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The European Journeyman Ep36

We’re getting incredibly close to the end of the Preliminary Stage of our first season in the SuperLiga. Despite the board wanting us to “attempt to avoid relegation“, we’re sitting VERY PRETTY in 10th place. Nine points clear of the last remaining automatic relegation spot, and just the three points away from the top half!!

March sees us start off with a fixture that we’re more than capable of winning. Then again, we thought as much last time we played Javor Ivanjica. that game we got our asses handed to us in a 3-2 loss. we have a much stronger squad now though after the winter break saw us bring in another SEVEN PLAYERS!!

The bookies have us favourites for the match at evens. Javor have lost their last five games, whilst we’re unbeaten in the same period. Belic, up until recently a midfield mainstay (when he wasn’t suspended), is ruled out for a month with pulled ankle ligaments. There’s no match squad injuries, and everyone is fully fit, so once again it’s an unchanged team that will take the field.

MATCH DAY!!!! The first half is dominated by Feniks, without ever really putting their keeper under any kind of pressure. We manage to stop them from creating A SINGLE CHANCE, but the half ends with the scores level.

SECOND HALF The restart brings little in the way of change, as Feniks continue to dominate the game but struggle to make the breakthrough. UNTIL JUST PAST THE HOUR MARK!! TWICE WE SEND THE BALL INTO THE JAVOR AREA AND TWICE IT’S BEATEN AWAY, THE THIRD TIME IS THE CHARM THOUGH AS TIMOTIC BEATS THE KEEPER AFTER BEING PUT THROUGH BY RADMILOVIC!! 1-0 FENIKS!! The game carries on as if nothing had happened…THEN WITH FIVE MINUTES TO PLAY, A LONG BALL FROM THE JAVOR RIGHT BACK IS REACHED BY THEIR WINGER. THE CROSS, HEADING BEHIND THE STRIKER, IS DEFLECTED BY NIKOLIC INTO HIS PATH AND WITH THEIR FIRST SHOT IN THE GAME THEY’LL LEVELLED IT UP!!! 1-1 WITH TIME RUNNING OUT!!! It looks like the unbeaten run might well continue but with a disappointing draw. Fenicks win a free kick with two minutes of regulation time to play. ALEKSIC STANDS OVER THE BALL. HIS KICK IS CLAWED AWAY BY A SPRAWLING JAVOR KEEPER, SUBSTITUTE CUMIC KEEPS THE BALL ALIVE AND DINKS IT BACK ACROSS GOAL TO THE UNMARKED NIKOLIC!!! HE MAKES AMENDS FOR THE DEFLECTION AT THE OTHER END, AND NO MISTAKE WITH HIS FINISH!!! 2-1 FENIKS AND SURELY THAT’S IT NOW!!!! There’s still time for Timotic to have the ball in the back of the net, but it’s ruled out by the narrowest of offside decisions!!!

Well, maybe not narrow but he WAS offside!! The fourth official holds up FIVE ADDITIONAL MINUTES and the thousand strong Feniks home crowd start getting nervous!! They needn’t have fretted though, Javor have had the wind taken out of their sails and when the ref calls time an audible sigh of relief washes over the stadium!! FINAL SCORE 2-1 FENIKS!!!

The result was a fair one. Javor created just one one chance, which they scored from. But Feniks had the game under control was first to last whistle. Results go our way elsewhere and it’s now a HUGE 12 point gap between us and the last relegation spot.

Not only is the top half in touching distance, but 7th is now just the three points away!! The next two games though will, in all honesty, garner us no points. Vojvodina and Red Star and 4th and 2nd!!

It was my 51st birthday as we played Javor, and the result was the perfect birthday present from the players!!

The midfield grouping that has been so strong for us since the break, is having to be split up for the Vojvodina game. Radmilovic is ineligible so Aleksic comes in. The only other change is on the bench where Cumic suffers a tight hamstring in training and is replaced by Kilibarda.

MATCH DAY!!! It’s just the three days between the Javor and Vojvodina games. The starting XI are given an extra days rest in an attempt to keep them fresh. It works, by and large, with Aleksic the only issue due to his lack of game time!! Vojvodina start off hot and IT’S ONLY THE SECOND MINUTE WHEN THE OPENING GOAL IS FIRED IN!! A FREE KICK JUST INSIDE FROM THE CORNER FLAG IS SENT OF AND CAUSES MASS CONFUSION. IN THE MELEE, IVANOVIC PRODS HOME THE OPENER!!! 1-0 VOJVODINA! We don’t let our heads drop, and grow into the game. FINALLY WE RESTORE PARITY ON THE HALF HOUR. KESIC PLAYS A ONE-TWO WITH TIMOTIC AFTER SOME GREAT DEFENSIVE WORK BY ILIC. HE GETS TO THE EDGE OF THE VOJVODINA AREA BEFORE SQUARING THE BALL BACK TO TIMOTIC AND IT’S A FIRST TIME SHOT THAT BEATS THE KEEPER TO LEVEL THE SCORES!!! We remain in control of the game and as the ref blows for the end of the first half, results elsewhere mean that we’re temporarily OUT OF THE BOTTOM HALF!!!


AND THEN AWARDS THE GOAL!!!! 2-1 FENIKS WITH HALF AN HOUR LEFT TO PLAY!!! Vojvodina attack again, and again and finally the pressure tells!! VOJINOVIC GOES TO GROUND IN THE AREA AND CATCHES VIDAKOVIC!! VAR TAKES A LOOK BUT CONFIRMS THE DECISION! BOGDAN STEPS UP TO TAKE THE PENALTY LEFT FOOTED……AND NAILS IT LOW DOWN TO TOROMAN’S RIGHT!! 2-2 WITH JUST OVER TEN MINUTES TO PLAY!! Again, Feniks go on the attack. Time is running out but their hopes are boosted when Stevanovic hauls Kesic down and receives his marching order for two yellow cards. It’s makes no difference though, as Vojvodina shut up shop and the match fizzles out. FINAL SCORE 2-2

The point is still enough to lift us out of the bottom half and, for the moment at least, safe from relegation!!

Up next is title chasing Red Star. They’re on a unbelievable home run of TWENTY GAMES UNBEATEN, but they’re coming to our patch and if we play like we did against Vojvodina, we’ve got every chance of pulling a MASSIVE upset out the bag!!!

The board are obviously happy with my work. They’ve only gone and offered me a new contract!!! It’s a two year deal, but I managed to add a clause to waive any compensation if another club comes calling……..JUST IN CASE!!!

Our preparations for the Red Star game AND HOPES FOR THE REST OF THE SEASON take a nosedive in the week leading up to the match. Edin Kesic breaks down in training as is ruled out for SIX WEEKS with pulled ankle ligaments!!

He’s our top goalscorer and a lot of pressure is going to fall on the shoulders of new signing Luka Cumic. He was brought in to be the understudy to Kesic and will have to step in a lot sooner than I’d have liked!!

MATCH DAY!!!! The only change from the battling draw against Vojvodina is the injured Kesic dropping out for Cumic. We have the chance to put a serious dent in Red Star’s title challenge, and start the match the better team. It’s not until the 20th minute that Red Star even register an attempt. The match evens out and turns once again into a midfield war of attrition. Neither keeper is put under any great pressure and the ref puts the fans out of their misery to call time on the first half.

SECOND HALF The only poor performances are from Nikolic and Timotic. Both are told that despite their performance so far, I have complete faith in them. The restart brings ZERO change to how the game has gone. Our narrow pitch and lack of width stifles the Red Star attacks and it’s no until the 90th minute that EITHER TEAM creates a chance of note. A corner from the Red Star right is looped over to the far post. A dink back to the edge of the area allows a shot on goal but the effort flies harmlessly over the bar. Once again the ref puts the fans out of their misery and calls time on the game. FINAL SCORE 0-0!!

It’s a bonus point, coupled to the extra one we earnt against Vojvodina means it’s in our hands to finish in the top half.

We’re sitting 8th with two games left. our next match though IS AGAINST VOZDOVAC!!! We’re ahead of them on goal difference only and played out a 2-2 draw earlier in the season.

Red Star and Partizan have come sniffing around Timotic. He was the big money signing at the start of this season and I’m not particularly about the prospect of losing him so soon. There’s no injuries or suspensions to deal with as the week between matches finishes and our most important game of the season approaches.

MATCH DAY!!!! It’s an unchanged eleven that take the field. We can all but guarantee a top half finish with a win here and we almost have the perfect start. Aleksic fires in a left footed free kick that comes back off the post, Cumic hits the rebound but that’s cleared off the line!!! Vjestica goes close in the 17th minute as he meets an Aleksic corner. His effort skims the bar on it’s way over though. Vozdovac remind us that we are actually here to compete, and latch onto a huge clearance by their keeper. The shot is rushed though as Vojinovic closes him down, and flies harmlessly over. Then with a little over five minutes remaining in the first half DISASTER STRIKES!!! VOZDOVAC WORK THE BALL DOWN THEIR LEFT AND NIKOLIC LAYS IT ON A PLATE FOR BELAKOVIC TO SLOT HOME AT THE FAR POST!!! 1-0 VOZDOVAC AND OUR HOPES OF A TOP HALF FINISH TAKE A TUMBLE!! JUST FOUR MINUTES LATER IT’S A CASE OF RINSE AND REPEAT AS NIKOLIC GETS TO THE BY-LINE AND SQUARES THE BALL ACROSS GOAL FOR THE UNMARKED BELAKOVIC TO GET HIS SECOND OF THE GAME!!! THAT MAKES IT 2-0 VOZDOVAC AND OUR HOPES ARE FADING FAST!!! The ref blows for half time and it couldn’t come a moment to soon.

SECOND HALF We’ve had the better of the half, but it’s blatantly clear where our issues are!!

Just ONE SHOT ON TARGET from nine attempts is woeful. The front line get a roasting and are kicked back out!! We restart the match and come out on the front foot. WE GET A WAY BACK INTO THINGS ON THE HOUR. CUMIC IS BUNDLED OVER IN THE BOX AND ALEKSIC STEPS UP TO TAKE THE KICK…..LEFT FOOTED……AND BURIES IT HIGH TO THE KEEPERS RIGHT!!! 2-1 AND GAME ON!!! We kick on and begin to abolsutely DOMINATE proceedings. With just under twenty minutes to play TIMOTIC HAS THE BALL IN THE NET!! IT’S A DELIGHTFUL BALL OVER THE TOP FROM ILIC AND TIMOTIC MAKES NO MISTAKE WITH HIS FINISH…..THE ASSISTANT HAS HIS FLAG UP THOUGH AND VAR TAKES A LOOK…..

IT’S RULED OUT!!! TIMOTIC WENT JUST A SPLIT SECOND TOO SOON!!! We knock on the door time and time again, but our finishing is woeful. FINAL SCORE 2-1 VOZDOVAC!!!

Just four shots on target from 18 attempts is nowhere near good enough, and we got exactly what the performance deserved. The result means that Vozdovac leapfrog us and go three points clear with just one game remaining in the Preliminary Stage. It’s not all over BUT we’ve got to play third placed Cukaricki Stankom AND WIN to stand a chance!!

Ilic picks up a yellow card suspension and will miss the Cukaricki game. Radmilovic is a more than able deputy though and will move form the bench to the starting line-up.

March is done and dusted. We’ve lost just the one game and drew games against both Red Star and Vojvodina. The disappointing loss to Vozdovac though, means that we need a miracle to finish in the top half. That last game of the season needs us to win AND Vozdovac to lose.

MATCH DAY!!!! The only changes to the team that lost despite controlling the game are Radmilovic coming in for the suspended Ilic and Paunovic replacing Petronijevic who has picked up a knock. Cukaricki start, predictably, on the front foot and push us back deeper and deeper. They finally get the goal that their pressure deserves in the 20th minute. Cirkovic on the left crossing over and Milovanovic, despite being surrounded by three defenders, jumps highest and plants his header past Toroman!!! 1-0 CUKARICKI!! VAR TAKES A LOOK AT THE GOAL THOUGH…..AND RULES IT OUT FOR OFFSIDE!!! Just before halftime we get our first serious chance on goal. The ball drops to Timotic on the edge of the area. He puts bend on the shot but not enough and it clips the post on it’s way wide.

SECOND HALF The half time teamtalk is full of praise and the players head out motivated. The restart brings little change to proceedings. Cukaricki dominate the play and on the hour have a chance to take the lead. IT’S A LONG BALL OVER THE TOP THAT HAS NIKOLIC SCRAMBLING TO GET BACK. THE CUKARICKI WINGER GET TO THE BALL FIRST AND CUTS INSIDE GIVING NIKOLIC NO CHANCE TO GET OUT THE WAY. PENALTY TO CUKARCKI!!! MILOVANOVIC STEPS UP RIGHT FOOTED…….AND FIRES IT IN LOW TO TOROMAN’S LEFT!! 1-0 CUKARICKI!! We begin to grow into the game and Paunovic has a great chance to level the scores. He’s put through by Aleksic, but his attempt is soft and straight into the keepers arms! OUR ATTACK DOES NOTHING MORE THAN WIND THE CUKARICKI PLAYERS UP, AND THEY HEAD STRAIGHT UP THE OTHER END AND PUT THE GAME OUT OF REACH. IT’S RIGHT-BACK CIRKOVIC RUNNING THE LENGTH OF THE PITCH AND GETTING ON THE END OF A BEAUTIFUL CROSS FIELD PASS BEFORE FINISHING IT WITH APLOMB!! 2-0 CUKARICKI!! The last fifteen minutes play out like the Alamo, with Feniks penned back in their area. The ref stops the punishment and it’s into the Final Stage Group B we go!!

To have finished 9th in our first ever SuperLiga season is amazing. If we finish 9th or 10th after the Final Stage, we’re safe with no playoffs needed. Our record against the teams in the lower half is reasonably good, so we SHOULD be fine.

Thanks for reading folks. Any comments, likes, follows etc are ALWAYS appreciated. You can find me on my other social media sites




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