“Dele Alli, definitely. Then Gary Cahill, Jordan Pickford, Harry Kane and… Probably Adam Lallana. You?”
Nuno smacks his leathery lips as he trundles his mower across the pitch alongside me. “Cristiano Ronaldo…” He begins, “Rui Patrício… Bernardo Silva… João Moutinho…” He deliberates over the final name. “Pepe.” He concludes. I chuckle.
“You’d have Pepe in your Portuguese 5 a side team?” I ask, incredulously. “You need skilful players for 5 a side. Players that are good on the ball and handy in tight spaces. He’s a bit of a bull in a china shop isn’t he.”
“If Pepe plays so rough that your team runs away crying, I win, Inglês.”
“Fair point”, I concede. And then after a short pause, “I still think my team would win though.”
“Os Ingleses”, he laughs.
Just then, I notice Pedro striding across the pitch towards us. I give him a nod, which he returns.
“Message for you, Boss” he says sympathetically, “Tuks called. They’ve hired someone.”
I sigh. “Oh well. Cheers Pedro.” He nods and starts walking back off the pitch.
I decided that I would apply for one more job. I had an interview with University of Pretoria (Known as “Tuks”), a South African top tier side the other day. I don’t know what chance I thought I had when a South African second tier side rejected me not that long ago. It can’t be helped though, I don’t think South Africa’s ready for me yet. I’ll have to find another destination. Maybe I’ll stick to Europe for another year or 2 and then conquer the World.
Anyway, now that Nuno’s got our pitch nice and playable, we’re ready to host Barreirense. I have no particularly special plan for this match as I fully expect us to beat Barreirense at this point. We go Meatloaf, and we go full strength.
We start well. It takes Magina only 17 minutes to clip our opening goal into the far corner of the net, after a good pass from Hurley. And less than 10 minutes after the goal, our day gets even better when Barreirense’s star striker Caraballo has to be stretchered off with an injury. He’s scored 17 in 27 so far this season so it’s certainly comforting to watch him be carried from the field. I do feel quite bad, but not bad enough to stop me subtly pumping my fist in celebration.
Before the half hour mark, a brilliant Heróis passing move ends with Magina returning the favour for Hurley, setting the midfielder up so he can slot the ball between the keeper’s legs and double our lead. It could be 3-0 shortly afterwards, but Paulista smashes one of his excellent free kicks against the post.
In first half injury time however, Hurley turns brilliantly to lose 2 defenders, and then plays a perfect pass around the corner for Amonike, who does slot in our 3rd. Game over.
The 2nd half starts fairly slowly. Magina and Zé Francisco both have outrageously speculative long range shots just after the restart, but neither troubles either keeper. Lagoa then plays Zé Francisco through on goal, but he shoots straight at Délcio Azevedo.
With about half an hour to go, I bring on Quina, Dias and Renato Silva. They could all do with a run out and I feel like I can afford to give Kevin, Paulista and Magina a rest. The decision does threaten to backfire on me though. First, Félix latches onto a Severino cross and volleys at goal from close range, only to be denied by Azevedo’s fingertips, and then Santos finds Lagoa with a well practiced free kick routine, but his shot is charged down by Olivier.
The final whistle goes and we record a 3-0 win over Barreirense. And not only that. We’ve also gone and secured ourselves a top 2 finish.
I receive a call a couple of minutes after full time from Miguel Borba. Not one to take a hint, he asks once again if I’d like to discuss a new contract. Just like I did a few weeks ago, but with more sarcasm, I tell him to invest in our academy instead. He declines. And he still doesn’t get it.
I do also find out shortly afterwards that Caraballo tore his hamstring during our match, so I hereby withdraw my celebrations and fist pump. Poor guy.
These next 2 matches are arguably the biggest of our Season. First up is União at home. União have surprised me slightly in the way that they’ve slid out of reach of the top 2. I expected them to be in the mix for the top spot until the very end but I can’t help feel that they’ve underachieved. In fact, they could condemn themselves to another Season in the Championship if they don’t beat us today. We on the other hand, could secure ourselves the top spot and make next week’s trip to 2nd place Mafra a dead rubber, which would be very, very helpful.
The yellow card that Hurley picked up against Barreirense was his 15th of the Season, so he’s banned for today’s match. Jaime Seidi replaces him in our lineup and will be the holding man in a slightly adapted Project: Meatloaf. Otherwise, we’re unchanged.
Hey and here’s yet another record within our reach: We’ve scored 62 goals so far this season. The record for a team in this division is 66. I’d definitely back us to break that in our 3 or 4 remaining matches.
The first half is an end to end encounter. Paulista sees a low shot turned behind by Rodrigo Antunes, before Amonike cushions down Kevin’s cross and Magina executes a Di Canio esque volley from close range, but sends the ball crashing against the bar.
Flávio Silva gets the ball in the net for União after Marakis nods on Bica’s looping free kick, but the linesman’s flag is raised. Silva was offside and the game remains deadlocked. 5 minutes before the break though, Martins drills a cross in from the right and Flávio Silva is there again. And he’s onside. 1-0 União.
At half time we change to be a little more attacking, but we can’t get close to the equaliser. But then, 20 minutes after the break, Sérgio Marakis slides into Magina from behind. It’s an ugly, ugly challenge and he’s shown a deserved straight red. I see our opportunity and instruct Os Heróis to play the ball quicker and into space. We need to make the most of our extra man.
With 10 minutes to go we change again. This time to a 4-2-4 formation. We’re throwing everything forward in search of the equaliser. I absolutely don’t want our season-long unbeaten run to end with only 2 or 3 games to go. Aires picks up a gash on his leg, so he comes off along with Seidi. Coelho and Dias come on as more offensive alternatives.
5 minutes before the end, Coelho overlaps on the left wing and swings a cross deep into the box. Kevin nods the ball back across goal and Magina pokes it in. It’s an ugly goal, and it’s not the first time this Season that our unbeaten run has been saved thanks to a red card for the opposition or a late goal, but I’ll take it. Rúby comes on to sure us up in a 4-3-1-2 system, and we see the match out to claim a valuable point.
That was far too close. Don’t get me wrong, I’m over the moon to have guaranteed a Play-off spot, but I would be gutted at this point if we didn’t achieve automatic promotion. Failure to grab an equaliser in that match would have not only ended our unbeaten run in a “He was only 2 days away from retirement” kind of way, but it also would have put us level on points with Mafra.
I had hoped to get Promotion wrapped up today, but in all fairness, where would be the fun in that? Instead, it’ll all go down to the last day, when 1st takes on 2nd in a winner-takes-all encounter. The victor will be elevated instantly to the dizzy heights of the Portuguese 2nd tier, while the loser will have to get through a grueling 2-legged play off against a team from the division above.
Let’s find out what we’re made of, shall we?
Episode 48 >
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