they can create a really good hostile atmosphere.
“Hopefully that’s what happens and we can give them something to shout about.”