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The European Journeyman Ep45

It’s the mid-season break in Serbia. We’ve started our first season with Red Star very well. We’ve lost just the two games in all competitions so far. We’re top of the league

Seven points clear of Partizan, although they have a game in hand. We’ve qualified top from the group stage in the Europa Conference League

and are still in the Serbian Cup after beating Vrsac and Kolubara.

The transfer window is now open and after a raft of players heading OUT the door, we’re concentrating on getting the RIGHT players in to improve us. Nikolic, Lekovic, Rahman and Mijatovic all depart for a total of £4million. Uros Milovanovic joins from Cukaricki, after glowing scout reports, and he’s joined at the club by fellow striker Marko Lazetic from Chelsea, defenders Filip Benkovic and Zlatan Sehovic and midfielder Luka Ilic. A speculative bid for a 34 year old Marco Verratti is accepted and personal terms are agreed. His physicals are in the mud, but his mental and technical attributes are waaaaay better than anything else in the squad.

The mid-season training camp squad is named and all the new signing are included. Friendlies against Bursaspor and Eskisehirspor are arranged to get the sharpness back in the squad, and with all but Verratti available it’s a disappointing 0-0 draw against Bursaspor that starts us off. Once again, it’s the old enemy of 23 attempts (great) versus just 5 on target (appalling). New recruit Lazetic was the most wasteful and was dragged with 30 minutes top play in exchange for Ilijin. The friendly against Eskisehirspor produces a better result AND a better performance. A 2-0 win is headlined by an absolute stunner from Lazetic, but undercut by an injury to new left back Sehovic. He twists his ankle and is out for up to 4 weeks.

The season will restart with a home game against Napredak Krusevac

We SHOULD be beating everyone we play in February. The highest placed team we’ve got is Vozdovac and they’re in 5th place, 19 points behind us.

MATCH DAY It’s the opening game after the mid-season break, and I’m without two of my new signings. Verratti makes the bench, and the only new signing to make the starting line-up is Lazetic. He partners, fit again, Lorenzi up front and Bulat, who refused a contract offer in favour of a free transfer to Celta Vigo, drops to the bench in favour of Mijailovic. It’s a good and positive start from Red Star that results in the early goal!! Stanic wins, then takes a corner. Whipping the ball into the near post where it’s met by Cardoso’s perfectly timed run. His header is past the Napredak keeper before he sees it and it’s 1-0 to Red Star after just 5 minutes!! We continue to press with Milosavljevic playing Lorenzi in behind the high Napredak defence. He takes his shot early but it can only fizz narrowly wide. Red Star are in almost complete control, but have just the single goal to show for it. Napredak finally register their first shot of the match on 40 minutes, although it doesn’t bother Rosic in the Red Star goal. Red Star have a golden opportunity to extend their lead on the stroke of half time. Milosavljevic feeds to ball into Lazetic’ feet but before he can turn he’s bundled over in the box!! The ref has no doubt and points to the spot immediately! Lazetic dusts himself down and lines up, right footed, to take the kick……AND SENDS THE KEEPER THE WRONG WAY to score his first goal for the club!!! 2-0 Red Star!! Half time comes around and with the second goal safely tucked away the game is as good as over.

SECOND HALF The players are, rightly, praised for their dominant first half performance and sent back out to finish the job. Ten minutes after the restart, Lorenzi has another chance to score when one-on-one. But, again, can only guide his effort wide of the upright. Marco Verratti comes on for the under performing Milosavljevic on the hour but it’s the other new signing, Lazetic, that doubles his tally for the day!! He’s played in by his strike partner and hits his effort first time!! The shot seems to catch the Napredak keeper off guard as he just watches the ball fly into the top corner!! 3-0 Red Star with 20 minutes to play!! Verratti’s skill and vision on the ball comes to the fore with just under ten minutes to play, he’s sitting in the middle of the park, directing traffic. Four give and go’s he takes part in, before the last one ends with Campar feeding Lazetic and quick as a flash, he’s a hat-trick hero!! 4-0 Red Star!! It ends like that. A completely smothering performance from Red Star. Napredak conjuring just SIX shots all match and just the ONE on target!

After the early goal it took us a while to put the game to bed, but, restricting them to just the solitary shot on target will do nicely. Partizan won their game so remain seven points behind with their game in hand.

Up next are Proleter Novi Sad. They’re another team deeply entrenched in the lower half of the table so it SHOULD be another by the books win. The winter transfer window closes and we top every table going!!

Luca Ilic was nearly half of the amount spent, so when averaged out it’s not TOO bad!

Once again there’s very little time between matches, so there’s a little rotation to the team that beat Napredak. Benkovic comes in for Kovacevic, Stanic makes way for Ilic and Lorenzi steps aside for Milovanovic. Lazetic keeps his spot after his goal scoring heroics.

MATCH DAY Proleter get us underway, but almost immediately are under pressure from Red Star. They seem happy to soak up any pressure and after the first 20 minutes Red Star are in control with over 60% possession. There’s been no goalmouth action to speak of, but 4 on target from 6 attempts is decent enough. The pressure continues to grow, and just before halftime the Proleter resistance is broken! Bjekovic and Ilic combine down the right and Bjekovic whips in a cross that is met by Lazetic. His effort is headed off the line but the rebound falls to debutant Milovanovic!! His instinctive finish is too quick for the defence and it’s a debut goal!! WAIT THOUGH……VAR IS LOOKING AT MILOVANOVIC’ POSITIONING…….WAS HE OFFSIDE??? NO!!! No he wasn’t!! The goal counts!! 1-0 Red Star! The ref call time on the opening period, and once again, despite dominating the play Red Star head in with just the one goal advantage.

SECOND HALF Verratti replaces a tired looking Milosavljevic in the middle of the park and Bulat replaces Ilic after he picks up a knock. The second period carries on as the first. Red Star have nearly complete control of the ball but struggle to break down the Proleter defensive line. Milovanovic manages to get free after a sustained passing move, but his tame shot is easily dealt with by the keeper. With a little over five minutes to play, Proleter make an INCREDIBLY RARE attack that results in Radojevic having to make a world class tackle on their winger as he almost breaks free. The ball breaks to Bjekovic who attempts to release Lazetic with a long ball. That ball is easily dealt with and the counter attack from Proleter is lightning fast!! Cardoso gets caught high upfield and the space behind is exploited. Ortiz is through on goal and takes his shot before Benkovic can get across to cover!!! From their first shot on target in the game Proleter equalise!!! 1-1 with time running out!! WAIT!!! THE ASSISTANTS FLAG IS UP…..DID ORTIZ GO TOO SOON?? YES!! Apparently he did!! The replay shows the TIGHTEST of offside decisions!!

Things are tightened up at the back. Proleter begin to get a bit of belief and get a second shot at Rosic, but it’s dealt with calmly. The final five minutes are played in Proleter’s half but no more goals arrive. FINAL SCORE 1-0 RED STAR!

Once again Partizan keep pace with us and remain seven points behind with that game in hand. Our last two games of the month see us play teams in the top half of the division, whilst our rival has bottom placed Feniks and 5th placed TSC. There’s five days between games so hopefully it will be a fully fit squad that I’m able to choose from.

Obviously, I spoke too soon!!! Luka Ilic, new signing having just made his debut, twists his ankle in training and is out for FIVE WEEKS!! He’ll be replaced by Stanic in the middle of the park.

Partizan win their game in hand against Mladost and move to just the four points behind. Sehovic returns from injury in time to make his debut, and just in time as our current left back, Radojevic, comes down with COVID and is out for two weeks!!

The draw for the quarter finals of the Serbian Cup is made.

At home to Proleter Novi Sad isn’t the worst that could’ve happened, but they won’t be the easiest team we could’ve played. We’ve avoided both Partizan AND Spartak Subotica though, so every cloud has a silver lining.

The curse of me saying we should have a fully fit squad continues. Mijailovic comes down with COVID as well, with Aleksa Matic replacing him. Youngster Kukic replaces Bjekovic at right back in an attempt to placate Milosavljevic who is upset at Rahman being sold.

MATCH DAY We’re at home to Vozdovac, and after going from being able to play an unchanged, fully rested squad to three changes it’s, unsurprisingly, a disjointed opening ten minutes for Red Star. That all changes though when Sehovic intercepts a long cross field ball. He brings it down and passes it onto Campar. That ball is quickly moved onto Milovanovic then Milosavljevic and when Lazetic finds the ball at his feet in the area his snap shot beats the keeper at his near post!! 1-0 Red Star!! We grow into the game and take a firm control of the ball. Vozdovac have been shut out completely, not even mustering an off target effort. Once again, it’s just the one goal advantage as the ref blows for half time.

SECOND HALF Nothing changes after the restart, it’s essentially attack vs defence. Just past the hour mark we double our advantage. Campar sends over a whipped near post corner, and it’s met by the rampaging Benkovic. His free header hammers in off the crossbar!! 2-0 Red Star! It’s Benkovic’ first goal for the club and puts the game to bed and the result safe. With five minutes to play, Vozdovac wake us up a touch. A deep freekick sails over and met at the back post by Dakovac. He sends his header back the way it came but it rebounds off the woodwork and away to safety! That’s as close as they come to reducing the deficit and as full time comes it’s 2-0 Red Star!

Partizan keep up the pressure with a regulation win over Feniks to maintain the four point gap.

With six games to go in the Preliminary Stage, both ourselves and Partizan have, not in the slightest surprisingly, qualified for the Playoff stage. It’s no surprise really that it’s heading to be a shoot out between ourselves and Partizan. We’ve still to play them again in the Preliminary Stage so it could be a lot closer by the time the playoffs start. The draw for the Second Knockout Stage of the Europa Conference League is made. Some BIG teams, such as Chelsea, Rangers, Wolfsburg and Brugge are in the hat alongside us, and we’re drawn against Portuguese side Vitoria de Guimaraes. Again, like the Serbian Cup, it could be worse. We’ve missed the big boys and have a decent chance to progress even further than the 1st Knockout Round that the board expected this season.

MATCH DAY Kukic comes down with a cold and is ruled out of the Mladost Lucani game. Bjekovic comes back into the team in his place. That’s the only change from the previous win. Despite the settled team, it’s Mladost that come out the blocks fastest. In fact it’s straight from kick off that they attack. The ball is played all the way back to the Mladost keeper, and his long clearance is misjudged by both Red Star centre backs. Dimitrije Jokic, reads it well though and strikes the ball from the edge of the area. It flies into the bottom corner, and after just TWENTY SECONDS we find ourselves a goal down!! 0-1 Mladost Lucani!! The one bonus about going a goal behind so early in the match, is that there’s plenty of time to turn things around! We quickly take control of the game and in the 15th minute Lazetic is is bundled over from behind and the ref points straight to the spot. VAR takes a quick look at it, but the on field decision is quickly upheld. Campar places the ball down confidently and runs up right-footed…..BUT THE KEEPER SAVES IT DOWN LOW TO HIS RIGHT!! From the resulting corner, Campar sends a ball into the near post but Cardoso sends his header over the top. Once again we grab control of the game and dominate the chances. Mladost have a held at just the single shot on target until the 36th minute!! Cardoso wins and takes a free kick level with our own goal line, his clearance falls straight at the feet of the Mladost midfield, and with the defence all out of position, Jokic strolls unmolested into the area and strokes the ball past Rosic!!! 2-0 Red Star and things are NOT going to plan at all!! Our heads have gone and Mladost are rampant. Cumic has a great chance at the back post to make it three but his unchallenged header sails safely over. Half time can’t come a minute too soon and the Red Star players get an unaccustomed thrashing in the changing rooms.

SECOND HALF The second period starts with Red Star constantly pushing, and Mladost looking dangerous on the break. First it’s a change to a narrow diamond and then to a 4-3-1-2 formation as Red Star go in search of a way back into the match. That way is found with 25 minutes to play! Cardoso clears up a Mladost long ball and feeds it to Bjekovic. The right back plays the ball down the line to substitute Lorenzi who sweeps the ball into the middle and into the path of Lazetic!! He takes a touch and coolly slots it under the advancing keeper!! 1-2 and GAME ON!!! The players are fired up!! After looking down and out they can see a chance at a point at least. That chance is fleeting though. Mladost come forward again, and once again it’s Jokic that makes the difference. His movement away from Benkovic is sublime and when he receives the ball he’s on his own in the area and hat-trick like a man on fire!! 1-3 and surely game over!! Lazetic has the ball in the net again with 15 minutes to play but it’s a rightly called back for offside. Red Star continue to huff and puff, but can not make any inroads in the organised Mladost defence. Final Score 3-1 Mladost Lucani!

We had more of the ball and more than TWICE their chances. they had just the four shots on target and scored from three of them. Rosic’s rating for 6.3 tells the story really. Things might have been different if Campar has put the spot kick away, but we still should have had enough about us the win the game.

February comes to a disappointing end. The defeat leaves us just the single point ahead of Partizan, our lead was once ELEVEN POINTS. Our match next month will well and truly be a title decider!!

March sees the return of the Europa Conference League and the Serbian Cup, bringing us up to a total of seven matches including a MASSIVE home game against Partizan!!

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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