My heart is pounding. My breathing is rapid. I crouch behind a low section of demolished wall, pressing myself hard against the cold concrete. I turn around and sneak a peek over the top of the wall to see him: The gargantuan form of Eduardo Almeida, crashing through buildings like they were made of paper. He looks a lot like a 100 foot tall Ricardo Carvalho. Actually he looks indentical to Ricardo Carvalho. Do I even know what Eduardo looks like? Nevermind, he’s spotted me. He lets out a blood curdling screech and makes a beeline towards me. There’s no point in hiding now. I stand, shedding the limited protection of my little piece of wall, raise the slingshot in my hands (complete with a suitably large rock) and pull the elastic back, priming the weapon and aiming it right between Eduardo’s stupid eyes. He screeches again, diving towards me as I let go of the rock, my eyes locked on his.
I jolt awake in my bed, sweat soaking through my SC Angres branded pyjamas. After checking the clock next to my bed I decide it’s late enough to wake up so I get up and make myself a coffee. Today’s the day. I think to myself. The big one.
Caldas are visiting today. As in Caldas who have torn through our league so far, winning all 6 of their Relegation Stage games. And although the structure of our division means that there’s not that much riding on this game (I don’t think there’s much chance of either of us finishing below 5th, so our positions are pretty meaningless), this is a massive test. A chance to show how good Os Heróis can really be. And yes, it’s a chance for me to prove that I’m better than Eduardo Almeida, my predecessor who drew with Caldas twice this season before his deserved sacking.
I head down to Estádio Municipal de Angra do Heroismo early again for some reason. For once, Roger is already there, locked in conversation with Nuno and Miguel Borba, the club Chairman. The 3 of them are speaking very quickly in Portuguese. Upon seeing me Miguel stops talking and looks up at me, prompting the other 2 to turn to look at me as well. If I had to describe all 3 of their faces in 1 word, I’d say “Sheepish”.
Miguel quickly forces a smile and walks over to pat me on the shoulder. “Boa sorte, Franjo” he says warmly, before walking past me and around the corner. I’m not sure what he just said. Is that the bloke who used to play for Fulham?
Nuno gives me a stiff nod. “Boa sorte, Inglês” he mumbles before walking the other way, towards the pitch. I suddenly feel quite uncomfortable. I’ve not spoken to Miguel Borba much since joining the club but I’ve never known Nuno to be short of words. Or insults. And I’m fairly sure Boa Sorte retired quite a while ago. And in fact, his name might have been Boa Morte.
That leaves me and Roger. He looks uncomfortable, his body language pretty much confirming that the conversation I interrupted was about me. “Big one today then” I say to break the awkward silence.
He smiles and nods, “Yeah, good luck”. OK now I’m definitely suspicious.
To be honest I don’t care what they were talking about, we’re doing OK. Although apart from all the other reasons that I’ve already mentioned, I would quite appreciate a win today as we’ve failed to get one in our last 2 matches. We are still 3rd though, 8 points behind our opponents today but only 1 goal behind Vilafranquense in 2nd.
I opt for Project: Meatloaf for the match. The system came about after we showed Vilafranquense too much respect and lost for the first and only time of my reign so far, so I don’t want us to make the same mistakes today. We’ll make Caldas deal with us, we won’t sit back and wait to be offered an opportunity to counter.
To distract myself from the nerves while I’m waiting for kick off on the touchline, I look up “Boa Sorte” in my phrase book. It means “Good luck”. That’s quite nice. Although I also discover that “Boa Morte” means “Good Death”. I’m a little bit horrified.
The first half hour flies by. 10 minutes before half time my worst fears are realised when a Santos corner is turned in by Militão’s head. To make matters worse, Caldas keep coming forward and we’re struggling to hold on until half time.
With a couple of minutes remaining before the break, Jacuvenal tries to find space in the corner on the right wing but Hurley wins the ball from him. In the interest of safety first, Hurley attempts to smash it away – and hits it directly into the corner flag that’s about a foot in front of him. The ball bounces back to Juvenal, who exchanges a quick one-two with Louro and whips it in to the far post, where David Brás is quite uncontested as he doubles Caldas’ advantage.
0-2 at half time. I probably deserve this. I think that I might have gone the other way, showing too little respect to a team who look like at the very least they should be fighting for promotion. But in for a penny, in for a pound. There’s no point trying to shut them out now. I tell The Heroes to close down more and retain possession. We need a foothold in the match.
Almost straight from kickoff, André Simões plays a great pass over the top onto the left wing. Brás keeps it in at the byline and drills a cross in, but it hits the near post and Ivan Santos clears.
Just a minute later they’re coming down the left again. Cascão swings a cross in to the far post and Louro volleys it in from point blank range. This is a disaster.
I call Valadão over immediately to take my tactical instructions. We’re going to attack Caldas. Their entire game is coming from crosses into the box and we can’t deal with it, so we’ll also use a higher defensive line. At least that way they’ll find it more difficult to get players into the box to aim at. I also tell o capitão to tell the lads to roam from their positions. Be more fluid, be unpredictable. I’m rolling the dice here, if this backfires we could be 7 or 8 down by full time.
Valadão gets the word out and the teams retake their places for kick off. The whistle blows and the ball goes straight back to big Ivan Santos. He chips it over to Kevin on the left who dribbles diagonally into space in the centre. He sees Magina running into a channel and plays him in masterfully. Magina controls it, skips around Militão’s slide tackle and chips the ball past the outcoming keeper into the top right hand corner.
What a goal! What a bloody goal! Magina foregoes the celebrations and picks the ball out of the net to take back to the centre spot. Good lad.
Caldas look visibly shaken. They obviously didn’t expect a fightback. Soon after, Rodrigues holds the ball up from his position at the base of the midfield and is pressed by Benjamim, who nicks the ball away. He slots it through for Medeiros who plays a slick one-two with Magina and then smashes it goalwards. The next part happens in slow motion: his powerful shot smashes against the inside of the right post, rolls across the line, hits the left post and rolls away. I ask Roger to fetch me a bottle of water. He obliges. I place it on the floor and boot it away.
Not even 5 minutes later, Ivan Santos plays it out to Kevin on the left once again. Kevin tries the same diagonal dribble as before but finds that the middle of the pitch is far more congested than last time. Magina is unreachable so he picks out Medeiros instead, who plays it quickly through the defence for the onrushing Hurley. Hurley slots the ball effortlessly under the Caldas keeper. How’s this happened? We look bloody unstoppable!
Under half an hour to go and the score is 2-3, but Caldas seem to be back in the game after that ridiculous 10 minutes at the start of the half.
Brás receives the ball on the left and holds it up before laying it inside for Simões, who’s breaking forward. And then it happens. The first domino that falls is Oliveira, who leaves Rodrigues, the man that he’s marking, to close down Simões, who is already being pressed by Benjamim. He only takes a couple of steps forward but it’s enough. Simões sees his chance and slots the ball straight past him for Rodrigues, who’s now in acres of space. Ivan Santos panics and comes across to close him down, and in doing so leaves his man Sabino wide open himself. Sabino receives the ball from Rodrigues and slots it into the far bottom corner.
On one hand, that is strike 3 for Oliveira. By my count that’s the 3rd time in 7 games that he’s had the bright idea to leave his marker and it’s cost us. On the other hand, to quote Will Graham, “This is my design”. I told them to play fluid football. I told them to close down more. I did think it was implied that he shouldn’t wander off when he’s marking a striker but I’ve only got myself to blame. I either need to find a way to explain more clearly to him what his job is or I need to find someone who can make better decisions to replace him.
I immediately bring on Arruda for the once again ineffective Aurélio. Maybe a striker on the wings will give us more going forwards.
With 20 minutes to go it hasn’t paid off, so I implement another tactical change. Amonike comes on for Benjamim. We’ll play with the same 4 defenders, 1 defensive deep lying playmaker (Hurley), 2 on the wings and 1 attacking playmaker (Amonike, Medeiros, Kevin) and 2 up front (Arruda, Magina). We need Hurley to play some of his patented lumped passes forwards for the strikers to run onto.
Sometimes football will push you to the floor. Sometimes it will then hold out a hand to help you up. Sometimes it will then withdraw it’s hand so that you fall back down. Sometimes it will then kick you repeatedly in the face.
In the 92nd minute Rodrigues plays a good pass into the path of Sabino, who gets goal side of Oliveira and smashes the ball past Azevedo. He seems like a quick, powerful striker, so I won’t blame Oliveira for that one. It’s a good goal and definitely the final nail in our coffin.
A minute later Hurley gets the ball short from an Oliveira free kick, holds it up and passes it to Amonike, who runs inside and chips it over to Kevin. Kevin takes it down on his left, smashes it on the half volley with his right, and it clips the top of the bar as the whistle blows. 2-5 at full time. Not ideal is it.
We have a 2 week break before we welcome Torreense to Estádio Municipal de Angra do Heroismo, and I’ve got some thinking to do. Does Oliveira start? Does Aurélio start? I might need to schedule a friendly to help me make these decisions. And I won’t lie, I already have someone in mind…
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