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The European Journeyman Ep42

Life with Red Star has starting well. Actually, that’s a serious UNDERSTATEMENT. We’re unbeaten in EIGHTEEN GAMES in all competitions. Drawing three and two of those were in the second legs of Europa Conference League qualifying rounds after the ties were won and line ups rotated.

October has a worrying amount of games. FIVE league games, TWO Europa games and the first round of the Serbian Cup. One of the league games is the first of the, dare I say it this early on, title deciders. It’s the away tie against Partizan. If we win THAT game then we’ll be well on our way.

The build up to Anderlecht in the Europa Conference League is rocked by Mijatovic suffering a calf strain. He’s out for four weeks. He’s replaced by Milosavljevic in the middle of the park in a very much like for like swap.

MATCH DAY The injury is Mijatovic is the only fresh one to the squad and is a strong XI that takes the field against possibly our toughest opponent in the Conference League. Anderlecht come flying put the block and when Bulat gives away a silly freekick just inside our own half, it’s aimed deep at Bundu. His nod down is gathered by Oleksiak and his turn of pace is enough to have him one-on-one with Rosic. He fires across the keeper and after just 7 minutes Anderlecht take the lead!!! Ilijin thinks he’s fired in the equaliser after 16 minutes, but he’s easily three yards offside!! Despite the early Anderlecht goal, we turn the game around and finish the half on top and without them having another shot.

SECOND HALF The main issue so far is the fact that we’re just not hitting the target. We arrive at half time having hit the target just one in four attempts. The players are told that their performance is just not good enough and they start much better. Bulat lifts a ball over the top of the Anderlecht defence and Stanic sprints after it. He manages to keep it in and as he turns, goes to ground. The ref takes a look…..AND POINTS TO THE PENALTY SPOT!!! Campar steps up with the chance to draw Red Star level. It’s a left footed penalty…….BUT IT’S BLASTED WIDE!!! On the hour mark Bulat, already on a yellow, risks an early bath with a crunching tackle on the halfway line. Red Star break at pace but when Bjekovic pulls the ball back to Ilijin, the Anderlecht keeper is well placed to beat the ball away!! We keep the pressure up and with twenty minutes to play Ilijin has another chance to equalise. He’s put clear by Rahman but his snap shot cannons off the crossbar and away to safety!!! Finally though, with just over five minutes left to play, Red Star make a chance count!! It’s a Campar corner that’s sent in at pace, record signing Cardoso rises higher than the rest and plants his corner into the bottom corner!!! 1-1 and game on!!! Anderlecht fall back and defend what they have and the ref calls time on a match we dominated but also feel lucky to have drawn.

Despite scoring after just six minutes, Anderlecht failed to register another shot on target. The possession was even but our attempts and shots on target were far greater. If Campar’s penalty had gone in then we might have had enough time to push on. BUT, we’re still unbeaten, and with St Johnstone to come this month we have the chance to take a stranglehold of the group.

With just four days between matches, and injuries starting to stack up, the starting eleven are given a couple of days extra rest in the hope that they’ll be fresh for the visit of Radnicki. They’re in the bottom half and we should be able to continue our dominating ways against them.

MATCH DAY Stanic and Campar are not fresh enough to start the Radnicki game. They’re replaced by Stankovic and Matic in the middle of the park. Baba Rahman takes a break, with one eye on the upcoming Partizan game. He’s replaced by Mirosavic. With all the changes, it’s maybe no surprise that’s it’s a disjointed display in the first half. Chance conversion is once again poor, with just one shot on target from six attempts. On the plus side, the first half closes with Radnicki not even mustering a single shot.

SECOND HALF The restart brings absolutely no change to the flow of the game. Chance after chance after chance is created, and chance after chance after chance is thrown away from the wasteful strikers. Ilijin takes the blame and is dragged on the hour mark, with Simin replacing him. Still we can’t break the stubborn Radnicki defence down. Until deep into time added on. Red Star win a freekick deep in the Radnicki half. The kick is sent deep and is met by the head of Milosavljevic!! The contact is sweet and rebounds off the far post and rolls over the line!!! The Red Star players mob Milosavljevic in celebration and don’t notice the ref talking to the VAR team……AND THE GOAL IS DISALLOWED!!!!

It’s the final action of the match and an incredibly disappointing 0-0 draw.

Just one in four shots on target tells the story. 60% possession is all well and good, but when the strikers can’t put the ball away it’s useless. Things take a better turn as we leave the ground though. Partizan lose to Cukaricki and fall four points behind us!!

Up next is a MASSIVE game. We’re away to Partizan and have the chance to go a HUGE seven points clear of them. Milosavljevic will miss the potential title decider. He’s suffering from blisters and will be out for just over a week. Stankovic comes in to replace him.

Things look up for the new year. Marko Lazetic agrees to come in on loan from Chelsea. The 22 year old has 50 Serbian U21 caps and 32 goals in those games. Lorenzi and Ilijin have been fine, but their inexperience shows at times when a more experienced head is needed.

MATCH DAY Stankovic is the only change from the recent matches. It’s an even start. No surprise seeing as we’re the two biggest teams in the league. Bulat stings the palms of the Partizan keeper with an early free kick and Stanic clips the crossbar with a long range header. We make the breakthrough on ten minutes though!! The roaming CENTRE BACK, Cardoso, receives the ball on the edge of the Partizan area. He takes a touch to get it out from under his feet and unleashes an unstoppable shot into he bottom corner!!! 1-0 Red Star!! The goal wakes Partizan up and Baba Rahram has to be alert and on his toes to intercept a cute reverse through-ball on the edge of our area. Five minutes later we double our advantage!!! The move starts on the right with Bjekovic. He plays the ball into Bulat who moves it on to Stankovic. He plays the ball into Campar and plays a sweet ball ahead of Rahman. Baba drives into the area and squares the ball to Ilijin. He’s seven yards out and only has to make contact with the ball!!! 2-0 Red Star!! VAR takes a quick look at Ilijin’s position but the goal is quickly confirmed!!

We’ve sped to a two goal advantage after just 15 minutes, Partizan do break through once but can only hit the post when one on one. The first half comes to an end and we’ve been in near total control. Partizan have managed just 2 attempts and have yet to garner a shot on target.

SECOND HALF The players are challenged to up their game and put the match to bed. Despite this, Partizan are the ones that come out the dressing room the quicker. Terzic forces an early save from Rosic, but the attempt is chalked off for offside. We’ve not started the second period at all well. Partizan have come out and controlled the game. They get their reward just after the hour. Holender finding time and space on the edge of the Red Star area and his shot nestles in the bottom corner to breathe life into the match!!! 2-1 Red Star! The Red Star players get a rocket from the sidelines which works a treat!! Straight from the restart we control possession and after good work from Cardoso, Campar breaks through the Partizan line and fires across the keeper to restore the two goal advantage!!! 3-1 Red Star!! Partizan aren’t done though and they come back at us again. Rosic makes life difficult with one attempt before they win a free kick on the edge of the area with 15 minutes remaining. Nikolic strikes the free kick right footed, and it curls around the wall and in off the post!!! 3-2 Red Star!! Once again we go straight back on the attack. Baba Rahman takes a throw in on the left and the ball is worked to Stankovic but his cross is too deep. It’s recycled by Stanic who plays the ball to Simic. His shot is blocked but the rebound lands at the feet of Campar who has the easiest of finishes to double his tally and ONCE AGAIN restore the two goal advantage!! 4-2 Red Star!! Finally we manage to grab a hold of the game and see the final ten minutes out. The referee calls time on a thrilling match and it’s MASSIVELY IMPORTANT WIN for Red Star!!

The result lifts us an impressive SEVEN points clear of our nearest rival with nearly half of the Preliminary Stage played. We have home games against St Johnstone and Radnicki Nis and an away cup tie against OFK Vrsac still to come this month. Campar and Bjekovic are TIRED!! A simple rest day between matches isn’t going to cut it. They’re both going to have to be rested, probably for the rest of the month. Milosavljevic should be recovered from his blisters by the time the next game comes around so he’ll fill in for Campar and Pankov is a able deputy for Bjekovic.

Baba Rahman comes in to rock the boat after the Partizan game. His contract is up at the end of the season and “wants to explore is options”. I explain that I “want him to sign a new contract and stay“, he gets upset and THE MEETING ENDS WITH HIM TRANSFER LISTED AND ME ACCEPTING AN OFFER TO SELL HIM FOR £200k IN JANUARY!!! Admittedly, the meeting could have gone better!!!

MATCH DAY!!!! There’s no need for any other changes, apart from the two being rested. St Johnstone are the “weakest” team in the group and we should have enough in the tank to get past them. A slight tactical tweak sees us dropping our line of engagement to standard to give Ilijin a little bit more pitch to use his pace with. The match starts pretty even, St Johnstone proving to not be the pushover that we maybe expected. We do grow into the game though and get the opening goal on the half hour!! Milosavljevic breaks from deep and collects Simic’ through ball. He strides on into the St Johnstone area and slots it in to make it 1-0 Red Star!!! The game restarts and despite dominating the possession we’re not really creating like we’re used to. Defensively, we’re fine. St Johnstone not having had a shot on target, but half time comes with the Red Star having just the one goal advantage.

SECOND HALF The restart brings Red Star starting strongly. Simic rattles the crossbar from the edge of the area after just 45 seconds before Stanic nods home Stankovic’ far post cross!! 2-0 Red Star and that SHOULD be enough to seal the deal. Five minutes later, five minutes of near total Red Star domination, it’s all over. Milosavljevic plays a smart touch and go with Stanic and lifts his finish over the rushing out keeper to make it 3-0 with just over 30 minutes to play! St Johnstone have had enough, they’ve thrown the towel in and retreated to the edge of their area in an attempt to minimise the damage. It doesn’t work though!!! With just less than 10 minutes to play, substitute Simin races onto a Pankov pass and hits a beautiful first time cushioned volley over the St Johnstone keeper to make it 4-0!!! It’s the last action of the match and the 47 travelling St Johnstone fans are put out of their misery!

The first play through of the group stage is done. We’re a point clear a the top and three clear of third placed Anderlecht.

Four more points should be enough to see us qualify to the next stage which is exactly as far as the board as expecting us to go. Up next we’re back in league action against rock bottom Radnicki Nis. They’ve won just the one game so far, and we’re unbeaten in 13 league games!! Rahman accepts the terms of his new contract and he’s off to finish his career in Brazil with Palmeiras.

MATCH DAY!!!! Pankov and Milosavljevic both keep their spots in the starting line up, and they’re joined by Lekovic in the back four. He replaces a tired Kovacevic at centre back. We start the game well and manage to stop Radnicki from even registering a chance in the opening 20 minutes. We struggle to find the opening goal though. Ilijin has the best of the opening chances. firing over from inside the area. Radnicki are sitting deep with TWO defensive midfielders in front of the back four. They succeed in stifling the game and the ref but both sets of fans out of their misery when the end of the first half finally comes.

SECOND HALF The players are told, for the first time in what seems an eternity, that their performance isn’t good enough. They retake the field and immediately make amends for the poor first half!!! Stankovic is the catalyst for the attack. He starts the move on the halfway line and the ball is swiftly moved to Stanic, Ilijin and Simic before the final pass to Milosavljevic. He’s set through behind the Radnicki backline and lifts the ball over the keeper!!! 1-0 Red Star! Radnicki don’t collapse like St Johnstone did though and on the hour mark manage to bring the score back level! Dusanic manages to get behind the back line and sends a low cross over. It’s missed by everyone except the late arriving, unmarked, Zivojinovic. He hits his shot first time and buries it with Rosic stranded!! Ten minutes after that and Radnicki are nearly the architects of their own demise. Trying to play the ball out of defence, they have their pockets picked by Ilijin. He wins the ball on the edge of the Radnicki area and squares it over to his strike partner. Simic takes a touch but his shot, despite beating the keeper, comes back from the inside of the post and is cleared away!! We are not to be denied a second goal though!!! With time running out. Stanic splits the defence and Ilijin outstrips the defence before beating the keeper with his left footed, first time shot!! 2-1 Red Star!! There’s no fairytale second equaliser this time though. Radnicki are kept at arms length for the last ten minutes and as the ref calls time it’s another win for Red Star!!

Radnicki made us work for it, and even though they scored from their only shot on target, it was a relief when Ilijin bagged his 6th league goal!! Partizan, not surprisingly, win their game and the gap remains at seven points.

It’s the Serbian Cup up next, and semi-professional side OFK Vrsac. With four league games and two European coming up in November, I’m taking the chance to rotate the squad and give a few reserves at chance to stake a claim. There’s SIX changes lined up, but they played picked should still have enough quality to see them off.

MATCH DAY!!!! It’s a surprisingly even start to the game and even a straight red card to a Vrsac defender can’t cause separation until the 15th minute when Tanasijevic is manhandled in the area and the ref points to the spot!! Mijatovic steps to to take it left footed…..He hammers it to the keepers right……BUT IT’S SAVED!!!! It ‘s a fantastic one handed save from the keeper who guessed the correct way and got across well! We are dominating the possession but can’t break them down. That changes in the 25th minute when a patient build-up sees Mijatovic make up for his earlier missed spot kick by laying it on a plate to Simin to slot his effort under the keeper!! 1-0 Red Star!! The goal appears to break to dam and four minutes later Red Star double their lead. A Mijatovic corner is met at the near post by Lekovic, his flicked header looks like it’s missing the far post until Milosavljevic ghosts in unmarked and nods in a from a yard out!! 2-0 Red Star!! Halftime comes around and after taking what seems like a age to start the scoring, we take a two goal advantage into the second half.

SECOND HALF Vrsac hadn’t even managed an OFF-target shot in the first half and the match continues in the same vein. Simin is sent scampering after a lofted pass over the top of the Vrsac back line. He gets there ahead of the keeper, jinks himself around him and slots it into the empty net!! 3-0 Red Star!! It’s turning more and more into an attack vs defence training match, and the fourth goal is not far away!! Lekovic starts the move and the ball is moved quickly through the middle of the park. Mijatovic makes it a brace of assists when he threads a pass to Simin who fires past the despondent Vrsac keeper to complete his hat-trick!! 4-0 Red Star!! The early red card, even though the result was not really in doubt, killed the chance of a competitive game and Ilijin gets himself on the score sheet with 15minutes to play. Simin turns provider this time but it’s Ilijin’s pace that causes the trouble. It allows him to get clear of the back line and even though he’s forced wide when rounding the keeper, he still manages to bury it from the narrowest of angles!! 5-0 Red Star!! Vrsac don’t learnt heir lesson from the early card, and after four players are cautioned it’s almost inevitable that a second red would be seen. Filipov trips Pankov and earns his early bath alongside Bjelica! There’s no more goals, or cards, and the ref ends the goal-fest with Red Star ending up winning 5-0!!

It’s exactly the result that everyone predicted, but despite not registering a single chance, Vrsac made us work for the opening goal.

Despite a, relatively, disappointing start to the month. October has finished very well for us. Capped by a huge win away to Partizan, we’ve finished the month seven points clear at the top of the table. Top of the Europa Conference group, and through to the second round of the Serbian Cup!!

November is another busy month. The additional cup game makes it now SEVEN games ahead of us!!

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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