Sep 25 2011

Žilina 2-0 Nitra

Published by at 1:34 pm under Domestic and tagged:

The sports press had billed this as ‘game of the round’ and, since it was 2nd v 4th and Trnava and Slovan had seemingly comfortable home fixtures, I suppose that was a fair description.

For Žilina fans, though, there were a few factors to cause apprehension. Their side had won only one home game out of five, while Nitra’s away record looked quietly impressive. The visitors also appeared much-improved since last season and had the Corgoň Liga’s best defensive record going into the game. Nitra also have a recent record of causing shocks at Štadión pod Dubňom ; as a newly-promoted side they won 5-2 there on the opening day of the 2005/2006 season, were the only visiting side to pick up a point there in the following campaign and were the only one to leave victorious in 2009/2010. And Žilina’s injury list didn’t make encouraging reading either, especially with Viktor Pečovský, man-of-the-match at Ružomberok the week before, adding his name to it.

Still, since Trnava’s strong, cohesive-looking team won here five weeks ago, I’ve actually found myself enjoying Žilina games again. This is in stark contrast with 2010/2011, when  expectations of retaining the title, bitterness over the way the club ran its Champions League campaign and the rancour over the spring home fixture with Slovan combined to produce an angst-ridden season. Now, a new, young team is beginning to emerge, players who’ve been at the club for a while are finding new roles and some attractive football is being played. Even the fact that the players are still prone to mistakes helps in suppressing expectation wherever it threatens to emerge. Let Slovan and Trnava deal with the pressure for now.

Saturday’s game was effectively won inside the first half-hour. After 8 minutes, following fine passes from Jean Deza and Miroslav Barčík, Róbert Pich stepped inside his marker and produced a brilliant curled finish from just inside the penalty-area. Chances came and went for the next 20 minutes or so, then a Deza run into the box was halted by a crunching tackle from Peter Kaspřak. The right-back was shown his second yellow-card of the game and, as he made for the showers, Patrik Mráz’s reliable left foot converted the penalty. Nitra immediately substituted Róbert Rák, captain, and scorer of a hat-trick in that 5-2 win six years ago, in favour of an orthodox replacement for Kaspřák. In theory that should have made Žilina’s task even easier but their performance over the game’s last hour was far from the model demonstration of how to play against ten men. True, they might have increased their lead – Barčík and Mráz were both unlucky with fine efforts from distance – but  Nitra often found space in midfield and created a few chances of their own. Their forwards should be asking themselves why they never even tested Martin Krnáč in the Žilina goal.

Still, several individual performances should encourage the home side. Ernest Mabouka, the Cameroon-born right-back gets better and better, while Stanislav Angelovič, displaced by Mabouka, is learning how to play the midfield holding role. Pich had a rare 90-minute outing as a central striker and, his goal apart, displayed great pace and technique. Also, a further worrying injury, to defender Jozef Piaček, was balanced by Zdeno Štrba’s return from a near six-month absence. Štrba looked rusty and had to be bailed out by defensive colleagues on a couple of occasions but hopefully, with this half-hour appearance behind him, he’ll be back to his best soon.

But the player of most interest to Žilina fans right now is Deza. Quite what an 18 year-old from Peru is doing in provincial northern Slovakia is a question worth asking but he is certainly a talent. He loves running with the ball and, when he chooses the right moment, passes it well too. The fact that he has been involved in the last four goals Žilina have scored is evidence of how useful he has been. What sort of longer-term impact he will have is another matter. He has not yet managed to play more than 60 minutes at a time and appeared to effectively substitute himself on Saturday, walking to the bench and sitting down before his replacement had even stripped off. He also seems to annoy both referees and his own team-mates, to say nothing of opponents, by going to ground and staying there every time he is tackled. In truth, I wouldn’t be surprised if he was still in a state of culture-shock but, given a little more time to adapt to Slovakia and with some strong and sympathetic handling, both he and Žilina could benefit from their association.

At the other end of the age-scale from Deza was Nitra’s former Slovak international midfielder Ivan Hodúr, whose performance, though in a losing cause, was as good as any on the home side. Unlike Deza, he’s not a player you immediately notice but he’s always worth following through a game for the way he finds space for himself and almost never wastes a pass. As with Deza, though for different reasons, you wonder why it’s the Corgoň Liga that’s getting the benefit of his skills.

Bad news for Žilina is that they now have two away games to play with a far from full-strength squad. Paradoxically, however, I’m more worried by another effect of yesterday’s victory. Combined with Trnava’s surprising home loss to Ružomberok (courtesy of two comical goals, I note from the TV highlights), it sends Žilina to the top of the league. Expectation will be rearing its head again.

James Baxter

3 responses so far

3 Responses to “Žilina 2-0 Nitra”

  1.   Alfonseon 26 Sep 2011 at 12:51 pm

    Hi Jim,

    thanks for the article, Zilina is running a very good season and the next games are not so complicated, if the injured players came back, they ve a real chance to stay on the top.

  2.   George Mon 26 Sep 2011 at 1:43 pm

    What’s Happened to Dan ? …Is he in mourning over Slovan or suffering from writers block ?

  3.   James Baxteron 26 Sep 2011 at 2:25 pm

    Was just about to ask what had happened to you, George.
    Hope there’ll be a Slovan discussion coming up midweek.

    Alfonse, do you support Zilina then? Personally, I’d prefer sb else to take the pressure at the top and I was happy enough for Trnava to do it for a while longer. But given Trnava’s comical efforts at both ends of the pitch on Saturday, perhaps they’re just not as good as I thought(?)

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