Archive for April, 2012

Apr 29 2012

Title remains open, Zilina v Senica in the Cup Final

Published by under Domestic

 

If Stanislav Griga’s schoolmasterly displeasure at Senica’s abject 0-0 draw with Banská Bystrica last week was ominous for his own players, it was probably even more so for those of Vion Zlaté Moravce. Vion had to play Senica twice this week, away in the Slovak Cup semi-final and at home in the league, and they would have known going into the games that their opponents would have their socks well and truly pulled up. Their worst fears came true as Senica brushed them aside 3-0 in the cup, thus completing a 4-1 aggregate victory, before repeating the dose in Saturday’s league match. Tomáš Strnad played a prominent role in the latter game, scoring his side’s first goal and winning the penalty from which Stef Wiljaars added the second. Roland Blackburn made it 3-0, before Martin Hruška gave Vion at least a little consolation. Senica will probably not win the league – they are in fourth place, five points behind Žilina – but their appearance in the cup final gives Griga, Slovakia‘s newly-appointed joint-coach, the chance to ensure his time at the club ends on a high.

 

Like Senica and Vion, Bystrica and Žilina have become familiar with each other over the last ten days. Their last two meetings were both at Štadión SNP, Bystrica’s home ground. The first – the cup semi-final, second-leg - ended 0-0, meaning that Serge Akakpo’s goal in the first-leg was enough to send Žilina to their second final in successive years. Saturday’s league meeting, meanwhile, was a curious affair. Nothing much happened for the first 30 minutes, then there was a five-minute flurry of action, then everyone put their feet up again. Thelittle period of excitement produced two well-taken goals from Bystrica’s Martin Matúš, either side of Róbert Pich’s headed equaliser. The pitch, still under a heavy covering of snow as recently as early March, could be held partly responsible for the all-round lack of quality. Jakub Považanec, Jozef Rejdovian and Marek Kuzma, three home players who did show some nice touches, must wish they had a better surface to perform regularly on.

 

Second-placed Trnava would have wanted to give Slovan Bratislava and Žilina a demonstration of how to deal with a visit from increasingly confident Trenčín. In fact, just like their title rivals earlier in the spring, they could only manage a 2-2 draw. Filip Hlohovský twice put Trenčín ahead, first with a penalty and later with a brilliant 25-yard shot. But, while Trnava’s quality can be questioned, their spirit certainly cannot. Equalisers from Martin Mikovič and Ladislav Tomaček at least ensured that they closed to within two points of Žilina at the top.

 

The travails of the top two should have provided the ideal opportunity for Slovan to restate their title credentials. However, like Žilina, they found themselves up against a dreadful playing surface (‘katastrofalný’ was Vladimír Weiss’s chosen adjective), as well as durable opposition, this time in the shape of MFK Ružomberok. Filip Šebo, back in the Slovan line-up for the first time this spring, came closest to defying the bobbly pitch, grazing the crossbar with a half-volley. As for Ruža, they had a poor start to the spring but now seem to have regained the solidity they showed during their eight-match unbeaten run before the winter break.

 

Prešov have been threatening to move above Košice into 10th place for a few weeks now. On Saturday, thanks to a 1-0 win at Nitra, they finally did it. The only goal of a dull-looking match was scored after 58 minutes by Peter Katona, and such chances as there were after that also came at the Nitra end. The reason Prešov were in the position to leapfrog Košice was that their neighbours had become the first spring victims of DAC Dunajská Streda on Friday night. Goals inside the first 20 minutes, from Dzon Delarge and Branislav Fodrek (his first in the Corgoň Liga for two-and-a-half yearsgave DAC an advantage they never looked like relinquishing. Anyone who follows Slovak football should be happyto see Fodrek on the scoresheet again ; he featured in Artmedia Bratislava’s2005/2006 Champions League campaign and 2007/2008 title success, but has suffered a terrible sequence of injuries in more recent times. He was pleased with Friday night’s goal but admits that, with DAC still nine points adrift at the bottom of the league, it isn’t really great cause for celebration.

 

Next weekend, the top three sides will hope to get over Saturday’s choke when they face mid-table teams at home. Tuesday May 8th, meanwhile, is cup final day. Žilina and Senica, two clubs from the west of the country, are being sent to Bardejov, upwards of 350 kilometres east, for a 1230 kick-off. There’s material enough there for another rant at the SFZ, but I’ll save it for another time.

 

Results

 

Slovak Cup Semi-Final, Second-Leg

 

Banská Bystrica 0 Žilina 0 (Žilina win 1-0 on agg)

Senica 3 Zlaté Morave 0 (Senica win 4-1 on agg)

 

Corgoň Liga, Round 29

 

Banská Bystrica 2 Žilina 1

Trnava 2 Trenčín 2

Ružomberok 0 Slovan 0

Zlaté Moravce 1 Senica 3

Nitra 0 Prešov 1

DAC 2 Košice 0

James Baxter

 

 

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Apr 27 2012

Griga & Hipp to ‘joint-coach’ Slovakia

Published by under International

 

‘Both coaches are equal. But will one coach be more equal than the other? I hope and believe not, but that was the first question that occurred to me on Thursday when it was officially announced that Stanislav Griga and Michal Hipp will jointly lead Slovakia through qualifying for the 2014 World Cup.

 

Their appointment comes after an unsurprisingly (this is the SFZ we’re talking about) bungled recruitment process. When Vladimír Weiss quit as head coach by mutual consent’ in January, the SFZ quickly set their sites exclusively on Pavel Vrba, despite the fact that there were other coaches around who were clearly worth talking to. ‘Vrba’s the one we want,’ said SFZ president Ján Kováčik. ‘I’ll sort out the end of his contract with (Viktoria Plzeň owner) Tomáš Paclík and he will join us in the summer.’ It didn’t work out that way. Paclík insisted on Vrba honouring his deal – it runs to 2013 – and Kováčik had to implement a Plan B he had never actually formulated.

 

In a sense, Kováčik has got lucky. Griga, always an excellent candidate, took no apparent offence at being completely ignored during the pursuit of Vrba. ‘I’m 50,’ he said. ‘When am I going to take the job if not now?’ With his rich experience of coaching at club level in both the Czech and Slovak Republics, as well as a stint as Slovakia Under-21 coach (2000-2001), he will be a familiar and reassuring figure on the touchline.

 

Hipp, a long-term assistant to Weiss at both club and international level, didn’t feature much in initial media discussions (or in ours come to that) over the head coach’s job, but he was in charge of the team in a caretaker capacity when they earned a 2-1 friendly win in Turkey in late February. He has not been offered his new job purely on the strength of that result, though it did serve as a reminder that he could play a valuable role in the new set-up.

 

It will now be interesting to see how Griga and Hipp divide their responsibilities. Superficially at least, it seems they might complement each other. If we ignore the natty pinstriped suit he wore when sitting alongside Weiss during the 2010 World Cup, Hipp is atracksuit coach. He is a keen student of the game, has a good eye for the strengths and weaknesses of opposition teams, and enjoys working with players on the training-ground. Griga, meanwhile, appears to be the ethos man. Well-mannered and serious, but a disciplinarian when he wants or needs to be, he is more likely to be respected than loved among the players.

 

Also, the football the duo get their team to play probably won’t differ all that much from what we saw under Weiss. Hipp presumably had some input into the style of play that prevailed under the former regime, though his selection and tactics for the Turkey game also showed he has ideas with which to go forward. As for Griga, his 20 months in charge of current club Senica are evidence enough of his pragmatism. The team has invariably been strong, hard-working and organised. Flair has been encouraged here and there but the priority has generally been to stay in games, to give nothing away. A second-placed Corgoň Liga finish last season and a cup-final appearance this time round suggest he’s got most things right.Overall, it’s fair to say that Vrba, with his more idealistic approach, would have been more of a departure from the Weiss era than these two are likely to be.

 

Griga and Hipp, both Slovak by birth and citizenship, are proud to be in charge of their country’s national team but are realistic about what lies ahead. ‘We’ve got a lot of talking to do,’ says Griga. ‘We’ve got to speak with one voice in public, and especially to the players.’Hipp adds that he expects some criticism of the new set-up. ‘(A joint appointment) is something new, and new things aren’t always greeted positively in Slovakia, he says. A couple of obvious reasons to be negative do spring to mind. Firstly, how highly do the SFZ really rate these men, given that they didn’t seem remotely interested in them two months ago? Secondly, there’s the salary question. Griga and Hipp are to be paid 15,000 Euros a month each. In total, that’s just 3,000 Euros less than the sum the association couldn’t afford to pay Weiss. Still, it shows that, in financial terms at least, they will indeed be operating as equals.

 

The new coaches will officially take up their roles on May 9th. Their first match in charge will be a friendly against Poland in Klagenfurt (Austria) on May 26th. Away games in Holland(May 30thand Denmark (15th August) follow, before the competitive action starts in September.

James Baxter

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Apr 23 2012

Corgin Liga Roundup

Published by under Domestic

 

A fifth game without a win on Saturday would have effectively ended Slovan Bratislava’s hopes of retaining their Corgoň Liga title. If they could have hand-picked their opponents, however, they might well have gone for Vion Zlaté Moravce. Injury-hit, and freely admitting that the Slovak Cup is their priority, Vion looked unlikely to put up heroic resistance at Pasienky. And so it proved. First-half goals from Marko Milinković and Karel Mészáros, either side of a red card for the visitors’ Milan Pavlovič, ensured that Slovan had the points wrapped up by half-time. Roman Konečný’s 63rd minute volley completed the scoringAfter the game, Vladimír Weiss continued in his contrary approach to press-conferences, which basically involves praising Slovan when they draw or lose and criticising them when they win. Here, he was dissatisfied with their efforts after Vion had gone down to ten men.

 

Two more cup semi-finalists, Senica and Banská Bystrica, served up a 0-0 draw so dire it even tried the patience of Senica coach Stanislav Griga, normally a connoisseur of low-scoring matches. ‘It was our worst performance of the season,’ said Griga, ‘even worse than when we lost at home to Košice. And that’s saying something.’

 

Nitra have had a decent spring, sorting out their home form and, for the most part, maintaining their impressive away record. On Saturday, they inflicted a fifth successive home defeat on Košice. Vratislav Gajdoš and Karel Kroupa scored well-taken goals to establish a 2-0 lead, and ensure that Peter Kavka’s deflected free-kick for the hosts in injury-time was nothing but an irrelevance. Meanwhile, Košice’s home crowds are becoming as poor as their results ; only 687 could be bothered to turn up.

 

Staying in eastern Slovakia, Prešov’s 1-1 draw with Ružomberok means they are now ten points clear of bottom side DAC Dunajská Streda and within just two of Košice. The scoringin this game was concluded inside the first 20 minutes. David Guba put the hosts ahead in only the 2nd minute, with Miroslav Poliaček equalising in the 19th.

 

As for DAC, they might have feared a hammering away to in-form Trenčín. In fact, theystarted well, and took the lead after 14 minutes through Tomáš Huber. Dzon Delarge missed a chance to make it 2-0 and there was then a sense of inevitability about Trenčín’s comeback, which resulted in goals for Filip Hlohovský and Lester Peltier. DAC battled on gamely, if unsuccessively, and there was a nice touch at the end of the match when their players went over to share expressions of appreciation and sympathy with their tiny band of travelling fans.This mutual gesture could also be interpreted as an acceptance that relegation is now certain.  Indeed, it could be mathematically confirmed as early as next weekend.

 

The return legs of the cup semi-finals take place this Tuesday. Then, at the weekend, the title contenders all have games against mid-table sides, with Žilina facing a second trip to Bystrica in four days. Will they still be on course for a league and cup double after all that, I wonder?

 

Results

 

Žilina 1 Trnava 0

Slovan 3 Zlaté Moravce 0

Senica 0 Banská Bystrica 0

Košice 1 Nitra 2

Prešov 1 Ružomberok 1

Trenčín 2 DAC 1

James Baxter


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Apr 21 2012

Zilina 1-0 Trnava

Published by under Domestic

 

Žilina 1 Trnava 0

 

The opening words here belong to Pavel Hoftych. ‘I wish all Czech and Slovak football could be played in an atmosphere like this,’ said the Trnava coach. He is dead right. The game between Slovakia’s top two (still nobody dares to call it a title-decider) was played in front of a crowd of 8,000+, with lots of colour, impressive noise and no apparent nastiness. Credit for most of the noise must go to Trnava’s remarkable following, who filled the South Stand and were raucous throughout. That around 2,000 of their fans should travel two hours north for a 1730 kick-off on Friday (Digi Sport, you are geniuses) suggests that end-of-week productivity figures back in their hometown will be rather less than sky-high.

 

On the pitch, we had a contest between two sides who are both pretty good but whose strengths rather contrast, and between (in my humble opinion anyway) the Corgoň Liga’s two players of the season ;Žilina’s Viktor Pečovský and Trnava’s Miroslav Karhan. Žilina are the league’s most technically accomplished team and the one that plays the most consistently attractive football. Trnava, sharing the best defensive record with Senica and on a run of six games with no goals conceded going into the fixture, are usually the best-organised. In that sense, it was ironic that Žilina’s winning goal should result from poor defending at a set-piece. With 37 minutes gone, Miroslav Barčík swung over a corner, Momodou Ceesay leapt to flick it on and the unguarded Tomáš Majtán stooped at the far post to head it in. Otherwise, though it was never a dull game, chances were few. Both sides did come close to late goals. Jíři Koubský headed inches wide for Trnava, and they probably should have had a penalty for a high kick by Ricardo Nunez. At the other end, Róbert Pich wasted a fine opportunity to settle Žilina’s nerves by shooting straight at the ‘keeperBy the time this flurry of action arrived, Trnava were playing with 10 men following the sending-off of Martin Vyskočil for two needless bookable offences.

 

Pečovský and Karhan were, naturally, at the centre of much of the action. The Žilina man was once again pressed into service as a centre-back, as a result of an injury to Serge Akakpo. Trnava’s second-half substitutions, with Koubský and Ladislav Tomaček going on, were clearly designed to exploit his lack of inches. Pečovský was always going to lose most of his heading duels, but his anticipation and reading of the game, qualities unsurpassed in Slovak football, ensured that Trnava were fairly ineffective when trying to play along the ground. Karhan started in midfield, but Žilina will have been happy to see him switch to central-defence when Josef Kaufman

was taken off injured early in the game. It’s not that Karhan isn’t a good defender – he’s an excellent one by the standards of this league – but he can’t dominate the contest from that position the way he can from midfield. When he pushed forward again, later in the game, Žilina were ahead and, for the most part, looking quitecomfortable.

 

The win leaves Žilina three points clear of Trnava with five games still to play. An equal head-to-head record and a slightly better goal-difference top up their advantage. The first four of their remaining games, and all of Trnava’s, are against comfortably placed mid-table sides. But if both slip up, Slovan Bratislava could yet be allowed back into the race. So it is quite true that nothing has been decided yet. Still, it’s beginning to seem that Žilina are that bit better than either Trnava or Slovan at compensating for their shortcomings. They have also had several injury problems this season but the squad has, so far, been flexible enough to cope. As for Trnava, part of me thinks they would be deserving champions. This is partly for their support and partly for Karhan, whose return to Slovakia, aged 36 and with an excellent club and international career behind him, has provided one of the ongoing highlights of the season. But the team does just seem short of what Žilina have in abundance – attacking flair players who can change a game by doing something a little out of the ordinary. Michal Gašparík, one who is capable of this, was disappointingly peripheral on Friday.

 

Still, what about this for a solution? Žilina can satisfy the purists, and shut up the doom-mongers among their support, by winning the title this time round. Karhan can decide to play on for another year, and then, in 2013, fully forty years after the last time they were champions of their country(when it was Czechoslovakia), Trnava can finally win the Corgoň Liga.

James Baxter

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Apr 18 2012

Cup Semi Update

Published by under Domestic

 

MŠK Žilina 1 Dukla Banská Bystrica 0

Vion Zlaté Moravce 1 FK Senica 1

 

I hope you can contain your excitement, but Tuesday was Slovak Cup semi-final first-leg day.MŠK Žilina have a 1-0 lead to take into their away leg against Banská Bystrica next week, while Vion Zlaté Moravce drew 1-1 at home to Senica.

 

The build-up to the Žilina-Bystrica game was dominated by the incomprehensible news that Žilina had fired coach Ľuboš Nosický and appointed Dutchman Frans Adelaar in his place. It appears that a deal had long before been struck for Adelaar to take over in the summer, but his installment was brought forward following the side’s 2-2 draw at home to Trenčín on Saturday.

 

On a purely human level, it is impossible not to feel sympathy with Nosický, even a certain amount of righteous anger on his behalf at his employers’ apparent underhandedness. Clearly, the agreements with Adelaar were made behind his back. Even in a pure sporting context,Žilina’s action makes little sense. Nosický had steered his side through the chaos surrounding his own appointment, just two days before the start of the season, taken them to the top of the league, successfully integrated three important winter signings, and overseen a memorable 3-0 win over Slovan Bratislava. The team were on a 13-match unbeaten run and a league and cup double was looking possible.

 

How do the club explain themselves? We respect the fact that we were top of the league,says director of football Karol Belaník, ‘but we weren’t playing attractive enough football and our crowds were low.’ Crowds are indeed low, Belaník is right there. But he knows very well that most people who call themselves football fans in Slovakia are fickle types, unable to appreciate the game when played by teams other than Barcelona or Manchester United. Hemight also have mentioned, but didn’t, the negative reaction of some of those who did turn upto the performance against Trenčín. But idiots in the crowd are also a sad fact of footballing life these days. The signing of Lionel Messi wouldn’t appease some of those who go to Žilina matches to vent their fury, and the firing of a perfectly decent coach is only going to encourage them.

 

Or perhaps Mr Adelaar will win them over. Certainly, his mere nationality appears to have seduced the Žilina board. That he has coached clubs like Utrecht, ADO Den Haag and Sparta Rotterdam only adds to his appeal. ‘When it comes to attractive football, the Dutch are among the best in Europe. We want some of this influence at our club,’ says Belaník. If his wide-eyed expectations are fulfilled, we can look forward to Žilina playing total football in the style of the 1974 Holland team, and the likes of Trenčín being effortlessly swept aside in front of adoring full-houses.

 

The Bystrica game represented a rather low-key beginning to this transformation. In front of 1,800 and on a cold day for mid-April (there was fresh snow in the Fatra mountains and a sharp easterly wind), Žilina‘s passing game functioned only intermittently. The only goal, coming as it did from a set-piece, was one the total football practioners would have disdained. Ricardo Nunes sent over an inswinging free-kick and Serge Akakpo outmuscled a couple of Bystrica defenders to head it in. 47 minutes were on the clock ; Bystrica’s start to the second-half had been as dozy as Slovan’s two weeks ago. Home goalkeeper Martin Krnáč made a couple of fine saves to preserve the lead and Viktor Pečovský became possibly the shortest player ever to fill the centre-back position following the withdrawl of a limping Akakpo. On a bright note, the debut performance of 17 year-old striker Jaroslav Mihalík is evidence that Žilina’s academy is one aspect of their operation that continues to work well.

 

Vion coach Juraj Jarábek and Senica’s Stanislav Griga might well have looked at what happened to Nosický and felt thankful that they have rather more understanding employers. In their turn, they have justified the faith shown in them by leading smallish clubs to relative success. Senica have been on the fringes of the title-race all season, though defeat to Trnava last Friday

might have convinced them that the cup is now their most realistic hope of an honour. Jarábek, meanwhile, openly admitted last week that his team have started to struggle with injuries and that, certain of a mid-table league finish, his priority has been to keep as many players as possible fit for this semi-final.

 

It was perhaps predictable that it would end all-square. Senica, it seems had the better of the chances, and should have scored long before Andrej Hodek’s 57th minute opener for the hosts. Substitute Tomáš Strnad equalised after 85 minutes. Griga was disappointed with his team’s profligacy but says he is quite happy to be going into the home leg on level terms.

 

Feverish anticipation is not felt by many ahead of Slovak Cup matches, but we do at least have two evenly-poised second-legs involving four motivated sides ahead of usŽilina will be expected to progress to the final but, provided their players haven’t morphed into Cryuff and Neeskens clones by next Tuesday, Bystrica will feel a single-goal deficit isn’t irretrievable.As for Senica, Strnad’s goal looks important and they should now have just a bit too much for Vion.  

 

James Baxter

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Apr 16 2012

Trnava for the title?

Published by under Uncategorized

 

Could this be Trnava’s season after all? It didn’t look like it four weeks ago when they lost 2-1 at home to Nitra, and Žilina and Slovan Bratislava opened up a little gap at the top of the Corgoň Liga. But 14 points and a remarkable six successive clean sheets since then have put Trnava right back in contention. Their latest victory, 1-0 over Senica on Friday night, came courtesy of Martin Vyskočil’s goal less than a minute into the second-half. It wasn’t easy – Trnava struggled to create chances and Senica’s Jan Kalabiška hit the post in the first-half – but the discipline and spirit of Pavel Hoftych’s team is increasingly impressive. They are well-supported too. Every other club in Slovakia would be delighted with a 6,000+ attendance for any league match, let alone one shown live on TV. Another curiosity of this game is that Senica’s starting XI didn’t feature a single Slovak. There were six Czech players and one from each of Argentina, Costa Rica, Panama, Holland and the Ivory Coast.

 

Žilina were hoping to restore their two-point lead at the top when they took on Trenčín at Štadión pod Dubňom on Saturday, but they didn’t have things their own way in what was a highly entertaining match. Trenčín’s disdain for such tedious activities as defending was evident in a remarkable opening 16 minutes which saw the home side take a 2-1 lead. Jozef Piaček headed in the opener, Samuel Štefánik meandered through a vacant midfield before curling a 25-yard shot past Martin Krnáč for the first equaliser, then Miroslav Barčík put Žilina ahead again. The next hour or so somehow remained goal-less but the visitors finallyearned the point their enterprise merited when Jorge Salinas – increasingly influential the longer the game went on – chipped a pass to Lester Peltier, who swept the ball past Krnáč.Whatever happens over the next six rounds of fixtures, this has been a fine first season back in the Corgoň Liga for Trenčín. They have plenty of players worth watching and coach Adrián Guľa will surely come to the attention of bigger clubs very soon.

 

Slovan Bratislava were in action earlier than Žilina, away to Banská Bystrica, looking to earn a win which would have re-energised their own push for the title. They drew 1-1 in a game which, though played on a shockingly poor surface, looked quite exciting. Martin Matúš put Bystrica ahead after 66 minutes but Marko Milinković scored a quick equaliser. At that stage, Slovan looked the likelier winners but then, in the last seconds of injury-time, Erik Grendel conceded a penalty. Michal Pančík struck his kick well enough but Pavol Kováč made a fine save. Following Martin Poljovka’s miss against Košice, this is the second spot-kick Bystrica have failed to convert in successive home matches.

 

Another piece of Slovan news is that centre-back Radek Dosoudil’s contract has been terminated following the 7-match ban imposed on him by the SFZ disciplinary commission. The sins which led to that punishment were an appalling tackle on Senica’s Tomáš Kóňa in the Slovak Cup quarter-final and an incident involving a steward immediately after a league game at Nitra. The foul on Kóňa only earned a yellow card during the game itself, and there appears to be some dispute about what really happened at Nitra, but the SFZ say that, inreaching their decision, they also considered Dosoudil’s conduct over the previous two years. His time in Slovakia would appear to be over for the time being but, if he could recapture the form and (relative) discipline he showed when playing alongside Kornel Saláta in the Petržalka and Slovan title-winning sides of 2007/2008 and 2008/2009, he would be a fine defender for somebody somewhere.

 

Back on the pitch, and events in the other three games are either of little real consequence, or confirm what we already knew. Prešov opened up a 9-point gap between themselves and DAC Dunajská Streda by coming from behind to win 2-1 at Zlaté Moravce. Andrej Brčák scored for Vion, with Viliam Macko and Peter Katona getting the visitors’ second-half goals.That Sergij Kovalec, the Prešov coach, felt it was a good game comes as no surprise ; he utters the same words every week, win, lose or draw. Vion’s Juraj Jarábek admits that his injury-hit team are now prioritising the Slovak Cup, in which they have a midweek semi-final against Senica. He also believes Prešov’s Corgoň Liga place is virtually secure.

 

DAC’s 3-0 defeat at Nitra means they might as well start preparing for life outside the Corgoň Liga. Ľuboš Kolár, Vratislav Gajdoš (a penalty) and Seydouba Soumah scored the home side’s goals. DAC coach Werner Lorant did not give the assembled reporters the benefit of his wisdom afterwards but sent his assistant Krisztián Neméth in to state the obvious. Neméth didn’t use the word ‘relegation’, but his demeanour suggested he knows what’s coming. Hedidn’t deny Nitra’s superiority either, admitting that ‘there was a big difference at both ends of the pitch.

 

Ružomberok’s 2-0 win over Košice is a result which has little influence on the season’s important issues, though it does move the home side to within a single point of fifth-placed Vion. And Pavol Masaryk’s 17th goal of the season – a tap-in from right on the goal-line – increases his lead at the top of the individual scoring charts. Juraj Vavrík was Ruža’s other scorer. DAC’s ineptitude has meant that Košice have never been in real relegation danger this spring but they cannot be happy with a run of one point from their last six matches.

 

The coming week sees the first legs of the Slovak Cup semi-finals. Žilina face Bystrica at home, while Vion welcome Senica. The return legs will be played one week later. Both ties look interesting enough but, typically where domestic cup competitions are concerned these days, some of the interest in the first match will be in how many players Žilina decide to rest. This is because, just three days later – Friday 20th April – Trnava are coming to town. If Hoftych’s defence can keep yet another clean sheet in that game, the prospect of red and black ribbons on the Corgoň Liga trophy will be real indeed.      

 

Results

 

Žilina 2 Trenčín 2

Trnava 1 Senica 0

Banská Bystrica 1 Slovan 1

Zlaté Moravce 1 Prešov 2

Ružomberok 2 Košice 0

Nitra 3 DAC 0

 

James Baxter

 

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Apr 08 2012

Corgon Liga Round 26 .. before the BIG ONE!

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We’ll start at the bottom of the table today as the issues there are looking clearer by the game. Bottom side DAC Dunajská Streda lost two more games this last week and are now six points adrift of Tatran Prešov. Visiting out of form Vion Zlaté Moravce on Tuesday, DAC may have scented the opportunity to finally earn a decent result. But, after taking an 18th minute lead through Jiří Kabele, they began to self-destruct. Martin Hruška and Andrej Hodek scored for the hosts, then, just before half-time, Lukáš Matúš was sent off. Martin Luhový made it 3-1 in the 50th minute and, although Dzon Delarge pulled one goal back, DAC’s spirited battle with ten men was in vain. On Saturday, it was visiting Ružomberok’s turn to go down to ten men – Lukáš Greššak picking up a second yellow card after 60 minutes – but DAC couldn’t find an answer to Štefan Pekár’s 14th minute goal. It now transpires that Werner Lorant, reappointed as head coach of DAC two weeks ago, failed to renew his licences when they expired in 2008 and is thus barred from coaching. His job title has been hastily altered to director of football. Not only are DAC going down, they’re a circus.

Prešov keep picking up points at regular enough intervals to edge further and further away from bottom place. One exception was last Tuesday when they couldn’t find an answer to Mario Bicák’s goal for Trnava. On Saturday, however, they showed their spirit by scoring in the 89th and 90th minutes to earn a 2-2 home draw with Banská Bystrica. Lukáš Laksík scored twice for Bystrica, taking his spring tally of goals to four, but a David Střihavka header and  Jan Krob’s penalty denied them victory. Prešov coach Sergij Kovalec, who never fails to find something positive to say, was delighted with his side’s character, while Bystrica’s Štefan Zat´ko was furious with his team’s lack of it. For all his anger, though, Zat´ko did find the grace to wish everyone listening to him a happy Easter.

Košice have now gone five games without a win and must be secretly relieved by DAC’s even worse form. On Tuesday, the easterners found themselves down to ten men after just 40 seconds of their game away to Bystrica, Serbian defender Ivan Djoković seeing red for a clumsy high-footed lunge. But goalkeeper Darko Tofiloski had one of his inspired days, Martin Poljovka missed a penalty and Košice clung on for a goal-less draw. On Saturday, it was Košice’s turn to be the generous hosts. Karim Diaby hit the bar with a first-half penalty and, just three minutes into the second period, Zlaté Moravce’s Peter Orávik ran unapprehended through the home defence to score his team’s winning goal.

After a rare home win last weekend, Nitra have played two more away games. The first, away to coach Ladislav Jurkemík’s former club Ružomberok on Tuesday, resulted in a 1-1 draw. Ondřej Murín gave Nitra an early lead but Pavol Masaryk equalised mid-way through the second-half. On Saturday, after taking a 3rd minute lead at Trenčín through Seydouba Soumah, Jurkemík’s team were hit by a five-goal blast from the hosts. Vratislav Gajdoš did equalise for Nitra at 2-2, but overall they had few answers to Trenčín’s firepower. Jurkemík didn’t appear ready to panic afterwards, perhaps rightly given that Nitra are certain to finish in mid-table, that this was only their third defeat away from home all season, and that Trenčín are a dangerous proposition for anyone on their artificial pitch.

That pretty much wraps up the travails of the sides in the bottom half of the table, so what about the top end? Senica have re-established themselves on the fringes of the title race with two solid home performances over the last four days. On Tuesday, they thrashed Trenčín 4-0, with three of the goals stemming from perfectly delivered set-pieces. On Saturday, another well-worked set-piece gave them the lead against Žilina ; Tomáš Kóňa’s 29th minute free-kick was headed in by Petr Pavlík. But four minutes later, Róbert Pich nodded in Ernest Mabouka’s cross to earn the visitors a draw.

Žilina can be reasonably satisfied with the Senica result since it at least showed that the euphoria following their 3-0 win over Slovan Bratislava on Tuesday hadn’t got the better of them. Slovan started marginally the better of two cautious sides on Tuesday and Karol Mészáros and Juraj Halenár might have done better with presentable half-chances. But Žilina, who‘d had one or two promising moments towards half-time, took advantage of their visitors’ sleepy start to the second period, establishing a 2-0 lead through Issiaka Bello and Pich before 60 minutes were up. Bello’s second goal, which arrived in the 90th minute, was the perfect way to round off a superb personal performance and the best answer to the racial abuse he endured from the away following through much of the second-half.

Žilina, currently three points ahead of Trnava and five ahead of Slovan, will now be hoping that Sunday’s big game between Slovan and Trnava ends in a draw. Slovan are clear favourites with the bookies for this game, perhaps rightly given that they haven’t lost a ‘home’ league match since autumn 2010, but they have a number of key players missing. Trnava, meanwhile, are the side in form, as four successive wins with no goals conceded would suggest. With 1,300 away fans expected at Pasienky, and the Slovan fans disgruntled after Tuesday, Trnava may have the edge off the field too. Whatever happens today, the title-race remains far from over.

James Baxter

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Apr 02 2012

MSK Zilina v SK Slovan Bratislava: Preview

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It would be wrong to see Žilina v Slovan on Tuesday evening as a title-decider. If it ends in a draw, Trnava will be level on points at the top of the table if they do what‘s expected of them and defeat Prešov at home. It has the feel of a big game, though, big enough, perhaps, to justify a preview of its own.

The Coaches

Žilina’s Ľubomír Nosický looks and sounds innocuous but his efforts in steering the side to the top of the league, having been appointed just two days before the start of the season, should not be underestimated. He varied his formation quite a lot during the autumn but has largely stuck to a 4-1-3-2 formation this spring. His 2,000-odd assistants in the stands have not been convinced by all his decisions but he will rise in their estimation if he can put one over on Vladimír Weiss.

Weiss has kept Slovan on a steady course in the league since a run of four games without a goal in late summer. Over the winter, he brought in several players who know the Slovak football scene well, including three (Mario Pečalka, Kamil Kopúnek and Juraj Piroška) with national team experience. He has tended to favour a 4-3-3 formation this spring. That should provide an interesting contrast with Nosický’s tactics, though a more prominent thought in the minds of home fans will be that Weiss tends to relish the opportunity to outsmart a Žilina coach on big occasions such as this.

The Goalkeepers

Martin Dúbravka is a long-term absentee from the Žilina side but his stand-in, Martin Krnáč, is a highly capable shot-stopper and good at claiming high crosses. His one minor weakness appears to be a tendency to hesitate over whether to come off his line to gather through balls.

I used to be unconvinced by Slovan ‘keeper Matúš Putnocký, mostly because he had a poor game – and cost his side victory – in the July 2010 meeting between the sides. But he has consistently shown since then that he is a fine young prospect.

Žilina Defence v Slovan Attack

Given that four different nationalities are represented in the Žilina back-four, you might have expected one or two communication problems. But the worst of their ‘that’s mine, no it’s yours, oh shit it’s theirs‘ moments appear to have been left behind in the winter friendly games. Overall, it’s a fairly solid unit and the full-backs, Ernest Mabouka and Ricardo Nunez, offer plenty of attacking threat.

The Slovan forwards, however, could cause all manner of problems. Firstly, there is Ondřej Smetana, scorer of five goals in six spring fixtures thus far. Lean, strong and measuring 6ft 6ins, bullying him out of the game will not be an option. Žilina will need to keep corners and free-kicks to a minimum to reduce his heading opportunities. They may also try to push high up the field, so that his knock-downs fall into relatively harmless areas. But then, they’ll have to be wary of Juraj Halenár, who is quick, clever at timing his runs, and seems to love playing in this fixture.

The Midfields

The emphasis in Žilina’s midfield is very much on pass and move. The key to their game tends to be Viktor Pečovský, the deepest-lying of the quartet. He positions himself just in front of his centre-backs when the opposition have the ball and often drops between them to start his own team’s attacks. Further forward, Miroslav Barčík and Róbert Pich like to come in off the wings. This is partly to open up space for Mabouka and Nunez, but Weiss will definitely have warned his team about Pich’s taste for right-foot shots from the inside-left channel. More centrally, Issiaka Bello, who has not been at his best since his long-term injury last autumn, will need to have a good game.

For Slovan, Kopúnek and Jiŕí Kladrubský are likely to operate as holding midfielders. Both are solid, energetic and pass the ball simply and accurately. Either Erik Grendel or Marko Milinković, both of whom are technically accomplished footballers, will be asked to provide more creativity.

Žilina Attack v Slovan Defence

Slovan could win this game by taking the aerial route but there‘s little chance of Žilina doing so without the injured Momodou Ceesay. Still, Tomáš Majtán is a willing runner and can hold the ball up in the channels, while Ján Novák is a more elusive type.

How Slovan cope with Žilina’s movement up-front largely depends on who they pick to play in central-defence. My sense is that Mario Pečalka and Peter Janošík, the pair fielded against Senica on Friday, would do a better job than Radek Dosoudil and Marián Had, who prefer playing against bigger, physical strikers. Like the hosts, Slovan can call upon excellent attacking full-backs, in their case Mamadou Bagayoko and Lukáš Pauschek. The latter missed the Senica game, however, and Žilina might fancy their chances if his replacement, Kristián Kolčák, has to step in again.

Verdict

The optimist in me believes that Žilina play the more attractive football and will come out on top. The pessimist believes Slovan have a better all-round balance and can vary their tactics where necessary. Even without the injured Igor Žofčák, they have, in Grendel, Milinković and Halenár, three of the most skillful players in the league. If none of these quite come off, there is Smetana, with his physique and power in the air. Then there is Weiss, far more experienced at organising sides for big games than Nosický. I think – and Trnava will hope – that it will be a draw.

James Baxter

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Apr 02 2012

Corgon Liga Round Up; April 1st

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Two rounds of fixtures to summarise today, with another coming up on Tuesday ; it’s a busy little period in the Corgoň Liga.

At the top of the table, Trnava are the side whose position has improved most significantly over the last few days. Two successive away wins, 3-0 at Banská Bystrica and 1-0 at Košice, leave them in third place, just two points behind leaders Žilina and one behind second-placed Slovan Bratislava. The Košice game was, as coach Pavel Hoftych acknowledged, a scrappy, wind-affected affair, but Trnava will be encouraged by the comfortable manner in which they saw it out following Mário Bicák’s 5th minute goal.

With just three minutes of last Tuedsay’s fixtures remaining, Žilina, 1-0 up at Vion Zlaté Moravce, looked as if they were about to increase their lead over Slovan Bratislava, who were being held 0-0 at Nitra, to five points. Then Martin Luhový hooked in an equaliser for Vion, and Erik Grendel deflected Juraj Halenár’s free-kick past Nitra keeper Lukáš Hroššo to give Slovan victory and reduce Žilina’s advantage to just one point.

Since then, weekend draws for both Žilina and Slovan have served only to improve Trnava’s position. In an eventful game at Pasienky on Friday, Nicolas Gorosito gave visiting Senica the lead with a penalty, only to put Slovan back in the game almost immediately with an own goal. Lamine Diarrassouba restored Senica’s lead before half-time, but their former striker Ondřej Smetana made it 2-2 midway through the second period. Jiří Kladrubský then missed a penalty for Slovan. In his post-match interviews Vladimír Weiss appeared to accuse a couple of his players of being ‘scared’ to take the spot-kick, though Halenár claimed that Kladrubský had insisted on taking on the responsibility. Meanwhile, Žilina, minus the suspended Jozef Piaček and Viktor Pečovský, needed a brilliant late goal from substitute Jean Deza to earn them a 1-1 draw at Prešov.

Senica’s draw at Pasienky, which keeps the gap between themselves and Trnava to three points, was their second decent result away from home in four days. On  Tuesday they won 1-0 at Ružomberok, despite playing more than an hour with ten men after Peter Štepanovský was sent off. Dutch midfielder Stef Wiljaars scored the decisive goal in the 77th minute.

Below Senica, both Vion and Ruža continue to fall away. Vion, who would have hoped to build on their draw with Žilina, lost 1-0 at Nitra on Saturday. Ľuboš Kolár’s 60th minute goal will be cause for particular celebration for Ladislav Jurkemík’s team, since it brings to an end a six-month wait for a home league victory. Ruža, for their part, are the latest victims of improving Trenčín. Having picked up their first away win of the season in midweek, 2-1 at Košice, Adrian Guľa’s side fell behind to Jaroslav Kostelný’s goal, but turned things round through David Depetris and Lester Peltier. Suddenly a top-half finish looks a distinct possibility for Trenčín.

Bystrica recovered from their home thrashing to Trnava, winning 2-1 at DAC Dunajská Streda on Saturday. All the goals came within seven first-half minutes, with Jakub Považanec and Lukáš Lasík scoring for Bystrica, either side of Krešimir Kordič’s penalty. This is another disappointing result for DAC, following their 0-0 home draw with Prešov on Tuesday. Even the return of Werner Lorant, reappointed as head coach ahead of the Prešov game, looks unlikely to save them from relegation. A crowd of just 942 at the Bystrica match suggests the locals feel the same way.

With DAC in such poor shape, the eastern duo of Košice and Prešov should be safe from relegation, even though neither look particularly convincing. Košice have now lost three successive games and Prešov’s goalscoring record – 11 in 24 games – is simply appalling.

You suspect that Trnava will be the side most looking forward to this Tuesday (3rd April). A home game with Prešov shouldn’t tax them too much, especially with their vociferous support behind them, and they know that at least one of Žilina and Slovan, who come face-to-face at Štadión pod Dubňom, must drop points. After all that, the Easter fixtures include Senica v Žilina and Slovan v Trnava. It should be an interesting few days…

 James Baxter

Results – 27/3    

Košice 1:2 (1:1) Trenčín
Dunajská Streda 0:0 Prešov
Nitra 0:1 (0:0) Slovan
Ružomberok 0:1 (0:0) Senica
Zlaté Moravce 1:1 (0:1) Žilina
Banská Bystrica 0:3 (0:2) Trnava

 

Results – 31/3

Trenčín 2:1 (1:1) Ružomberok
Nitra 1:0 (0:0) Zlaté Moravce
Dunajská Streda 1:2 (1:2) Banská Bystrica
Košice 0:1 (0:1) Trnava
Prešov 1:1 (1:0) Žilina
Slovan 2:2 (1:2) Senica


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