The Heroes’ confidence has been high this week. With that 3-0 win over Naval fresh in the memory there’s been a real swagger about them in training. I contemplate how refreshing it is to work with such a confident bunch as I sit and eat my Portugese supermarket own-brand cornflakes. Hopefully we can keep the good times rolling today: we play Grupo Desportivo Vitória de Sernache, or Vit Sernache for short at 4 o’clock, who are travelling all the way over from Cernache do Bonjardim: a parish located smack bang in the middle of mainland Portugal.
Vit Sernache are a curious team. They currently sit 2nd bottom in the league with 6 points. So far in the Relegation stage they’ve beaten Vilafranquense, who are the only team to beat us so far, and lost to 3 teams including Naval, who we just decimated. Nevertheless we are at home against the 7th placed team and I will not accept anything less than 3 points.
As I slurp the last of my Portugese supermarket own-brand milk out of the bowl, I hear a familiar voice from behind me: “Inglês, I tell you last match yes?” It’s Nuno. And he sounds infuriatingly chipper. He walks around to the front of my table and stands there, almost smiling. The bastard. “I tell you last time Inglês! You fail! I tell you!” he’s giggling now. He seems either unable or just unwilling to hold back all of his feelings of schadenfreude.
“I honestly don’t know why I keep coming in this early on a match day” I groan, shoulders slumped. Nuno ignores me completely.
“You know how you do today Inglês?” he whispers as he crouches down and moves his Droopy-Dog-shaped-handbag of a face closer to mine.
“YOU FAIL INGLÊS!” He quickly straightens up again, beaming and nodding enthusiastically. Well, enthusiastically for Nuno.
I stand, pick up my empty bowl and look him right in the eyes. “Well we’ll see won’t we Nuno. We’ll see if I fail today.” I assertively place my bowl in the sink and walk out of the Estádio Municipal de Angra do Heroismo cafeteria, leaving Nuno looking surprised and possibly slightly impressed.
I turn my attention back to match prep. I feel like I may have been harsh in my criticism of our right winger Aurélio when creating Project: Meatloaf you know. He’s been fine. It’s just that in general, standards have been set very high so far and “fine” has actually meant that I’ve been able to single him out as one of the weaker performers. Anyway, I’m giving Amonike a start today in his place. I’ve got a decent amount of confidence in him and he sort of got an assist last week. He set up Medeiros’ cross which hit a defender and went in. Other than that, we’re unchanged and let’s get another result like last week’s!
We start… In fact no. No, I’m not doing it. I’m not telling you about this match. OK fine, do you want to know what happens? Do you want me to describe every moment of importance in this match? Here you go: Luís Carlos has a shot from 30 yards that nearly goes out for a throw, we go 4-2-4 and I beg my team to attack, and Roger falls asleep for a bit. That’s it. That’s all of it. We’re dominant but we create no good chances at all. The Vit Sernache supporters get the last laugh because none of them bother to make the bloody trip, so they don’t have to endure possibly the most boring 90 minutes of my career so far. It goes without saying that my main priority immediately after the match ends is avoiding Nuno.
We’ll fast forward a week, because I’ll be damned if that’s me done for the day.
Our next match is upon us then and we have another flight to catch, but for once we’re not flying to mainland Portugal. Our next match is away against Sporting Clube Ideal, who are the only other club in our group that’s based in the Azores. I suppose they’re the closest thing we have in our group to a rival. They’re based in Ribeira Grande (Big Riverside, not exactly Hero Creek is it?) on the largest Island in the archipelago: São Miguel (Known as The Green Island. Again, I’m pretty sure Volcano Island is the cooler option).
I’m wary of SC Ideal. So far they’ve beaten Torreense, Naval and erm…Sernache, and they’ve lost to Caldas and Vilafranquense, who are the top 2 in the group. In other words they’ve only gained 1 less point than us and they’re yet to play the extremely thrashable Carapinheirense, while we’re yet to play the league leaders Caldas, who aren’t doing too badly…
They’ve also won 2 out of 2 at home and I’m very reluctant to let them make that 3 out of 3, so I’m pumping the breaks on Project: Meatloaf. We’ll revert today to Heróis Original in the name of progress and we’ll welcome Seidi and Aurélio back into the fold. Needless to say Amonike didn’t impress me last match, but then nobody did. Hurley has been excellent but he’s not the right fit for this match. Aurélio is going to get a chance in the left inside forward role, and Kevin will be our right winger as I’m still trying to figure out how to have 2 good wide players in this team.
5 minutes in we give away a silly free kick in a central position. Artur Santos puffs his chest out Ronaldo-style and smashes the ball over the wall. I let out a tiny squeal as it looks to head towards the top left corner, only to crash back off the bar.
2 minutes later we have a chance of our own. As SC Ideal push forward, big Ivan Santos steps in to hammer the ball upfield. Magina collects it 40 yards out and drives at their defence, bamboozling a defender with his footwork before mishitting his 30 yard shot which flies wide to the left.
Nearly quarter of an hour into the match Ivan Santos plays another long ball forward towards Magina, but João Jesus beats him in the air and heads it away. Seidi gets to it first though and sends a looping volley onto the right wing, which is nodded on by Kevin. He catches it well and the ball skips through the Ideal defence and is picked up by Magina on the right hand side of the area. He takes a touch, turns and shoots towards the near post but João Botelho makes a good save, tipping it wide. A good move, but not very clean. I tell the players to work the ball into the box to make clearer chances.
The match goes quiet for the next 20 minutes or so before The Heroes start threatening again: From a throw to the right of the SC Ideal penalty area, Vitor Miranda plays a one-two with Kevin before sending a cross deep into the box. Aurélio gets his head to the ball but lacks both power and accuracy, so much so that the ball goes very wide but doesn’t actually go out for a goal kick. Xéxé, SC Ideal’s left back who I weighed up alongside Chileno as a transfer option a few weeks ago, picks the ball up and clears it down the left wing, where César brings it forward on the counter. He plays it to Amaral, who dribbles to the edge of our area and squares it for Santos. As Santos looks up he’s surrounded by defenders, but one of them is slightly out of place. Oliveira has drifted towards him and left space for Cabral to exploit. Santos plays a perfect through ball into the path of Cabral, who tucks it away at the near post.
My head drops. This isn’t good. Our form is all over the place. It’s not as if we’re doing well at home and playing badly away like I initially anticipated, we’re just struggling to gather any momentum regardless of the venue. And this isn’t the first time Oliveira’s made a mistake like that. I’ve got my eye on him.
“Fuck it”, I say as I get to my feet. “Hurley, warm up.”
Jaime Seidi is sacrificed, Hurley comes on and Project: Meatloaf is back on. We need to take this game to SC Ideal and the only other time we went behind under my stewardship we lost. Let’s get at them early to prevent a repeat of that.
5 minutes later, Amaral powers forward again before shooting from the edge of the area, but Azevedo saves it well down to his left.
I get into the changing room at half time before the players, and think about what I’ll tell them. I’m not actually angry, but I am frustrated. This team is a puzzle that I keep getting stuck on. Saying that, we’ve not been bad today, Magina’s had a decent chance… And a speculative one. “You’ve been unlucky so far” I calmly tell them. “Both teams have had chances, but they’ve had the best one and we’re 1 down because of it. Go and make some even better ones, we can beat this lot!”
Just over 10 minutes after the break a decent move results in our corner. Aurélio swings it in with pace towards the near post and big Ivan Santos loses Cabral, the goalscorer who was marking him, beats Diaby and Xéxé in the air and powers the ball home with his head. By the time the back of the net ripples I’m up and punching the air: “VAMOS HERÓIS!”
Not long after, the goalscorer Santos takes a free kick in our half and plays it short to Valadão. The skipper passes it to Hurley, who flicks it on first time for Benjamim. Now forward to Medeiros while bodies are getting forward all around him in support. Magina takes it off him, dropping back like a false nine which catches me slightly off guard, and lays it off for Benjamim again. Back to Medeiros, who plays a great pass behind Xéxé for Kevin on the right wing. Kevin takes a touch and drills a low cross into the area, which hits Touré’s foot and trickles past the keeper Botelho, but very slowly comes back off the far post. The ball’s cleared but we’re playing some great fluid football now.
With just over 20 minutes to go I bring Arruda on in place of Magina to freshen up the attack, and with 15 to go we get another chance. Miranda’s throw inside our own half seems pretty harmless but he gets it to Hurley, who takes a touch, looks up and launches the ball over the SC Ideal defence. Arruda chests it down and sprints into the area, but the angle is a bit too narrow and his near post shot is tipped behind by Botelho.
We’re just 2 minutes from the end now. This has been an end to end game and there could still be a winner in it. Artur Santos picks the ball up on the edge of our area but Hurley gets in well to tackle him. He plays it to Medeiros who plays it first time to Kevin. He takes it forward slightly and releases the ball to Arruda, who plays it quickly on to Hurley, and then Benjamim. Benjamim holds it up, turns and plays an excellent ball on for Aurélio on the right wing. Aurélio, presumably with my criticism still ringing in his ears, swings a beautiful cross in for Kevin, who’s unmarked at the far post, and his powerful header flies back across goal towards the top corner, but he’s denied by a top class, fingertip save from Botelho.
Kevin is instantly replaced by Amonike. Not because of the header, I’d already decided on the change before that chance. Maybe this is Amonike’s moment.
1 minutes to go and Benjamim presses Besugo, who was dilly-dallying on the ball in his own half. Arruda picks it up, holds it up, and plays it through for Medeiros, but Diaby slides in to tackle brilliantly. The ball rolls to Aurélio, but he’s tackled too by Dinarte, who launches it up to Amaral. They’re starting to counter us and I get the familiar sensation of my heart dropping right through my stomach. Amaral plays it to César on the left who runs powerfully forwards and shoots from 25 yards. His shot flies towards the top left corner but is caught by Azevedo.
It’s end to end right up until the final whistle 2 minutes into injury time. I shake hands with Luís Roquete, the SC Ideal manager and head back down the tunnel a contented man. João Botelho deservedly picks up the player of the match award, he pulled off a couple of excellent saves today.
Now that is a draw that I can get behind. That is a draw that I can condone. We went up against a solid side and played a breathless game of football. On balance if anyone was going to take all 3 points I’d like to think it would’ve been us, but a draw is absolutely a fair result. It’s funny how 2 identical results can cause polar opposite emotional responses. I know the scores weren’t the same but that doesn’t really figure into it to be honest. I suppose if we hadn’t gone behind we couldn’t have had the satisfaction of coming back to salvage a point but other than that the scores of these 2 games were meaningless. We played an awful game of football and then we played a great one, and I’ll happily call that progress.
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