Los Coladeros, Episode 28: Gotta Catch ‘Em
We’ve got a big chance to turn things around over the next few games. Granted, our situation isn’t disastrous — second in the table, five points behind Valladolid with a game in hand — but after last week’s miserable back-to-back defeats, I could do with a pick-me-up, and these shots of espresso dumped into glasses of Baileys for breakfast aren’t quite doing the job. With the drinks globe delivered, but dry, it’s time to turn my attention away from my high-functioning alcoholism and towards the matter at hand.
I ask Susan to make me a thermos of carajillo and set off for the changing room to prepare my side for the visit of C.D. Numancia, currently struggling down in the relegation zone. A big part of their problem is that star players Constantin Barbu and Elías both think they’re “too good for the club”, and the rest of their players are barely breaking a 7.00 average rating; in fact, most of them are even below that. And so, while I’m sorely tempted to change around the entire team after the dreadful defeat against Valladolid last time around, I’m also minded that when I tried that little tactic against Albacete, my second string didn’t exactly cover themselves in glory. As such, there’s just one change: Stefan Bergtoft will be out until around March with a calf strain, so I plump for Nuno Mata ahead of Amdy Faye in my starting lineup; I’ve actually been impressed with Faye despite his very, very average attributes, but there’s no doubt that Mata has all the tools to live up to his name. He’ll have a month to prove he’s the killer I know he can be.
A lively opening sees Duff booked, Moukoko graze the top of the crossbar, and Numancia’s star centre-half Jose Culebras forced off with an injury all inside the first eight minutes. After that, Jorge Campos is the first goalkeeper to see action, as a header from away defender Francés is parried superbly by our star stopper and out for a corner, which Mata heads away.
Half an hour has gone and we’ve yet to put an effort on target, and I’m starting to get concerned — especially when Mike Duff goes down off the ball and needs to be withdrawn. I briefly consider putting Henning Berg on and switching Lucic to right-back, but slap myself across the face at the very suggestion — it’s clearly the brandy talking. Instead, I move the versatile Nuno Mata to right-back and bring Amdy Faye into DMC. Victory’s free kick flies over the bar, but not long afterwards, he’s back on the ball again, finding Alonso in the middle of midfield. The Spaniard takes a touch, looks for movement, and sweeps a ball into the penalty area ahead of Tsigalko, who stretches, controls, and shoots! MAXIM TSIGALKO!! HNNNGGGOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOL TSIGALKOOOOOOOOOO! The tables do a 180 as we score with our first attempt on target, Maxim Tsigalko firing low into Núñez’s bottom corner, and it’s 1–0 to the good guys!
The goal changes the game completely, and after it, we’re dominant. Moukoko wastes a tremendous chance to make it 2–0 five minutes later, missing the target when he “must score” — never a good sign — but Sergio Sestelo shows him how it’s done a few minutes later as he smashes a goalbound shot that Núñez fumbles, but gathers at the second attempt. Faye then crosses for Tsigalko twice, but both headers go wide, a Victory free-kick is tipped over by the Numancia keeper, and as Victory then puts the resulting corner into the box, Sergio Sestelo rises through a crowd of players… and heads it past Núñez! GOL GOL GOL GOL GOL GOL GOL SESTELOOOOO! Sergio, Sergio, wherefore art thou, Sergio? Staking a claim for a second consecutive POTY award, that’s where, as Sestelo’s ninth goal of the season puts us 2–0 up and cruising at half-time.
I decide to make my second change at the break, and while it’s a little controversial, I think a 2–0 half-time lead against a team languishing at the bottom of the table is the right time to try it. I yank Moukoko, who, for all his endeavour, isn’t really living up to expectations so far, drop Tsigalko into AMC, and put Cherno Samba up front on his own. The Great Man, or I suppose we should call him the Golden Boy since he’s still only 17, really needs a goal — he’s yet to open his account in four appearances. And, while I know dropping Maxim back isn’t the best use of his talents, we are 2–0 up. This should be fine.
Two minutes into the second half, it’s definitely fine. Jamie Victory tears down the left-hand side, leaving Numancia defenders trailing in his wake, crosses into the box — Samba heads goalwards! Saved by Núñez! Lundén is there! JONAS LUNDÉN!! IT’S THREE! Great finish Lundén, excellent play all round, and this game, with any luck, will be an exhibition for the remaining 43 minutes.
And quite honestly, it is. It’s a bit boring, if anything, since there isn’t a single further effort on target at either end. My players, rather than trying to help Cherno get the goal I want him to have, take their foot off the gas and let Numancia have a lot of the ball, but they can’t get past Tobros, Mata and Faye, who all chip in with key tackles and headers to block their progress towards our goal. It’s been an excellent afternoon in front of the Ultras that finishes 3–0 to the Rainmakers.
After the game, I notice an interesting tidbit from my Player Search. Iván Kaviedes, the reasonably phenomenal 25-year-old Ecuadorian striker who for some reason can’t get into the Celta Vigo team, has less than six months left on his current contract and he’s declared that he will leave on a Bosman at the end of the season. Despite this, nobody seems to be in for him, which is… baffling to me. Considering we’re going to need reinforcements next season regardless of whether we get promoted or not… I casually flick a deal in the direction of his agent, via Susan, the fax machine, and many hours of scouring the yellow pages for his number. I mean, even if we get him and I sell him on immediately, there could be £5m in it for us if I play my cards right. He wants an eye-watering wage, but nothing we can’t handle — especially with Henning Berg’s departure in the summer all but confirmed.
I sit in my office impatiently awaiting his acceptance fax for an entire week, subsisting only on vermouth from my newly-stocked drinks globe and these little Ines Rosales sweet/savoury cracker/biscuit things that have been worth the move out here by themselves — but before long, I’m forced to spray some deodorant over my clothes and head back to the guts of the stadium to prepare my players for the arrival of our old rivals, Nástic. They’ve dropped to 4th in the table over the last couple of months following their stellar start to the season, and are now nine points behind your Stormbringers. The Ultras are out in force for this one; they know the significance of a result against a team of this stature. Plus, Valladolid have drawn again — this time 1–1 against Murcia — which means we’re now just three points behind with this game in hand. If we win it, we’ll go top of the league on goal difference. Psychologically, it’s a huge opportunity. I really wish I’d showered.
Mike Duff joining Stefan Bergtoft on the picnic benches means Nuno Mata will remain at right-back for this one, and Amdy Faye — after yet another super performance from the bench last week — comes into the starting lineup. Jimmy Graham also pulls me aside on the eve of the game to tell me Adolfo’s performances in training have been nothing less than stellar recently, and as such, he deserves some game time. Since I’ve had uncertainties about Tonton for a couple of games now, I decide it’s time for him to sit in el banco, and one of last season’s heroes, plus at one time my record transfer at £300k from Betis, comes back into the starting team alongside Jonas Lundén. I briefly consider putting Sestelo in at AMC, and while that is where he excelled last season, he’s excelling in the middle this season, so there’s no reason to change for change’s sake. Let’s do this.
Adolfo is forcing Felip to fist a shot clear in the second minute of the game, and I instantly feel good about my lineup change — and six minutes later, it all comes together. Sestelo and Adolfo roll back the… year to combine just outside the Nástic penalty area, they lay the ball off for Mikel Alonso, and our metronomic arch-creator finds his new buddy Maxim inside the box for what already feels like the hundredth time this season, and the Belarusian makes no mistake, pumping a header past Felip to give us a very early lead.
We spend the entire rest of the first half on top. Sestelo and Tsigalko are Felip’s main tormentors, but for 15 minutes, he keeps them at bay — until, finally, he lets another one sneak through. Adolfo forces him to push a rasping shot over the bar, and from Victory’s corner, Sestelo pulls out his standard party trick — rising highest at the near post to flick the ball past the flailing goalkeeper and in for 2–0 to the Rainmakers, his tenth notch of the season, and we are firmly on top with just 25 minutes gone!
Nástic have a couple of token shots from range to try to redress the balance, neither of which trouble Campos, and before long, it’s half time, and I’m delighted. We’ve totally stopped a strong opponent for 45 minutes — all we need to do is hold it together second half, and we’re top of the table.
The first ten minutes of the second half are a mirror of the first: Faye crashes a shot just over the bar before Adolfo wins a free kick on the edge of the area that Victory pings back off the post. Nástic boss Juan Carlos Granero has clearly seen enough, and makes all three substitutions within five minutes of one another — and they totally change the game. Admittedly in the minutes straight after the subs it’s a miracle we don’t score, as Adolfo, Sestelo and Tsigalko all hit ferocious strikes from around the box that are saved, saved, and batter against the crossbar respectively. However, beyond those, Nástic then spend the final 30 minutes pretty much all over us as we tire and their substitutes take control of proceedings.
Ribera, Roa and sub forward Mamina are constant thorns in our side, and while Tobros and Lucic put up a not inconsiderable barrier in front of our goal, they do manage to get past — and every time they do, Jorge Campos leaps and flips through the air to turn every single effort away. We reach the 90th minute, I’m ready to celebrate a famous win, Nástic chuck a corner into the box and one of their centre-backs heads it past Campos and in, but it’s nothing more than a consolation. We’ve finally put Nástic to the sword, and — say it quietly — we’re top of the league.
No we’re not, since it appears league positions are decided on head-to-head meetings rather than goal difference. Groan, sigh, shrug. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that we’ve finally hauled in Valladolid, and as long as other teams keep beating them, we might be able to ease our way into top spot over the coming weeks. Their reward for knocking us out of the Spanish Cup are two gruelling legs against all-conquering Barcelona, who are up next for them midweek — so with any luck, they’ll have injuries, fatigue, and pure demoralisation to contend with as we erupt into the second half of the season. Or they’ll knock Barça out and go on a rampaging run of victories that sees them win everything at a canter. Either way… it should be fun.
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