Dundee United set sights on playoffs as Linfield gear up for a battle

Sunderland boss Jack Ross

A week on from an historic win over AZ Alkmaar, European duty returns for Dundee United at the third qualifying stage of the Europa Conference League, while Linfield could join the Scots in the playoff should they be unsuccessful in overturning a two-goal Europa League deficit in Zurich. (AZ Alkmaar 1/5, draw 5/1, Dundee United 11/1).

Jack Ross’s side pulled off an astonishing result at Tannadice Park on Thursday over weighty opposition, claiming a narrow 1-0 win courtesy of Glenn Middleton’s curling edge-of-the-box strike.

AZ have already had to fight to reach the current stage, with lowly Tuzla City causing them problems in the Netherlands in the opening leg of the previous round.

Only a Dani de Wit penalty edged the home side past the Bosnians, though a second-half flurry in Sarajevo eventually saw last season’s fifth-best Eredivisie side pull through 5-0 on aggregate.

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Ross is likely to recall Charlie Mulgrew and Kieran Freeman, both rested in the domestic loss to Livingston this weekend with an eye on Thursday’s clash, while Australian signing Aziz Behich’s potential inclusion after a work permit was secured for the left-back could add a timely lift for the Tangerines.

The winners of the tie will ultimately face either Riga or Gil Vicente for the right to feature in the group stage.

One level higher, Northern Ireland’s Linfield have it all to do against FC Zurich if they are to set up a Europa League playoff encounter with Hearts.

Boss David Healy may have feared the worst when the Swiss side – winless in their first five competitive matches of the season – opened the scoring at Windsor Park on eight minutes.

But the visitors could only force a second midway through the second period through Italian international Wilfried Gnonto, leaving a chink of light for the Irish League outfit, who will drop into the Europa Conference League playoff to face either RFS or Hibernians, in the event of their defeat. (FC Qurich 2/11, draw 9/2, Linfield 10/1).

Zurich have suffered a blow with the absence of seasoned midfielder Blerim Dzemaili, while Linfield, who made eleven changes for domestic duty against Crusaders, are expected to revert to a more familiar line-up.

Kirk Millar – influential in the shock win over Bodo/Glimt earlier on the European journey – is set to return from suspension.

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