Someone’s knocking at the door. At my office door. It’s a quiet, meek knocking, but it’s clearly audible, cutting through the thick silence that hangs in the air. I stand, stride over to the doorway, and wrench the door open to see little Ben Whitfield stood on the threshold, looking up at me with wide, terrified eyes. I tower at least 3 feet above him.
“Please, Franjo”, he whimpers, in his generic Southern English voice, “Please let me join GKS Katowice!”
Tears are welling in his eyes as he begs to join the tremendous GieKSa. We’re on top of the league with a 100% record, while Ben’s team, Zagłębie Sosnowiec, the team whose name sounds like an elaborate sneeze, have managed to be relegated 13 times this season already.
“I’m sorry”, he continues as his voice cracks and the tears begin to roll down his cheeks, “I never should have passed up the chance to work with such a great team, and such a world class manager. I was wrong!”
My right hand reaches slowly down to the nunchucks attached to my waist, and I meet Whitfield’s eyes. “Who do you play for again?” I purr.
Perplexed, Ben Whitfield answers “Zagłębie Sosnowiec”, and with my lightning fast reflexes, I grab the nunchucks and swing them at his head, knocking it clean off. His decapitated body slumps to the floor as I turn back to my desk.
“Gesundheit.” I quip, in sunglasses.
I jolt awake in bed. Shit, that was a dark one.
Shaking myself well and truly back to reality, I reassure myself that I did not actually decapitate Ben Whitfield, and that he will in fact be joining us today at the Stadion GKS Katowice as we take on Zagłębie Sosnowiec.
Contrary to my dreamtime beliefs, Zagłębie Sosnowiec have actually made a decent start to the season, sitting in 4th having won 4 and lost only 1 of their first 7 matches. Also, Ben Whitfield’s been a bloody revelation, scoring 4 and assisting 2 in his first 8.
Apart from bringing Hurley in for Fossy to accommodate a 4-1-2-3 formation, I wasn’t planning on making any changes from the previous game, but Alan Hutton is injured the day before the match and that forces my hand. Danny Wilson will partner Olivier today on his debut appearance.
Just over 10 minutes into the match, a Hurley corner starts a game of pinball in the Sosnowiec penalty box, and eventually it’s Kevin’s shot that’s deflected in off a defender to open the scoring.
In the 23rd minute, Ben Whitfield, who remember has not been the slightest bit decapitated, curls a corner in towards our near post. Makengo nods it on and Mills is waiting at the far post to get a shot away, but Garbacik gets a heroic block in, sending the ball out for a corner.
If that was a warning, I missed it. Only a couple of minutes later, another Whitfield corner is headed in at the near post by Mills to equalise.
To try and take a foothold back in the match and end Sosnowiec’s growing dominance, we start to retain the ball, which succeeds in the sense that nothing happens at all. For the rest of the match.
We go route one towards the end, throwing Fossy on for Gregurina to hit some good passes towards Kwarko, who comes on for Amonike, but to no avail.
I’m fine with a draw, I think. They’re a handy side. Plus, if we were to draw every game this season we’d probably survive. As long as we aren’t losing, I’m happy.
Górnik Zabrze are next at their place. They’re not enjoying quite as good a start as Zagłębie, or us for that matter. They’re sat in 14th having lost half of their 8 league matches and won only 1. We should have these! We go unchanged.
Unfortunately, and for all my optimism, we start poorly. Just after the 10 minute mark, it’s Arcon who turns in Grendel’s low cross to put Górnik Zabzre ahead.
We show some spirit though and about 5 minutes later, Adrian Garbacik stabs home the equaliser after Hurley’s corner is nodded down for him by Mario Gregurina.
At some point, I really need to sit down and have a good long think. I need to scratch my head and work out what it is about my management style, or system, or formation, or players, that makes it so that the 40 minutes leading up to the hour mark are so bloody uneventful.
Luckily, when something does happen just after 60 minutes have passed, it’s a GieKSa goal. Bart fires the ball down the right wing for Amonike, who whips in a good cross for Goncerz, and the big man heads us back in front.
With the lead back in our possession, I swap us to a defensive 4-1-4-1, keen to kill the game again. I bring on Fossy for Kevin and sit back to actually enjoy a dull half hour of time wasting.
Within 2 minutes, Mraz lays the ball back for Matuszek, who cracks a shot against the bar. 5 minutes later, it’s Mraz that’s pulling the strings again. He floats a cross to the far post and Konrad Nowak heads it into the side netting. This “killing the game” thing isn’t working as well as I’d hoped.
With about 15 minutes to go, Macierzynski equalises for Zabzre. My fist clenches involuntarily and my eyes narrow as I glare at nothing in particular. Throwing leads away is quickly growing tiresome.
In a considered risk, we swap to our 4-2-3-1, with Aaron Kwarko coming on in place of Bart and going to the right wing, while Amonike goes to the left and Fossy takes his place between them. It nearly pays off within 5 minutes when Goncerz’s floated cross is headed just wide by Kwarko.
The last 10 minutes is tense and frustrating, but as we enter injury time we win a corner, prompting a roar of encouragement from the 300-odd travelling fans. Amonike swings the ball in, and it’s cleared, but only as far as Fossy who’s stood just inside the area. Everyone in the stadium holds their breath as one as Fossy lets it bounce, picks his spot, and drills it into the bottom corner.
The final whistle blows. That’ll do, I think as I applaud the players, listen to the cheers and songs of our fans, and let the relief wash over me. It was a close game. Very close. But just then a thought occurs to me. Maybe I’ve not fully adapted back to Managing an underdog yet. Maybe I’ve expected too much from these players at times so far. Maybe I’ve not savoured the wins enough. Maybe I’ve taken too many of our dropped points to heart. We’ve already picked up enough wins to give me hope that we can beat the drop, so fuck it. I’m going to savour this one. The pizza’s on me tonight, lads. Dilly ding, dilly dong.
Find me on: