“Leighton Baines!” I exclaim.
“Luis Figo” comes the deadpan reply.
“Steven Gerrard!” I say incredulously.
“Cristiano Ronaldo” comes the retort.
“David Beckham! Frank Lampard! Alan Shearer! Matt le bleeding Tissier!” I list the names off one by one, growing more infuriated each time. “You haven’t got a leg to stand on Nuno, that’s 6 incredible English penalty takers.”
Nuno leans forward on his mower and scrunches up his leathery face. “Beckham… Lampard… Gerrard… These are no good.” He mutters.
“Oh, that one time.” I roll my eyes.
“And who is Bayton Lanes?” He asks, smirking slightly. My fists clench involuntarily.
“You’d better be joking”, I tell him sternly.
At that moment, I notice Pedro Botelho walking across the pitch towards us, clutching a notepad and a cup of coffee. We’re welcoming Sporting Clube de Viana do Alentejo to our place today, and he’ll be wanting me to brief him on our tactics. He gives Nuno a stern look as he gets closer to us.
“Don’t you have mowing to do?” He asks flatly. Nuno says something back to him in rapid Portuguese and I’m nowhere near fluent enough to keep up, but I’m sure I hear the word “Beckham” in there. Pedro cracks up laughing.
“Cheers Pedro” I say loudly, taking his cup of coffee. He stops laughing and looks quite sheepish. “And you,” I say, turning back to Nuno and taking a sip of my newly acquired and scalding hot beverage for emphasis, “Finish this pitch and then go look up Leighton Baines. And then David Unsworth. Educate yourself.”
Nuno chuckles as he turns away to continue his mowing. “You fail today Inglês” he calls out, as if it were compulsory.
“Piss off” I call back. It’s OK, It’s all a bit more light hearted between me and Nuno nowadays. Once you accept that he’s just a bitter old wind up merchant he’s actually alright. And he’s a patriot, you’ve got to respect that. Of course, it’s easy to be patriotic if your national side only won the Euros last year isn’t it. And I suppose if you’ve also got the best player in the world on your side then that’s just gravy.
I wish that just once it would pay off to be an English Patriot. If just one tournament could end without total humiliation, that’d be nice.
But, laughably improbable pipe dreams aside, we have work to do. Sporting Cl… I’ll just refer to them as Viana. Viana come into this game 8th in the league, having drawn 2 and lost 1 of their matches so far. We, in case I haven’t mentioned it, are top of the bloody league. We’ve won 3, scored 8 and conceded 0. Confidence is sky high and we’ve got the home advantage. Doesn’t it just feel like a match we’re destined to lose?
The plan is simple, because the simpler the plan, the more the players know what they’re doing and the less chance there is of them making a load of awful and needless mistakes. We will stick with our most standard Project: Meatloaf, and the most standard lineup we have, including Azevedo in net. Although I will be telling the players to express themselves and roam from their positions, as Viana will almost certainly sit right back and try to catch us on the break and I need us to be in the mindset that we should crush them.
For the first 10 minutes, I’m off my seat and smiling excitedly, filled to the brim with anticipation. For the next 10 minutes I’m back on my seat, waiting patiently for my excitement to be vindicated. For the 10 minutes after that my hand is over my mouth and my eyes dart nervously after the ball, willing it to fly into the Viana net and give us our breakthrough.In the 30th minute, Benjamim is robbed of the ball by Ostovari just inside the Viana half. He passes to Xande, who walks it forward, and plays in Fernandes on the left, who passes it straight to Pimentel 25 yards out. Lassina Touré comes to close Pimentel down but Ostovari runs into the space he leaves. Ostavari receives the ball and slots it under Azevedo first time. Our 425 minute clean sheet streak is over. At home. Against Viana. I’m fuming.
5 minutes later though the tables turn: Benjamim robs Ostovari on the half way line and plays it to Magina. Magina passes it to Kevin’s feet on the right and he chips it straight over to Hurley, 25 yards out. Hurley splits the defence with a magnificent through ball and Antunes goes one on one with the keeper, before placing the ball into the bottom left hand corner.
I instantly decide to make a change: Hurley will be a defensive playmaker. So far we’ve struggled with the gap between our defence and midfield in 2 ways, Viana are finding too much space there and our defenders are struggling to get the ball into midfield. Hurley playing in a deeper role should solve both problems. Anyway, I had hoped for a quick reaction from my players and I got it. Now let’s see what they can do.
It takes until the 53rd minute for either team to create a chance. From a free kick 35 yards out, Amonike passes short to Antunes, who plays it on for Kevin just outside the area, left of centre. Kevin slots a pass into the box and Cristiano Magina’s there to slot it into the far bottom corner. Júnior in the Viana goal has absolutely no chance.
2 minutes later it feels like the flood gates are opening: an Amonike corner is headed clear and Antunes picks up the ball on the left wing. He runs inside and plays in Magina, who turns and shoots left footed from the edge of the area into the top left corner. We’re 3-1 up.
I bring on Seidi for Hurley, who picked up a minor knock in the first half and has a booking to his name, and tell Seidi to hold position at the base of our midfield.
With 25 minutes to go, Olivier chips the ball out to Kevin 15 yards inside our half. Kevin plays a great ball down the left behind the Viana defence and Magina runs onto it, outmuscling Amoná, but his angle is too narrow and he pokes a shot at Júnior, who parries it away. I tell vice-captain Kevin to let the team know: We want more of that, pass into space as much as possible.
10 minutes later Touré wins the ball from Daniel after some patient Viana build up and plays a long ball forward to start a counter. It’s headed back by Amoná and comes to Antunes, who chips a pass over the top again for Magina. The big striker runs through one on one with the goalkeeper but Júnior closes the angle well and parries his shot. I note with mild annoyance that Benjamim is strolling around looking like the game’s already won. I hook him and bring on Rúby, who will play as a ball winner next to Seidi.
A few minutes after that, Amonike receives the ball just inside the Viana half, looks up, and plays a diagonal ball over the defence. Magina takes it down on his chest and shoots left footed, but Júnior saves again. Despite his 2 goals, CM9 isn’t having much luck today.
10 minutes to go, and the match isn’t slowing. Araújo robs Amonike just into the Viana half and starts a patient short passing move. Pimentel spots the run of Fernandes, who’s sprinting inside from the left wing. He chips the ball through and Fernandes latches onto it, and squares it to Xande, who’s unmarked 6 yards out. He slams it into the top corner and the game’s back on. We fall back into the Heróis Original system, still with a withdrawn double pivot and with Antunes also dropping back.
With only 5 minutes to go, Viana have a corner, but it’s poor and Azevedo plucks it out of the air. He punts the ball forward and Kevin nods it on for Magina, in acres of space. He runs to the edge of the area and shoots left footed, but it goes just wide.
That’s fine. I think to myself as the whistle blows. We were always going to concede at some point but at least that’s 4 wins out of 4.
During the next week, before our Taça de Portugal 2nd round match, I make a signing. Diogo Coelho is a left back, and I think he’s the left back I’ve been waiting for.
He’s in his prime at 25 years old and he has excellent quality. He’s very well rounded, fairly quick, very determined and he’ll do a job technically. His decision making is pretty poor, hence the moustache, but I expect that once fit he’ll be my first choice left back. We signed him on a free after he was released by Santa Clara, so he should have plenty to talk about with Serginho, and how strange is it that he spent a year on loan in 2015/16, making 33 appearances for our next opponents: LigaPro side Farense.
Farense are flying so far as they won their first 4 league games, which places them 4th out of 20 sides. Nevertheless they’re coming to our place off the back of 2 straight league defeats, so I’m confident that they can be got at. Jorginho will be one to watch, as current joint top scorer in the LigaPro with 4 goals in 6.
I’ll be taking no chances with my selection: Heróis Original will keep us steady and should give us a good platform to dominate the game after Farense start to tire. Azevedo is replaced by Serginho as he’s still not conceded a goal, and Seidi replaces Antunes. Hurley will be our number 10 with Benjamim and Seidi behind him.
It takes 5 minutes for my plans to be shot to bits. A Sousa cross towards danger man Jorginho is volleyed by Olivier and nodded on by Benjamim, but not far away enough. Vieirinha is there 20 yards out to head the ball down for Sócrates, who takes a touch and boots it into the top left corner. This could be a very long day.
After almost half an hour the match is ridiculously one-sided against us. Esgueirão chips in a free kick from the edge of our area, but it’s headed away by Miranda. Esgueirão takes it down and passes down the right for Rateira, who’s unmarked. Rateira turns inside and squares it brilliantly for Sócrates, who smashes it on the half volley, but Serginho parries it wide. We counter with a decent passing move but it ends with Kevin blazing a shot well wide.
I decide that I’ve seen enough. “MEATLOAF!”, I scream from the touchline, before turning to Antunes and gesturing for him to warm up. I’m getting some funny looks from the opposition bench but I ignore them. Antunes replaces Seidi in the 29th minute. Let’s play some bloody football shall we?
We work our way back into the match, slowly but surely over the next half hour. At least it’s now a contest. Just before the hour mark, Antunes intercepts a Rateira pass and plays the ball to Magina. CM9 holds it up and lays it off for Kevin. Time seems to stand still for him once more. What does Kevin do?
Kevin is 40 yards from goal. Magina, Antunes and Hurley are all 10 yards in front of him, but for some reason they’re all stood together and are practically being marked by 2 Farense midfielders, Livramento and Pinto. Benjamim is stood quite a distance away, 25 yards out but level with the far, right hand post. He’s an option but again, he’s being closely marked by Vieirinha, so a pass would be risky. Amonike is over on the right wing with space in front to run into, but it would require an excellent pass to set the winger away. There’s a gap between where Livramento and Pinto are and where Vieirinha is stood. So what does Kevin do?
He darts forwards. Livramento closes him down and sticks in a foot, but Kevin knocks the ball past him and runs around the other way. Kevin keeps running. He shimmies past the challenge of Pinto. He’s 20 yards out now. Kevin draws his right foot back and rifles a shot as far into the top left corner as it could have possibly gone. The Keeper doesn’t even move.
After a few seconds I realise that I’m laughing. A high pitched, maniacal laugh. Pedro has lifted me up from behind as our fans, our staff and our players all simultaneously erupt into cheers and applause. What a goal! What a bloody goal! We’re back in the game!
5 minutes later, Antunes hits a free kick from just outside the area and it smashes off the bar, before Erick clears. I bring on Batista for Amonike, who’s been quiet. We’re in the ascendancy here and there’s no room for quiet in this side.
With just under 20 minutes to go, Miranda throws the ball to Antunes on the right hand side of the Farense penalty area and he dribbles inside, losing his marker Sócrates, dashing past the static pair of Esgueirão and Vieirinha, before smashing a left footed shot towards the near top corner. He’s denied by an incredible fingertip save by Hidalgo, but I shout my encouragement anyway. That was excellent from the young man.
A few minutes after, Miranda chips the ball into the centre for Hurley, who plays it on for Magina, 30 yards out. CM9 lays it back for Hurley, who passes straight to Antunes. He looks up and squeezes an excellent ball through for Batista, who gets goal-side of Esgueirão on the right. The tiny winger takes a touch, avoiding Sousa’s slide tackle, and plays a low ball in to Magina, who deftly strokes it into the bottom right.
Stick a fork in this match, it’s done. I sprint onto the pitch to join the top of the pile of celebrating players. What a match. What a comeback. Take that, Farense. Take that, LigaPro. Take a bow, meus Heróis.
I bring Kevin off with just minutes to go. Farense, the comfortable pre-match favourites, are out of ideas and the game is all but over. Kevin soaks in the adoration of the fans as he slowly makes his way to the sideline, high fiving his replacement, debutant Diogo Coelho, as he goes. I look round and spot Nuno watching from the front row, some way down the touchline. I give him a thumbs up and he gives me a non-committal nod in return. “Rickie Lambert”, I mouth exaggeratedly to him. He scrunches up his face again and shrugs. Bloody hell, Nuno.
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