I’ve had a pretty exciting week. Most of it has been spent preparing for our home game against Moura, but on Friday Miguel Borba paid for the 2 of us to fly out to Senegal, where we watched their World Cup Qualifying loss against Burkina Faso. There were plenty of familiar faces: Sadio Mané, Idrissa ‘Gana’ Gueye, Khouma Babacar and Bertrand Traoré to name a few. Unfortunately, Burkina Faso’s number 14, Lassina Touré, didn’t make his international bow, but I’m still very proud and it’ll have been an incredibly valuable experience for him. Here’s hoping he can keep his form up and make the next squad too.
Moving on to domestic matters then, and our own CM9 is closing in on an SC Angrense assist record. He’s picked up 9 so far and we’re not even half way through the season, so I’m confident that he can break Jordanes Medeiros’ record of 10 assists in a single campaign. But can he break it today when we welcome Moura to our place?
Moura leapfrogged Pinhalnovense a couple of weeks ago and now sit behind Barreirense in 3rd. I’m still wary of them, because they must be doing something right. Thinking back to our first match of the season, you might think that a 2-0 away win with 10 men would mean we’d thrash them with a full team and home advantage. But that match wasn’t at all comfortable, and it was only Renato Silva’s late debut goal that added gloss to the scoreline. Plus, they only lost that match and the one that followed against Amora, they’ve not been beaten since. These are not to be underestimated. Meatloaf, anyone?
Well what a mess. Another half where we barely threaten. Half an hour in, Antunes hits the post after Kevin squares it for him from the right, but apart from that it’s been 45 minutes that nobody involved will remember fondly. To make matters worse, the first 20 minutes of the 2nd half are just as bad.
Fuck it. I’ve never made a triple substitution before but I need to communicate my unhappiness. The youthful trio of Batista, Ávila and Silva replace Amonike, Kevin and Magina.
One of the first things Ávila does is swing a corner to the far side of the area. Conceição comes to head it away but mistimes his jump and doesn’t connect. The ball falls just behind him to Fernando Batista, who hits the ball left footed on the volley. I watch on, mouth agape, as the ball flies past the keeper and into the back of the net.
They’ve done in under 4 minutes what the more established players failed to do in over an hour, and in absolutely fantastic style. Fun fact: The number of minutes played when we opened the scoring was the same as the combined age of our front 4: 69.
With quarter of an hour to go the match has finally come alive. Moura put together a decent move but Ávila breaks away on the counter. He gets it to Hurley, who passes to Silva, and he lays it off for Batista… as I watch Fernando smash the ball into the top corner from the edge of the area, I’m confused more than anything. I’m impressed, don’t get me wrong, but I never thought he had this kind of goal in him. I watched him spurn 2 excellent chances against Amora not too long ago and now he’s like a young Ryan Giggs. He’s scored a ridiculous brace today.
With 10 minutes to go, Dinis latches onto a Bacan through ball and jabs it past Serginho, but we see the game out. I’m becoming worryingly used to this sensation of being very very impressed with certain players and being not at all impressed with others. I’ll never get that first hour back but Batista’s goals were the kind that justify the entry fee into Estádio Municipal de Angra do Heroismo.
Next up is our Taça de Portugal match against Belenenses, a Liga Nos side, but not a good one. They’re 15th in the league, having lost 6 of their 11 matches so far, but they’ll still be heavy favourites by virtue of being 2 leagues above us.
I’m not worried. I have genuine faith in this side. They let me down from time to time by not playing to their potential, but on our day I’d genuinely back us against any team in Portugal. We beat Sporting before the season started after all! Yes it was a friendly, but still. Having said all of this, I’d be foolish not to try to make us more solid. Our system isn’t designed for top tier sides; we leave ourselves open, secure in the fact that the vast majority of players in the opposing teams are awful.
In the end I decide to go for Project: Meatloaf, but with Jaime Seidi replacing Antunes as a holding man in a 4-1-2-3 formation. I’m trying to make us more solid at the back while still leaving us well enough equipped going forward. We’ve still got Hurley charging forwards, we’ve still got Kevin and Amonike creating chances in wide areas, and we’ve still got Magina up top.
Quarter of an hour in, Hurley slips a pass through for Kevin, but João Diogo slides in fantastically to knock the ball away. Unfortunately the loose ball rolls to the far post, where Amonike arrives to knock the ball in. I’m already mid air, celebrating. This could actually happen.
Before the half hour mark, Benjamim slots a pass through for Magina, who stays cool and places the ball into the bottom corner. I’m not mid-air anymore. I’m stunned. I can see Pedro and my coaches bouncing around in my peripheral vision, I can see the players piling onto Magina in the far corner of the pitch. I consider making changes, but it’s surely too early. We can’t take our foot of the pedal with an hour still to play.
We don’t. A minute later, Hurley continues to make a mockery of the Belenenses defence by playing the ball right through them, but Kevin’s effort is well saved by Figueiredo.
With 10 minutes to go before the break we’re still piling the pressure on, but Belenenses win the ball and break quickly. Maurides puts in an incredible low cross from deep on the left wing, Valente is all on his own 6 yards out, but he hits a tame shot straight at Serginho. We got let off there.
We try not to let it rattle us but Belenenses take heart from how easily they were able to slice through us. With 3 minutes to play before half time, Maurides sets up Valente, who shoots into the bottom corner to pull a goal back.
2 minutes later Maurides is released on the left by Valente, and he puts in another low cross to the far post. Araujo puts it away to equalise. I feel sick. I missed the warning sign 10 minutes ago when we were 2-0 up. We’ve been sucker punched and then kicked to the floor.
We hold on until half time but I can tell that something isn’t right once we get into the dressing room. We’ve conceded twice right before the break and now the players have got nothing to do but sit there and think about that for 15 long minutes. Their nerves are shot. My nerves are shot. I put on a brave face, hoping to lead by example. I tell them that they’re unlucky not to be in front.
It seems to work. For a while after the second half begins we look calm and composed. And then with 20 minutes to go, Araujo crosses the ball in for Maurides in the centre, who heads it home. 2-3.
I change our system to Heróis Original. It’s a less offensive system so we should push a little less, giving Belenenses fewer chances on the counter attack, while pushing Hurley up to a number 10 position in the hopes that he’ll be able to create more in the final third.
The calmness has evaporated from my poor Heróis. 5 minutes after Belenenses take the lead, Vitor Gomes plays in Maurides, who smashes the ball into the top corner. We’ve gone from 2-0 up to 2-4 down.
That’s enough now, I think. I throw on Antunes in place of Seidi. There’s no point having a holding man now. We need to go for it. Hurley returns to his attacking central midfield spot and Antunes will be the one behind Magina.
The change is nearly rewarded instantly when Hurley plays a through ball for Antunes, but the young playmaker drags his shot wide. Nevertheless it’s good to see us threaten again.
With 10 minutes to go, Vitor Gomes gets a chance on the edge of the area but shoots straight at Serginho. We counter, playing the ball quickly back up the pitch and winning a corner. The corner is cleared but then Antunes finds Amonike on the left wing, who drills a cross into the centre for Magina to volley in from close range. 3-4. I’m numb at this point. My facial expression doesn’t change. But I know we’re not done yet.
We keep pushing. We’ve got our swagger back. The nerves are a distant memory. Magina brings the ball forward. There’s 3 minutes of normal time to be played. He takes on a couple of defenders and passes to Antunes… Then Benjamim… Then through for Hurley… He takes a touch just outside the area…
There are a few moments in my short career that I doubt will ever leave my memory:
The moment that former pub-teamer Lago scored away at Qviding, after The Hammer nodded on a long ball and the defender fluffed his back pass: The first goal of my managerial career. The fleeting vindication of my Hammerhead Formation.
The moment that Burrnie scored the winning penalty against Hammarby IF: My first win, and my first giant killing.
The moment Benjamim rifled in a last minute winner away at Torreense in my second Angrense match: The moment I realised I was managing a team of winners.
The moment that Hurley made it SC Angrense 4, Belenenses 4: The moment that I made a mental note to write the brilliant bastard into my will.
When the past 18 months finishes flashing before my eyes, I realise I’m stood by one of the advertising boards, celebrating with some of the die hard Angrense fans. I turn back to the pitch to check I didn’t imagine the goal. I didn’t. Hurley took a touch on the edge of the area and smacked the ball to the keeper’s right. Maybe the keeper should have done better, it was a good height and not the hardest hit shot he’ll have seen, but I’ll ignore that for now. Nothing matters but the scoreline.
I send on Batista for Kevin. Kevin’s been fairly quiet and Batista impressed after coming off the bench against Moura. Vitor Miranda gets the armband from Kevin as the vice captain heads for the touchline.
We head into extra time. I forgot how much I hate extra time. I genuinely prefer penalty shootouts. I wish we could just do that straight away.
Minutes from half time in extra time, Araujo’s cross finds Maurides in the 6 yard box, but he connects badly with his head and the ball bobs over the bar.
5 minutes after the break, Valente releases Araujo on the right. He goes through on goal and my stomach turns, but his shot hits the side netting.
The match dies down. Our players are tired. Their players are tired. With a couple of minutes to play and penalties looming, I turn to Hélder Arruda on the bench.
“You’re going on mate.” I say, with a smile and as much false confidence as I can muster. Arruda nods solemnly. “You can take a penalty, yeah?” I know full well he’s one of our best. He nods again. I bring off Aires, our left back, who does not do well when he takes penalties in training. I tell Arruda to stand in for him, to be aware, and to hoof the ball clear if it comes near him.
30 seconds from the 2 hour mark, and the end of extra time, Belenenses win a corner. Araujo crosses the ball in, but it’s too close to goal. Serginho comes to punch it clear – and misses. The ball hangs in the air for what seems like a long, long time. And then Valente gets above Magina at the far post and heads home via the bar.
I’ve never known this place so silent. I watch Valente as he runs away, arms aloft. I look over to the linesman, but his flag’s still down. I look over to the referee, but there was no foul. I know there was no foul. The goal stands. And the final whistle goes straight after kick off.
This has been turbulent. I’m drained. I’m disappointed but I’m unbelievably proud. We gave a Liga Nos side a bloody good run for their money. From the 40th to the 80th minute we capitulated, but either side of that period we fought and we fought well. I have a heavy feeling in my gut that my decision to take off Aires and replace him with a striker has cost us the chance of a penalty shootout and the opportunity of passage into the 5th round, but oddly I think I’m OK with it. Would I do that again if given another chance? Probably. I rolled the dice and brought on a good penalty taker for a bad one.
I tell you what though, I’ve never known 2 matches that sum up football better than the 2 that I’ve played in the last 8 days. The tedium, the frustration, the beauty, the underdog story, the heartbreak, the resurgence, the jubilation, the drama, the suspense, and the… heartbreak again. If ever I meet someone who doesn’t see the appeal of the beautiful game, I’m going to sit them down and tell them all about it.
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