Mar 15 2011

MSK Zilina 2-0 MFK Kosice – Zilina not yet in Crisis

Published by at 11:45 pm under Domestic and tagged:

Of all the things about the mainstream British sports media which get on my nerves – and there are many – perhaps the most annoying is the ‘Big Club in Crisis’ article. Arsenal have no sooner been knocked out of two cup competitions in a week than somebody like Kevin McCarra is wondering whether Arsene Wenger, far from being the genius he appeared to be just seven days earlier, has actually lost the plot. Or Chelsea go four games without a win and the likes of Richard Williams is suggesting that Carlo Ancelotti will soon be history at Stamford Bridge. Forgive me if I’ve got the journalists’ names wrong, by the way, but these articles are so interchangeable it hardly seems to matter. And that’s just the Guardian, a sober, reputable broadsheet. Thank God I never have to look at the British tabloids.

But on Tuesday, at half-time of Žilina’s Corgoň Liga match against Košice, I found myself contemplating the unthinkable ; that I might have to write a ‘Žilina in Crisis’ article. There is no doubt that the transformation at the top of the Slovak league this spring has been dramatic. Žilina, having started the season’s second phase with a six point lead, earned just two points from their first three games, while Senica their nearest pursuers, scored a total of twelve goals in three successive wins to take over at the top. Slovan Bratislava and Trnava also moved closer to Žilina thanks to good starts of their own. We are certainly going to see a title race this spring and, until halfway through Tuesday’s game, Žilina looked anything but the favourites to win it.

Those first 45 minutes were truly poor. Košice do not look a very good side to me but, in three long-range left-footed shots from their lively right winger Martin Juhar, they had the only worthwhile efforts on goal. For Žilina, Zdeno Štrba looked ill at ease, Tomáš Majtán looked alarmingly out of condition and Ivan Lietva looked like he wanted to start a fight. Even Martin Dubravka, who did pull off fine saves from two of those Juhar shots, made a terrible mess of a couple of simple passes out of his penalty area. The agitated home crowd booed the side off when the referee blew the half-time whistle.

During the break, however, two important things happened. The first was that the fan club, though small in number, got together and began to offer the team some semblance of support. Secondly, Pavel Hapal made two substitutions, replacing Ľubomir Guldan with Michal Škvarka and Majtán with Arturs Zjuzins. This also entailed a tactical switch from 4-1-3-2 to 4-1-4-1, with Lietava playing as a lone centre-forward and Momodou Ceesay moving out to the right. With the energy of the 18 year-old Škvarka and the passing of Zjuzins, the team began to play some football. Zjuzins, signed from Ventspils and of Latvian origin, scored the first goal and supplied Lietava with a delightful through ball for the second. Ceesay looked incongruous out on the wing but worked hard, while Lietava, finally channelling his strength and aggression in the right directions, looked dangerous every time the ball came near him. With Senica finally dropping points, Žilina are back at the top of the league. Slovan won too, so the game here on April 1st, Lietava v Dosoudil and all, promises to be a cracker.

The ‘Žilina in Crisis’ article can be put off for now.

There was another intriguing aspect to Tuesday’s game in the shape of the absurd 1530 kick-off time. Match scheduling in Slovakia and the Czech Republic has long been a source of both amusement and frustration to me. On the plus side, it does seem sensible to have games starting earlier during the colder times of year and later when the weather gets hot. This season, the early spring rounds of Slovak league fixtures are mostly scheduled for 1530 kick-offs, while the May games will take place at 1730. I also quite like Petržalka’s habit, which they share with Czech club Viktoria Žižkov, of starting matches at 1030 on Sunday mornings. It works for them, their fans seem to like it and it contributes something to the club’s identity.

But surely there are few arguments in favour of kicking off a midweek match at 1530. Slovak people are working increasingly long hours these days and I would imagine that many fans were unable to leave their offices and get to the ground in time for Tuesday’s game. The same goes for students, many of whom were sitting their written Maturita (school-leaving examination). That said, the crowds for the1530 games were not as bad as I’d expected. Žilina drew 2,186 ; given their form going into the game, they wouldn’t have anticipated many more, even with a  sensible kick-off time. The matches at Ružomberok and Banská Bystrica also attracted respectable attendances, at 1,500 and 1,600 respectively. I’m not sure what conclusions to draw here. Perhaps Slovak football fans work flexible hours after all. Or maybe a little absenteeism has been going on. The Maturita did have an effect, however. Not in the stands, as you might expect, but among the players. Tomáš Kubík and Jozef Skvašík did not travel with their Košice team-mates to Žilina because they were at school, taking their Slovak Language and Literature exams. Let’s hope they passed.

James Baxter





2 responses so far

2 Responses to “MSK Zilina 2-0 MFK Kosice – Zilina not yet in Crisis”

  1.   britskibelasion 16 Mar 2011 at 4:37 pm

    Great write up James, agree with a lot of your views there!

    Another common story is how all the top teams have a ‘drop in form’ at some stage of the season – usually around now – and that is what seems to have happened over the last couple of weeks at Zilina. Quite possibly nothing to be too alarmed about.

    If you compare their winter-break program to Slovan’s for example, it did seem rather disjointed and possibly a bit too busy for some of the senior squad, is that fair? With a team taking place in a cup in the Middle East, another team in the Tipsport League and the on/off sales of Pecalka, Jez and then Oravec, it’s hardly surprising they’ve come back into competitive football slightly disorganised.

    Slovan stayed together, bolstered their squad and seemed to concentrate on team spirit and conditioning prior to the re-start.

    Zilina clearly have plenty of quality left in the squad and once Hapal is able to figure out his best formations / combinations and discover who best to fill the roles filled by Pecalka, Jez and Oravec then I’m sure they will be fighting for the title until the death.

    I’m just happy the league is open and we can get excited about upcoming matches such as Zilina – Slovan on 1st April. Better this way than if Zilina were 16 points clear like Trencin in the 1. Div!

  2.   James Baxteron 16 Mar 2011 at 5:53 pm

    Definitely agree re the respective preparations and even more that it’s good to have a title race. I don’t want to see a procession any more than you do. It wouldn’t be good for the league at all.

    An interesting point raised elsewhere (Sport perhaps) is that Zilina were the only club talking about winning the league when the spring started and thus put extra pressure on themselves.

    Hapal said after yesterday how much more ‘freely’ Kosice played than Zilina in that first half.

    Look forward to reading more on that SK squad but in a rush now…

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