Side-note: Fixed my PC over the weekend so video highlights are back!
“I won’t lie to you, I’m nervous.” I say quietly. “We need to win at least a couple of matches out of the 7 we’ve got left, or we’re going down. We’ve not won a match in 5 months, so that’s going to be a bit of a challenge.”
Burnie stares back at me silently from my lap, watching with vague interest as I think aloud.
“I’m bringing all of the players I dropped back into the first team, but that could go one of two ways.” I press on. “They could come back with something to prove, having learned their lesson. They could come back determined and aggressive.” Burnie continues to stare at me curiously. “Or…” I let out a sigh. “… They could come back resentful and apathetic. They could decide that they don’t care about the fate of GKS Katowice, or that they just don’t want to play for me anymore. I wouldn’t blame them to be honest.”
Burnie yawns widely, showing his many tiny feline teeth as he seems to unhinge his entire jaw, like a cobra about to chow down on a whole cow or whatever it is they like to eat. He stands, stretching his legs, and plops gracefully down onto the floor, before wandering away in the direction of his food bowl, leaving me quite alone.
The one player we’ll be without today is Hurley, who’s serving a 1 match suspension for accruing his 4th yellow card. We’ll play 4-2-3-1 and we’ll sit deep before hitting Cracovia on the counter attack. Nowak plays behind a back 4 consisting of Scheffel, Olivier, Wilson and Garbacik, Bart and Gregurina form the midfield duo, with Janga, Fossy and Kevin behind Goncerz.
Right, I think as I get to my feet and reach for my trusty grey coat, let’s do this.
After quarter of an hour, Forsell chips a free kick into our box from the right. Adamczyk goes for goal on the volley, but his shot deflects off a crowd of bodies and bounces to the far post. Covilo acts faster than Tom Scheffel and gets to the ball first, directing it past the helpless Nowak and into the net.
5 minutes later, it’s us with the set piece. Our corner is cleared as far as Tom Scheffel, our last man, who takes 5 full seconds to think about where he wants to play the ball. Unfortunately, that’s plenty of time for Apostolovic to tackle him and play a quick ball ahead of Platek, who dashes through on goal and clips the ball easily past the outrushing Nowak. 0-2 down after 21 minutes, we quickly change to a more attacking playstyle.
Right on the stroke of half time, Janga intercepts a rogue Cracovia pass in our half and powers down the right wing. He does brilliantly, leaving the defenders for dead and drilling a low cross in to Goncerz, who bundles the ball into the net from close range. The goal gives us something to be optimistic about during the break.
With 25 minutes to play, we still trail Cracovia by a goal. Tarnowski and Kwarko come on for Fossy and Kevin. Just a few minutes later, Platek gets the ball and runs directly at our centre backs. Olivier sticks out a foot and trips him, conceding a free kick and earning himself a second yellow card and thus a red. Luckily, Cetnarski hits his free kick straight at Nowak, who catches it cleanly.
With just over 10 minutes to go, our 10 man team collapses. First, Apostolovic receives the ball from Dabrowski and drives down the right, getting himself a yard clear of Garbacik and drilling in a cross. Platek lays it off for Adamczyk, who’s unmarked and finishes calmly. Then almost straight from kick off, Garbacik decides to lump the ball forward and hand possession back to Cracovia. Another exquisite ball from Damian Dabrowski finds Adamczyk on the left wing. He gets clear of Scheffel and chips the ball into the centre, where Platek is waiting to tuck the ball into the net. Game well and truly over.
I don’t think I’ve got it in me anymore to just shout at them. I don’t know what good it’ll do. I walk straight from the dugout out of the ground and onto the team bus, forgoing the team talk. I sit at the front, alone, and wait for the players to troop on silently, filling up the seats behind.
But hey, need something vaguely resembling good news to pick you up? Me too! So congratulations Sebastien Nowak for becoming GieKSa’s oldest ever player!
And congratulations to Zagłębie Sosnowiec’s Ben Whitfield for being shortlisted for the Lotto Ekstraklasa Player of the Season award. Just take my vote and get out of my sight.
And finally, I’m sure it won’t surprise you to learn that I’ve been casting an eye elsewhere lately, resulting in an interview with Ajax Cape Town in the South African Premier Soccer League. I attend and it goes quite well. I’ve been wanting to get out of Europe for a while now and I’d relish the challenge of managing in South Africa. I’ll keep you posted.
Anyway, next up is Jagiellonia at our place. They remind me of a happier time as they were one of the last teams we defeated before we embarked on this horrific run of games.
Scheffel and Olivier are both suspended for one match, so they miss out. Gregurina, Janga and Fossy are all left out too as I bring in Jaworski, Hutton, Hurley, Amonike and Tarnowski. We’ll try to get on the front foot and control the game.
Just over 5 minutes in, Ngombo comes forwards with the ball, drawing Hutton out of position before playing a pass into the space for Starzynski. He shoots with power but the ball flies just wide.
The rest of the half is tightly contested, but the best chance comes a few minutes before half time when Garbacik throws the ball down the line from a throw in. Tarnowski is on the receiving end and lays it off for Kevin, who’s stood 25 yards out from goal. Kevin plays the ball on first time for Goncerz, who holds it up well before sliding the ball across to Amonike. The winger just needs to place it into one of the corners, but only manages to pea roll the ball straight into the arms of the keeper from 12 yards.
With almost an hour gone, Garbacik wins the ball from deep in our half and hoofs it towards Goncerz on the halfway line. Our striker takes it down and dribbles forward into the Jagiellonia half, before playing it across into the space outside the area for Bart. He takes a couple of touches and shoots, but his effort just grazes the top of the bar as it goes over.
We win the ball back quickly after the goal kick though and Bart spreads it out to Amonike on the right wing. He thinks about attacking the fullback and going down the line but instead turns inside and crosses with his left foot. The ball falls to Goncerz in space at the far post and he takes it down brilliantly, before sliding it into the bottom corner with his left foot. 1-0.
I’m skeptical at this point of our ability to hold onto a lead, and rightly so. Not even 5 minutes after Goncerz’s goal, a nice move from Jagiellonia leads to Kucharczyk laying the ball off for Jelic, who smacks it into the bottom corner to equalise.
With a quarter of an hour to play it’s still all square. Bart wins the ball in out half and finds Tarnowski, who plays it on first time to Kevin on the halfway line. Kevin looks up and sees Goncerz running through the central channel beyond the defenders. He picks him out superbly, lobbing his path over the defenders, and Goncerz takes the ball down. He runs through on goal with the defenders snapping at his heels. He looks up to see the keeper coming off his line to close the angle. Goncerz picks his spot and shoots left footed – And the net ripples as the ball flies into the top corner.
Every member of my coaching staff and all of my substitutes are instantly up off their feet, cheering and applauding, but there’s still 15 minutes to play. As I say, I’m skeptical nowadays.
“Calm down,” I bark, silencing them all at once. “Mario, warm up.” Gregurina comes on replacing Michal Tarnowski and we swap to a 4-1-2-3 formation. We go all out defence. But Jagiellonia are throwing the kitchen sink at us now. We go into injury time still ahead. The 92 minutes are almost up and Jagiellonia are in possession of the ball. Canouse has it 25 yards from our goal.
Come on, I mutter under my breath. Just once. Just once, let us win.
Canouse looks up, takes aim and smashes the ball – Just over the top of the bar. The referee blows his whistle. That was the last kick of the game.
I get straight to my feet this time, beaming from ear to ear. Dennis grabs me and ruffles my hair. In the words of Mr Burns, it’s a little overfamiliar, but I’ll allow it. I stride over to Piotr Szendzielorz, the Jagiellonia manager, and offer him a trembling hand.
“Well played,” I smile.
“Well done, friend” he smiles back warmly and takes my hand, shaking it firmly. I think my immense relief must be showing on my face.
Our winless nightmare is over. It’s finally bloody over.
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