Summer signing Stewart nets winner for Linfield in Euro qualifier

Linfield's Jordan Stewart rounds the keeper to score the winner.
Linfield's Jordan Stewart rounds the keeper to score the winner.

New boy Jordan Stewart rescued Linfield in their Champions League qualifier at Windsor Park.

With a lucrative second round meeting with Celtic up for grabs, David Healy’s team had to wait until the last minute before they gained a slight advantage for the away leg in San Marino next week.

With the clock ticking down and the home fans becoming increasingly frustrated, little Stewart, one of Healy’s summer signings, produced a little bit of magic that sent the international arena into raptures.

Those fans can now start dreaming about a possible trip to Parkhead to face the Glasgow giants next month.

It was the Blues who asked all the early questions with the diminutive Paul Smyth’s pace and craft opening up the visiting defence on the right. He sent in a sublime cross on 10 minutes that Niall Quinn could only thunder over the crossbar with the flick of his head.

Towering defender Mark Stafford then benefited from another piece of Smyth magic, but couldn’t believe his luck when his header cannoned back off a post.

The Sanmarinese had another let-off when Chris Casement could only fire a 25-yard free-kick into the gloves of goalkeeper Gianluca Vivan, after Andy Waterworth had been flattened by a crude challenge from Marco Brighi.

Waterworth then took off on a lightning break to create a shooting chance for Stephen Lowry, who held his head in frustration as his drive whizzed over the crossbar.

After soaking up all the early pressure, La Fiorita at last threatened at the other end and, after spotting Roy Carroll off his line, Danilo Ezequiel Rinaldi attempted a cheeky lob from distance, but his effort finished in the empty grandstand behind the goal.

However, the visitors should really have been in front seven minutes before the break as, for the first time, the Blues were caught cold at the back. Rinaldi picked out the unmarked Adolfo Jose Hirsh at the back post, but his could only roll his shot across the face of the empty goal.

Linfield missed a glorious opportunity of pinching the lead when they were awarded a 63rd minute penalty kick by Croation referee Duje Strukan.

Goalkeeper Gianluca Vivan’s was guilty of a high challenge on Lowry after saving from Aaron Burns.

But the big shot-stopper got down brilliantly to keep out Burns’ spot kick.

Vivan produced another wonderful save 14 minutes from time when he got a telling boot to Smyth’s low drive that looked by be arrowing into the bottom corner.

The visitors almost pinched it five minutes from time when Daminano Tommassi’s header flew past the post with Carroll beaten.

But it was the Stewart who sent the home fans into a frenzy a the clock ticked down. He motored on to a pass from Cameron Stewart, tricked his way past two challenges before waltzing by Vivan and planting the ball into the empty net.

LINFIELD: Carroll, Stafford, Haughey, Waterworth, Lowry, Burns (C Stewart 75), M Clarke, Casement, Mulgrew, Quinn (J Stewart 60), Smyth.

Substitutes: Millar, Garrett, Mitchell, R Clarke, Deane.

LA FIORITA: Vivan, Matini, Brighi, Di Maio, Olivi, Miglietta (Lunadei 89), Olcese (Guidi 90), Rinaldi, Tommasi, Gasperoni, Hirsch (Zafferani 80).

Substitutes: Pancotti, Cangini, Colonna, Michelotti.

Referee: Duje, Strukan (Croatia).