Nov 29 2010

Zilina 1-1 Trnava: An exciting conclusion to the Autumn Season

This match provided something the Slovak football league could do with a lot more of – enjoyment, excitement and entertainment!  James Baxter was there and talks us through a good afternoon for Slovak football both on and off the field:

Well, that was a game that justified its billing. It had something for everyone. Cerebral types who get a kick out of tactical sophistication would have enjoyed it, as would those who like their thrills and spills. The fact that there were just two goals didn’t spoil it and, even as a Žilina season-ticket holder who has no great love for Trnava, I wasn’t that upset by the result. These were two sides who badly wanted a result and played with commitment, skill and intelligence in pursuit of it. Trnava played a full part and, even if they did get the benefit of one or two debatable decisions, it would have been harsh on them if they’d lost.

Both sides started with a 4-1-4-1 formation. Žilina’s showed just one change from the Chelsea game with Rilke replacing Majtán on the right of midfield. The visitor’s most dangerous players going forward were Bernáth and Koro-Kone. Bernáth, playing the lone striker role, is perhaps the most unlikely looking footballer in the entire Corgoň Liga. He resembles less a professional sportsman than a pre-pubescent kid who eats too much chocolate and will never have to shave. Speed and athleticism are, needless to say, not his strong points but he does have wonderful close control. This enables him to hold the ball up-front and occasionally draw fouls from impatient defenders. There were suggestions that Gergel’s challenge on him in the area after 17 minutes of today’s game was not a foul but a penalty was given and Koro-Kone made no mistake. Koro-Kone was often troublesome to Žilina thereafter with his pace and skill. In fact, it is to Trnava’s overall credit that, unlike some sides who take the lead (or even maintain a 0-0 scoreline), at pod Dubňom, they never allowed the game to become Žilina’s attack against their defence.

Pavel Hapal made an interesting change after 55 minutes or so, taking off Guldan, the holding midfielder, and sending Majtán on to join Oravec up front. Bello retreated slightly so that the formation became 4-1-3-2. Ceesay too made an appearance, in place of Rilke, as, with time ticking away, the home side threw everything forward. The last 10 minutes or so were dramatic. First, Oravec scored a scrappy equaliser ; there was no telling whether it was his head, face, chest or shoulder that propelled the ball over the line. Then a long ball into the area caused panic in the Trnava defence, Oravec was pulled down, the ball broke loose and Angelovič smashed it into the net. ‚Goal!‘ we thought, ‘we’re going to win after all.’ ‘No,’ said Mr Matuš, the referee, ‘it’s a penalty.’ No’one in the crowd had heard the whistle go but presumably it had and, by the letter of the law, the goal probably could not be allowed. Oravec’s spot-kick hit the post, then hit the keeper on the back, and almost, but not quite, trickled over the line. Seconds later, a wonderful breakaway move came agonisingly close to producing a winner for Trnava. Finally, as added time approached, one of the game’s most intriguing personal duels reached an unsavoury climax. Trnava defender Diallo swung an arm, Oravec went down – rather theatrically it has to be said – and Mr Matuš waved the inevitable red card in Diallo’s direction.

I can’t see this as a bad result for Žilina, given that they remain six points clear at the top of the league. It was a hard game and they were behind for most of it against well-organised, highly-motivated opponents. Trnava looked a good side and cannot be completely counted out of the title race but I suspect they lack a little craft in central midfield. This might be what tells against them when they fail to break teams down on their own ground and, even in today’s game, one or two promising moves broke down for want of the right final pass. If they had Robert Jež, or a player like him, they would be formidable challengers.

One thing Trnava do have, of course, is their fans. 700 or so of them travelled today and  contributed to a vibrant atmosphere. In fact, the day’s biggest paradox could be found off the field. Whenever Trnava visit Žilina, ridiculous numbers – some 500 or so – of police and security officers have to be on duty, mostly to keep the main body of away fans apart from the home contingent. The official capacity of the Štadión pod Dubňom’s away section is 550 and, for a game like this it is heavily segregated. Yet many Trnava fans, some of them sporting colours, had travelled independently of the fan club (or ultras group) and were allowed to mix freely with the Žilina fans, both inside and outside the ground. Around 100 or so visitors were in Block C of the South Stand, next to the official away section but not segregated from the Žilina supporters in Block B. Pockets of away support were present in the main stand too. Naturally, this caused no problems at all. I’m not sure there are any conclusions to be drawn here but I do sometimes think that there is an untold story where Slovak football fans are concerned. I know from personal experience that I can happily sit among the season-ticket holders of clubs like Dubnica or Ružomberok and get behind Žilina. It was nice to see that many Trnava fans could do something similar today. In fact, given the opportunity, most fans in this country are clearly able to mingle with opposition supporters and cheer on their team without intimidating anybody. Perhaps if that decent majority could somehow become more prominent and vocal, the less acceptable face of Slovak fan culture , ie hooliganism, would find itself undermined. After all, line upon line of armoured law-enforcers is not only an unpleasant sight, it isn’t even the long-term answer to the hooligan problem.

In conclusion, then, plenty of interest both on and off the pitch. A lot to feel positive about, in fact. Not a bad way for the Slovak League to round off 2010.

An interesting photo gallery of the Spartak Trnava fan’s big day out can be found here.

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