12 lis 2012

There is no place like... your home

With just seconds left on the clock, Maciej Korzym sprinted through surprisingly open Wisła's back line, collected the ball just outside the box and then, with his left foot, put the ball high past out-rushing Pareiko to equalize for Korona Kielce. Despite going down to nine-men, hosts played bravely and the man who gave them the point was the stand-out performer in pretty much characteristic match for Leszek Ojrzyński's team. No one could take the joy away from Korona's biggest crowd of the season as in the most unlikeliest conditions they put the staggering happenings throughout the weekend in Ekstraklasa on hold. With one game to go on Monday night - and if that very poor referee, Mr Jarzębak, had finished the match a bit earlier - visitors would have seven wins in eleventh round.

Seven out of eight - six even - is a staggering example of home struggle for Ekstraklasa's eight hosts in this particular round. There were title contenders falling on their knees - Śląsk Wrocław couldn't cope with fast and combinational football of league's newcomers, Piast Gliwice. Górnik Zabrze had history of winning at home against Zagłębie Lubin behind them, but when it was expected from Prejuce Nakoulma or Arkadiusz Milik to star, Szymon Pawłowski outshone them all with two fine goals. Then it was Legia's turn to pay their price for some horrible defending of Marko Suler against well organized Jagiellonia. 

Lucky wins came as well. Lech was struggling at Widzew only to take the rare chance at the end, when Rafał Murawski took advantage of hosts' goalkeeper laying on the pitch after dangerous clash. Kacper Łazaj was lucky sub of Bogusław Kaczmarek's Lechia who snatched three points out of growing Ruch in Chorzow. To be fair - and something that pretty much sums up how surprising that weekend was in term of results - only Polonia Warszawa was expected to win firmly at struggling Podbeskidzie and they did just that through Łukasz Piątek's goal.

But this is not some one-off, to be perfectly honest. This is not a sudden luck that not one gambler would love to bet on - proper away form is now a fact, a way almost half of the league exist. Seven out of sixteen teams have been performing better away from home, while at the same stage last season, the number was three. Two years ago it was one

Polonia, Lech, Lechia, Jagiellonia, Piast Gliwice, Zagłębie and Podbeskidzie, with Górnik Zabrze equal on points but without a defeat away from home - something that could be counted as eighth club, if not for slightly worse goal difference.

Some are not such surprise - Podbeskidzie needed only last weekend's win in Lubin to beat their home record so far, while Lechia, putting that silly talk about jinxed new stadium aside, had to play at home with top teams so far. Zagłębie lacks focus at crucial moments at home, where recently they complete the plan Pavel Hapal sets for the game. 

But Polonia and Lech are regarded as title contenders and should be much more confident at home than they currently are. The former are cruising away from Konwiktorska, presenting free flowing football, scoring goals, showing bigger class whereas at their own place there might be still the ghost of previous owner and his legendary pressure hanging over players' heads. But that is true that Stokowiec's team is less spectacular - even in recent win over Korona, they needed to great plays from Teodorczyk to secure three points in a very tight encounter.

Lech is even better example of home struggle. Mariusz Rumak may be confident in talking about style that brings him results but his minimalistic approach is paying off only away from Bułgarska stadium. Even rapidly growing attendances are not helping the tendency that Lech cannot outplay any rival that comes to Poznan - even when two 4-0 wins may overshadow that fact. Ruch Chorzow visited Kolejorz when they were on a clear break down, at last breaths of previous manager and without faith, organization and motivation they simply gave the points away before they took it to the pitch. Piast, on the other hand, gave Lech a good go over the night but struggled under Lech's counters that were swiftly finished in a rare show of attacking fluency from Rumak's men.  They were unable to unlock Górnik Zabrze, were drastically stopped by Jagiellonia, and early goals for both sides against Pogoń were enough for visitors to calmly see the match off.

Jagiellonia, as mentioned before, are quite a surprise - manager Tomasz Hajto, as well as captain Tomasz Frankowski made an excuse for their poor home form (just 6 out of 15 points won so far) moaning there is no atmosphere, no support and no additional push that would make Białystok a true fortress. That is another silly mistake and again, it would be better for them to blame own imperfections rather than fans, who are in constant boycott - a matter left for another article actually. Their only win came against Podbeskidzie, but wasn't convincing at all, while last weekend's draw against Widzew showed that certain self-assurance often turns to panic and lost heads - after all, they were cruising at 2-0 up and with not much to go and all they got was a draw.

Three different stories can be connected into one - low quality of the squad. As much critique as Rumak gets for the style Lech plays, it should be noticed that his options are front are at the level of league's mediocrity at best. Lechia, Polonia, Jagiellonia, Zagłębie and Piast are struggling for class in the middle, where there should be players allowing them to dominate the game, dictate the tempo, impose the flow of the match - but each manager prefers to stick to the easiest option which is counter-attacking, something of a stand-out example of Polish football philosophy, if there is one and can be named.

Look at Lech, and the most impressive players are wingers (Tonev and Lovrencics). Same goes with Polonia (Wszołek and Brzyski), Lechia (Ricardinho), Jagiellonia (Kupisz, Dzalamidze) and rest of those "away" teams. The trend could also mean that each manager's bravery rises with every mile they leave behind while travelling from home - while staying at own place means poor decisions, lack of focus, sheltering, inability to dominate and outclass rivals, even those poorer ones. This shouldn't be said loudly perhaps, but it's getting clearer that certain fear has took control of home dressing rooms around the country. Let's follow closely how it develops because in the last two seasons there was only one team that finished the league with a better away form than the home one - and ŁKS was relegated after all.

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