Look, I’ve got nothing against the underdogs. The scrappy “Just happy to be here” teams. I really don’t, and I wish them well. We’re in Beja to face off against Despertar and their Season hasn’t started awfully well. After a surprisingly good 2-0 away win over Aljustrelense on the opening day, they promptly registered 2 back to back 1-1 draws against no-hopers Juventude Évora and Sp Viana Alentejo. They followed this up by getting thrown out of the Taça de Portugal at the first time of asking, courtesy of Olhanense, who are gunning for the promotion stage in Group H of our division, before getting swept aside by Barreirense. Despertar are sitting in 4th place in our group but they’ve already played most of the weaker sides. Quite honestly, I fear for them this season.
Hey, on a related note actually, did I mention that we’re in 1st place in the group? It’s been nothing, really. A Midas touch here, a sprinkle of genius there… In all seriousness I will not accept a league finish which puts us through to the relegation stage, which means a top 2 finish is a must. I’m anticipating some tough matches in October, especially against Barreirense and Pinhalnovense, so we can’t afford to slip up against teams like this.
We go with Project: Meatloaf, we go with what I believe is our strongest lineup, and we go out to continue our winning streak.
Within the first 10 minutes, Hurley goes down clutching his thigh, which is worrying. He’s been an extremely consistent creator for us since he arrived in Hero Creek. Luckily after he limps off the pitch to be assessed by Pedro Dalot, our head physio, we find that it’s just a bruised thigh. He’ll stay on for now but I’ll be keeping an eye on him.
Just over 20 minutes into the match Touré heads the ball to Hurley, who’s looking OK. He plays it on first time to Antunes, who brings the ball into the Despertar half with his head raised, looking for the pass. He sees Kevin on the left and plays a one-two with him, before finding Magina on the edge of the area. Magina takes the ball round a defender with 1 touch before squaring it for Hurley, who drives it low and hard into the bottom corner. We’re on our way to 7 wins out of 7 in all competitions and we look unstoppable.
10 minutes later, Amonike sends a corner in but Brites heads it away. Antunes picks the loose ball up 35 yards out and brings it forward, before stroking it to Benjamim on edge of area. The centre mid turns and slots the ball through for Hurley, who hits it first time with his left peg. His shot beats the keeper but comes back off the far post. The ball starts to roll back across the line and Magina is the first man on the scene, getting there before the keeper to knock it in and double our lead.
In first half injury time it could be 3 when a good passing move culminates with Benjamim chipping the ball to CM9 on the edge of the box. The big man chests it down and gives it back, before Benjamim slides it into the area for Amonike to run onto. The winger loses his marker and gets to the ball, but blazes it well over from 10 yards with his first time shot.
At half time I replace Amonike with Batista. Not specifically because of the sitter he just missed, but rather because he seems to have gone off the boil a bit lately. He’s been quiet so it can’t hurt to give young Batista a bit of match time in his place.
Just before the hour mark, Antunes chips in a free kick from the right wing. Olivier nods it on at the near post and Touré arrives to volley the ball goal-wards. Unfortunately he smashes it at Carvalho, the Despertar keeper. He can’t hold onto it and can only parry the ball away, before their left back Santos clears.
Shortly afterwards, Benjamim gets caught in possession just into the Despertar half. Freitas wins the ball and gets it to David, starting a slow passing move to get the ball up towards our goal, before eventually David slides the ball through for Rodrigo Borges inside our area. He turns and gives it back, and David places his shot into the top right corner via the bar.
The next 10 minutes are tense, but then Olivier plays the ball to Aires inside our half. The left back takes a touch and smashes it right footed over the Despertar defence and into the central channel. Magina latches onto it, brings it down and places it into bottom left corner to restore our cushion. I bring on Coelho for Aires, as the former needs a bit of match practice. That was a great assist from Aires though and he’s played well this season. Coelho will have a job dislodging him from the starting lineup.
Only a couple of minutes later, and after a good passing move from Os Heróis, Antunes stands with the ball 35 yards out. He moves it sideways to Benjamim, who flicks it on superbly with his heel. Hurley receives the ball and plays it straight on to Magina, who finds Kevin, who holds it up and draws in a couple of defenders before releasing Magina in the area. His shot is good, but it’s tipped onto the bar and cleared. Excellent move though.
5 minutes later, Antunes turns inside from the right wing and crosses left footed deep into the area, but Kevin’s header is straight at Carvalho. We are hammering on the door, trying to kill the game off with a 4th goal.
And with 5 minutes to go, Antunes spreads the ball out to Batista on the right wing. He floats a deep cross to the far post but nobody’s there. Samiro heads it away but only as far as Kevin, stood 8 yards out to left. He chests it down, picks his spot and smashes it into the top right corner. Game over.
Another potential banana skin and another convincing win. I know I set my standards high for this season but I have to say this team is impressing the hell out of me. The bad news is that Hurley will be out for 3-4 days with his bruised thigh but the good news is that out next match is in 10 days, so it shouldn’t matter at all. By the way, we aren’t going up against another minnow or another underdog. We’re going up against Barreirense.
Yes, Barreirense are coming to town. This is one of the big ones. One of the true tests of who we are and what we’re made of. Barreirense are 2nd in the league, 2 points behind us after winning their 1st 4 matches and most recently playing out a goalless draw with Moura. I thought that they and Pilhanovense would be our rivals this season but as it turns out, just the 2 of us are pulling away from the rest of the league. We’re both undefeated. For now.
Do you know what I don’t need at such a crucial moment in our season? Whining. Bruce Ávila thinks that he should be in the team instead of Kevin and I don’t stop laughing until he sheepishly walks out of my office and closes the door behind him. He does have potential as a winger but come on.
We also have a tactical dilemma. Do we go with the more stable, balanced Heróis Original system as we’re against such worthy opposition? Or do we stick with formation that’s seen us win 7 matches in a row in all competitions?
You probably know the answer. We go unchanged.
We start brightly. Amonike’s free kick from just outside the area in the 3rd minute crashes off the bar and Monsecour puts it behind.
That corner leads to nothing, but after a quarter of an hour we win another as we continue to take the game to Barreirense. Amonike swings it out to the far post, Benjamim nods it back across goal and Magina is there, but he connects poorly with his header and puts it well wide.
A few minutes later we’re the ones that concede a corner. Félix swings it in and Magina heads it away as far as Brigues, who collects it 35 yards out. He holds the ball up and plays it through to Lagoa on the edge of area. Lagoa squares it to Caraballo, who passes it forwards to Severino on the penalty spot. Severino smashes the ball into the left hand side of the net.
I say nothing. I do nothing. I don’t even change my expression. I can physically feel us slip to 2nd in the table. I can feel us shifting downwards and I can hear the sound of stone grinding on stone, like those big stone doors in old films. We all simultaneously drop with a loud clunk.
5 minutes later, Lagoa is pressed on his right wing, deep in the Barreirense half. He tries a clearance, but it doesn’t go far and Benjamim gets to the ball, playing it straight to Antunes. The young number 10 comes forward and gives it back to Benjamim, who plays in Kevin on the right. Kevin loses his marker and whips a cross in to the far post. Dujardim misses his header and Magina gets to it, stabbing a volley home and pulling us level.
We’re back on top. There is no stone grinding on stone this time, we’re floating silently but smugly back up to the top where we belong, waving 2 fingers at our opponents as we go.
Just after the half hour mark, Everino comes forward and puts the ball inside to Silva, who plays it straight on for Caraballo. Caraballo holds it up, plays a one-two with Severino and then lays it off for Lagoa just inside the area, who smashes it to Serginho’s right and into the back of the net once again. Bollocks. Back down we go.
Just before half time, Elói catches a weak cross from Kevin and boots the ball forwards towards us. Caraballo beats Touré to the header and nods it on for Severino, who runs forward diagonally to edge of our area and shoots with power, but the ball flies just wide.
At half time we’re 2-1 down. The only other time we’ve been losing so far this season we were back before half time. This is worrying. Our first proper test and we’re failing. I tell the lads that I’m not impressed. I expect better from them at home, no matter who we’re facing.
Less than 5 minutes after the restart, Amonike steps up to take a corner and crosses it into the centre. Brigues heads the ball away as far as Benjamim, who’s stood on the right hand side of the box. The midfielder plays a one-two with Magina and then smashes a shot towards goal from 8 yards. Estádio Municipal de Angra do Heroismo falls silent. His shot bounces back off Judickas. Benjamim gets to the rebound and has another go, but his second shot bounces back off Dujardin. But then up steps our big centre back Olivier. He nips in front of Benjamim and executes a neat volley to open his account. 2-2.
With half an hour to go we need to go for it. I bring on Batista for Amonike, who apart from a couple of decent set pieces has been quiet again. With 28 minutes to go, Miranda takes a throw in on the right and gives the ball to Benjamim. He passes into the centre for Hurley, who steps forward and slides a ball through the defence for Magina to run onto. A collective intake of breath makes the ground fall silent once more. I stand in anticipation. So does Pedro. So do the fans. Magina latches onto Hurley’s pass, shoots left footed, and watches as the ball nestles into the bottom left corner.
Pandemonium ensues. I’m jumping and punching the air, Pedro looks like he’s about to cry, the fans are bouncing and cheering with glee. We lead Barreirense for the first time and now all we need to do is not fuck it up.
Shortly afterwards, Antunes passes the ball to Hurley, who plays another excellent through ball for Magina to run onto, but his right footed effort flies just wide.
With 15 minutes to, Antunes is sacrificed and replaced with Jaime Seidi. We revert to our Heróis Original system with Seidi as the holding man and Hurley behind Magina, where he’s pretty much been playing anyway.
With less than 10 minutes to go, a neat passing move results in Benjamim finding himself with the ball at his feet 30 yards out. He dashes forward, taking on a couple of defenders before shooting high and wide from 20 yards.
But that’s the last chance that either team creates. Vamos bloody Heróis!
We’re still on top, and we’ve taken possibly the most crucial 3 points we’ll take all season. Not only are we now 5 points clear of 2nd place, but we’ve also put down a marker. We are the only team allowed to remain unbeaten in this league. We won’t be stopped by a team like Barreirense, in fact, they’ll stop for us. We’ve got the most quality, the most desire and the most creativity in the Championship for my money. We’ve got the toughest defenders, the most dependable midfielders and the most clinical striker. We’ve floated back to the top of the pile and we’re smiling smugly down at everyone down below, while they gaze enviously back at us.
God, I love this team.
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