As much as I enjoy the drama of our matches against Torreense, I’m glad they’re out of the way for the season. We’ve now got 6 matches left to show this league what os Heróis are doing and which direction we’re going in and I’d appreciate it if we could grind out some wins without the need for late winning goals.
Our next 2 matches are away, starting with a trip to Carapinheira today to take on Carapinheirense. They were the first Portuguese team I went up against, in what was probably the first match in my career that my team comfortably won.
I’m making a few changes in terms of both Project: Meatloaf and our personnel for the match. It’s not that I underestimate Carapinheirense, we just need to experiment at some point and it may as well be today against one of the worst clubs in the PT Championship.
Aurélio is dropped unsurprisingly as I have concerns over his form and it’s become clear that even if I wanted him to stay beyond the summer, he wouldn’t sign a new contract. Amonike takes his place on the right.
Medeiros is left out for a similar reason, I’d like to use this match as an opportunity to try out a potential replacement as he’s leaving in the summer. 16 year old Carlos Antunes makes his full debut in the number 10 role.
Benjamim’s form has dropped slightly but to be honest I just want to give Rúby a match as I’m very excited about how good he could potentially become. He’ll play in a slightly deeper role than Benjamim usually does, as a ball winning midfielder who also has license to wander up and support attacks.
5 minutes in, Antunes passes it to Hurley, who floats a pass onto the right wing. Amonike picks the ball up and crosses it to the near post, where Magina chests it down and fires it in to put us ahead. 7 minutes later he goes close to doubling our lead when Kevin comes inside from the left and plays him in. Magina turns round his marker and drives it low towards goal, but it cannons back off the post.
Nearly 20 minutes in Antunes gets the ball and picks out Kevin’s run through the left, splitting the defence. Kevin speeds past a slide tackle and drills it in to the far post for Magina to knock in. 2 goals to the good already and we’re looking good. The cushion lasts less than a minute though because Seidy gets the ball pretty much straight from kick off and slots it through for Bacurim, who places it into the bottom corner.
The half hour mark comes and goes, but not long after we catch Carapinheirense as they push forward and Antunes dribbles the ball out on the counter. He runs over the half way line and passes it through for Kevin on the right, who chips the ball into the box. Magina is obviously there and he obviously scores on the volley to complete his 33 minute hat trick. I consider for a moment if it would be possible to have him crowned King of Volcano Island but I imagine that there’d be a lot of paperwork involved.
Again though it’s like a reflex for Carapinheirense: Not 2 minutes after the net bulges at their end, they’re down at ours. Namora holds the ball up 25 minutes out and picks out Seidy, who should be marked by Oliveira but I have no idea where he is, worryingly. Rúby tries vaguely to stay with him but Seidy wriggles free and places the ball against the inside of the post, before it trickles agonisingly slowly across the line and in. I decide that a Carapinheirense comeback would be detrimental to my plan of not smashing the away dressing room up at the break, so I tell us to close the ball down more and play slightly narrower, restricting the space that Carapinheirense will have to play the ball through us.
We hold on until half time and beyond though and we’re still leading after almost an hour when I make a sensible double substitution: Benjamim and Medeiros come on for Rúby and Antunes. Their added experience should help us tie this match up.
Sure enough, with 25 minutes to go Medeiros plays the ball in to Magina who has his back to goal on the edge of the area. He spots Hurley making a dangerous run and picks him out. Hurley just has to pull the trigger and he does. Our 2 goal cushion is back. I have half a mind to throw everyone back to defend so the home side don’t instantly come back at us but I stand my ground and ignore the urge to change for the sake of it. 10 minutes later however I bring on Arruda for Magina because he deserves a bloody ovation to himself.
2 minutes from the end Benjamim comes forward with the ball and chips it to Arruda on the edge of the area. He takes it down and squeezes into the near bottom corner, just to really stick the boot in on Carapinheirense.
That’s more like it, I think as the whistle goes and the players applaud both of our travelling fans. A comfortable win, admittedly against the weakest team in the league. Hopefully now we can build a bit of momentum for the run in.
My experiments had mixed results. Antunes was quiet, understandably so, but I still want to give him more chances. Rúby was OK but thinking about it, I’m not sure I’ve seen him make an appearance for us and not get booked, which could be worrying if he keeps it up.
I’ve seen enough from Amonike though to convince me that he deserves a new contract. He was due to leave in the Summer but he’ll now be staying for at least another year.
One more thing to note is that Magina’s ludicrously good relegation stage campaign has made him the joint 4th top scorer in the entire PT Championship (Along with 3 others). For those that don’t remember there are 80 teams in the PT Championship, so I am extremely impressed with his tally of 15.
A week down the line and our plane is en route to Vilafranquense’s home: The municipality of Vila Franca de Xira, in the Lisbon District.
This is an odd situation as our last match against them prompted me to create the more aggressive Project: Meatloaf system after we slumped to a 0-1 home loss. However today we are away, so I make the decision to revert to the same Heróis Original formation that we used that day. In come Seidi, Medeiros and Benjamim, out go Hurley, Rúby and Antunes. Aurélio also comes in for Amonike, who needs a rest. Hopefully this time Vilafranquense will underestimate us.
Actually I say it’s the same system but I have made a subtle change. Our scouting report revealed what may be a chink in our opposition’s armour: their right full back likes to bomb forward down the wing and I want to use this to our advantage. I instruct Medeiros to play predominantly on the left with Kevin to double up on that side, hopefully overloading the right sided centre back who could be left on his own. Magina’s starting position will be moved slightly to the right to compensate.
It takes half an hour for either team to find a way through in any meaningful way. Magina picks the ball up on the right hand side of the penalty area and tries to cut the ball back for a team mate, but his pass is wayward. Medeiros gets to the loose ball first though and plays it first time to Kevin on the left, who floats the ball back across to the far post, where of course Magina is waiting. He rises high above his marker and powers a header in to the far top corner to put us ahead. Joint 3rd top scorer now if anyone’s keeping track.
I’m wary of us being caught immediately after the goal so I tell the team to play on the counter and work the ball into box carefully. We need to soak up the pressure that’s sure to come at us now and then be clinical when we do get chances.
3 minutes later Aurélio’s cross is headed straight back to him by Anta and he tries again, this time successfully getting the ball to Magina at the near post. Magina takes it down on his chest and lays it back to Medeiros, who puts the ball into the empty net. I’m surprised that we find ourselves 2 up 10 minutes from half time away at Vilafranquense but I’m absolutely not complaining.
5 minutes before half time though, just as I’m daydreaming of wiping the floor with this side that so cruelly took a win at Estádio Municipal de Angra do Heroismo, Carlos David passes to Duk on the edge of our box and he turns and crashes a shot off the bar. For a moment I think that Azevedo is going to get to the rebound but Figo beats him to it and pulls one back for Vilafranquense.
To be fair we hold out well after that and do a pretty good job of killing the game off. With 20 minutes to go I tell the lads to defend, and make ourselves compact by going narrow, staying on feet and sticking to positions. I want to make it as difficult as possible for them to get through to Azevedo in our goal. With 10 minutes to go I bring Rúby on for Medeiros to make us even more solid. We now have a back 4, with Seidi and Rúby as holding men and Benjamim just in front as a box to box midfielder. And to be honest that’s that. Vilafranquense don’t threaten us at all through the second half. I mean we don’t threaten them either but I’m fine with that. I would have taken a point against these before the match and we’ve taken all 3.
I tell you what, you can score as many goals as you like against the punching bags of the division, but nothing compares to the feeling you get after grinding out a victory over a good team. A team that may even be better than you. Today was a victory for tactics, for hard work and for defensive solidity. And that’s 3 wins out of 3 since the mid-stage break.
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