Have I got everything I need? Probably not. I hate flying. Not because of any kind of irrational fear; I’ve seen all the statistics, like that you’re more likely to fall off a flaming rollercoaster into a Sarlacc than be involved in a plane crash or whatever it is. No, my dislike of flying stems from the fact that more often than not, you have to go from an airport. Airports are the worst.
We’re flying to Figueira da Foz on the West coast of mainland Portugal for our match against Naval tonight and I need to leave soon, the team bus from Estádio Municipal de Angra do Heroismo leaves in just over half an hour. As I head towards the door I see Meatloaf and Burnie both laid at the foot of my bed, looking up at me with cautious intrigue.
“I hope we make you proud today mate” I smile at Meatloaf, “and Project: Burnie is in the works!” I reassure Burnie, before stepping outside and closing the door behind me. I set off walking fast. I know the chances that they’ll leave for Lajes Field Airport without their Manager on the bus are slim but I don’t want to hold us up. I don’t even stop to stroke the Golden Retriever I see sat in the car park of my building, which for me is quite something.
I arrive in time and our knackered old team bus trundles its way to Lajes Field. Somehow even though we get there 3 hours early and it’s the tiniest airport I’ve ever seen, we still have to run to board our flight. And then run again after they change which gate we’re leaving from. I hate airports so much.
To be fair, the trip over to Figueira da Foz goes pretty seamlessly and we arrive at José Bento Pessoa, Naval’s ground, in pretty high spirits. Naval are currently occupying the relegation playoff spot in our group with 7 points. They’ve lost 2 and won 1 so far so they might be a decent side to pick our form back up against. Despite our loss against Vilafranquense we sit in a respectable 3rd place with 12 points.
I address the team in the changing room before the match “Is everyone clear on their jobs?” Grunts and nods from the players. My heart’s pounding, I’m excited to see Project: Meatloaf in action today. I turn to Hurley, who’s not started a match before today. “Hurley, compreendo?” He nods, but he looks nervous.
“Is it true that you named this system after your cat?” Interjects a smirking Roger.
“VAMOS HERÓIS!” I cry as I turn and walk down the tunnel.
We start well, with our first good chance coming just over 10 minutes in: Naval’s Oliveira heads a cross clear of the box and Benjamim takes it down well. He squares it for Hurley, who passes it on first time for Kevin. He’s 10 yards out on the left and if he shoots left footed I think he scores, but he goes with his right and drags his shot into the side netting.
10 minutes later we’re still threatening. Vitor Miranda plays a lofted pass down the right wing for Medeiros, who chests it down and lays it off for Aurélio. Aurélio thinks about the cross but instead plays it back inside for Medeiros. He lays it off for Magina, who slots the ball into the bottom left corner. 22 minutes in and we’ve scored a good team goal, that’s what I want to see. It’s not only a good move, it’s also a smart one. I can tell the players are enjoying using their brains in this fluid style, I can see their cogs turning. It’s great for Magina to get his first goal under my regime too, the relief on his face is clear. Project: Meatloaf is paying dividends so far.
Just 2 minutes later we’re at it again. You wouldn’t know who the home side is here, Naval aren’t getting a sniff. Medeiros plays a good cross into the 6 yard box and it’s headed away by Ildefonso. Fred Jesus, a man whose parents I respect very much for their choice of name, tries to head the ball further clear but can only put it into space on the left wing. Hurley goes to pick it up and puts an in-swinging cross into a dangerous position. So dangerous in fact that it nearly flies into the top right hand corner and Naval keeper João Tiago has to claw it out, but the ball only falls a couple of yards out for a confident looking Magina to dink back into the net. 2-0 and we are looking as excellent as I’ve seen us.
At half time the dressing room is cheerful. There’s a real buzz and the players really seem to be enjoying themselves.
“Excellent”, I say to them through a toothy smile, “You’ve played well so far.” For the 2nd half we’re going back to Heróis Original. We’ve got a good lead but we can’t get cocky, nor can we sit back and invite them on. We’ll be our usual standard selves and we’ll utilise Hurley in the holding man role.
The first 20 minutes is quiet and I’m fine with that. Maybe one day when my team has wrapped up the La Liga title with weeks to spare I’ll try and drub some fools, but for now 3 points is all I want, and killing games off with a 2-0 lead is an excellent way of wrapping up 3 points.
I bring off Kevin, who’s been quiet today, and bring on Amonike, who I’m quietly confident in. His defining moment for me so far was a 30 yard defence splitting pass in our first friendly that lead to a goal. Since our wingers are no longer swapping I station Amonike on the right where he’s most comfortable and put Aurélio on the left.
Just a couple of minutes later our Oliveira takes a short free kick from just inside the Naval half and passes it to Medeiros. Medeiros dribbles down the right wing and passes to Amonike a few feet away, who holds the ball up, draws away 2 defenders and lays it back for Medeiros. From there he drills a dangerous looking cross along the ground towards the 6 yard box that deflects off the outstretched foot of Ildefonso and bounces past the keeper to make it 3-0.
With 15 minutes to go I replace Hurley and Medeiros with Rúby and Seidi, swapping us to a more withdrawn 4-2-3-1 with 2 holding men and a box-to-boxer.
Seconds later Chuca does his best for Naval bless him, he makes a powerful sideways run from the centre to the left wing and shoots from the corner of the area. The shot goes a long, long way wide.
With 7 minutes to go I tell the players to fall back completely and defend, and we see the match out without breaking a sweat.
Hurley was excellent today. He did exactly what he needed to, gave us an extra man and an extra attacking outlet, chasing loose balls and making forward passes. Magina was brilliant too, scoring 2 poacher’s goals and looking dangerous throughout. Our defence was solid, our midfield was well balanced. I am a very happy manager.
I realise that it’s difficult to compare our last 2 matches. There are so many variables, what with being at home against a good side and then being away against a pretty bad side, using different tactics with slightly different personnel, but my God that result feels good after last week’s disappointment. That’s the kind of performance we need to be putting in every game, at home especially: Dominant, fluid, exciting and brilliant.
Ah shit I’ve got to fly home now haven’t I.
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