We’re heading into winter in Serbia. After the recent fixture pile-ups it’s a refreshing 5 games in December. Those five games however, ARE ALL IN THE FIRST SIXTEEN DAYS OF THE MONTH!!!
Once we’re finished with Spartak Subotica though, it’s the winter break until mid-February. FK Kolubara are up first in the Serbian Cup. We’ve just played them in the league where we played out a ten man each draw, and with just 2 days between fixtures it’s going to be a tired squad that takes the field.
As well as Lekovic, who got sent off after just ten minutes of the Kolubara game, Marko Bulat is suspended for the next league game against Cukaricki due to a build up of yellow cards. Nikolic finalises his move away from the club, with the Hungarian heading home to join Mezokovesdi. He’s been nothing more than a back-up squad player so won’t be missed too much.
MATCH DAY Three changes from the league game against the same opposition. Kovacevic, Milosavljevic and Stanic all come in for Tanasijevic, Stankovic and Mijatovic. Simic has returned to training to bolster the attacking options and news that Lorenzi has returned to light training boosts morale even further. Red Star carve out the first good chance of the match in the 8th minute. Radojevic is set free down the left by Bulat and his cut back finds Stanic steaming in. The first time shot is instinctive rather than measured and cannons back off the post and away! We don’t have to wait long for the opening goal though. Campar sends over a freekick from the Kolubara by-line to the far post. Kovacevic tracks the flight of the ball and nods the back the way it came and in off the opposite post!!! 1-0 Red Star!! Radojevic is a constant thorn is the Kolubara defence’s side. In quick succession, he lays a chance on a plate for Ilijin that is cleared off the line, then he’s played through by Simin and sees his own shot palmed wide. Red Star have the ball in the next again on the stroke of half time, Ilijin and Campar can’t quite get their timings right though and Ilijin’s classy finish is ruled out for offside.
SECOND HALF We’re in complete control of the game, over 60% possession and twice as any attempts on goal. the game is still in the balance though with just the single goal separating us. The players are challenged to find another gear, and without ever really worrying the Kolubara goal the second half passes pretty much as the first did. We finish the match still with over 60% of the ball and with THREE times as many shots on goal, but, aside from a Simic shot that struck the base of the post before deflecting wide, the score remains the same. Final Score 1-0 Red Star.
It’s a comfortable win in the end, with Rosic not having to make a save of note in the entire game. We’re through to the third round and a tie against
We’re back in league against next and an away day to third placed Cukaricki. It was a regulation 2-0 win in the reverse fixture back in August, and despite their lofty league position they a game ahead and 13 points behind us. Bjekovic returns in place of the suspended Lekovic, and Mijailovic replaces Bulat.
MATCH DAY We make the trip across town to the Cukaricki stadium looking to make it 19 games in the league unbeaten. The temperature is barely above freezing as the game kicks off, but it makes little difference to the Cukaricki players!!! Red Star transfer target, Milovanovic getting on the end of an early Vlalukin cross to nod in the opening goal after just 11 minutes!! 1-0 !! It’s Milovanovic’ 50th goal for the club, and with Red Star scouts in the stadium keeping a close eye on him, there may not be many more chances for him to extend that tally. The early goal seems to thaw the Red Star team out and they quickly gain control of the match, if not the scoreline. Simin stings the hands of the Cukaricki keeper before the assistant referee lifts his flag. Simin does have the ball in the net on the half hour after good work from Campar and Stanic….wait though…VAR are looking at it…..AND IT’S RULED OUT FOR OFFSIDE AGAIN!!!
Ilijin strikes the inside of the post five minutes before half time after some fantastic defensive work by Bjekovic set a quick counter attack in action and then smashes a shot against the crossbar less than a minute later!!
SECOND HALF Once again, the reason for our woe is obvious. 12 shots on goal but only three on target!! The players are told that it’s not good enough and are sent back to put it right. Despite Stanic and Kovacevic testing the keeper not long after the restart, the game looks like it’s slipping away. Mijatovic comes on and the shape is changed to try and carve out more chances. Ilijin uses his pace to create something out of nothing with ten minutes left but his finish is lacking quality and the match closes out with the disappointing loss. Final Score 0-1 Cukaricki!!
We were the authors of our own demise. Just the eight shots on target from 22 chances. Simin was caught offside time and time again, and Ilijin showed his age and inexperience at exactly the worse time! We come away with our first league defeat of the season and the water bottle is thrown in the post match teamtalk. Partizan win the match against Macva Sabac, and close the gap further to seven point AND A GAME IN HAND.
Next up is the final game of the Europa Conference League. We’re tied with Bestikas at the top of the table, both having qualified already.
This is all about who can finish top and avoid one of the other group stage winners.
MATCH DAY I’m in a quandary. Both Cardoso and Bulat are one yellow card away from missing the next game. I want to finish the group top and have the “easier” knockout round draw, BUT, I’m going to need my strongest XI for that knockout round tie. In the end I compromise. Cardoso is going to have to skate on thin ice whilst Mijailovic comes in for Bulat. It’s a slow start to the game, neither side mustering a shot until Milosavljevic blazes over in the 10th minute. Bestikas have a goalmouth scramble on the half hour mark that sees Red Star escape thanks to Bjekovic hacking the ball off the line! That’s as good as it gets for either side in the opening period. We’ve had the best of the possession, but once again wasteful in front of goal.
SECOND HALF The restart brings no further quality to the match. The midfield third sees the most of the ball, until the hour that is. The attack starts with Bjekovic taking a throw in on the right. Campar shields the ball and releases it out to Radojevic on the edge of the Bestikas area. He’s closed down quickly and the ball is moved on to Milosavljevic and then Cardoso. The centre back takes one touch, looks up and launches a shot into the top left corner!!!! 1-0 Red Star!!! Bestikas grow back into the game and begin to push for an equaliser. Ridvan plays in Berkay on the right of the Red Star area, but his snap shot fizzes just wide. With five minutes to play, goal-scoring hero Cardoso is removed to save him from a potential yellow card. It makes no difference to the game though as Red Star hold on for the win and group top spot!! Final Score 1-0 Red Star!!
It was a hard fought and incredibly even game. Everyone put in a shift to sees us qualify as well as we could. Up next is Macva Sabac. They’re in the lower half so this SHOULD be a chance to get back on track in the league.
We’re feeling the heat fitness-wise. Bjekovic, Kovasevic and ALL THREE of the central midfielders need to be rotated out. Kukic, Tanasijevic, Mijatovic, Matic and Stankovic all come in. It’s another makeshift team and we COULD pay the price.
MATCH DAY The temperature has plummeted again, and once again we seem to be caught cold early on!! A direct free kick for Sabac is pushed onto the post by Rosic but Bacanin is following up and slots it home from the narrowest of angles!! VAR is looking at it though…….but the goal stands!!! 1-0 Sabac after 6 minutes!! Red Star go straight on the attack attempting to claw the goal back immediately with Simin heading over from Kukic’ cross. Ten minutes later and Kukic is the source of another Red Star chance. His cross from the by-line is patted down by the Sabac keeper and the ball falls at Ilijin’s feet. His stabbed effort his blocked by the recovering keeper and cleared away to safety!! That’s as close as we get in the first half, and despite dominating the match AGAIN, we go into halftime a goal down.
SECOND HALF Once again, our strikers are at the forefront of our woes. 12 attempts only 3 on target!! The players are given a roasting in the dressing room and start the second half a lot more positive! Sabac have the first decent chance of the half but Rosic closes the shot down early. Finally though, Red Star manage a meaningful shot on target!! Matic, Ilijin and Simin combine before the latter nutmegs his marker and fires home the equaliser from the edge of the area!! 1-1 with half an hour to play!! Red Star really start to turn the screw. Mijatovic heads over from a Stankovic cross before normal service is resumed. Stankovic plays a measured high pass into the path of Ilijin. His run is timed to perfection and springs the high offside trap. The keeper comes out to close the angle and Ilijin show composure beyond his years and waits until he goes to ground before lifting it over him and in!!! 2-1 Red Star!! Sabac start to come out their shell in an attempt to draw back level again, Ilijin nearly makes them pay again by springing the offside trap but his shot clips the post and goes wide! The third Red Star goal does, inevitably, come though. Simin brings down a long Rosic clearance and plays a quick one-two with Mijatovic. The return pass bounces just in front of Simin and it’s a sweet, sweet volley that nestles in the bottom corner!!! 3-1 Red Star with just under ten minutes to play. Sabac have lost their heads. They lose the ball straight from kick off and Stankovic plays a ball over the top for Ilijin to chase after. Once again, it’s a one touch and BANG!! 4-1 Red Star!! There’s five minutes to play and Sabac finally get another bit of dignity back!! Tomaskovic makes a move to the by-line and cuts it back to Ristovic who prods home to make it 4-2!! It’s a goal out of nowhere and maybe the substitution of Cardoso for the THIRD CHOICE RIGHT-BACK had some kind of hand in it. Simin seems to take the Sabac goal personally andscores quite possibly the best goal of the seven scored today. He starts with his back to goal, flicks the ball up and unleashes a bicycle kick that stuns the Sabac keeper!! 5-2 Red Star in time added on. Still the scoring doesn’t end. Ilijin is dragged down on the edge of the area and Bulat lines up his effort. The match clock ticks over to the 95th minute as he bends his effort around the wall and past a rooted keeper!! 6-2 Red Star!! The ref finally calls time on a breath-taking second half and Red Star come away worthy winners!!
A hat-trick from Simin, in possibly his last game for the time being, under-wrote a lethal second half that saw us go from 1 in FOUR on target to a better, but not perfect, 1 in three.
The final game of the year is upon us before close to a TWO MONTH gap. It’s Spartak Subotica away, and every player that was rested for the Sabac game is back now and it’s as strong an eleven as can be picked.
MATCH DAY The players are tired. Even those rested for the last match are not at 100%. The match starts hot!! Ilijin races onto a first minute throughball by Stanic and fires home an early EARLY goal. That though, apart from a BLATANTLY offside Ilijin effort, is as close as it gets to goal mouth action IN THE ENTIRE GAME!! We were in near complete control and with Spartak mustering just the one shot on target ALL GAME, it’s as close to a training match as we could get but can’t seem to build on the perfect start! FINAL SCORE 1-0 Red Star!!
We’re ending the calendar year with a whimper. It’s as easy a match as we could hope for.
The players leave for the mid-season break and it’ll be a reinforced squad that they come back to. Left back Sehovic from Maccabi Netanya and Chelsea’s Serbian striker Lazetic have both already agreed to come in and irons are in the fire for more recruits.
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