“We’ve won 2 in 2! We’ve started brilliantly!” I bark stubbornly.
“You fail soon” replies Nuno lazily, without looking at me. “Aurélio never misses penalty, and then you come, Gerente Inglês, and…” he blows a raspberry with his mouth. I’m growing increasingly frustrated with Nuno. I don’t know why I’ve showed up early at Estádio Municipal again.
“Are you suggesting that my presence as an Englishman was the reason that Aurélio missed his penalty against Carapinheirense last week?” I ask, exasperated.
“He make you feel at home, Inglês” he says offhandedly. It’s annoying because he’s one of these people who can just effortlessly piss you off. There’s no malice in his tone but he just winds you up by indifferently pressing your buttons. I turn and start to walk away, leaving him to finish cutting the grass. “You fail soon, Inglês” he calls after me.
Probably the most annoying thing is that he might have a point. We play Vilafranquense later today, a side from Vila Franca de Xira, a municipality on the Tagus River. They’re known as the “Piranhas do Tejo”, or the “Tagus Piranhas”, which makes me a tiny bit jealous.
The Tagus Piranhas are 3rd on 10 points and we’re now 2nd on 12 points, but this is the most nervous I’ve felt before an Angrense match so far. We won’t be the only in-form team playing on this shoddily cut grass today.
I’ll be making minimal changes for the match. We are still in good form after all. Jaime Seidi has picked up a one game suspension after his yellow card against Torreense took his tally to 5 for the season, so young Rúben “Rúby” Miranda takes his place in the holding role.
I also take my time deliberating whether to bring the fit again Cristiano Magina back into the fold in place of Arruda, who of course scored on his full debut in Magina’s absence. It’s a toss up but I opt for Magina on the grounds that he’s more familiar with the squad and is our top scorer this season.
Within 2 minutes Os Heróis are threatening: Rúby brings the ball forward into Vilafranquense’s half and plays it out to Kevin on the left wing. With a brilliant piece of skill Kevin takes the ball around 1 man and then splits the defence with a through ball. Magina runs onto it but his near post shot is saved by Martins.
After 25 minutes we’ve had a few shots, but not good ones. I take the steps that I’ve taken in both other games so far: Control the play, work the ball into the box.
The first half is frustratingly dull and we go in for half time deadlocked. “We can win this game” I tell the players, via Roger. “We’ve had the only good chance, they’ve had nothing. Keep your chins up and go and nick us a goal.”
7 minutes into the 2nd half a corner is cleared by big Ivan Santos, but the ball is whipped back in from the right wing. It’s impossible to tell who in the penalty area scrum it actually deflects off but eventually it’s laid off to Rosado, who tucks it home under Azevedo.
As much as this seems like bad news, I’m weirdly OK with it. I know that this team are fighters, I learned that in Torreense, but until now I’ve not seen how they react when they go behind. I’m intreagued to see how the handle it, situations like this can give a Manager vital insight into his team.
With half an hour to go I decide to press our home advantage. I make a double substitution, bringing on Hurley for his debut and Reis for his first appearance under my stewardship. The players to make way are Rúby and Vitor Miranda and we switch to a conventional 4-2-3-1 with Valadão as a defensive wing back on the right, Reis as an attacking wing back on the left and Hurley as an attacking central midfielder next to Benjamim.
10 minutes later, Magina picks up an injury. I really hope I haven’t got the Portugese equivalent of Daniel Sturridge on my hands. He seems OK to play on but like in the first match I bring on Arruda as a precaution.
With 15 minutes to go I tell the team to attack and to play with some fluidity, but at this point it’s been about 75 minutes of football since we seriously threatened Vilafranquense and I’m losing hope.
With under 10 minutes to go a Vilafranquense corner is cleared only as far as Ely, whose long range shot reflects off his teammate Esteves and wrong-foots Azevedo as it trickles into the far corner. The goal doesn’t count as Estevez is ruled offside but to be honest that doesn’t lift my spirits much.
I’ve said before that Estádio Municipal de Angra do Heroismo needs to be our fortress. Results like today: Gutless 1-0 losses against any team, even the good ones like Vilafranquense, are unacceptable. We have such a huge home advantage, probably one of the biggest home advantages in club football, such is our geographical isolation from the rest of our league. Similarly we have one of the worst away disadvantages, and that’s why we need to get something out of each and every home game.
The worst part is that I know Nuno, wherever he is, is looking at this result and giving me a great big telepathic “I told you so” in Portugese.
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