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Sunday 26th October 2014 - Maltese Premier League

Hibernians Ground, Paola (Rahal Gdid)

Tarxien Rainbows (1) 2 Hibernians (0) 0

Scorers : Ian Zammit (30), Yuri (71)

Attendance : 566

Manuel Bartolo; Ivan Carapic, Dyson Falzon, Fernando Lopes (capt), Leonardo Torri; Diego Maradona (Fernando Giarrizo 72), Ian Zammit, Daniel Bogdanovic (Simao 90); Yuri (Daniel Bueno 84), Didier Tayou; Raphael Alain Kooh Sohna.

Man of the Match : Didier Tayou (Tarxien Rainbows)

Winter is drawing in here in Malta, so much so that our full back Dyson Falzon has resorted to wearing gloves. I might send him out on loan to IR. A bumper crowd are at the Hibernians Ground for the local derby, but on this day, it's Tarxien's ground. We set about the Champions from the outset, making every 50/50 ball ours. After half hour, we get our reward and go in front. Ivan Carapic crosses from a deep position on the right, Duca gets enough on the ball to keep it out of reach of Kooh Sohna, but the ball goes right to Ian Zammit on the corner of the six yard box. He powers a shot at goal, Muscat gets a piece of it, but not enough to keep it out. At half time I get the staff to make sure the players know how important this match is to the fans. And the good work continues in the second half, Bogdanovic getting in a cross that Tayou flicks on, and Yuri is at the far post to prod home and make sure the three points are ours today. Valletta win as well, so the gap at the top remains two points, but Hibernians are the team with games in hand, and their potential advantage has now been pegged. Midweek defeats for Mosta and Hibernians make this a good week so far, but in this League, you have to keep winning, one loss and everything closes back up again.

Wednesday 29th October 2014 - Maltese Premier League

Victor Tedesco Stadium, Hamrun

Floriana (3) 3 Tarxien Rainbows (0) 1

Scorers : Didier Tayou (79)

Attendance : 187

Manuel Bartolo; Ivan Carapic, Dyson Falzon; Fernando Lopes (capt), Leonardo Torri; Diego Maradona (Fernando Giarrizo 80), Ian Zammit (inj - Simao 30), Daniel Bogdanovic; Yuri, Didier Tayor (Daniel Bueno 80); Raphael Alain Kooh Sohna.

Man of the Match : Jorge Veloso (Floriana)

An awful 15 minute spell before half time see's our good run of form come to a shuddering halt against third placed Floriana. Ian Zammit limps off and is replaced by Simao. Within minutes Ige Adesina has netted with a shot across goal from the right of the penalty box, and Jorge Veloso does exactly the same thing in the 42nd minute. Can't help but think Manuel Bartolo could have done a bit more on both of those goals, and we might need to make a new goalkeeper a priority. In first half injury time, Dyson Falzon brings Jorge Veloso down just inside the box, and Daniel Zerafa nets from the spot. The players get an absolute verbal kicking at the break, but the first half looks like it has destroyed their spirit. We get one back late on, Didier Tayou netting us a consolation. The only plus side was Valletta getting beat at home to Qormi. Neither Hibernians or Mosta could return to winning ways in their next games, Hibernians held to a 1-1 draw at home to Birkirkara, while Mosta lost at home to bottom of the table side, Balzan.

Sunday 2nd November 2014 - Maltese Premier Division

Hibernians Ground, Paola (Rahal Gdid)

Tarxien Rainbows (2) 5 Sliema Wanderers (0) 0

Scorers : Didier Tayou (25), Daniel Bogdanovic (43 pen), Yuri (53), Ian Zammit (72), Leonardo Gabrieli (88)

Attendance : 101

Manuel Bartolo; Ivan Carapic, Dyson Falzon, Fernando Lopes (capt - Leonardo Gabrieli 74), Leonardo Torri; Diego Maradona (Fernando Giarizzo 74), Ian Zammit, Daniel Bogdanovic; Yuri (Daniel Bueno 74), Didier Tayou; Raphael Alain Kooh Sohna.

Man of the Match : Didier Tayou (Tarxien Rainbows)

If we had any kind of a crowd, they'd be singing `Can we play you every week?' Sliema Wanderers hate playing us, fact. After giving them a drubbing at their place a matter of weeks ago, we hand them another today in the return League game. Didier Tayou opened the scoring, taking a pass from Kooh Sohna, and firing in via the frame of the goal. A handball from a corner gave Bogdanovic an opportunity from the spot, and he doubled the advantage. Yuri added to the scoreboard early in the second half, playing a neat one-two with Tayou, and sliding the ball inside the keepers near post. Glenn Zammit was less at fault for the scoreline than he was last time, but his poor clearance in the 72nd minute went straight to his namesake, Ian Zammit. He ran into the box, cut back on to his right foot to wrong foot the converging defence, and curled the fourth beyond the keeper. Substitute, Leonardo Gabrieli completed the rout, heading home his first goal of the season at the near post from Ian Zammit's corner. Valletta stay in touch, they got a last minute winner away to Zebbug Rangers. Fernando Lopes took a knock that forced him off in this game, and on Monday morning, the physio gives us the bad news, he'll miss between 6 weeks and 2 months with a twisted ankle.

 [b][i][u]Maltese Premier League - Monday 3rd November 2014[/u][/i][/b]

| Pos   | Inf   | Team        |       | Pld   | Won   | Drn   | Lst   | For   | Ag    | G.D.  | Pts   | 

[b][i][color="#000080"]| 1st   |       | Tarxien R.  |       | 17    | 12    | 2     | 3     | 48    | 25    | +23   | 38    | [/color][/i][/b]
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 
| 2nd   |       | Valletta    |       | 17    | 11    | 3     | 3     | 42    | 27    | +15   | 36    | 

| 3rd   |       | Floriana    |       | 17    | 10    | 2     | 5     | 27    | 18    | +9    | 32    | 

| 4th   |       | Mosta       |       | 16    | 9     | 2     | 5     | 28    | 21    | +7    | 29    | 

| 5th   |       | Sliema W.   |       | 17    | 8     | 2     | 7     | 26    | 33    | -7    | 26    | 

| 6th   |       | Hibernians  |       | 13    | 7     | 2     | 4     | 20    | 13    | +7    | 23    | 

| 7th   |       | Birkirkara  |       | 16    | 5     | 4     | 7     | 24    | 22    | +2    | 19    | 

| 8th   |       | Msida SJ    |       | 19    | 5     | 4     | 10    | 21    | 29    | -8    | 19    | 

| 9th   |       | Naxxar L.   |       | 17    | 6     | 1     | 10    | 22    | 22    | 0     | 19    | 

| 10th  |       | Qormi       |       | 14    | 5     | 1     | 8     | 20    | 31    | -11   | 16    | 
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 
| 11th  |       | Zebbug Ran. |       | 17    | 5     | 1     | 11    | 21    | 37    | -16   | 16    | 

| 12th  |       | Balzan      |       | 16    | 2     | 2     | 12    | 19    | 40    | -21   | 8     | 

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Jean Matthias Vella signs for the club as a free agent, enabling him to join right away. The 22 year old is still part of the Malta Under-21's setup at the moment, he has 7 caps for them. He'll challenge Manuel Bartolo for the number one spot at the club. He's 6'1, and signs on a non-contract basis. The fixture list for the next week is actually ridiculous. We have a game every other day, 4 games in a week, starting with a Cup tie, then a double header in the League with Naxxar Lions, who we've yet to meet this season, and then a vital clash with Valletta.

Wednesday 5th November 2014 - Maltese Cup, Third Round

Hibernians Ground, Paola (Rahal Gdid)

Tarxien Rainbows (0) 2 SK Victoria Wanderers (0) 0 - after extra time

Scorers : Raphael Alain Kooh Sohna (107), Daniel Bogdanovic (118 pen)

Attendance : 77

Manuel Bartolo; Ivan Carapic (capt), Dyson Falzon (inj - 105+1), Leonardo Gabrieli, Leonardo Torri; Diego Maradona (Fernando Giarizzo 84), Ian Zammit (inj - Simao 84), Daniel Bogdanovic; Yuri (Daniel Bueno 84), Didier Tayou; Raphael Alain Kooh Sohna.

Man of the Match : Ivan Carapic (Tarxien Rainbows)

We didn't do ourselves any favours for the difficult week ahead. Firstly by being taken to extra time by a non-League team. Also by arguably our best two players getting booked for diving and triggering suspensions. Add to that two players having to come off with injuries, and we're already going to be pushing our limits. We didn't create enough today, plenty of shots, but almost all of them from long range. Ian Zammit was forced off with an injury with just over five minutes left, and we make our other changes at the same time. Right at the end of first half extra time, and Dyson Falzon can't continue either. We're down to 10 men, and you start thinking it won't be your day. Then up pops your top scorer, Kooh Sohna getting his 15th goal of the season, though he needed to attempts. Fernando Giarrizo lofted a cross to the far post, and Caruana made a great point blank stop from the striker, but he reacted quickest to fire home the rebound. With moments left, Bogdanovic goes to ground in the box. The SKVW players claim he's dived again, but this time the ref takes his side and awards the penalty. Bogdanovic wasn't taking any chances, and put his foot through the ball, the power enough to beat the keeper and secure our place in the Fourth Round. The physio lets us know that Zammit has a groin strain that will keep him out for between 4 or 5 weeks. The Fourth Round draw pits us against Premier Division bottom club, Balzan. The tie is scheduled for 17th December.

Friday 7th November 2014 - Maltese Premier Division

Hibernians Ground, Paola (Rahal Gdid)

Naxxar Lions (0) 0 Tarxien Rainbows (0) 2

Scorers : Yuri (61), Simao (74)

Attendance : 132

Manuel Bartolo; Ryan Sammut, Dyson Falzon, Josef Mifsud (Ratko Mandic 70), Ibok Edet; Fernando Giarrizo (capt), Karl Pulo, Simao; Yuri (Jonathan 70), Francisco Arrigada (inj - Andrea Navarra 70); Daniel Bueno.

Man of the Match : Karl Pulo (Tarxien Rainbows)

Eight changes make this a patchwork team for the Friday evening game against another side who share our the stadium we call home. Mentally, I was hoping we could take a point, all those changes, and several players who haven't played and want out of the club, pushed into action. A scoreless first half, but we get ourselves ahead in the 61st minute, Karl Pulo pushing the ball across the box from the left, and Yuri applying the finish. We went looking for a second, Simao thumping a header against the bar from close range following a corner. He got it right at the second attempt, connecting with a header at the near post from another corner, and another assist for Pulo. Some shin bruising for Arrigada means he is going to miss around 10 days, so there's another player who is going to be out for the remainder of this busy period. Two more join him on the sidelines, Dyson Falzon and Fernando Giarrizo both pick up yellow cards that will mean they miss the second game with the Lions.

Sunday 9th November 2014 - Maltese Premier Division

Hibernians Ground, Paola (Rahal Gdid)

Tarxien Rainbows (1) 3 Naxxar Lions (1) 1

Scorers : Daniel Bogdanovic (30 pen, 64 pen), Didier Tayou (75)

Attendance : 104

Manuel Bartolo; Ivan Carapic (capt - Ibok Edet 45), Ryan Sammut, Leonardo Gabrieli, Leonardo Torri; Diego Maradona (Chikwado Mbonu 75), Karl Pulo, Daniel Bogdanovic; Yuri (Daniel Bueno 45), Didier Tayou; Raphael Alain Kooh Sohna.

Man of the Match : Daniel Bogdanovic (Tarxien Rainbows)

Mindful of the fact that the big game was in 2 days, I still thought it was worth going with the best we had and securing the points tonight, and we'll see what shape we're in against Valletta when it comes around. They're also playing today too, so hopefully they'll be looking in as bad shape as us come Tuesday. The plan looked like backfiring spectacularly early on, Vignjevic crossing, and Siraj Arab getting in front of Leonardo Gabrieli to head past Bartolo from close range. On the half hour, Daniel Bogdanovic is bundled over in the 6 yard box while trying to get on the end of Maradona's corner. He takes the spot kick, deviating from his normal low finish to hammer this one into the roof of the net. He got another chance to practice that penalty technique 20 minutes into the second half. This time it was Tayou who was brought down, and once again Bogdanovic found the net, this time going low with his penalty. Tayou sealed the points himself, thumping home a half volley from 8 yards out after Bogdanovic found him with a drilled cross. Valletta win as well, beating Birkirkara 2-1.

Tuesday 11th November 2014 - Maltese Premier Division

Ta' Qali, Attard

Valletta (1) 1 Tarxien Rainbows (3) 3

Scorers : Didier Tayou (6,40), Daniel Bueno (20)

Attendance : 352

Manuel Bartolo; Ivan Carapic (capt), Dyson Falzon, Leonardo Gabrieli, Leonardo Torri (Ibok Edet 74); Fernando Giarrizo (Diego Maradona 74), Simao, Daniel Bogdanovic; Daniel Bueno, Didier Tayou (Yuri 74); Raphael Alain Kooh Sohna.

Man of the Match : Didier Tayou (Tarxien Rainbows)

If we win the title, this might be the day we look back on and say this is when we knew we could win it. On a dog of a pitch at the National Stadium, our dog-tired team had enough to get past their dog-tired team, and make themselves favourites for the title. We're ahead after just 6 minutes, Kooh Sohna sliding a ball beyond the last defender and into the box, and Tayou ran onto to, before firing across goal and into the far corner. Bogdanovic did good work down the right, reaching the byline with two defenders trying to take the ball off him. He laid the ball back to Carapic, his rifled cross picked out Daniel Bueno, his header going in off the post. Valletta rallied, bringing themselves back into the game, Jorginho sending the ball into the box, and D'Agostin smashing the ball home. Kooh Sohna collects a knock forward from Daniel Bueno, holds the ball up, then plays in Tayou again, and the attacking midfielder makes no mistake, firing beyond the keeper and giving us a 3-1 half time advantage that we never looked losing. The second half was a matter of holding off Valletta and keeping them at bay. The players ran themselves into the ground, and the only disappointment was Tayou missing a glorious chance to secure a hat-trick. We now don't have another match for 19 days, giving the players a chance to rest up while the International break is on.

 [b][i][u]Maltese Premier Division - Wednesday 12th November 2014[/u][/i][/b]

| Pos   | Inf   | Team        |       | Pld   | Won   | Drn   | Lst   | For   | Ag    | G.D.  | Pts   | 

[b][i][color="#000080"]| 1st   |       | Tarxien R.  |       | 20    | 15    | 2     | 3     | 56    | 27    | +29   | 47    | [/color][/i][/b]
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 
| 2nd   |       | Valletta    |       | 19    | 12    | 3     | 4     | 45    | 31    | +14   | 39    | 

| 3rd   |       | Floriana    |       | 20    | 11    | 3     | 6     | 29    | 20    | +9    | 36    | 

| 4th   |       | Mosta       |       | 18    | 11    | 2     | 5     | 33    | 22    | +11   | 35    | 

| 5th   |       | Sliema W.   |       | 18    | 8     | 3     | 7     | 26    | 33    | -7    | 27    | 

| 6th   |       | Hibernians  |       | 14    | 7     | 2     | 5     | 21    | 16    | +5    | 23    | 

| 7th   |       | Msida SJ    |       | 20    | 5     | 5     | 10    | 22    | 30    | -8    | 20    | 

| 8th   |       | Zebbug Ran. |       | 19    | 6     | 2     | 11    | 25    | 38    | -13   | 20    | 

| 9th   |       | Birkirkara  |       | 19    | 5     | 4     | 10    | 25    | 29    | -4    | 19    | 

| 10th  |       | Naxxar L.   |       | 19    | 6     | 1     | 12    | 23    | 27    | -4    | 19    | 
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 
| 11th  |       | Qormi       |       | 16    | 5     | 2     | 9     | 23    | 35    | -12   | 17    | 

| 12th  |       | Balzan      |       | 18    | 3     | 3     | 12    | 23    | 43    | -20   | 12    | 

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Its straight off for International duty with Algeria. The vital game with Benin is up first, followed by the final Qualifier away to Lesotho. We're on the brink of securing our place in the African Cup of Nations Finals in January. Before the games, the latest FIFA World Rankings have the team dropping the down to 49th.

 [b][i][u]Algeria squad for African Cup of Nations Qualifiers against Benin & Lesotho[/u][/i][/b]

| Name               | Age      | Position   | Club                  | Height   | Value    | Caps     | Goals    | 
| Michaël Fabre      | 30       | GK         | MC Alger              | 5'11"    | £80K     | 5        | 0        | 
| Raïs M'Bolhi       | 28       | GK         | FC Vaslui             | 6'3"     | £350K    | 37       | 0        | 
| Jérôme Idir        | 21       | GK         | Chernomorets (Burgas) | 6'4"     | £6.75K   | 0        | 0        | 
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
| Liassine Cadamuro  | 26       | D(RLC) M(R)| R. Sociedad           | 6'2"     | £1.1M    | 17       | 0        | 
| Madjid Bougherra   | 32       | D (C)      | Lekhwiya              | 6'3"     | £425K    | 63       | 4        | 
| Mourad Satli       | 24       | D (C)      | Stade Malherbe Caen   | 6'2"     | £2.4M    | 3        | 0        | 
| Carl Medjani       | 29       | D (C), DM  | Olympiakos            | 6'0"     | £425K    | 41       | 0        | 
| Aïssa Mandi        | 23       | D/WB (RL)  | Stade de Reims        | 6'0"     | £3.5M    | 18       | 0        | 
| Faouzi Ghoulam     | 23       | D/WB (L)   | Napoli                | 6'1"     | £2.3M    | 17       | 0        | 
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
| Saphir Taïder      | 22       | M (RC)     | Inter Milan           | 5'11"    | £4.6M    | 26       | 5        | 
| Florian Makhedjouf | 23       | M(RC),AM(R)| Red Star FC           | 6'2"     | £625K    | 0        | 0        | 
| Riyad Mahrez       | 23       | M(R),AM(RL)| Leicester             | 5'10"    | £3.9M    | 9        | 0        | 
| Walid Mesloub      | 29       | M(C),AM(RC)| SC Bastia             | 5'11"    | £2.5M    | 7        | 0        | 
| Damien Boudjemaa   | 29       | M(C),AM(RC)| Valenciennes FC       | 5'8"     | £2.5M    | 3        | 3        | 
| Foued Kadir        | 30       | M/AM (RC)  | Olimpique Marseilles  | 5'10"    | £1.9M    | 29       | 3        | 
| Sofiane Feghouli   | 24       | M/AM (RC)  | Manchester City       | 5'10"    | £12M     | 27       | 8        | 
| Yacine Brahimi     | 24       | M/AM (LC)  | Granada               | 5'9"     | £8.5M    | 17       | 6        | 
| Ryad Boudebouz     | 24       | AM (RLC)   | SC Bastia             | 5'10"    | £3.8M    | 34       | 4        | 
| Ishak Belfodil     | 22       | AM(L),ST(C)| Inter Milan           | 6'4"     | £3.1M    | 9        | 0        | 
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
| Rafik Djebbour     | 30       | ST (C)     | Nottm Forest          | 6'1"     | £1.7M    | 31       | 6        | 
| Islam Slimani      | 26       | ST (C)     | Sporting CP           | 6'1"     | £825K    | 28       | 10       | 
| Nabil Ghilas       | 24       | ST (C)     | FC Porto              | 6'1"     | £3.3M    | 17       | 3        | 
| Idriss Saadi       | 22       | ST (C)     | Clermont Foot         | 5'11"    | £1.9M    | 3        | 1        | 

Islam Slimani withdraws from the squad two days before the game with Benin, a facial injury that sidelines him for at least 10 days, enough to rule him out of both games. His replacement is 24 year old SC Cambuur striker, Soufian Benyamina. He has one full cap so far, but is having a good season for his Dutch club, netting 7 times in 14 games so far.

Saturday 15th November 2014 - African Cup of Nations Qualifiers, Group D

Stade de l'Amitie, Cotonou

Benin (0) 0 Algeria (1) 2

Scorers : Idriss Saadi (1), Nabil Ghilas (64)

Attendance : 35,000

Rais M'Bolhi; Liassine Cadamurro, Faouzi Ghoulam, Madjid Bougherra (capt), Carl Medjani; Saphir Taider (Damien Boudjemaa 86), Ishak Belfodil, Ryad Boudebouz; Yacine Brahimi (Foued Kadir 86), Nabil Ghilas; Idriss Saadi (Rafik Djebbour 86).

Man of the Match : Nabil Ghilas (Algeria)

40c heat for this crucial Qualifier. Idriss Saadi steps into Islam Slimani's spot, and takes less than a minute to find the net. Benin kick off, we take the ball off them, and spring a counter attack. Yacine Brahimi is the architect, taking the ball at pace and beating two defenders to get into the box, cutting the ball back to Saadi, and he fires into the far corner, with just 54 seconds on the clock. We had immediate control of the game, and we never looked like relinquishing it. The second goal that sealed the game, and qualification for the Finals in Morocco in the New Year, also came on the break. Taider broke up play in the centre circle, and found Brahimi who got to the edge of the area. The play was switched left to Belfodil, and his short pass was played perfectly into the path of Ghilas, who kept his shot low and killed Benin off. Joining us in the Finals following this round of games will be Egypt, Guinea, South Africa, Angola and Zambia. The day gets even better when a check of the scores show Balzan have beaten Valletta 3-2 back in Malta.

Wednesday 19th November 2014 - African Cup of Nations Qualifiers, Group D

Setsotho Stadium, Maseru

Lesotho (1) 3 Algeria (2) 4

Scorers : Idriss Saadi (16), Masupha Jousse (45 o.g), Yacine Brahimi (62), Foued Kadir (74)

Attendance : 16,557

Rais M'Bolhi; Liassine Cadamurro (Aissa Mandi 74), Faouzi Ghoulam, Mourad Satli, Carl Medjani (capt); Saphir Taider (Damien Boudjemaa 45), Soufian Benyamina, Ryad Boudebouz; Yacine Brahimi (Foued Kadir 66), Nabil Ghilas; Idriss Saadi.

Man of the Match : Tsoanelo Muso (Lesotho)

It's just as well we had already secured our qualification, as we nearly blew a healthy lead against the minnows of Lesotho. A niggly game, with our team collecting 5 bookings from a referee who wasn't slow to bring out the yellow card. A couple of small changes to give some players a rest and have a look at others, and the start was encouraging. Idriss Saadi was continuing in his spot up front with Slimani unavailable, and opened the scoring, heading home from close range, just beating the keeper to Ryad Boudebouz' cross. Lesotho levelled almost immediately, Carl Medjani's attempted clearance hit an opposing player, and bounced right through to Tsoanelo Muso, who looked suspiciously offside but didn't waste any time finding the corner of the net. Medjani made amends, as half time approached, he connected with a header from a corner. It was looking like it would be kicked off the line, but it hit Jousse on the foot and deflected beyond his own keeper. Saphir Taider was taken off at half time, he wasn't overly impressed with the team talk asking the team to get an early second half goal to put the hosts in their place. It didn't come `early', but shortly after the hour, Yacine Brahimi collected a great little backheel from Damien Boudjemaa, and smashed the ball into the top corner from 15 yards out. Number four came in the 72nd minute, Nabil Ghilas sliding a pass into the box, and Foued Kadir sidefooted his shot into the bottom corner. That should have been it, but a late collapse allowed Lesotho to get their foot back in the door. Muso got his second in the 89th minute, Ramabele picking out his late diagonal run into the box, and the finish was put right into the top corner. The roles were reversed in injury time, Muso's cross was headed home by Ramabele. We now wait for the draw for the Groups in the Finals. The Qualifiers already there are joined by Mali, Togo, Cameroon, Burkina Faso, Senegal, Ivory Coast, Nigeria and Uganda. The press in Algeria are starting to get excited by the football the team is playing, and they hold hopes that the country can be African Champions for the first time since 1990.

 African Cup of Nations Qualifer, Group D. Final Standings

| Pos   | Inf   | Team    |       | Pld   | Won   | Drn   | Lst   | For   | Ag    | G.D.  | Pts   | 

[b][i][color="#000080"]| 1st   | Q     | Algeria |       | 6     | 6     | 0     | 0     | 18    | 8     | +10   | 18    | [/color][/i][/b]
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ 
| 2nd   |       | Benin   |       | 6     | 4     | 0     | 2     | 10    | 6     | +4    | 12    | 

| 3rd   |       | Lesotho |       | 6     | 1     | 1     | 4     | 5     | 13    | -8    | 4     | 

| 4th   |       | Kenya   |       | 6     | 0     | 1     | 5     | 5     | 11    | -6    | 1     | 

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The six consecutive wins is a new record for Algeria. The draw for the Groups of the African Cup of Nations are made. We're going to have our work cut out, drawn with Cameroon, Ghana and Uganda. The tournament begins on Saturday 17th January, and we'll start on day 3 with the game against Cameroon. While the African Cup of Nations Qualifers were being wrapped up across the continent, Mosta and Hibernians were securing vital wins in the Maltese Premier League. Hibernians work was undone though, by being held 2-2 at home to Floriana in their next game. They made it 7 points from 3 games with a win at Qormi, on the same evening Valletta beat Mosta away from home. Jonathan skips training on the Friday before we resume our League campaign. His impromptu day off costs him a weeks wages.

The press have been keen to point out how light our squad is on Maltese players in comparison to our League rivals. The balance is addressed slightly, 23 year old midfielder, Rowen Muscat joins the club. He has been capped 15 times, with 1 goal, stands at 5'11, and can play in the defensive and attacking midfield roles as well as a central slot. He's been a one club man up to this point, playing for Birkirkara for 6 seasons, returning 12 goals in 117 outings before leaving in the summer after being unable to agree terms on a new contract. We had to beat Valletta to get his signature, he signs until Summer 2016, initially on £170 per week. It will take a little time to get him up to match fitness, but with suspensions a regular occurrence now, he will be a useful asset to the club this season. Floriana and Hibernians kick off the weekend of domestic football with home wins over Qormi and Sliema Wanderers respectively. We finally get back to action after 19 days without a game, with a trip to Mosta.

Sunday 30th November 2014 - Maltese Premier League

Victor Tedesco Stadium, Hamrun

Mosta (0) 1 Tarxien Rainbows (0) 1

Scorers : Didier Tayou (53)

Attendance : 44

Manuel Bartolo; Ivan Carapic (capt), Dyson Falzon, Leonardo Gabrieli, Leonardo Torri; Diego Maradona (Rowen Muscat 79), Simao (Ian Zammit 79), Daniel Bogdanovic; Yuri (Josef Mifsud 60), Didier Tayou; Raphael Alain Kooh Sohna.

Man of the Match : Didier Tayou (Tarxien Rainbows)

After nearly 3 weeks, we finally make our return to domestic football. Fernando Lopes is still injured, Daniel Bueno has the flu. Ian Zammit returns, but is only deemed fit enough for a place on the bench, and he's joined by new boy, Rowen Muscat, as Fernando Giarizzo is suspended. A first half that we had the better of finished without a goal. We had plenty of possession, but couldn't make our advantage pay in the final third of the pitch, our best chances coming from set pieces. Early in the second half, and we break the deadlock, Didier Tayou heading the cross from Dyson Falzon, it wasn't particularly powerful, but it was placed perfectly just inside the post. Just over five minutes later, and things take a turn for the worse, Leonardo Gabrieli had picked up an early booking, and he got a second and an early bath with an hour played. Mosta didn't manage to take advantage of the extra man, despite taking a stronger foothold in the game, but their numerical advantage was short lived, Terence Agius picking up his second yellow card, just 10 minutes after Gabrieli had departed. That put us back in the driving seat, and with a few fresh legs brought on, it looked like we were going to cruise home. But Mosta snatched a draw very late on, Muir broke out from his own half, and Muscat probably should have brought him down and took the yellow card. He didn't do it, and Muir spread a diagonal pass between our defence, Tyrone Farugia ran onto it, and lifted his shot over Bartolo to get an injury time equaliser and leave us to rue two points dropped.

The next round of games kicks off on the Tuesday evening, Birkirkara beating Hibernians 3-2, they were 3 goals up inside the opening 20 minutes. We have just one game left before the League splits in half, and it's a return to Hamrun for our second game in four days at the Victor Tedesco Stadium, as we face bottom club, Balzan.

Wednesday 3rd December 2014 - Maltese Premier League

Victor Tedesco Stadium, Hamrun

Balzan (2) 2 Tarxien Rainbows (2) 4

Scorers : Diego Maradona (14), Raphael Alain Kooh Sohna (36, 90+5), Daniel Bogdanovic (66)

Attendance : 29

Manuel Bartolo; Ivan Carapic (capt), Dyson Falzon, Josef Mifsud (Ibok Edet 84), Leonardo Torri; Diego Maradona (Fernando Giarrizo 84), Ian Zammit, Daniel Bogdanovic; Yuri, Didier Tayou (Rowen Muscat 84); Raphael Alain Kooh Sohna.

Man of the Match : Raphael Alain Kooh Sohna (Tarxien Rainbows)

We complete the first phase of the League season with a win to consolidate our position at the top of the table, but we made hard work of it, or rather, Balzan made us work hard for it. They took the lead in the 8th minute, Gonzalez lofted a cross towards the penalty spot that Carrillo flicked goalwards. Gers Delia was in its path and got enough on it to change it's direction, Bartolo reaching back to get a hand on it and keep it out, but could do nothing about Delia heading it home at the second attempt. We were level just over five minutes later, Yuri broke up play on the edge of the centre circle, and Kooh Sohna and Tayou got involved, the latter playing a ball into the path of Maradona, who drilled it low into the bottom corner for a long overdue first goal of the season. We got ourselves in front before half time, Yuri made a powerful run into the box, denied by a last ditch challenge, but their keeper didn't move off his line to reach the loose ball, and Kooh Sohna nipped in to bag our second of the afternoon. Our lead lasted all of 90 seconds, Gonzalez once again with the delivery from the left, this time from a free kick. Petrassi halted his run towards it, believing Bartolo would make an easy catch, but the ball bounced right over our keeper and found the net. Not his finest moment. All square at half time, and the team are told that they need to up their game. Slowly, they start to take control of the match, and we get ourselves in front again midway through the second half, Dyson Falzon sends Ian Zammit away down the left, his cross is deep, and perfect for the unmarked Daniel Bogdanovic, who volleys in at the far post. We always looked concerned about being caught on the break by a Balzan team who weren't prepared to give up the fight just yet, but deep into injury time, Kooh Sohna got his second of the game, Falzon robbing Cassar on the left and playing a through ball for the striker, who lifted his shot past the keeper into the top corner. We'll be playing Balzan again in a few weeks in a Cup tie. The League is now due to split into two, but there are still matches to be played before everyone reaches the 22 game mark. We'll joined in the top half by Valletta, Floriana, Mosta and Hibernians. Either Sliema Wanderers or Birkirkara will take the final top 6 spot. Ten games will be played, a home and away against each of the other 5 teams. The winners, as well as being Champions, will go into the Second Qualifying Round of next seasons Champions League. The teams in second and third will go into the First Qualifying Round of the Europa League, and will be joined by either the Cup winners, or the 4th placed side if the Cup winners have already secured European football through their League position.

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Ratko Mandic leaves the club on a free transfer. The Serbian centre back asked for more First Team playing time. On being told that was unlikely, he left the club with immediate effect as he was out of contract. I get offered a job interview for the vacant position as manager of Kazakh Super League club, Aktobe. They're a rich club, but have sacked their manager after he could only lead them to 7th place in the 12 team division, meaning it's now 5 seasons since their last League title. I attend the interview, where they inform me the transfer budget would be £20m, and the weekly wage budget would be £325k. I wasn't expecting that. A look at their squad see's players such as Roque Santa Cruz. The interview goes well, and immediately the Tarxien directors ask to speak to me, keen to discuss a way for me to stay at the club. I ask them if they could find a way to provide a slightly higher wage budget, and they agree, pushing it up an extra few hundred pounds a week. I agree to stay, I didn't particularly want to leave, but it's always nice to get job offers from other clubs. I didn't realise the kind of money being banded about in the Kazakh League, and I'll be keeping an eye on that League in the future for sure.

Birkirkara take charge of 6th place for the moment, beating Qormi 4-0 at home. Sliema Wanderers have a home game with Hibernians the following day, knowing that their significantly worse goal difference than Birkirkara requires them to win to get a top six spot before the split. Wanderers lost that game 2-1, meaning Birkirkara will be the 6th and final side above the dotted line at the 22 games point.

Jonathan goes missing from training once again. This time it costs the striker 2 weeks wages. Fernando Lopes returns to training following his twisted ankle. We also bring another signing in, though we'll have to wait for January 1st for him to arrive. Zebbug Rangers striker, Thiago Mazzitelli, is having a decent season, despite Rangers fighting near the foot of the table. The 5'7 Brazilian has 11 goals in 19 League appearances so far, and signs on a free transfer as he was out of contract with them. He played for Rangers last season when they secured promotion too, in fact all 70 of his senior appearances have been in Maltese football, and he has now returned 28 goals. He signs until Summer 2016, and will be paid £65 per week. His signing is secured in anticipation of Jonathan, and possibly a few others too, leaving the club in the January transfer window. The fixtures are released for the final 10 games of the season, and we'll start with a trip to Valletta, before four consecutive home games. Sliema Wanderers lose their first game after the split, 3-2 at home to Naxxar Lions. That's as much as their Board can take, Oliver Spiteri is sacked. His assistant manager, Pino Murgia, agrees to become caretaker manager.

Sunday 14th December 2014 - Maltese Premier League

Ta' Qali, Attard

Valletta (0) 2 Tarxien Rainbows (0) 2

Scorers : Raphael Alain Kooh Sohna (51), Yuri (60)

Attendance : 352

Manuel Bartolo; Ryan Sammut, Dyson Falzon, Fernando Lopes (capt - Ibok Edet 15), Leonardo Torri; Diego Maradona (Fernando Giarrizo 74), Ian Zammit, Daniel Bogdanovic; Yuri (Daniel Bueno 74), Didier Tayou; Raphael Alain Kooh Sohna.

Man of the Match : Conde (Valletta)

So close to a victory that would have gone a long way towards a potential title, frustratingly throwing away a two goal advantage that we worked so hard for, and did so well to build up. Fernando Lopes comeback from injury was short lived, he had to be replaced after just 15 minutes. With Ivan Carapic missing due to suspension, our backline had an inexperienced look about it. The first half saw Valletta taking the lions share of the possession. Our backline did well, and when they were breached, Bartolo looked a safe pair of hands today. At half time, the players listened keenly, and were told to keep their focus and apply some pressure. They took just over 5 minutes to find Valletta's breaking point. Didier Tayou drove at the defence, found Kooh Sohna with a pass, and he lofted the ball over the keeper with a classy lob, and found the net, the ball just dropping under the cross bar. Less than ten minutes later, and we were two to the good. Kooh Sohna was involved again, doing good hold up work in the left channel, before releasing the ball to Ian Zammit. He found Yuri on the corner of the six yard box, and his shot found the gap between the keeper and the near post. It was all going so well, but it didn't last. Five minutes later, Briffa broke up the play, Conde lifted a long diagonal pass across field and found Denni, and he drilled it into the bottom corner. And within minutes the hosts were level, Conde tried to pick a pass to D'Agostin on the corner of the box, Dyson Falzon made his tackle, but went in with the wrong foot, and the ball pinged across the box and fell to former Tarxien midfielder, Lucas, and he made no mistake in finding the net. A draw it is, and we're still in charge in the League for now, a six point advantage at the top. The injury news after the game is mixed. Fernando Lopes is ok, and shouldn't miss any time. Didier Tayou has a stubbed toe and will miss a week or so, and Daniel Bueno has bruised ribs and will miss a fortnight.

Chikwado Mbonu leaves on a free transfer, the Nigerian midfielder was here on a non-contract basis, and hasn't managed to force his way into the first team reckoning this season. Five other players are being actively shopped around, but there are no takers so far. We're potentially close to securing a new signing too, but there is no agreement before our next fixture. The latest FIFA World Rankings show Algeria pushing up 8 places to 41st in the world. Argentina are the new rankings leaders.

Wednesday 17th December 2014 - Maltese Cup, Fourth Round

Hibernians Ground, Paola (Rahal Gdid)

Tarxien Rainbows (2) 2 Balzan (0) 1

Scorers : Raphael Alain Kooh Sohna (8,38)

Attendance : 101

Manuel Bartolo; Ivan Carapic, Ryan Sammut (Josef Mifsud 73), Fernando Lopes (capt), Leonardo Torri (Leonardo Gabrieli 74); Diego Maradona, Ian Zammit, Daniel Bogdanovic; Yuri, Rowen Muscat (Francesco Arrigada 74); Raphael Alain Kooh Sohna.

Man of the Match : Raphael Alain Kooh Sohna (Tarxien Rainbows)

Another win over Balzan secures a place in the Quarter-Finals of the Maltese Cup. It was Kooh Sohna who handed us the advantage, taking possession after good play down the left from Sammut, Zammit and Yuri. He was being pushed out left, and got a lucky break and he tried to cut back inside, the ball bouncing back to him off the defenders heels, and he placed it into the far corner. He got the second too, a lesson in counter attacking. From an attempted long throw near the corner flag, Lopes headed the ball out, and Bogdanovic flicked it on further and found Kooh Sohna inside his own half. He used the right channel, holding the ball up and coming inside to find Maradona. He released Bogdanovic down the right, and he got deep into the opponents half, and swung a cross in. Kooh Sohna arrived in front of the defender, the ball bounced at an awkward height, and he used his knee to steer home his 20th goal of the season. We had control, and didn't look like giving it up, until a bout of jitters in the last 10 minutes. Carrillo attacked the right of the box, Gabrieli made a tackle, but between himself and Mifsud they made a real mess of getting the ball away, Delia spared them the job, smashing it past Bartolo to give them a way back into the game in the 83rd minute. They applied the pressure, but couldn't break us down again. Lopes and Sammut will miss the derby against Hibernians on Sunday, they both picked up bookings that activated suspensions. We're one of just 3 Premier Division clubs left in the Cup, and avoid the other two in the Quarter-Final draw. We get a home tie with non-League club, Swieqi United. Meanwhile Birkirkara and Hibernians also get non-League opposition, the former are at home, the latter have to travel. The Cup resumes in early February.

 [b][i][u]Maltese Premier League - Thursday 18th December 2014[/u][/i][/b]

| Pos   | Inf   | Team        |       | Pld   | Won   | Drn   | Lst   | For   | Ag    | G.D.  | Pts   | 

[b][i][color="#000080"]| 1st   |       | Tarxien R.  |       | 23    | 16    | 4     | 3     | 63    | 32    | +31   | 52    | [/color][/i][/b]
[color="#FF0000"] ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- [/color]
| 2nd   |       | Valletta    |       | 23    | 14    | 4     | 5     | 55    | 37    | +18   | 46    | 

| 3rd   |       | Hibernians  |       | 22    | 13    | 3     | 6     | 42    | 25    | +17   | 42    | 

| 4th   |       | Mosta       |       | 22    | 13    | 3     | 6     | 43    | 28    | +15   | 42    | 

| 5th   |       | Floriana    |       | 23    | 12    | 5     | 6     | 34    | 22    | +12   | 41    | 

| 6th   |       | Birkirkara  |       | 23    | 8     | 5     | 10    | 34    | 32    | +2    | 29    | 
[color="#808080"] ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- [/color]
| 7th   |       | Msida SJ    |       | 23    | 8     | 5     | 10    | 28    | 33    | -5    | 29    | 

| 8th   |       | Sliema W.   |       | 23    | 8     | 3     | 12    | 34    | 50    | -16   | 27    | 

| 9th   |       | Naxxar L.   |       | 24    | 7     | 3     | 14    | 30    | 38    | -8    | 24    | 

| 10th  |       | Zebbug Ran. |       | 23    | 6     | 3     | 14    | 27    | 44    | -17   | 21    | 
[color="#FF0000"]---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- [/color]
| 11th  |       | Qormi       |       | 23    | 5     | 4     | 14    | 27    | 54    | -27   | 19    | 

| 12th  |       | Balzan      |       | 22    | 4     | 4     | 14    | 30    | 52    | -22   | 16    | 

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A new signing arrives before the weekend. On friday morning, we get word that Brazilian attacking midfielder and striker, Gilmar, has signed his contract offer. The 24 year old, 5'10, former Naxxar Lions player, will fit perfectly into either of the two attacking midfield roles we currently use, as well as providing cover for Kooh Sohna. I believe my staff's opinion that Gilmar can offer a significantly better goal threat in our lineup than he has so far in his career elsewhere. Bulgarian striker, Trayo Grozev is concerned about his future. With most of the other strikers looking likely to leave the club soon, Grozev could be getting his first team opportunity sooner rather than later.

Sunday 21st December 2014 - Maltese Premier League

Hibernians Ground, Paola (Rahal Gdid)

Tarxien Rainbows (1) 5 Hibernians (1) 1

Scorers : Raphael Alain Kooh Sohna (7), Ian Zammit (49,81), Daniel Bogdanovic (55), Gilmar (87)

Attendance : 558

Manuel Bartolo; Ivan Carapic (capt), Dyson Falzon; Leonardo Gabrieli, Leonardo Torri; Diego Maradona (Fernando Giarrizo 81), Ian Zammit (inj - 90), Daniel Bogdanovic (Simao 61); Yuri, Rowen Muscat (Gilmar 61); Raphael Alain Kooh Sohna.

Man of the Match : Ian Zammit (Tarxien Rainbows)

Rarely can a derby match be enjoyed, but Hibernians contributed hugely to their own downfall, and this one became very enjoyable for us. We took the lead in the 7th minute, Bogdanovic with the cross, Kooh Sohna heading it back to where the keeper had just scrambled from. Our rivals then made life more difficult for themselves, first Rodolfo Soares got a second yellow card in the 37th minute, and he was quickly joined down the tunnel by his team-mate, Clayton Failla who picked up his second yellow in the 42nd minute. Yet they got level before the break, Andrew Cohen with a free kick from the byline on the left, and Igor Radusinovic climbed unmarked at the far post to power home a headed equaliser. At half time the players were asked to be calm, be patient, and the goals would come. They did, and they flowed in the second half as the nine men of Hibernians were stretched back and forth across the field as we searched for the gaps. A 49th minute counter attack goal gave us the lead, Ian Zammit picking up the ball on the halfway line and running at the defenders. They backed off and backed off, and Zammit let fly from 20 yards, finding the top corner. Just over five minutes later and we look to have done enough to kill the game off. Dyson Falzon makes a tackle on the halfway line, and while the Hibernians players are protesting for a foul, Yuri lifts the ball over the defence to find the run of Daniel Bogdanovic, the winger rounding the keeper and tucking the ball into the net. With 10 minutes left, Maradona crosses to the edge of the area, Yuri flicks it on, and Zammit finds the net with a first time shot. The final goal comes late on, Gilmar capping his debut with a goal, picking up a cleared corner 30 yards out, one touch to control, and a second to lash it through the crowded box and into the top corner. The day gets even better, Valletta are beaten 1-0 away to Floriana, our gap at the top stretches to nine points.

Andrea Navarra will leave the club on New Years Day. He has signed for Serie C1/C club, Vigor Lamezia on a free transfer. Roderick Bajada also departs on the January 1st, he'll join First Division club, Pieta Hotspurs on a free transfer. I'm starting to wonder if Jonathan is a lottery winner. He clearly doesn't need his wages, as he has gone absent from training for the third time, and earns himself another 2 week fine.

The day arrives to select the 23 man squad for Algeria for the upcoming African Cup of Nations Finals. A squad of 25 was named, with two players cut from the group. Mehdi Zeffane and Walid Mesloub are the unlucky two who will miss the Finals.

 [b][i][u]Algeria squad for the African Cup of Nations in Morocco[/u][/i][/b]

| Name               | Age      | Position   | Club                  | Height   | Value    | Caps     | Goals    | 

| Michaël Fabre      | 30       | GK         | MC Alger              | 5'11"    | £70K     | 5        | 0        | 
| Raïs M'Bolhi       | 28       | GK         | FC Vaslui             | 6'3"     | £400K    | 39       | 0        | 
| Jérôme Idir        | 21       | GK         | Chernomorets (Burgas) | 6'4"     | £7.25K   | 0        | 0        | 
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ 
| Liassine Cadamuro  | 26       | D(RLC),M(R)| Real Sociedad         | 6'2"     | £1.1M    | 19       | 0        | 
| Madjid Bougherra   | 32       | D (C)      | Lekhwiya              | 6'3"     | £350K    | 64       | 4        | 
| Mourad Satli       | 24       | D (C)      | Stade Malherbe Caen   | 6'2"     | £2.5M    | 4        | 0        | 
| Carl Medjani       | 29       | D (C), DM  | Olympiakos            | 6'0"     | £400K    | 43       | 0        | 
| Aïssa Mandi        | 23       | D/WB (RL)  | Stade de Reims        | 6'0"     | £3.9M    | 19       | 0        | 
| Faouzi Ghoulam     | 23       | D/WB (L)   | Napoli                | 6'1"     | £2.7M    | 19       | 0        | 
| Toufik Zeghdane    | 22       |D/WB/M/AM(L)| Sarajevo              | 5'7"     | £240K    | 0        | 0        | 
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
| Saphir Taïder      | 22       | M (RC)     | Inter Milan           | 5'11"    | £5M      | 28       | 5        | 
| Florian Makhedjouf | 23       | M(RC),AM(R)| Red Star FC           | 6'2"     | £650K    | 0        | 0        | 
| Riyad Mahrez       | 23       | M(R),AM(RL)| Leicester City        | 5'10"    | £3.9M    | 9        | 0        | 
| Damien Boudjemaa   | 29       | M(C),AM(RC)| Valenciennes FC       | 5'8"     | £2.5M    | 5        | 3        | 
| Foued Kadir        | 31       | M/AM (RC)  | Olympique Marseille   | 5'10"    | £1.9M    | 31       | 4        | 
| Sofiane Feghouli   | 25       | M/AM (RC)  | Manchester City       | 5'10"    | £12M     | 27       | 8        | 
| Yacine Brahimi     | 24       | M/AM (LC)  | Granada               | 5'9"     | £8.25M   | 19       | 7        | 
| Ryad Boudebouz     | 24       | AM (RLC)   | SC Bastia             | 5'10"    | £3.7M    | 36       | 4        | 
| Ishak Belfodil     | 22       | AM(L),ST(C)| Inter Milan           | 6'4"     | £3.1M    | 10       | 0        | 
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ 
| Rafik Djebbour     | 30       | ST (C)     | Nottm Forest          | 6'1"     | £1.6M    | 32       | 6        | 
| Islam Slimani      | 26       | ST (C)     | Sporting CP           | 6'1"     | £1.5M    | 28       | 10       | 
| Nabil Ghilas       | 24       | ST (C)     | FC Porto              | 6'1"     | £3.5M    | 19       | 4        | 
| Idriss Saadi       | 22       | ST (C)     | Clermont Foot         | 5'11"    | £2.1M    | 5        | 3        |

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Contract renewals are on the agenda as the New Year approaches. Ivan Carapic, Fernando Lopes and Daniel Bogdanovic all sign a one year extension with small pay reductions. Diego Maradona also signs for another season, his pay will remain the same, as does Daniel Bueno, who opted to remain with us rather than move to Birkirkara. In the New Years Eve games, our next opponents, Floriana, beat Hibernians, and Valletta get an away win against Mosta. Our Board revisit the season expectations. The minimum expectation is to challenge for a Europa League berth. I select the middle option of a Title Challenge. We're already doing that anyway, and there is nothing extra in transfer or wage budget to be gained by telling the Board we will win it. The transfer budget is bumped straight into the wages, giving us a budget of a shade over £4k per week now. The Board also agree to my request to allow more Coaches. Most of the players are disappointed with the fitness training they are getting, so this will allow us to hire a fitness coach. 46 year old Italian fitness specialist, Arturo Zeppetella takes the role.

The Algeria squad report to their base on Saturday 3rd January ready to start preparations for the African Cup of Nations. I won't arrive until later in the camp, Tarxien have some games to play before the tournament starts. I'll also be back and forth a little during the tournament, the club have a double header with Birkirkara between Algeria's second and third Group Stage games with Uganda and Ghana.

Sunday 4th January 2015 - Maltese Premier League

Hibernians Ground, Paola (Rahal Gdid)

Tarxien Rainbows (1) 2 Floriana (0) 1

Scorers : Ian Zammit (17), Simao (87)

Attendance : 129

Manuel Bartolo; Ryan Sammut, Dyson Falzon, Fernando Lopes (capt - Leonardo Gabrieli 76), Leonardo Torri; Diego Maradona, Ian Zammit, Daniel Bogdanovic (Simao 76), Yuri (inj - Gilmar 45+3), Didier Tayou; Raphael Alain Kooh Sohna.

Man of the Match : Ian Zammit (Tarxien Rainbows)

One step closer towards the clubs maiden League Title. The opponents, Floriana, are in a big financial hole, and other clubs, including ourselves, are poaching their players. More on that later. With a full strength squad, apart from the suspended Ivan Carapic, we start getting the better of them, and get a reward in the 17th minute, Ian Zammit takes control of a pitch wide pass from Diego Maradona, skins his marker, and fires across goal and inside the far post. Leonardo Torri comes close to quickly making it two, his far post header from a corner is kicked off the line. Ten minutes into the second half, and our defence are caught cold, Rodrigo Galvao has his back to goal 30 yards out, and holds the ball up, then plays a through ball that slices right through our defence and picks out the run of Diogo, his finish is superb, drawing the keeper, and lifting the ball over him and high into the far corner. We continue to push, but Daniel Bogdanovic wastes the ball on numerous occasions, trying to beat the keeper at the near post and only finding the side netting, when crossing into the centre would have been a better option. Eventually he is taken off, and replaced by Simao. And it's the substitute who gets the winner. He has two cross attempts that come right back to him. He plays a one-two with Ryan Sammut, and has another go. It loops over everyone and drops inside the far post. Was it a cross, or was it a shot? Who cares! Valletta are held to a draw, we're 8 points clear with a game in hand, and just 7 games remaining.

Ibok Edet leaves the club. The centre back from Nigeria signs for Chinese SuperLeague club, Henan Jianye for £38.5k. Another pair of new signings arrive at the club, both poached from League rivals. Thiago Dema is a Brazilian centre back who was due to be out of contract in the Summer with Naxxar Lions. 23 years old, he is 6'2, and the Lions supporters club are furious that their club have allowed their stand out defender to leave on a free transfer while they are fighting a relegation battle. He was in his second season with them, and had played in 25 of their games to date. We got him on a free, he's signed until Summer 2017, and is on £70 a week. Earlier, I mentioned that Floriana are in a financial mess right now, and that mess allows us to pick up their right midfielder, Steve Pisani, on a free transfer. 22 years old with 19 caps at Under-21 level for Malta, and 4 goals, he can play on both wings. He was playing on a non-contract basis, but signs for us on a part-time contract at £120 per week until Summer 2017. He is a former Hibernians player, so will have a little bit of work to do to win over our supporters, he has 10 goals from 75 senior games to date. Speaking of Hibernians, their season continues to slide away, losing 4-2 at home to Birkirkara.

Wednesday 14th January 2015 - Maltese Premier League

Hibernians Ground, Paola (Rahal Gdid)

Tarxien Rainbows (1) 3 Mosta (0) 2

Scorers : Ivan Carapic (42), Dyson Falzon (56), Didier Tayou (61)

Attendance : 131

Manuel Bartolo; Ivan Carapic, Ryan Sammut, Fernando Lopes (capt), Leonardo Torri; Diego Maradona (Fernando Giarrizo 70), Dyson Falzon, Daniel Bogdanovic; Yuri (Gilmar (70), Didier Tayou; Raphael Alain Kooh Sohna (Thiago Mazzitelli 70).

Man of the Match : Daniele Messina (Mosta)

A little bit of changing around is required. Ivan Carapic returns from suspension and goes back into the team at right back, Ryan Sammut switches across to the left back role, and Dyson Falzon pushes upfield into left wing to take the place of the suspended Ian Zammit. This could, and should, have been a comfortable win, but defensive lapses while we had our three goal advantage gave Mosta a sniff of getting back into the game. Just one goal in the first half, and it was a fluke opener. Ivan Carapic's attempted cross from deep on the right flank was overhit, but their keeper Guilherme made a mess of it, the ball bouncing in front of him, and then over him. Dyson Falzon had done a good job filling in for Zammit, and continued his good work in the second half, getting his first goal of the season. The keeper didn't exactly cover himself in glory with this one either, Kooh Sohna lifted it into the path of Falzon on the left corner of the box, and he fired low and close to the keeper's legs, but he couldn't keep it out. 5 minutes later, Kooh Sohna pinched the ball off Sidibie's toe near the corner flag, found Yuri in the box, and he squared it for Tayou who sidefooted home. Daniele Messina pulled one back two minutes later, another one that you'd expect the keeper to stop, but Bartolo saw it go right between his hands as he attempted to push it over. We shipped another preventable goal in the 72nd minute. Ryan Sammut had an easy out with a ball down the line to Falzon, but instead cut infield and tried the Hollywood pass, only succeeding in giving the ball away to Galea, and he found Messina in the box who netted his second. Mosta's boss, Karel Zeman, was very quick to blame the playing surface, calling it unplayable. Seemed fine to me....well, for about an hour anyway. Went downhill a bit after that!

 [b][i][u]Maltese Premier League - Thursday 15th January 2015[/u][/i][/b]

| Pos   | Inf   | Team        |       | Pld   | Won   | Drn   | Lst   | For   | Ag    | G.D.  | Pts   | 

[b][i][color="#000080"]| 1st   |       | Tarxien R.  |       | 26    | 19    | 4     | 3     | 73    | 36    | +37   | 61    | [/color][/i][/b]
[color="#FF0000"] ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- [/color]
| 2nd   |       | Valletta    |       | 26    | 15    | 5     | 6     | 61    | 42    | +19   | 50    | 

| 3rd   |       | Floriana    |       | 27    | 14    | 6     | 7     | 40    | 27    | +13   | 48    | 

| 4th   |       | Mosta       |       | 26    | 14    | 4     | 8     | 50    | 36    | +14   | 46    | 

| 5th   |       | Hibernians  |       | 25    | 13    | 3     | 9     | 47    | 37    | +10   | 42    | 

| 6th   |       | Birkirkara  |       | 26    | 9     | 6     | 11    | 40    | 38    | +2    | 33    | 
[color="#808080"] ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------[/color]
| 7th   |       | Msida SJ    |       | 26    | 9     | 6     | 11    | 33    | 38    | -5    | 33    | 

| 8th   |       | Sliema W.   |       | 27    | 8     | 5     | 14    | 41    | 59    | -18   | 29    | 

| 9th   |       | Zebbug Ran. |       | 26    | 8     | 4     | 14    | 32    | 47    | -15   | 28    | 

| 10th  |       | Naxxar L.   |       | 27    | 7     | 4     | 16    | 34    | 44    | -10   | 25    | 
[color="#FF0000"]---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- [/color]
| 11th  |       | Balzan      |       | 26    | 6     | 6     | 14    | 38    | 58    | -20   | 24    | 

| 12th  |       | Qormi       |       | 26    | 6     | 5     | 15    | 32    | 59    | -27   | 23    | 

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12 games unbeaten is a new club record for Tarxien. Nicholas Vella will leave the club in the Summer, he has agreed to join Sliema Wanderers when his contract expires. Striker, Oluwafunmi Omoboy Ebiesuwa joins Wanderers on loan for the remainder of the season. But in Morocco, there is bad news in the Algerian squad. Our best striker, Islam Slimani is out of the tournament. A twisted ankle has put paid to the front man's hopes of an impressive Finals, and he's gutted to be missing out. His replacement is uncapped 22 year old, Nadir Bendahmane. The AS Cannes striker has 19 goals from 19 Under-21 caps, and 8 goals from 10 games in the French National League so far this season. But even worse was to follow. On the morning of our opening game, Ryad Boudebouz, our star winger, breaks his ankle. There is no time to call up a replacement. Our campaign is off to a bad start, and we haven't played a game yet.

Monday 19th January 2015 - African Cup of Nations Finals, Group D

Stade de Marrakech, Marrakesh, Morocco

Algeria (0) 1 Cameroon (0) 0

Scorers : Nabil Ghilas (66 pen)

Attendance : 27,854

Blais M'Bolhi; Liassine Cadamuro, Faouzi Ghoulam, Madjid Bougherra (capt), Carl Medjani; Saphir Taider, Yacine Brahimi (inj - Ishak Belfodil 86), Sofiane Feghouli (inj - Foued Kadir 70); Damien Boudjemaa, Nabil Ghilas (Nadir Bendahmane 90+1), Idriss Saadi.

Man of the Match : Faouzi Ghoulam (Algeria)

A tight game that could have gone either way. Cameroon created more, and their striker, Vincent Aboubakar, was a real handful for Bougherra and Medjani. He hit the post in the first half with a driven shot, and was instrumental in a move that left Maxim Choupo-Moting with an open goal, but he also thumped his shot against the upright. The players were told they needed to believe they could win the game during their half time pep talk. And the opportunity to win it came midway through the half. Sofiane Feghouli cut in from the right wing, beating the first man, before being crudely hacked to the floor just inside the penalty area. It was a clear cut penalty, and even the Cameroon players didn't bother complaining when the ref awarded it. Nabil Ghilas stepped up, and struck his low left footed spot kick right into the bottom corner. Aboubakar wasn't done causing problems, getting the ball in the net, but the offside flag cut his celebrations short. The injury news wasn't good, Yacine Brahimi will miss up to 3 weeks of action, which all but ends his tournament, and robs us of yet another of our top attacking options. Ghana and Uganda draw 2-2 in the other group game, meaning an early opportunity to get out of the group if we can beat Uganda in our next game.

In Malta, Pape Gueye leaves the club, allowed to make a free transfer move to Birkirkara. In the League games, Valletta pile on the misery for Hibernians, beating them 3-2, and cementing their second place for the time being.

Friday 23rd January 2015 - African Cup of Nations Finals, Group D

Complexe Sportif de Fes, Fes, Morocco

Uganda (1) 2 Algeria (2) 4

Scorers : Saphir Taider (11,54), Idriss Saadi (38), Ibrahim Sekagya (49 o.g)

Attendance : 34,194

Blais M'Bolhi; Liassine Cadamuro, Faouzi Ghoulam, Madjid Bougherra (capt), Carl Medjani; Saphir Taider, Ishak Belfodil (Toufik Zeghdane 78), Sofiane Feghouli (Florian Makhedjouf 78); Damien Boudjemaa, Nabil Ghilas (inj - Foued Kadir 53), Idriss Saadi.

Man of the Match : Saphir Taider (Algeria)

A safe passage through to the knockout stages is secured, the scoreline making the game look a bit closer than it actually was. The first goal was right out of the top drawer. Sofiane Feghouli made good progress down the right, and found Nabil Ghilas on the corner of the area. He laid a short pass into the path of Saphir Taider, he took one touch to set himself up, and a second to lash it high into the far top corner. A goal of the tournament contender, and virtually unstoppable. Uganda got an equaliser, Kayizzi picked off M'Bolhi's goal kick, and played in Kemba. As the defence tried to regroup, Kemba slotted the ball in for Sseppuya, who forced a great point blank save from M'Bolhi, but was on hand to sidefoot the rebound home. Their spell on level terms was short lived. Just 3 minutes later and Ghilas again played provider, gaining access to the box down the right channel, making it to the byline, and cutting the ball back into the centre, where Idriss Saadi was on hand to keep up his good early International career scoring form. However, early in the second half, Ghilas is forced off with an injury, and we can only keep our fingers crossed that we're not about to lose yet another forward. A minute after that, an own goal gave us a bit of breathing room, Feghouli's corner to the near post turned into his own net by Sekagya. And 5 minutes later, Taider nets again to put the game safe, Ghoulam's corner headed clear, Taider lifting it back over the crowd of players and inside the far post. Uganda did get another goal to please their large contingent of fans, Sseppuya and Kemba combining to play in Matovu, who dinked his finish over the keeper. The following day, Cameroon beat Ghana 2-0 in the other game, leaving them in pole position to qualify alongside us. The injury news on Nabil Ghilas is a relief, he hasn't damaged anything, and shouldn't miss any game time.

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Straight back to Malta the day after the game with Uganda, as Tarxien have two games with Birkirkara before Algeria's final Group Stage game with Ghana. I find that Jonathan has found a new club, he has joined Mosta on a free transfer.

Sunday 25th January 2015 - Maltese Premier League

Hibernians Ground, Paola (Rahal Gdid)

Tarxien Rainbows (0) 2 Birkirkara (1) 1

Scorers : Ricardinho Rocha (64 o.g), Didier Tayou (70)

Attendance : 127

Manuel Bartolo; Ivan Carapic, Dyson Falzon, Fernando Lopes (capt), Leonardo Torri; Diego Maradona (Fernando Giarrizo 79), Ian Zammit, Daniel Bogdanovic; Yuri (inj - Gilmar 79), Didier Tayou; Raphael Alain Kooh Sohna.

Man of the Match : Didier Tayou (Tarxien Rainbows)

Pape Gueye makes his Birkirkara debut in this one, and it looks like he didn't take long to spill our tactical secrets, as for the first time this season, a team matches up with us with their formation. And Gueye didn't stop there either, he opened the scoring in the 20th minute, Gabriel setting off down the left flank, and his cross into the centre was perfect for Gueye, and he stabbed home with a close range volley. We looked a little out of sorts, struggling to create anything and giving the ball away far too easily. The home changing room will need a new coat of paint after my half time hissy fit. I left the players in no doubt how angry I was with their first half performance, or lack of. They stepped up their game big time, and got an equaliser about 20 minutes into the second half, Bogdanovic with the cross, Ricardinho Rocha putting the ball into his own net while trying to keep it away from Yuri. And from there, we were the only team that were going to win this game. And win it we did, a 70th minute winner, Ian Zammit cutting in from his wing and finding Yuri, and he played an inch perfect pass for the run of Didier Tayou, his shot across the keeper going high into the far corner. Valletta get a very late winner at home to Mosta, meaning we can't win the Title away to Birkirkara on Wednesday night, though we could win it on the Saturday 14th February without playing if Valletta fail to beat Hibernians. Our nearest rivals handing us our maiden Title, that might be quite a sweet way to win it!

Wednesday 28th January 2015 - Maltese Premier League

Ta' Qali, Attard

Birkirkara (1) 1 Tarxien Rainbows (0) 2

Scorers : Diego Maradona (48), Leonardo Torri (55)

Attendance : 242

Manuel Bartolo; Ivan Carapic, Dyson Falzon, Fernando Lopes (capt), Leonardo Torri; Diego Maradona (Fernando Giarrizo 79), Ian Zammit, Daniel Bogdanovic (Simao 79); Yuri, Didier Tayou (Gilmar 79); Raphael Alain Kooh Sohna.

Man of the Match : Diego Maradona (Tarxien Rainbows)

This could easily have been a repeat of Sunday's game, except this time we managed to keep Pape Gueye off the scoresheet, and, to a large degree, out of the game too. Yet we still found ourselves behind at the interval. Johnnattann gets the goal, running off the shoulder of Fernando Lopes and putting the ball into the corner. Another half time tantrum, again telling the players that they've been well below par in that first half, and I want a second half improvement. Again the team respond, a quick equaliser gets the second half underway. Didier Tayou attempts a cross from the right that is headed back to the corner of the box. Daniel Bogdanovic gets in front of the defender and knocks the ball into the path of Diego Maradona. He steadies himself, and finds the far corner with a curling effort. We look a different team, and we are in front in the 55th minute. Ian Zammit delivers a corner from the left, and Leonardo Torri arrives at the near post to clip the ball home and put us in front. It's a huge victory, and with four games to go, one more win will deliver the Title. There's no time to contemplate that though, it's straight back to Morocco for Algeria's final Group Stage game with Ghana tomorrow.

 [b][i][u]Maltese Premier League - Thursday 29th January 2015[/u][/i][/b]

| Pos   | Inf   | Team        |       | Pld   | Won   | Drn   | Lst   | For   | Ag    | G.D.  | Pts   | 

[b][i][color="#000080"]| 1st   | EC    | Tarxien R.  |       | 28    | 21    | 4     | 3     | 77    | 38    | +39   | 67    | [/color][/i][/b]
[color="#FF0000"]---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- [/color]
| 2nd   |       | Valletta    |       | 28    | 17    | 5     | 6     | 67    | 46    | +21   | 56    | 

| 3rd   |       | Floriana    |       | 28    | 14    | 7     | 7     | 41    | 28    | +13   | 49    | 

| 4th   |       | Hibernians  |       | 28    | 14    | 4     | 10    | 53    | 43    | +10   | 46    | 

| 5th   |       | Mosta       |       | 28    | 14    | 4     | 10    | 54    | 42    | +12   | 46    | 

| 6th   |       | Birkirkara  |       | 28    | 9     | 6     | 13    | 42    | 42    | 0     | 33    | 
[color="#808080"]---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- [/color]
| 7th   |       | Msida SJ    |       | 28    | 10    | 7     | 11    | 38    | 41    | -3    | 37    | 

| 8th   |       | Zebbug Ran. |       | 28    | 9     | 4     | 15    | 36    | 51    | -15   | 31    | 

| 9th   |       | Sliema W.   |       | 28    | 8     | 6     | 14    | 43    | 61    | -18   | 30    | 

| 10th  |       | Balzan      |       | 27    | 7     | 6     | 14    | 42    | 60    | -18   | 27    | 
[color="#FF0000"] ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- [/color]
| 11th  |       | Naxxar L.   |       | 27    | 7     | 4     | 16    | 34    | 44    | -10   | 25    | 

| 12th  |       | Qormi       |       | 28    | 6     | 5     | 17    | 33    | 64    | -31   | 23    | 

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The next game for Tarxien is the Cup Quarter-Final tie next Wednesday. We'll be without four players who picked up bookings and triggered suspensions in the second game with Birkirkara. Full backs Ivan Carapic and Dyson Falzon, captain Fernando Lopes and winger Daniel Bogdanovic will all miss out. The 77 goals the club have scored in the Maltese Premier League this season is a new League record, surpassing the previous record of 75 held by Valletta.

Thursday 29th January 2015 - African Cup of Nations Finals, Group D

Complexe Sportif de Fes, Fes, Morocco

Algeria (0) 1 Ghana (0) 1

Scorers : Idriss Saadi (63)

Attendance : 32,735

Rais M'Bolhi; Liassine Cadamuro, Faouzi Ghoulam, Madjid Bougherra (capt - inj - Mourad Satli 68), Carl Medjani; Saphir Taider, Ishak Belfodil, Sofiane Feghouli (Foued Kadir 78); Damien Boudjemaa, Nabil Ghilas; Idriss Saadi.

Man of the Match : Saphir Taider (Algeria)

Third choice goalkeeper, Jerome Idir, is out for the remainder of the tournament and has gone home. Reserve full back, Aissa Mandi, misses this game with illness. Ghana have it all to do, they need a win, and a favour from Uganda against Cameroon in the other game to have a shot at getting out of the Group Stage. It never really looked like happening, we should have had a healthy half time lead. Nabil Ghilas headed straight at the keeper from point blank range, Damien Boudjemaa scuffs his shot wide when he's unmarked about 10 yards wide, and Ghilas thumped a shot against the post. The breakthrough looked inevitable, and came shortly after the hour mark. Ironically, Ghana were having their best spell, and we hit them on the break. Sofiane Feghouli breaks down the right and finds Saphir Taider. When he crosses in, Idriss Saadi looked well offside and the defence stood there with their arms up for a flag. Saadi pulled the ball down, and fired low past the keeper. No flag, and we have our lead. Another injury scare, skipper Madjid Bougherra is forced off with a knock. Feghouli comes close to adding another goal, a free kick from 25 yards stings the keepers hands as he pushes the shot away. Feghouli is starting to run out of gas, but while the change is being prepared and Kadir is about to come on, Ghana snag an equaliser. Michael Essien lifts the ball from out wide to the corner of the 6 yard box, Richmond Boakye brings it down, and knocks it just inside the far post. Cameroon beat Uganda 3-0 in the other game, so even a win wouldn't have got Ghana through. We don't get the kindest of ties in the Quarter-Finals, we'll face Senegal next Monday, and the winners will play either Burkina Faso or Morocco in the Semi-Finals. In the other two Quarter-Finals, Egypt will play Mali, and Ivory Coast will face Cameroon. Madjid Bougherra should be fit for the game with Senegal.

We go into the knockout stage match against Senegal without right back, Liassine Cadamuro. He is the latest casualty to be added to the injury list, and will miss the rest of the tournament.

Monday 2nd February 2015 - African Cup of Nations, Quarter-Finals

Stade du Prince Moulay Abdallah, Rabat

Senegal (0) 1 Algeria (2) 4

Scorers : Idriss Saadi (10,67), Saphir Taider (33,88)

Attendance : 45,632

Rais M'Bolhi; Aissa Mandi, Faouzi Ghoulam, Madjid Bougherra (capt - Mourad Satli 83), Carl Medjani; Saphir Taider, Ishak Belfodil (Toufik Zeghdane 83), Sofiane Feghouli (Foued Kadir 83); Damien Boudjemaa, Nabil Ghilas; Idriss Saadi.

Man of the Match : Saphir Taider (Algeria)

The biggest surprise was how lacklustre the Senegal team were in a game that both bookies and media were struggling to call, and a lot of people said would go all the way to penalties. You could have driven several team buses through the holes left in the Senegalese midfield, and Saphir Taider in particular, didn't waste any time in seeking to profit for their poor organisation. Idriss Saadi was the man to put us in front, again the supply came from Nabil Ghilas who slid the ball into him, Saadi's first effort was blocked, but he volleyed the rebound into the net. Saphir Taider already had a goal of the tournament contender from the Group Stages, and he put another marker on the board tonight, Sofiane Feghouli dribbling down the right flank, and Taider stayed back a little deeper as everyone else went towards the 6 yard box. Feghouli found him, and Taider crashed a shot into the top corner. With a two goal half time advantage, I resisted the urge to tell the lads not to get complacent, instead opting for the simple `keep up the good work' approach. Senegal briefly threatened a comeback, Demba Ba cut inside his marker and into the box from the left, picking out Mame Diouf at the near post who slotted home to give the Senegalese some hope. That hope seemed shattered midway through the half, Ghilas again doing the set up work, holding up the ball and sliding it in front of Saadi's run, the striker hitting a powerful finish low and out of the keeper's reach. Late on, a bit of gloss was added to the score, a great counter attack providing our fourth goal. Aissa Mandi headed a free kick out of the box, Saadi played it left to Kadir, and Zeghdane overlapped at pace. He crossed from deep, and it was inch perfect, in between the centre backs and right onto Tadier's head, and he headed downward and into the corner. A great performance, a Semi-Final berth, which meets the FA's goals. Our opponents will be host nation, and rivals, Morocco on Thursday night. The biggest downside to a Thursday night fixture, is that there is a trip back to Malta first, for a Wednesday night Maltese Cup Quarter-Final clash. I hope I'm not paying for all these flights myself! In the other Semi-Final, Mali, conquerors of Egypt in the Quarter-Finals, will face Ivory Coast.

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Wednesday 4th February 2015 - Maltese Cup, Quarter-Finals

Hibernians Ground, Paola (Rahal Gdid)

Tarxien Rainbows (0) 3 Swieqi United (0) 1

Scorers : Thiago Dema (47), Yuri (51), Ryan Sammut (66)

Attendance : 106

Manuel Bartolo; Ryan Sammut, Leonardo Gabrieli (capt), Thiago Dema, Leonardo Torri; Diego Maradona, Ian Zammit, Simao (Steve Pisani 76); Yuri (Gilmar 76), Didier Tayou; Raphael Alain Kooh Sohna (Thiago Mazzitelli 76).

Man of the Match : Keith Saliba (Swieqi United)

A reasonably straighforward game for us, even though the first half didn't bring us the goals our play probably deserved. A largely makeshift back four held up well, Gabrieli pushed into emergency action as left back and captain for the evening, and Thiago Dema making his club debut. And it was the debutant who got the opening goal, connecting with his head to get onto Maradona's cross, the defender on the line making a block, but he shovelled it over the line at the second attempt. It didn't take long for the second to come either. Some nice neat passing through midfield, Tayou had his back to goal, but rolled a diagonal pass across goal and Yuri sidefooted in from 8 yards out. Ryan Sammut got the third, which again was from a corner by Maradona. Both Kooh Sohna and Thiago Dema tried to knock it home, but no-one was able to get a foot to it, Sammut appearing to use his knee to get it over the line. The visitors earned a consolation, Keith Saliba making a run that wasn't matched in between our centre backs, and using his left foot to guide the ball into the corner. The draw for the Semi-Finals throws up a derby clash, we get Hibernians at home. In the other tie, Birkirkara will face non-League outfit, Kercem Ajax.

Thursday 5th February 2015 - African Cup of Nations, Semi-Finals

Stade de Marrakech, Marrakesh, Morocco

Morocco (1) 3 Algeria (1) 5 - after extra time

Scorers : Sofiane Feghouli (4), Nabil Ghilas (53 pen), Foued Kadir (61), Idriss Saadi (95), Ishak Belfodil (116)

Attendance : 45,240

Rais M'Bolhi; Aissa Mandi, Faouzi Ghoulam, Madjid Bougherra (capt - Mourad Satli 90), Carl Medjani; Saphir Taider, Ishak Belfodil, Sofiane Feghouli; Damien Boudjemaa (inj - Foued Kadir 60), Nabil Ghilas (inj - Florian Makhedjouf 73); Idriss Saadi.

Man of the Match : Youssef El Arabi (Morocco)

Madness, but ultimately magical. We overcome the hosts in the afternoon heat of Marrakesh to book our place in Sunday's Final. The game started at a furious pace, and the hosts took a quick lead, Labyad clips the ball forward to El Arabi, who's first touch with his chest wrong footed Bougherra, and his finish beat M'Bolhi and found the net inside the far post. The response was swift, Boudjemaa forced his way through a challenge, and set Belfodil away. His cross to the far post tempted the keeper into coming off his line. By the time he worked out it was the wrong decision, Feghouli had tucked home the equaliser. The remainder of the first half was a tight affair, Taider and Mandi picked up bookings. The second half started with a quick pair of goals, both of them for us. First, Nabil Ghilas converted from the spot after Feghouli was felled, followed by Feghouli delivering a free kick that Ghoulam directed goalwards, and with his first touch after arriving as a substitute, Kadir redirected the ball past the keeper. With control over the game, it was a time to keep mistakes out of our game, which we failed at miserably. Saphir Taider tried a speculative long pass from midfield that was well under hit, and the Moroccans counter attacked at pace. Labyad played in El Arabi again, and he netted his second of the game from close range. The worst was yet to come, Labyad played a long ball that would roll harmlessly into the box. M'Bolhi failed to read it, and by the time he came to collect it, the ball was on the right edge of the area. Realising he didn't have the room to pick it up and stop his run before the 18 yard line, he should have put his boot through it, but just stopped the ball dead, and tried to run back and collect. Marouane Chamakh beat him to it, and laid the ball square for El Arabi who couldn't miss to land a hatrick, and we're back to all square with 12 minutes remaining. The game takes another turn with 7 minutes to go, Issam El Adoua loses his cool and takes a ridiculous hack at Saphir Taider in the centre circle, right under the ref's nose. He was walking before the ref even took out the red card. Now we have the advantage, but we're tiring badly, and we're unable to produce anything worthwhile before the 90 minutes comes to an end. With Ghilas off injured, and all the other injuries, we need someone to step up to get us into the Final, and substitute Florian Makhedjouf puts his hand up, turning his defender inside out, slinging in a cross, and Idriss Saadi heads home. With moments remaining in extra time, Belfodil seals our place in Sunday's big match, Taider crosses to the far post, the keeper makes the decision to come off his line, Saadi knocks it back across goal, and Belfodil slots it home. We'll play Mali on Sunday, they beat Ivory Coast on penalties after a 4-4 draw. So, that's two knackered teams that will contest African football's showpiece occasion.

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A blow to our Final preparations, Nabil Ghilas will miss out. It's so harsh on him, he's been superb during the tournament despite the fact that he's playing out of position. The news is cushioned slightly, Yacine Brahimi will be fit enough to take a place on the bench.

Sunday 8th February 2015 - African Cup of Nations Final

Stade du Prince Moulay Abdallah, Rabat, Morocco

Mali (2) 2 Algeria (1) 2 - after extra time. Algeria win 5-4 on penalties

Scorers : Damien Boudjemaa (34,47)

Attendance : 60,000

Rais M'Bolhi; Aissa Mandi, Toufik Zeghdane, Mourad Satli, Carl Medjani (capt); Saphir Taider, Ishak Belfodil (Faouzi Ghoulam 70), Sofiane Feghouli (Florian Makhedjouf 70); Damien Boudjemaa (Yacine Brahimi 90), Rafik Djebbour; Idriss Saadi.

Man of the Match : Damien Boudjemaa (Algeria)

The big day arrives, but changes are needed. None of the outfield players who featured against Morocco have a fitness level of 90%. In fact, a lot of them are struggling to hit 80%. Zeghdane comes in for Ghoulam, Satli replaces the struggling Bougherra in centre defence. Rafik Djebbour is the man to fill the shoes of Nabil Ghilas. We have a truly horrendous start, two goals down with 7 minutes on the clock. Seydou Keita disposseses Ishak Belfodil in midfield, and Mali's pace has us in big trouble. Dembele plays a through ball that Mamadou Samassa races onto, and he waits out M'Bolhi, rounds him, and slots the ball into the net. Two minutes later, and they're in again, Mahamane Traore holds the ball up after good play down the left wing, and releases Dembele. He lifts his shot over the advancing M'Bolhi. The speed is killing us, so we make a tactical change, asking our defensive line to sit a little deeper than normal. It stems the tide for the time being, but every time they come forward, their quickness looks capable of causing us problems. We get a goal back to grab ourselves a foothold in the game. Mali's defenders are all grouped in the middle waiting for a cross from the left from Belfodil. He doesn't disappoint them, but puts it very short into the near post, and Damien Boudjemaa slams it inside the near post. I have no right to rant at the players, but I do anyway. And I get a response. Aissa Mandi feeds Sofiane Feghouli down the right flank, he floats a cross into the middle, and with their defenders drawn to Idriss Saadi, their full back is outmatched by Damien Boudjemaa, who rises to head home his second and bring us level. It's all to play for now, but their pace is still a worry. Their the fitter side by a mile, and I'm wary that the substitutions have to be made as late as possible, with every chance of this going the distance. Two changes are made with 20 minutes to go, Belfodil comes off, Zeghdane pushes forward and Ghoulam goes on at left back. On the other side, Feghouli for Makhedjouf is a straight swap. It reaches 90 minutes with the score still even, and the final change is made. I don't want to bring Boudjemaa off, but he's dead on his feet, and Brahimi comes on. Mali are lucky not to go down to ten men early in the first extra period, Sambou Yatabare coming straight through Brahimi as he looks to start a counter attack. The ref takes his time to make a decision, before producing a yellow card only. Neither side can grab an extra time winner. Dembele hit the top of the cross bar with a free kick for them, Saadi fires into the side netting with a half chance for us. It goes to penalties, and the spot kicks will be taken right in front of our fans. The first go in, Traore for Mali, and Brahimi for us. Dembele steps up, he tries to drive his penalty down the middle, but M'Bolhi anticipates it and pushes it clear. Zeghdane gives us the advantage with a cool finish into the roof of the net. Diabate and Saadi trade successful kicks as we keep our advantage. Diakite and Taider follow them. Keita needs to score to keep Mali in the hunt. M'Bolhi gets a hand on it, but can't keep it out. Makhedjouf steps up to win the Cup, and sends the keeper the wrong way. The celebrations start, Algeria are African Champions for the second time in their history.

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As the dust settles on a great tournament, I'm keen to use this achievement to push myself into bigger and better things. With the Title in Malta all but sealed, and a possible Cup to go with it, this season has the potential to push my profile, and maybe secure a bigger job at club level, maybe in a country that isn't quite as much of a football outpost too, though I'm open to going anywhere. The African Nations triumph has pushed me to second on the Welsh Hall of Fame, but still a significant way behind the most successful Welsh Manager of all time, John Toshack. As a result of the African Cup of Nations victory, Algeria have shot up the FIFA World Rankings to 26th.

Hibernians beat Valletta 3-1. Our biggest rivals break their run of poor form, and stuff the League Title in our pockets for us. It's Rainbows first ever League Title, and comes against initial pre-season expectations. The standard of football has been ok, probably a little bit better than I expected, but it won't be the biggest achievement on my CV, well, I hope not anyway. The club will get a berth in the UEFA Champions League Qualifiers, but I'm not sure I'll still be here when that comes around.

Sunday 16th February 2015 - Maltese Premier League

Victor Tedesco Stadium, Hamrun

Mosta (1) 2 Tarxien Rainbows (0) 2

Scorers : Dyson Falzon (55), Fernando Lopes (90)

Attendance : 44

Manuel Bartolo; Ivan Carapic, Dyson Falzon, Fernando Lopes (capt), Leonardo Torri; Fernando Giarrizo (Rowen Muscat 85), Ian Zammit (Steve Pisani 85), Daniel Bogdanovic; Yuri (Gilmar 85), Didier Tayou; Raphael Alain Kooh Sohna.

Man of the Match : Dyson Falzon (Tarxien Rainbows)

We face another of our former strikers in our return to League action, Jonathan lines up for Mosta. Our midfielder, Maradona is suspended, Fernando Giarrizo steps into his role. We don't look good, especially in the first half. The only goal of the opening 45 minutes comes from Chilean winger, Edison Bilbao Zarate, who impressively scores directly from a corner. My half time rants are becoming common place nowadays. Dyson Falzon gets us level 10 minutes into the second half, showing he's not too shabby with his right foot as well as his left, cutting in from the left wing, and his cross drifting over an out of position keeper and inside the far post. We were on level terms for just 5 minutes, Grech crosses to the edge of the area, Jonathan cushions it down into the path of Galea, and he forces the ball home from a tight angle, though Bartolo will be disappointed in his effort to keep it out. With half an hour to go, we start to apply pressure, dominating possession and laying siege to Mosta's goal. It doesn't reap any rewards, so with 5 minutes to go, the changes are made. As the clock hits 90 minutes we finally get our equaliser. Dyson Falzon take a quick free kick from the right as the defenders are still trying to organise themselves in the 6 yard box, finding Bogdanovic on the edge of the area. His quick shot appears to be going wide, until skipper, Fernando Lopes sticks out a foot and diverts the ball into the net. I'm not sure we deserved that point.

We now have to wait 2 weeks for our next game, a home fixture with Valletta in the League. For reasons best known only to the Maltese FA, we then have a gap of 6 weeks before our penultimate fixture against Floriana. There is an International break in that period, Algeria have two home games scheduled against New Zealand and Armenia. As the season starts to wind down across Europe's major Leagues, managers start to lose their jobs. I'm keen to spot a gap, and test how much impact the success this season has impacted my profile and career prospects, the answer that came back was pretty dismal. I applied for the job at Greek SuperLeague club, AO Skoda Xanthi. Looking like they would scrap their way to consolidating their place at Greece's top table of football, a pretty modest wage budget, it looked ideal. They weren't even slightly interested, laughing my interest off and going on to appoint a domestic manager.

Sunday 8th March 2015 - Maltese Premier League

Hibernians Ground, Paola (Rahal Gdid)

Tarxien Rainbows (3) 3 Valletta (0) 1

Scorers : Raphael Alain Kooh Sohna (24,30,36 pen)

Attendance : 146

Manuel Bartolo; Ivan Carapic, Dyson Falzon, Fernando Lopes (capt), Leonardo Torri (inj - Leonardo Gabrieli 80); Diego Maradona (Fernando Giarrizo 80), Ian Zammit, Daniel Bogdanovic; Yuri (Gilmar 80), Didier Tayou; Raphael Alain Kooh Sohna.

Man of the Match : Raphael Alain Kooh Sohna (Tarxien Rainbows)

On a day when Valletta have the opportunity to secure their place in next seasons UEFA Europa League Qualifiers, instead, Raphael Alain Kooh Sohna snaps his recent baron run in front of goal with a 12 minute treble to reaffirm our status as the best team in the country right now. Our full strength team started well, and Valletta looked a little out of sorts. Ian Zammit's corner midway through the first half brought about chaos in the visitors penalty box. Zammit had three goes at finding a team-mate, an almighty goalmouth scramble ensued, Carapic's sliced attempt at goal was nudged over the line by Kooh Sohna. 5 minutes later and he added his second, Ian Zammit made a great run down the left flank, his pace causing the defence a problem. He curled a cross towards the edge of the six yard box, Yuri couldn't quite get a foot on it, but Kooh Sohna arriving behind him, sidefooted it beyond Cassar in goal. With just under 10 minutes to the break, Leonardo Torri was shoved at the near post trying to get his head onto another Zammit corner. The Valletta players were incensed with the decision. Regular spot kick taker, Bogdanovic, steps aside and allows Kooh Sohna an opportunity to get his hatrick, which he did with a powerful low penalty. The game was in the bag, and it was clear the foot was taken off the gas somewhat in the second half. Valletta did manage a reply, former Tarxien midfielder Lucas, ran onto Clive Azzopardi's neat pass and lashed a left footer into the top corner leaving Bartolo with no chance. They almost got another with a couple of minutes to go, Conde tried to bundle the ball home from close range after a near post corner, but Falzon blocked him off well. The remaining places behind us are going to be well contested over the final two games as the teams in 2nd to 5th try to secure their passes into the Europa League for next season.

 [b][u][i]Maltese Premier League - Monday 9th March 2015[/i][/u][/b] 

[b]| Pos   | Inf   | Team        | Pld   | Won   | Drn   | Lst   | For   | Ag    | G.D.  | Pts   | 

[i][color="#000080"]| 1st   | ECC   | Tarxien R.  | 30    | 22    | 5     | 3     | 82    | 41    | +41   | 71    | [/color][/i]  
[color="#FF0000"]----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------[/color]
| 2nd   |       | Valletta    | 30    | 17    | 5     | 8     | 69    | 52    | +17   | 56    | 
| 3rd   |       | Floriana    | 30    | 15    | 7     | 8     | 43    | 33    | +10   | 52    | 
| 4th   |       | Hibernians  | 30    | 16    | 4     | 10    | 58    | 45    | +13   | 52    | 
| 5th   |       | Mosta       | 30    | 15    | 5     | 10    | 60    | 44    | +16   | 50    | 
| 6th   |       | Birkirkara  | 30    | 9     | 6     | 15    | 44    | 46    | -2    | 33    | 
[color="#808080"]---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------[/color]
| 7th   |       | Msida SJ    | 30    | 10    | 7     | 13    | 41    | 46    | -5    | 37    | 
| 8th   |       | Zebbug Ran. | 30    | 11    | 4     | 15    | 39    | 52    | -13   | 37    | 
| 9th   |       | Sliema W.   | 30    | 9     | 6     | 15    | 44    | 64    | -20   | 33    | 
| 10th  |       | Naxxar L.   | 30    | 8     | 5     | 17    | 39    | 47    | -8    | 29    | 
[color="#FF0000"]--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- [/color]
| 11th  |       | Qormi       | 30    | 8     | 5     | 17    | 38    | 67    | -29   | 29    | 
| 12th  |       | Balzan      | 30    | 7     | 7     | 16    | 43    | 63    | -20   | 28    | [/b]

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Simao has suffered a groin strain in training, and will miss around 5 weeks. The Algeria squad for the upcoming friendly double header is named. There are still a few injuries, Madjid Bougherra is left out as he is in desperate need of a rest, and Napoli withdraw Faouzi Ghoulam from the squad. With a couple of days before the match against New Zealand, midfielder Damien Boudjemaa withdraws through injury.

 [b][i][u]Algeria squad for Friendlies with New Zealand & Armenia[/u][/i][/b]

[b]| Name               | Age      | Position   | Club                | Height   | Value    | Caps     | Goals    | 
| Michaël Fabre      | 30       | GK         | MC Alger            | 5'11"    | £37K     | 5        | 0        | 
| Raïs M'Bolhi       | 28       | GK         | FC Vaslui           | 6'3"     | £500K    | 45       | 0        | 
| Jérôme Idir        | 21       | GK         | Widzew              | 6'4"     | £8.75K   | 0        | 0        | 
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
| Liassine Cadamuro  | 27       | D(RLC),M(R)| Real Sociedad       | 6'2"     | £1.2M    | 22       | 0        | 
| Boualem Khoukhi    | 24       | D (C)      | Al-Gharrafa         | 6'0"     | £750K    | 2        | 0        | 
| Mourad Satli       | 25       | D (C)      | Stade Malherbe Caen | 6'2"     | £2.7M    | 8        | 0        | 
| Carl Medjani       | 29       | D (C), DM  | Olympiakos          | 6'0"     | £525K    | 49       | 0        | 
| Aïssa Mandi        | 23       | D/WB (RL)  | Stade de Reims      | 6'0"     | £4.1M    | 22       | 0        | 
| Toufik Zeghdane    | 22       |D/WB/M/AM(L)| Sarajevo            | 5'7"     | £275K    | 3        | 0        | 
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 
| Abdelhakim Omrani  | 24       | D/M/AM (C) | Nîmes Olympique     | 6'2"     | £525K    | 0        | 0        |
| Saphir Taïder      | 23       | M (RC)     | Atlético Madrid     | 5'11"    | £17.75M  | 34       | 9        | 
| Florian Makhedjouf | 24       | M(RC),AM(R)| Red Star FC         | 6'2"     | £750K    | 3        | 0        | 
| Riyad Mahrez       | 24       | M(R),AM(RL)| Stoke City          | 5'10"    | £3.9M    | 9        | 0        | 
| Idir Ouali         | 26       | M(L),AM(RL)| New York Red Bulls  | 5'9"     | £1.6M    | 11       | 0        | 
| Foued Kadir        | 31       | M/AM (RC)  | Olympique Marseille | 5'10"    | £1.6M    | 36       | 5        | 
| Sofiane Feghouli   | 25       | M/AM (RC)  | Manchester City     | 5'10"    | £12.5M   | 33       | 9        | 
| Yacine Brahimi     | 25       | M/AM (LC)  | Granada             | 5'9"     | £8.25M   | 21       | 7        | 
| Djamel Abdoun      | 29       | AM (RL)    | Nottm Forest        | 5'11"    | £375K    | 18       | 1        | 
| Ishak Belfodil     | 23       | AM(L),ST(C)| Inter Milan         | 6'4"     | £3.5M    | 16       | 1        | 
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 
| Rafik Djebbour     | 31       | ST (C)     | Nottm Forest        | 6'1"     | £975K    | 33       | 6        | 
| Nadir Bendahmane   | 22       | ST (C)     | AS Cannes           | 6'1"     | £300K    | 1        | 0        | 
| Nabil Ghilas       | 24       | ST (C)     | FC Porto            | 6'1"     | £4.9M    | 24       | 6        | 
| Idriss Saadi       | 23       | ST (C)     | Clermont Foot       | 5'11"    | £3.6M    | 11       | 8        | [/b] 

Friday 27th March 2015 - International Friendly

Stade Mustapha Tchaker, Blida

Algeria (1) 4 New Zealand (0) 1

Scorers : Sofiane Feghouli (10), Idir Ouali (60), Andrew Durrante (77 o.g), Nadir Bendahmane (90+2)

Attendance : 34,550

Rais M'Bolhi; Liassine Cadamuro, Toufik Zeghdane, Mourad Satli (Boualem Khoukhi 60), Carl Medjani (capt); Saphir Taider (Abdelhakim Omrani 60), Idir Ouali (Ishak Belfodil 66), Sofiane Feghouli (Djamel Abdoun 66); Yacine Brahimi (Foued Kadir 60) Nabil Ghilas; Idriss Saadi (Nadir Bendahmane 60).

Man of the Match : Sofiane Feghouli (Algeria)

A very good result and performance against a team that are probably a little bit unfairly underestimated with their almost isolation in the Oceanic zone. Almost a sell out as the home crowd gets it's first look at the team since their triumphant trip to Morocco. And they didn't have to wait long for something to cheer. Sofiane Feghouli stood over a free kick that looked too far out right to try a shot, but that didn't deter him, and he caught out a keeper expecting a cross, finding the top corner with a great effort. We held control through the first half, the Kiwi's occasionally threatening with counter attacks. Recalled winger, Idir Ouali got the second goal, patient build up down the left, Yacine Brahimi playing a quick short pass to find Ouali, who played an even quicker shot across the keeper and in via the post. Substitute, Djamel Abdoun delivered a corner from the left that their keeper could only push into the air. A crowd gathered at the far post to try and get the all important next touch, big defender Andrew Durrante winning that battle, but failing to achieve his aim of heading it over his own bar, instead putting it into his own net. With around 10 minutes left, the visitors got themselves a goal, Chris Killen pushing the ball through to Dan Keat, who gave M'Bolhi the eyes, then beat him low and just inside the post. We completed a satisfactory afternoon's work with a fourth goal in injury time, Liassine Cadamure crossing from the right byline, Nadir Bendahmane getting in front of his marker and directing his header into the bottom corner. Stand in captain, Carl Medjani, won his 50th cap today too.

The hunt for a higher profile position in club football still hasn't taken an upward turn. A team from the Greek SuperLeague who are already confirmed as relegated were interested, but unwilling to pay compensation. Some extra Leagues are added to an already busy database. Switzerland, Turkey, South Africa, Algeria and Morocco come into the database. I'm not sure why the Swiss and Turkish Leagues weren't in from the start to be honest.

Tuesday 31st March 2015 - International Friendly

Stade Mustapha Tchaker, Blida

Algeria (2) 3 Armenia (4) 6

Scorers : Yacine Brahimi (18,23), Nabil Ghilas (53 pen)

Attendance : 35,000

Rais M'Bolhi; Liassine Cadamuro (Aissa Mandi 67), Toufik Zeghdane, Mourad Satli (Boualem Khoukhi 67), Carl Medjani (capt); Saphir Taider (Abdelhakim Omrani 67), Idir Ouali, Sofiane Feghouli (Florian Makhedjouf 67); Yacine Brahimi (Foued Kadir 67) Nabil Ghilas; Idriss Saadi (Nadir Bendahmane 67).

Man of the Match : Henrikh Mkhitaryan (Armenia)

A horror show of a performance, shows that there is still a huge amount of work to do before Algeria become competitive on the World stage. Armenia played with just three recognised forward players, but those three were enough to tear us apart at the back. The creator in chief was midfield talent, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, who got two of their goals, while setting up a few more too. The Dortmund star ripped us apart in the second half. Boghossian gave the visitors the lead in the 3rd minute, netting from close range after a cross from the right. We turned that around, or rather, Yacine Brahimi did. First he banged home a free kick from 25 yards, then firing home a volley from 8 yards after a beautiful cross from Idir Ouali that just floated across the box. Mkhitaryan levelled the game up, collecting a pass from Boghossian and curling in from the edge of the area. Manoyan put Armenia in front for the second time, and Ozbiliz gave them some room with a cracking 30 yard free kick that beat M'Bolhi and went in off the post. I had 5 orders from club managers for players that they didn't want playing any more than 45 minutes. I wasn't prepared to let them influence my team selection, or my substitutions, so they remain on for the time being. We pull a goal back early in the second half, Nabil Ghilas firing home from the penalty spot, but the relief was short lived. Mkhitaryan sets up Ghazaryan with a through ball, and finishes the rout himself. shooting from a narrow angle after running onto a long ball from Ozbiliz.

Diego Simeone goes off on one in the press. He's claiming that Spahir Taider playing 22 minutes more than he had requested the midfielder play, has now compromised his weekend plans for Atletico Madrid. I issue a response in the press conference, telling Simeone that when you get so many requests from different managers with requirements for different players, sometimes you just have forget about it all and do what you need to do for your own team at that point in time.

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Wednesday 15th April 2015 - Maltese Premier League

Victor Tedesco Stadium, Hamrun

Floriana (0) 1 Tarxien Rainbows (0) 0

Scorers : None

Attendance : 271

Manuel Bartolo; Ivan Carapic, Dyson Falzon, Fernando Lopes (capt - Leonardo Gabrieli 80), Leonardo Torri; Diego Maradona (Fernando Giarrizo 80), Ian Zammit, Daniel Bogdanovic; Yuri (Gilmar 80), Didier Tayou; Raphael Alain Kooh Sohna.

Man of the Match : Filipe Aguiar (Floriana)

A rare wet day in Malta, combined with a pitch in a poor state, meant conditions not exactly suited of our passing game. Not that it mattered much today, because we were so poor, we could have played the game on a bowling green and our passes would still have missed their intended target. This was made worse by the fact that we played against 10 men for over 50 minutes, Floriana midfielder, Mark Scerri, was red carded for his crude two footed challenge on Didier Tayou in the 38th minute. In the second half, with gaps appearing, our passing didn't improve. The main culprits were the combo of Carapic and Bogdanovic down the right, and Floriana got their goal as a result. Carapic gave the ball away and Floriana sent Casha away down the left wing. He reached the edge of the box, and cut the ball back into the path of Filipe Aguiar, who drilled a shot low into the far corner. We didn't manage to pick up the pace, even with a few changes. Kooh Sohna dragged a shot across the face of goal, and Bogdanovic smashed a drive into the side netting from an acute angle, when he could have squared the ball to an unmarked Kooh Sohna.

Our next two games are both derbies with Hibernians, firstly in the Maltese Cup Semi-Final, followed by our final League game of the campaign. Hibernians manager is 36 year old Saviour Debono Grech. He is asked by the media if he is gunning for revenge after the last derby. His reply is that he certainly is, and that he can't wait for the final whistle in Saturday to see me 'put in my place'. The media run straight to me to ask about this rivalry. I tell them I don't care about Grech or his 'tin pot club'. That should rile him up a bit.

Saturday 18th April 2015 - Maltese Cup, Semi-Final

Hibernians Ground, Paola (Rahal Gdid)

Tarxien Rainbows (1) 3 Hibernians (1) 2

Scorers : Simao (6), Yuri (48), Kooh Sohna (70 pen)

Attendance : 505

Manuel Bartolo; Ivan Carapic (capt), Dyson Falzon, Leonardo Gabrieli, Leonardo Torri (Thiago Dema 85); Fernando Giarrizo (Rowen Muscat 70), Simao, Ian Zammit; Yuri (Gilmar 70), Didier Tayou; Raphael Alain Kooh Sohna.

Man of the Match : Simao (Tarxien Rainbows)

Grech clearly transmitted his angry mood to his players, as the ref booked 7 Hibernians players in a bad tempered Cup Semi-Final. We made a few changes, Fernando Lopes is suspended, Bogdanovic and Maradona come out of the line-up due to a lack of fitness. We get an early lead, Ivan Carapic hoists, and I do mean hoists, a high ball into the box. The defenders didn't read the flight of the ball clearly, as they were beaten in the air by Yuri, who smartly knocked down for Simao, his run into the box timed well for a far post close range finish. Hibernians got themselves level just as the half time break approached. Our defence had pushed themselves up a touch, and Andrew Cohen caught them with a ball over the top. Anthony Eviparker ran into the box, he tried to square it for Elton, Falzon blocked it, so Eviparker blasted it inside the near post, Bartolo's hand not strong enough to push it out. We reclaim the advantage early in the second half, Falzon drifted in a corner, Leonardo Torri connected with a glanced header at the near post, and as it flew across the goalmouth, Yuri swept it home at the far post. Once again, we couldn't onto the advantage, Cohen again sliding in a through ball, Kristensen tee'ed it up for Elton, and their deadly striker put his 30th goal of the season into the bottom corner. 5 minutes later we go ahead for a third time, this time making the advantage stick. Didier Tayou appeared to be hauled back by a defender as he tried to reach a free kick, and the ref pointed to the spot. Kooh Sohna takes spot kick duties with Bogdanovic still on the bench, and sends the keeper the wrong way, getting himself to 25 for the season. There was no way back for Hibernians this time, the double is still on. Grech commented after the game that he may need to concede that he lost the mind games on this game, and he hoped the occasion wouldn't get to him as much next time and that his team would take the bragging rights. I get the feeling that he would be glad to see the back of me should I leave Malta! We'll face Birkirkara in the Final in mid May.

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An offer comes in to take charge of Uzbekistan's Oliy Liga club, FJ Olmaliq. While it would look a step up in terms of the finance they have available there, it's not exactly a career enhancing move, and the opportunity is rejected. Hibernians manager has another rant ahead of both clubs final League game of the season on Saturday. This time, the focus of Grech's attention is right winger Daniel Bogdanovic, who he claims is the weak link in our team. Just the 15 goals and an average rating of 7.27 this season for the 41 times capped veteran. Grech is a madman!

Saturday 2nd May 2015 - Maltese Premier League

Ta' Qali, Attard

Hibernians (2) 2 Tarxien Rainbows (1) 3

Scorers : Gilmar (38,47), Yuri (50)

Attendance : 528

Manuel Bartolo; Ryan Sammut, Dyson Falzon, Fernando Lopes (capt - Leonardo Gabrieli 84), Leonardo Torri; Diego Maradona (Fernando Giarrizo 84), Ian Zammit, Simao (Daniel Bogdanovic 45); Yuri, Gilmar; Raphael Alain Kooh Sohna.

Man of the Match : Gilmar (Tarxien Rainbows)

A second successive 3-2 victory over our bitter rivals, and should we lose the Cup Final, it could cost them European football next season too. This one was in a very much different manner to the previous victory, as we come from 2 goals down to secure the points and wrap up a fantastic League campaign. The first half hour wasn't fantastic though. Hibernians came out with a point to prove, and got the message across, Lima Sequira crossing from the left in the 16th minute, Anthony Eviparker's first touch took the ball beyond Bartolo, and he tucked it in from a narrow angle. They doubled the lead with a beauty of a goal, Duca delivered a cross from the right, and on the penalty spot, Lima Sequira smashed a volley home. I'd made up my mind I was going to use my changes at half time, but I changed my mind when we pulled a goal back, some nice and quick short passing, and Kooh Sohna rolled the ball into the path of Gilmar, who lifted it neatly beyond the keeper to drag us back into the contest. I settled for one half time change, and an absolute top end rant to get the lads attention, and they got the message loud and clear. Less than two minutes after the break, Gilmar netted again, Ian Zammit lofting a cross into the 6 yard box, Gilmar and Clayton Failla tussled to get on the end of it, Gilmar getting there to net his brace, Failla getting a knock that ended his afternoon in the process. A few moments later, and the comeback was complete. Kooh Sohna once again provided the pass, and on the end of it again, was Gilmar. This time Debono pulled off the stop as Gilmar went for power looking for his hatrick, but the keeper's luck was out, as the rebound went right to Yuri who had a tap in from 6 yards to put us in front.

 [b][i][u]Maltese Premier League - Final Standings[/u][/i][/b]

[b]| Pos   | Inf   | Team        |       | Pld   | Won   | Drn   | Lst   | For   | Ag    | G.D.  | Pts   | 
[i][color="#000080"]| 1st   | ECC   | Tarxien R.  |       | 32    | 23    | 5     | 4     | 85    | 44    | +41   | 74    | [/color][/i]
[color="#FF0000"]-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------[/color] 
| 2nd   | EC    | Valletta    |       | 32    | 18    | 5     | 9     | 72    | 54    | +18   | 59    | 
| 3rd   | EC    | Floriana    |       | 32    | 16    | 7     | 9     | 45    | 36    | +9    | 55    | 
| 4th   |       | Hibernians  |       | 32    | 17    | 4     | 11    | 62    | 48    | +14   | 55    | 
| 5th   |       | Mosta       |       | 32    | 16    | 5     | 11    | 63    | 46    | +17   | 53    | 
| 6th   |       | Birkirkara  |       | 32    | 10    | 6     | 16    | 45    | 49    | -4    | 36    | 
[color="#808080"]------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- [/color]
| 7th   |       | Zebbug Ran. |       | 32    | 13    | 4     | 15    | 45    | 55    | -10   | 43    | 
| 8th   |       | Msida SJ    |       | 32    | 10    | 9     | 13    | 43    | 48    | -5    | 39    | 
| 9th   |       | Sliema W.   |       | 32    | 9     | 7     | 16    | 48    | 69    | -21   | 34    | 
| 10th  |       | Balzan      |       | 32    | 8     | 8     | 16    | 47    | 66    | -19   | 32    | 
[color="#FF0000"]------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- [/color]
| 11th  | R     | Qormi       |       | 32    | 8     | 6     | 18    | 41    | 71    | -30   | 30    | 
| 12th  | R     | Naxxar L.   |       | 32    | 8     | 6     | 18    | 40    | 50    | -10   | 30    |[/b] 

As a result of their League position, Hibernians have sacked my mate Mr Grech. A sad day...mainly just for him. Our Cup Final opponents, Birkirkara, have also sacked their manager. They bring in a new guy, Jesmond Zerafa. He's been in charge for 6 days when we take to the field to end the domestic season in Malta. Tarxien had never won the League, and they've never won the Cup, reaching the Final for the first time last season. Can we break two dry spells in the space of a single season?

Wednesday 13th May 2015 - Maltese Cup Final

Ta' Qali, Attard

Birkirkara (0) 1 Tarxien Rainbows (1) 4 - after extra time

Scorers : Raphael Alain Kooh Sohna (36), Yuri (103), Ivan Carapic (114), Gilmar (116)

Attendance : 1,444

Manuel Bartolo; Ivan Carapic (capt), Dyson Falzon, Leonardo Gabrieli, Leonardo Torri (Thiago Dema 76); Diego Maradona (Fernando Giarrizo 76), Ian Zammit, Daniel Bogdanovic; Yuri, Didier Tayou (Gilmar 106); Raphael Alain Kooh Sohna.

Man of the Match : Yuri (Tarxien Rainbows)

We take the Cup, and make this a real season to remember for Tarxien's fans. Birkirkara made us work really hard for it in the Final, but we almost got it done in the 90 minutes. Kooh Sohna gives us a lead 10 minutes before the break Daniel Bogdanovic crossing from a short corner routine, and Kooh Sohna glanced the ball into the corner, leaving their keeper stranded. We missed some good chances to extend the lead, and paid 5 minutes from time. We fail to clear the ball properly, Pereira lays is off to Gabriel, and his looping shot beats Bartolo and finds the net. We pour forward in extra time, Birkirkara are visibly tiring, and we take advantage. All of Dyson Falzon's corner deliveries had been to the near post, he swings this one to the far post, and Yuri heads us back into the lead. Ivan Carapic's fluke goal knocked the life out of the opponents. He tried a low from the right flank into the near post. On the threadbare surface, the ball just bounced and bounced, right inside the near post. Gilmar completed the scoring, Herrera gave the ball away, Yuri and Kooh Sohna played the ball into the box, and Gilmar fires low into the net. The Cup is ours.

The press talk about a period of domination that could last several years for a Tarxien team that could win trophy after trophy in the domestic game for years to come. That sounds fantastic. But it won't be my success. I have options to go elsewhere that appeal to me, and with these options unwilling to pay compensation to get me out of Malta, I resign. It's time to move on again.

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Tarxien Rainbows Career Record :-

27th May 2014 - 14th May 2015

Games Played - 38. Won - 27. Draw - 7. Lost - 4. Goals For - 104. Goals Against - 50. Goal Difference - +54. Win Percentage - 71.05%.

Club Honours

2013/14 - IR - Icelandic Second Division Champions

2014/15 - Tarxien Rainbows - Maltese Premier Division Champions

2014/15 - Tarxien Rainbows - Maltese Cup Winners

International Honours

2015 - Algeria - African Cup of Nations Champions

Total Career Record :-

Games Played - 88. Won - 55. Draw - 15. Lost - 18. Goals For - 198. Goals Against - 131. Goal Difference - +67. Win Percentage - 62.5%.

May 19th 2015. I have 6 job offers, all in Europe. 4 of them would involve a return to the UK. There are offers from Gillingham and Port Vale, who have both just been relegated from Sky Bet League One, into League Two. There are offers from Bristol Rovers, who are already in that League after narrowly avoiding relegation to the Conference, and Dunfermline, who are in Scottish League One, missing out on promotion after losing to Morton in the Playoffs a week ago. The offer from Rovers was the biggest draw of the UK offers. They are `my team', and I've never managed them in all my years playing this game. I spent plenty of Saturday afternoons on the terraces of Twerton Park watching them as a kid, and went to Wembley with them a couple of times too. I had an offer from Holland, mid table Juliper League side, FC Eindhoven, offered a deal with a decent transfer budget too. But the offer that attracted me the most, included a bit more sun thrown into the deal. Greek side, Iraklis Salonika 1908, have just been relegated from the Greek Superleague, coming out one win short of enough points to stay in the top division. They'll spend next season in Greek National B Division. They are looking for a manager who will lead them straight back into the top tier. A stadium with a capacity of nearly 28,000, playing at a professional level, a weekly wage budget in excess of £50k per week. They offer a 3 year contract of £2k per week for my services, and a £10k bonus and 15% wage increase if I get them up. The squad looks healthy enough, they'll lose a few players who are about to reach the end of their contracts, and I'm sure a few won't want to play at the lower level. But this is a step up the football ladder, and I can't say no. Thessaloniki, the second largest city in the country, will become my new home.

A local radio station interviews Panthrakikos manager, Apostolos Mantzios. They ask him if he is as surprised as everyone else about Iraklis appointing me. He says he thinks that I may end up surprising people in Greece. I hope he's right. The books at the club don't look good, nearly £1m of debt, and the projections saying it will get worse as the club face life outside the top tier. We'll have to be careful with the signings, and as with my previous clubs, the free agent market in particular, will be where I seek most of my players. The press conference is the usual round of questions. Do I regret leaving Tarxien? How will I cope with the higher level of football in Greece? Do the chairman and I agree on the goals going forward? Will I be looking to bring some Algerians from my International squad? I keep it pretty cagey for now. I'm not a big press conference lover. And there are more important things to deal with, like working out the best way of making sure this squad will be competitive next season, and have a shot at getting promotion at the first attempt.

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The Iraklis Board put £110k into the club, which they say is to help with everyday running costs. A look at the clubs financial page shows this gesture to be the equivalent of putting a plaster over a gunshot wound to be honest. Less than two weeks in the job, some big holes to fill in the playing squad, and already there are interruptions to negotiations with players from the Board, who are keen to make sure at every available opportunity, that I'm aware of the club's poor financial status right now. Already, I look like I've backed the wrong horse taking this job, but rather than be downbeat, I'll press on with what we've got, and what I can cobble together, and hope it's still enough to do the job in the coming campaign. The news then, that the club were being sent on a 10 day training camp in Slovenia, came as a bit of a surprise.

I do a little bit to try and ease the pressure, selling Cameroonian defender, Michael Ngadeu-Ngadjui, to Russian Second Division South club, Alania Vladikavkaz, for £300k, which is well double his actual market value, and the club got him on a free last summer. One of the clubs best players didn't want to stick around after relegation either. 21 year old attacking midfielder, Kosmas Tsilianidis, is a current Greek Under-21 international. He is sold to Italian Serie C1/A side, AlbinoLeffe. Hardly a step up for the lad I wouldn't have thought, but we get £450k for the lad who holding a market value of around £175k. Two new sponsorship deals have brought in over £500k revenue to the club as well.

Attention turns to an International double header, with Algeria taking a trip to the Middle East to face the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait in Friendly fixtures. Islam Slimani is still injured and will miss the games, other than that, it's a fully fit National Pool to choose from.

 [b][i][u]Algeria squad for Friendlies with UAE & Kuwait[/u][/i][/b]

[b]| Name               | Age      | Position   | Club                | Height   | Value    | Caps     | Goals    | 
| Raïs M'Bolhi       | 29       | GK         | FC Vaslui           | 6'3"     | £600K    | 47       | 0        | 
| Alexandre Oukidja  | 26       | GK         | Stade Lavallois MFC | 6'1"     | £1.3M    | 1        | 0        | 
| Jérôme Idir        | 22       | GK         | Widzew              | 6'4"     | £13.5K   | 0        | 0        | 
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| Liassine Cadamuro  | 27       | D(RLC),M(R)| Real Sociedad       | 6'2"     | £1M      | 24       | 0        | 
| Madjid Bougherra   | 32       | D (C)      | Lekhwiya            | 6'3"     | £160K    | 69       | 4        | 
| Mourad Satli       | 25       | D (C)      | Stade Malherbe Caen | 6'2"     | £2.9M    | 10       | 0        | 
| Carl Medjani       | 30       | D (C), DM  | Olympiakos          | 6'0"     | £550K    | 51       | 0        | 
| Aïssa Mandi        | 23       | D/WB (RL)  | Stade de Reims      | 6'0"     | £4.2M    | 23       | 0        | 
| Faouzi Ghoulam     | 24       | D/WB (L)   | Napoli              | 6'1"     | £3.3M    | 25       | 0        | 
| Toufik Zeghdane    | 22       |D/WB/M/AM(L)| Sarajevo            | 5'7"     | £300K    | 5        | 0        | 
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| Saphir Taïder      | 23       | M (RC)     | Atlético Madrid     | 5'11"    | £18.5M   | 36       | 9        | 
| Florian Makhedjouf | 24       | M(RC),AM(R)| Red Star FC         | 6'2"     | £650K    | 4        | 0        | 
| Idir Ouali         | 27       | M(L),AM(RL)| New York Red Bulls  | 5'9"     | £1.7M    | 13       | 1        | 
| Zakarie Labidi     | 20       | M(L),AM(LC)| Olympique Lyonnais  | 5'11"    | £250K    | 0        | 0        | 
| Damien Boudjemaa   | 30       | M(C),AM(RC)| Valenciennes FC     | 5'8"     | £2.7M    | 11       | 5        | 
| Foued Kadir        | 31       | M/AM (RC)  | Olympique Marseille | 5'10"    | £1.2M    | 38       | 5        | 
| Sofiane Feghouli   | 25       | M/AM (RC)  | Manchester City     | 5'10"    | £12M     | 35       | 10       | 
| Yacine Brahimi     | 25       | M/AM (LC)  | Granada             | 5'9"     | £9M      | 23       | 9        | 
| Ryad Boudebouz     | 25       | AM (RLC)   | SC Bastia           | 5'10"    | £2.9M    | 36       | 4        | 
| Ishak Belfodil     | 23       | AM(L),ST(C)| Inter Milan         | 6'4"     | £3.5M    | 17       | 1        | 
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
| Nadir Bendahmane   | 23       | ST (C)     | AS Cannes           | 6'1"     | £350K    | 3        | 1        | 
| Nabil Ghilas       | 25       | ST (C)     | FC Porto            | 6'1"     | £8M      | 26       | 7        | 
| Idriss Saadi       | 23       | ST (C)     | Clermont Foot       | 5'11"    | £3.6M    | 13       | 8        |[/b] 

Friday 12th June 2015 - International Friendly

Al-Shabab Club Stadium, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

United Arab Emirates (1) 1 Algeria (3) 4

Scorers : Sofiane Feghouli (30), Nabil Ghilas (38), Liassine Cadamuro (40), Foued Kadir (74)

Attendance : 10,855

Rais M'Bolhi; Liassine Cadamuro, Faouzi Ghoulam, Madjid Bougherra (capt - Mourad Satli 63), Carl Medjani; Saphir Taider (Damien Boudjemaa 63), Yacine Brahimi (Zakarie Labidi 63), Ryad Boudebouz (Florian Makhedjouf 63); Sofiane Feghouli (Foued Kadir 63), Nabil Ghilas; Idriss Saadi (Nadir Bendahmane 63).

Man of the Match : Liassine Cadamuro (Algeria)

The bookies and media both had UAE as favourites for this game, perhaps assuming that we would make some changes. I don't see any purpose in putting out a weakened team, the chances to get together for Internationals are few and far between, and building some chemistry and team spirit is best all around. We laid siege to the UAE goal from early on, but it took half hour to break the deadlock, Sofiane Feghouli's attempted cross looping over the keeper and in off the far post. Nabil Ghilas started the move that would lead to him scoring the second goal, winning the ball with a midfield tackle after chasing back impressively, Medjani and Taider combining, and Saadi holding up the ball, and finding Ghilas run, his left footed shot curling low around the keeper and finding the bottom corner. Number three followed quickly, Boudebouz heading a barely cleared corner back across the goalmouth, and Liassine Cadamuro showed composure and skill to chest the ball down and fire home with space at a premium on the edge of the six yard box. The UAE got one back before half time. Omar Abdulrahman took a free kick from the touchline nearly on halfway. M'Bolhi set himself for a Abdullah Mousa who looked like he tracked the ball perfectly. He didn't get a touch, and that left M'Bolhi out of position, his attempt to get back across goal to reach the free kick failing miserably. All six available changes were made a little after the hour mark, which did take the edge out of the game somewhat, but we did manage another goal before the end, two of the subs combining. Debutant, Zakarie Labidi turns on the burners down the left wing to out pace his marker, and he slings a cross to the near post that Foued Kadir got the most deft of touches to seal an impressive run out.

Tuesday 16th June 2015 - International Friendly

Al-Ahmad International Stadium, Ardhiyah, Kuwait

Kuwait (0) 0 Algeria (1) 4

Scorers : Idriss Saadi (18, 52), Sofiane Feghouli (51), Nadir Bendahmane (86)

Attendance : 37,353

Rais M'Bolhi; Liassine Cadamuro (Aissa Mandi 64), Faouzi Ghoulam, Madjid Bougherra (capt), Carl Medjani (Mourad Satli 64); Saphir Taider, Yacine Brahimi (Toufik Zeghdane 64), Ryad Boudebouz (Florian Makhedjouf 64); Sofiane Feghouli, Nabil Ghilas (Damien Boudjemaa 64); Idriss Saadi (Nadir Bendahmane 64).

Man of the Match : Nabil Ghilas (Algeria)

Another convincing win over a side that were expected to give us a tougher test, and again, started as favourites against us. Holding them to just 3 shots total, and only one of them finding the target, will be a confidence boost to our defence after the poor outing against Armenia in the last International break. Just the one goal in the first half, despite our domination. Neat passing through the midfield, and spreading the ball wide, stretched the Kuwaiti defence. Boudebouz crossed to the middle, Ghilas heads it down, and Saadi half volleys powerfully into the roof of the net. Two goals in a minute early in the second half killed off the game as a contest. Ghilas was again the provider for the first, getting into the box down the right channel, hurdling an attempt to bring him down, and crossing from the byline to find Feghouli who steered his volley inside the post. A minute later and Ghilas completed a hatrick of assists, lifting the ball over the home defence for the run of Saadi, who got his second of the match and 10th of his International career with a sidefooted low finish. The media cast huge doubts when I first called him up, now they are lauding his performances for his country. Changes were made to give some other players a run out, and it was another player who has performed well since being brought into the squad who finished the scoring. Nadir Bendahmane was quickest to react when Bougherra's header from a free kick hit the crossbar, the substitute striker sweeping the ball home.

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Saturday 20th June 2015, and the domestic schedule for the new campaign is released. We'll play in Greek National B Division North, but our League season doesn't begin until late September, and it's expected that Kerkyra and Levadeiakos will be our challengers for promotion, the top four teams going into the Promotion Playoffs. The teams relegated from the Superleague do have an advantage. This League has a rule that no more than 2 non-EU players can be on the pitch at any one time, but the teams relegated from the top tier are permitted to use 3 at a time. We also have the advantage of being able to register 5 foreign players in our squad, while the other teams are permitted just 3. In Greece, players from Russia, Turkey, Croatia, Bosnia, Serbia, Albania, Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria are all classed as EU, in addition to the EU member nations. Speaking of Algeria, another leap forward in the FIFA World Rankings too, springing up to 19th.

The Board expect the team to win promotion and win National B North this season. They are providing no transfer budget, but the wage budget is just under £43k per week, lower than agreed previously. The club are given £126k for the TV rights for the season, leaving them in the red to the tune of approximately £425k right now, projected to rise to close to £2m by the end of the season. It's inevitable that at some point in the near future, the belt tightening will start in earnest, and players will need to be sold. 24 year old striker, Giorgos Chionidis is sold to Doxa Dramas, the team who narrowly preserved their Superleague status ahead of us last season. He returned 3 goals from 18 games last campaign, is very much expendable, and we get £50k for him.

Tarxien Rainbows didn't get the kindest of draws in the Champions League Second Qualifying Round, getting paired with AS Omonoia Nicosia of Cyprus. They hosted the first leg, but lost 2-0. They lost by the same scoreline in the 2nd leg, and make a not entirely unexpected early exit from their first season of European competition One of the standout players from the Rainbows side that became Maltese Champions last season, has joined me in Greece. Striker, Raphael Alain Kooh Sohna, was transfer listed by the new manager, and was picked up on a free transfer. Could prove a bargain buy once again.

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Saturday 25th July 2015. Pre-season begins today, and the squad is built. There will still need to be a couple of outgoings, for example, we have more Foreign players than we can register. Here is your introduction to the members of the 2014/15 squad for Iraklis Salonika 1908.....

Goalkeepers :-

Yoann Djidonou. Beninese. 26 caps. 191 club appearances. Signed on a free from FC Mulhouse (FRA), 3/7/15

GK. 29 years old. 5'11. 2 year contract. £750 per week.

A French national, who is likely to provide a challenge to the current keeper who played for Iraklis last season. Looks pretty reliable, if a little short on height for a keeper.

Huanderson. Brazilian. Uncapped. 82 club appearances. Signed from Rio Ave (POR), 25/9/12

GK. 31 years old. 6'2. 2 year contract. £1,500 per week.

Has been at the club for 3 full seasons, and first choice for 2 of those. Arrived from Portuguese Primera Liga club, Rio Ave, where he gained his first senior experience. Considered a touch on the eccentric side.

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Defenders :-

Andreas Konstantinou. Cypriot. 8 caps. 228 club appearances, 8 goals. Signed from Agia Napa (CYP), 1/7/15

D(C,R). 34 years old. 6'2. 1 year contract. £875 per week.

Very experienced defender who has spent 10 years + at the top level of Cypriot football, but this is his first club outside his homeland.

Panagiotis Kourdakis. Greek. Uncapped. 177 club appearances, 7 goals. Signed from OFI Crete (GRE), 1/7/13

D(C,R). 26 years old. 6'1. 1 year contract. £650 per week.

Joined the club for the last campaign at this level, and was a regular in last season's team in Superleague. Previously played for PAOK and OFI Crete.

Sotiris Foiniris. Cypriot. Uncapped. 90 club appearances, 2 goals. Signed from Omonoia Aradippou (CYP), 1/7/15

D(L). 23 years old. 5'10. 1 year contract. £325 per week.

Just one season at the top level in Cyprus, and may have to bide his time for a first team opportunity, but looks capable enough if required.

Federico Rosso. Argentinian. Uncapped. 115 club appearances, 1 goal. Signed from Crucero del Norte (ARG), 1/7/15

D©. 28 years old. 6'1. 2 year contract. £1,500 per week.

Holder of Italian nationality, Rosso is having his second crack at carving a career in Europe, having had a brief spell with Brescia a few seasons ago.

Nikos Savvidis. Greek. Uncapped. 64 club appearances, 1 goal. Signed from Panserraikos (GRE), 1/7/11

D©. 23 years old. 6'1. 1 year contract. £575 per week.

Joined the club back in their third tier days, and was part of the rise through the Leagues up to the top level. Can fill in at right back in an emergency.

Samba Toure. Malian. 1 Under-20 Cap. 13 club appearances. Signed from FC Nantes (FRA), 4/7/15

D©. 22 years old. 6'3. 1 year contract. £450 per week.

A mountain of a man, has spent most of his 4 years in senior football with Nantes as a reserve player. May also be the case here simply due to the foreign players rule.

Angelos Papasterianos. Greek. Uncapped. 32 club appearances. Signed from AEK Athens (GRE), 1/7/15

D/DM©. 24 years old. 5'10. 2 year contract. £500 per week.

Returning to the club for his second spell after joining AEK Athens last season. Made only 1 appearance for them last season, all his other games were in the blue and white of Iraklis Salonika.

Giacomo Di Giorgi. Venezuelan. 35 caps. 230 club appearances, 6 goals. Signed from Olhanense (POR), 1/7/15

D/DM/M©. 34 years old. 5'10. 1 year contract. £1,500 per week.

An experienced, determined, aggressive ball-winner. If you need a game closed down, Di Giorgi is your man. An Italian national, spent last season in Portugal's second tier.

Anestis Argyriou. Greek. 6 Under-21 caps. 131 club appearances, 6 goals. Signed from Glasgow Rangers (SCO), 1/7/13

D/WB®. 27 years old. 6'0. 2 year contract. £1,300 per week.

About to enter his third season with the club after spending a season in Scotland with Rangers after their demotion. His second spell with the club after spending 2005/06 here, has also played for AEK Athens.

Pierre Sagna. French. Uncapped. 96 club appearances, 1 goal. Signed from Chaves (POR), 1/7/14

D/WB®. 24 years old. 5'11. 2 year contract. £1,400 per week.

Only got half a dozen games last season as Argyriou's understudy, but has a bit about him. Started his career at Valenciennes in France, before making the move to Portugal.

Dimitris Kontodimos. Greek. 1 Under-21 cap. 358 club appearances, 14 goals. Signed from Niki Volou (GRE), 1/7/13

D/WB(L). 33 years old. 5'10. 1 year contract. £725 per week.

About to enter his third campaign with the club, forget his age, Kontodimos still has plenty left in his legs, and crosses a ball with the best of them. Has never played outside Greece, nine Superleague seasons to his name.

Remy Bonne. French. Uncapped. 57 club appearances, 1 goal. Signed from Baku (AZB), 1/7/14

D/WB(L). 26 years old. 6'1. 2 year contract. £3,600 per week.

Previously at the top level in France with Racing Club Lens, left for a season is Azerbaijan. Arrived in Greece last season, and had a solid season, but is still very much being paid top level wages. Time will tell if he stays.

Kostas Albanis. Greek. Uncapped. 50 club appearances. Signed from Omonoia Aradippo (CYP), 1/7/15

D/WB/M(L). 22 years old. 6'0. 1 year contract. £350 per week.

The new kid on the block on the left side for the club, and on a fraction of Bonne's salary. Previously at Superleague club, and cross town rivals, Aris Salonika, before his season in Cyprus.

Hjortur Hermannsson. Icelandic. 11 Under-21 caps. 41 club appearances, 2 goals. Signed from PSV Eindhoven (NED), 1/7/15

D/M©. 20 years old. 6'2. 2 year contract. £1,800 per week.

Despite his tender age, Hermannsson has 3 years Icelandic Premier Division experience with Fylkir, and then 2 seasons in Holland with giants, PSV, though he spent a fair amount of that with their Youth club. Cost £15k, looks a bargain.

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Midfielders :-

Giorgos Siakkas. Greek. 9 Under-21 caps. 160 club appearances, 6 goals. Signed from AE Larisa (GRE), 1/7/14

DM/M©. 27 years old. 6'0. 3 year contract. £2,400 per week.

Possibly the best player at the club, but he wants to leave, and at time of writing is unhappy at having a bid that didn't meet his value from a Superleague club, rejected. Already counts us as his eighth club, was a regular last season, but was underwhelming in the top level.

Josi. Cape Verdean. 3 caps. 184 club appearances, 17 goals. Signed from Boavista (POR), 1/7/15

M/DM©. 27 years old. 5'10. 1 year contract. £475 per week.

A midfield general, capable of controlling the game. Has had two very good seasons, albeit at a lower level, with Boavista, before failing to agree new contract terms. Is a Portuguese national.

Raphael de Sousa. Luxembourger. 18 Under-21 caps. 56 club appearances, 3 goals. Signed from Feirense (POR), 1/7/15

DM/M©. 22 years old. 5'11. 1 year contract. £650 per week.

A quick and hard working midfielder, could give Josi a run for his money. Declared for Luxembourg, but also eligible for Portugal, he started his career in France with FC Metz, before time in Germany and his season in Portugal.

Lefteris Intzoglu. Greek. Uncapped. 257 club appearances, 9 goals. Signed from Doza Dramas (GRE), 1/7/13

DM/M/AM©. 28 years old. 5'10. 2 year contract. £800 per week.

Another of the players that my staff believe is one to try and keep hold of at the club. A good passer and team player, but has a streak in him too. Cut his teeth in the third tier, but his big moves to AEK Athens and then Atromitos yielded zero appearances in two seasons. About to start his third season with the club.

Savvas Siatravanis. Greek. Uncapped. 91 club appearances, 12 goals. Signed from AE Larisa (GRE), 1/7/12

M®,AM(R,L). 22 years old. 5'8. 2 year contract. £1,200 per week.

Highly rated winger who is desperate to leave the club. As yet, no-one has met his value. Personally, I think we can live without him, and it won't be the end of the world if he leaves.

Nikos Karaiskos. Greek. Uncapped. 50 club appearances, 2 goals. Signed from Fostiras (GRE), 1/7/15

M(C,R)AM©. 27 years old. 5'10. 1 year contract. £450 per week.

A technically sound player who looks like he can certainly do a job at this level. Spent his early years with Olympiakos without getting a first team game, then bounced around numerous clubs. This is only his second season at this level, so needs to prove himself.

Balthazar Mbizi. Congolese. 5 caps. 73 club appearances, 9 goals. Signed from Ermis Aradippou (CYP), 1/7/15

M/AM®. 30 years old. 5'9. 2 year contract. £750 per week.

A Congo International with French nationality. Mbizi is quick, can cross a ball, and is physically strong despite his stature. His arrival means Siatravanis' departure would be a softer blow. A PSG youngster, spent 5 seasons at lower level. Last season was his only one in Cyprus, and he returned 5 goals in just 6 games.

Neca. Portuguese. 2 caps. 403 appearances, 54 goals. Signed from Farense (POR), 1/7/15

M/AM©. 35 years old. 5'9. 1 year contract. £900 per week.

The legs may not have the pace they once had, but this veteran midfielder can still produce. A dead ball specialist, his career has been spent between Portugal and Turkey, and he has bagged goals everywhere he has been.

Alexander Embrechts. Belgian. Uncapped. 0 club appearances. Signed from Club Brugge (BEL), 2/7/15

M/AM©. 19 years old. 6'3. 1 year contract. £625 per week.

Very much at the end of the career scale, Embrechts is let go by Club Brugge without making an appearance for them. A big lad who we're hopeful will cause opponents problems and prove a valuable asset in this League.

Enzo Scorza. Uruguayan. 19 Under-20 caps, 1 goal. 94 club appearances, 11 goals. Signed from Cienciano (PER), 31/12/13

AM®,ST. 27 years old. 5'5. 2 year contract. £1,500 per week.

Lightning quick Uruguayan winger with Italian nationality. He can deliver a cross too, and is currently being monitored by Superleague teams, as well as clubs back in his homeland. Made his name with Danubio, before spells in Italy and Brazil, and a return to Uruguay. Has spent the last two seasons with Iraklis, notching 5 goals in 40 outings.

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Javier Franco Cortes. Colombian. Uncapped. 36 club appearances, 9 goals. Signed from River Plate (ARG), 1/7/15

AM(C,R,L),ST. 23 years old. 5'9. 2 year contract. £1,600 per week.

A player with the potential to be special at this level. Failed to make the grade at Argentine giants, River Plate, managing just 1 outing in four seasons. He went back to Colombia on loan with second tier club, Pereira, where he had an excellent year. Arrives here after River elected to let him go.

Kostas Apostolopoulos. Greek. Uncapped. 38 club appearances, 10 goals. On loan from Panathinaikos (GRE), 10/7/15

AM(R,L),ST. 22 years old. 5'9. Season Long Loan. £0 per week.

Five seasons at Panathinaikos have yielded just one appearance for the young forward. He's spent the last two seasons on loan, with last season in the Cypriot top flight with Nea Salamina. He returned 9 goals in 25 games during that spell.

Andreas Lasnik. Austrian. 1 cap. 277 club appearances, 34 goals. Signed from Panionios (GRE), 1/7/15

AM(C,L). 31 years old. 6'0. 1 year contract. £2,000 per week.

A player who looks capable of being a standout. After several years at the top in Austria with FK Austria Wien, he spent time in Germany and Holland, before arriving in Greece. After a season in Superleague, he had a great year in National B South last season.

Clement Goux. French. Uncapped. 53 club appearances, 13 goals. Signed from Dijon FCO (FRA), 1/7/15

AM(C,L),ST. 23 years old. 5'10. 2 year contract. £550 per week.

Talented young midfielder who failed to make the grade at AJ Auxerre, and moved on to Dijon. This is his first time playing outside France, and the set piece specialist will be keen to make an impact here.

Zidane. Burkinabe. Uncapped. 29 club appearances, 4 goals. Signed from Fafe (POR), 16/7/15

AM©. 22 years old. 5'9. 1 year contract. £475 per week.

Failed to make an appearance in his African homeland, but got his break in Portugal, where he has spent the last three seasons in the Lower Leagues. With a name like his to live up to, he'll need to grab his First Team chances.

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Strikers :-

Elian Tack. French. Uncapped. 37 club appearances, 13 goals. Signed from AS Saint-Etienne (FRA), 1/7/15

ST. 22 years old. 5'9. 2 year contract. £850 per week.

A one club man, but after a promising start to his career with Saint-Etienne, the goals, and then the appearances, started to dry up for Tack. A new start in Greece may be just what the young striker needs.

Raphael Alain Kooh Sohna. Cameroonian. Uncapped. 77 club appearances, 44 goals. Signed from Tarxien Rainbows (MAL), 1/7/15

ST. 25 years old. 5'10. 2 year contract. £170 per week.

Needs no introduction after his exploits in Malta last season with Tarxien Rainbows. He's stepping up a few levels, but is being paid very little, and I'm confident he can get amongst the goals, if he can beat his team-mates to the strikers jersey.

Jhoan Viafara. Colombian. Uncapped. 45 club appearances, 10 goals. Signed from Moreirense (POR), 1/7/15

ST. 25 years old. 6'1. 1 year contract. £400 per week.

The second Colombian to arrive at the club, he left Colombia after just one season with Bogota, playing in Argentina for a season. He moved on to Portugal, playing two seasons there, returning 6 goals in 24 appearances in the second tier.

Lakdar Boussaha. Algerian. Uncapped. 81 club appearances, 28 goals. Signed from FC Bourg-Peronnas (FRA), 1/7/15

ST. 28 years old. 5'10. 2 year contract. £750 per week.

The early contender for the strikers berth, the Algerian has French nationality, where he has spent his entire career to date. He managed 2 appearances with Boulogne in Ligue 1 in 2009/10, before bouncing around the lower divisions.

Vahagn Militosyan. Armenian. 5 Under-21 caps. 38 club appearances, 7 goals. Signed from Stade Lavallois (FRA), 23/7/15

ST. 22 years old. 6'1. 2 year contract. £825 per week.

The Armenian striker is also a French national. He has spent all but one year of his career at Stade Lavallois, and has a reasonable return with them, but never played higher than Ligue 2 with them.

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Realistation has set in that I've made a complete mess of the squad building as a result of a catastrophic misunderstanding of the League rules. These rules state that no more than 5 foreign players may be played in the first eleven, and no more than 3 non-EU players in that same first eleven. I now realise this means that `foreign' means `non Greek', and not as I first thought, that EU eligibility was fine. This isn't good. I have a huge contingent of players that I thought would be fine, but are actually restricted in the numbers that can play. I now need to move a group of these players out, and replace them with Greek players. As you probably know, moving players that you've only just signed is not an easy task. A bunch of offers are thrown out for Greek players to come in on loan, or that are available on free transfers. The pre-season friendlies will now take on more importance, as they will help decide which non-Greek players will stay, and which will have to be moved on by one method or another.

Saturday 25th July 2015 - Pre-Season Friendly

Kaftanzogleio, Salonika

Iraklis Salonika (0) 3 AEK Athens (2) 3

Scorers : Samba Toure (71,90+1), Elian Tack (87)

Attendance : 1,180

Huanderson (Yoann Dijidonou 45); Pierre Sagna (Andreas Konstantinou 45), Dimitris Kontodimos (Remy Bonne 45), Federico Rosso (Samba Toure 45), Hjortur Hermannsson (Nikos Savvidis 45); Lefteris Intzoglou (capt - Josi 45), Andreas Lasnik (Javier Franco Cortes 45), Balthazar Mbizi (inj - Enzo Scorza 45); Alexander Embrechts (Neca 45), Clement Goux (Nikos Karaiskos 45); Lakdar Boussaha (Elian Tack 45).

Man of the Match : Samba Toure (Iraklis)

AEK Athens are the first pre-season opposition. They are preparing for their season back in Superleague following their self-demotion a few seasons back. A points deduction dropped them down to National League level, and they voluntarily when down another level to the amateur Leagues following cash issues. Now one of the giants of the Greek game are back. And they set about dismantling our side for around an hour, which they accomplished with very little resistance. Federico Rosso made a mistake to hand AEK a 5th minute advantage. Rosso failed to control a bouncing ball, Darko Zoric took it away from him and advanced on goal from the left, slotting past Huanderson and inside the far post. Zoric had a hand in the second, playing the ball to Brecevic on the edge of the box, he had his back to goal, and laid the ball right to Stamatiou, who blasted high into the net midway through the second half. Lakdar Boussaha did have the ball in the net late in the opening half, but the flag was already long since raised by the assistant. At half time the players were told that pre-season or not, I expected to see better. The entire team was changed, as is usual in early pre-season games. The changes didn't make an immediate change to the pattern of the game, Anakoglou playing the ball into the path of Platellas on the left of the box, his left footed shot across Dijidonou and into the far corner. We scored in the 71st minute, though at that point, it looked like a consolation goal only, Neca delivering a corner from the left, Savvidis heading across goal from the far post, and Toure heading it in. This produced a bit of spirit in the team, and with a few minutes left to go, we got another. Neca clipped a neat ball into the box into the path of striker, Elian Tack, and he produced a composed finish to lift the ball just inside the far post. Into injury time, and we earned a draw that looked very unlikely just half hour earlier, again Neca delivering a corner, and Toure arriving with perfect timing at the near post to finish with a thumping header. It looks like our better fitness at this point as a result of the training camp has got us a morale boosting result, but we can't afford to give teams headstarts when we get to the competitive action.

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Whoops! It certainly helps to read the rules carefully when you enter a new league! However, that pre-season draw against AEK is certainly a promising result.

Belated congratulations on your success in Malta and with Algeria. It's perhaps fair to say that you're not 'Struggling In Scandinavia' anymore!

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Whoops! It certainly helps to read the rules carefully when you enter a new league! However, that pre-season draw against AEK is certainly a promising result.

Belated congratulations on your success in Malta and with Algeria. It's perhaps fair to say that you're not 'Struggling In Scandinavia' anymore!

It certainly does mate. I did actually take a look, I do as a matter of course when I'm heading into a new League, but I totally didn't grasp the `Foreign and non-EU' difference. It's going to be hard work undoing it all, and I'm going to have a lot of unhappy players.

Thanks. The success in Malta was unexpected, but a very enjoyable season there. The Algeria success was less unexpected, but still great stuff nonetheless. I think it's fair to say that if I'd got Ivory Coast in the Final, there would have been a different outcome.

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As the second squad overhaul commences, new players, and most importantly, Greek players, start to arrive. The first a midfielder, Paschailos Staikos, who arrives on loan from Superleague giants, Panathinaikos. The 19 year old looks a good talent, and made 2 appearances in the Superleague last season. He's joined by 24 year old Grigoris Kyziridis, who arrives on loan for the season from OFI Crete. He can play in centre midfield, or in any of the wide or attacking midfield roles. He signed for them 2 years ago, and has made 3 appearances for them at the top level, returning 2 goals. But most of his football has been played at a lower level. The third to arrive is from PAOK, 22 year old Theofanis Tzandaris. The 6'0 left footer can cover at centre back, defensive midfield, and the central midfield role. He's spent the last two seasons on loan in Cyprus' 'A' Division, where he was a regular, firstly for Kouklia, and then for AEK Larnakas. A few of the homegrown players who either want out, and were due to turn out for the Under-20's, are going to find themselves pushed into the First Team picture now. Remy Bonne looks likely to be the first of the foreign brigade to leave, he is subject of a bid from Chinese SuperLeague club, Guangzhou.

Saturday 1st August 2015 - Pre-Season Friendly

Kaftanzogleio, Salonika

Iraklis Salonika (1) 1 Olympiakos Volou (2) 2

Scorers : Savvas Siatravanis (11)

Attendance : 700

Huanderson; Panagiotis Kourdakis (Pierre Sagna 76), Dimitris Kontodimos (Remy Bonne 76), Nikos Savvidis (Samba Toure 45), Angelos Papasterianos (Hjortur Hermannsson 45); Lefteris Intzoglou (capt - Giorgos Siakkas 76), Stavros Samouilidis (Andreas Lasnik 45), Savvas Siatravanis (Balthazar Mbizi 76); Grigoris Kyziridis (Neca 45), Nikos Karaiskos (Clement Goux 45); Kostas Apostolopoulos (Elian Tack 76).

Man of the Match : Dimitris Kesidis (Olympiakos Volou)

A change of tact for the second friendly. Home to another Superleague club, we pick an entirely Greek team, apart from the goalkeeper, because we don't have one! This gives the staff an opportunity to see the Greek players in action, and work out which areas require foreign players to be kept at the club. A great start for 15 to 20 minutes. We had the Superleague team run ragged, and should have had a few goals. On loan striker Kostas Apostolopoulos was a willing runner, and was giving the central defenders a headache as they struggled to mark him. Unfortunately, his finishing didn't quite match his off the ball work, as he broke the offside trap, but sidefooted wide, shooting far too early. Karaiskos drilled a shot that the visiting keeper tried to push over the bar, Apostolopoulos was trying to get underneath it as it dropped into the 6 yard box, and appeared to be shoved by a defender, but the ref said no foul. We get ourselves in front in the 11th minute, good play down the left sends Kyziridis in on goal. He tried to fire across goal, the keeper getting a good hand to push it away, but straight into the path of Siatravanis, who came off his wing and kept his shot low and found the net. It was all downhill from there in the first half, Kesidis stepped inside his marker, Kontodimos, far too easily, and his fired low across the box. Huanderson didn't have his finest moment, what should have been a comfortable take deflected off the keeper, up onto the underside of the bar, and into the net. With 5 minutes until half time, it was a case of hold on until the break, but we couldn't manage that. A comedy of errors gifted them another goal, Papasterianos tried to clear a through ball from Ntinopoulos, but hit it straight against the legs of Kourdakis, and it was a pretty simple close range finish for Probonas. At half time, some of the Foreign players who are most likely to be the ones who will stay are introduced to try and replicate how they will fit into the team with the Greeks who look capable of holding down regular First Team roles. They're joined by wantaway Greek midfielder, Giorgos Siakkas. It was a decent showing, creating a little bit against Olympiakos Volou. With around 15 minutes to go, the rest of the bench is emptied. A good run out, and we look capable of holding our own right now.

Uruguayan winger, Enzo Scorza leaves the club, sold to Italian Serie C1/A club, Pro Vercelli, for a decent return of £500k, he currently has a market value of under £100k. It makes very little difference to the club, under an agreement already in place, 90% of the fee goes to the players agent. Who the hell agreed to that?

Saturday 8th August 2015 - Pre-Season Friendly

Municipal Stadium of Megara, Megara

Vyzas (1) 1 Iraklis Salonika (1) 1

Scorers : Grigoris Kyziridis (45)

Attendance : 423

Huanderson; Panagiotis Kourdakis (Anestis Argyriou 78), Dimitris Kontodimos (Remy Bonne 84), Samba Toure (Nikos Savvidis 84), Hjortur Hermannsson (Angelos Papasterianos 84); Lefteris Intzoglu (capt - Theofanis Tzandaris 78), Andreas Lasnik (inj - Stavros Samouilidis 78), Savvas Siatravanis (Balthazar Mbizi 78); Grigoris Kyziridis (Neca 78), Clement Goux (Nikos Karaiskos 84); Kostas Apostolopoulos (Elian Tack 78).

Man of the Match : Savvas Siatravanis (Iraklis Salonika)

A very mediocre performance against a non-League team that we were expected to comfortably beat. A combination of the Greek players and the current Foreign players take to the field for this one as we still try and figure out which players are going to stay, and which players will be deemed surplus to requirements. There was certainly a lack of cohesion in the team, a lot of passes going astray, and chances were tough to come by. Siatravanis looked our best route, he was certainly causing his marker some problems. My assistant was at pains to point out the gap between defence and midfield was causing us a problem, but the formation hasn't changed, and we're playing against the same type of formations we have previously, and there hasn't been an issue. The home side got themselves ahead as the half hour approached. Andreas Lasnik was dispossessed trying to force his way into the box, and Vyzas countered at speed, with Mario Argyriou sent away down the right flank. His cross caught out Huanderson slightly, and he did well to backtrack and push it against the cross bar, but it fell nicely for Tiago who stroked the ball home. We got level right on half time, and it was the man who looked our most likely route to goal, Siatravanis, who set it up, crossing low from the right, the ball curling slightly away from goal and finding Kyziridis, who coolly sidefooted the equaliser. It's clear that young on loan striker Apostolopoulos isn't capable of doing the hold up job required of him in this formation, and a potential new signing may arrive before our next friendly in a fortnight. Andreas Lasnik has taken a knock, and he's going to miss a few weeks of pre-season as a result.

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Neca will miss a couple of weeks of pre-season action, the midfielder straining a wrist during a weights session in mid-August. Raphael Alain Kook Sohna has left the club. The Director of Football held talks with the striker, and negotiated a package where he receives £9k of his contract. It's a shame, I think he could have done a great job here, and I hope he finds another club soon. Argentine defender, Federico Rosso leaves by the same process, but his payoff is considerably more at £70k. Remy Bonne leaves the club, joining Chinese SuperLeague club, Guangzhou for £100k. Bonne was on £3.4k a week here, so his departure brings us right back down towards the revised budget, and will assist in being able to redistribute those wages through to potential new players. That deal will be completed on New Year's Day. His French colleague, Pierre Sagna, also leaves. He had a choice of a few Australian Hyundai A League clubs, plumping for Western Sydney Wanderers, who have paid £28k for the right back. A new player arrives, 24 year old midfielder, Andreas Kornelatos, who signs on a free transfer from non-League side, AO Asteras Magoulas. Our scout, Riccardo Santos, is poached by AEK Athens. We couldn't even get close to meeting his contract demands, and had to let him walk, getting £6k in compensation.

Hjortur Hermannsson plays the full 90 minutes for Iceland Under-21's, but they are beaten 4-0 by their Swedish counterparts in a European Under-21 Championships Qualifier. A new goalkeeper arrives at the club, 36 year old stopper, Dimitris Konstantopoulos, arrives on loan for the season from Newcastle United. The 6'4 veteran has 1 International cap to his name, as well as 9 caps at Under-21 level, and had made public his desire to move back to his homeland. He's spent his entire career moving between Greece and England. His last stint in Greece was back in 2012/13, where he made 24 Superleague outings for AEK Athens, before heading to the North East for a season in Middlesbrough, and then on to Newcastle, not making any First Team outings for either club.

Saturday 22nd August 2015 - Pre-Season Friendly

Makedonikos Ground, Polichni

Makedonikos (1) 1 Iraklis Salonika (0) 1

Scorers : Elian Tack (89)

Attendance : 224

Dimitris Konstantopoulos; Panagiotis Kourdakis (Anestis Argyriou 45), Dimitis Kontodimos (Remy Bonne 90), Samba Toure (Nikos Savvidis 90), Hjortur Hermannsson (Angelos Papasterianos 90); Lefteris Intzoglu (capt - inj - Paschailos Staikos 23), Stavros Samouilidis (Daniil Saflekos 54), Savvas Siatravanis (Elian Tack 70); Grigoris Krziridis (Nikos Karaiskos 70), Clement Goux (Andreas Kornelatos 70); Kostas Apostolopoulos (Balthazar Mbizi 90).

Man of the Match : Spyros Stamatelos (Makedonikos)

Another disappointing result, though maybe it's good to get them out of the way in pre-season. The performance however, was much improved, as we outplayed the non-Leaguers for long stretches of the game. Intzoglu had to come off midway through the first half, hurting himself in a tackle, though not suffering any serious injury. The home side went ahead in the 37th minute, taken right from the route one manual. The keeper's long goal kick bounced on the rock hard surface in front of our defenders, over their heads, and through to the onrunning Voultsidis, who was the only one who read what was about to happen. Clean through on goal, he drew Konstantopoulos off his line, then slid it past him into the bottom corner, a lesson in finishing our boys would do well to pay attention to. Early in the second half, 17 year old Daniil Saflekos comes on after his promotion from the Under-20's side. He's playing on the wrong side, but it's a good opportunity to see what he can do. By the 70th minute, and with this being the 4th pre-season friendly, it's clear that young Apostolopoulos can't cut it up front. He's pushed to the right wing, and Tack comes off the bench, and he gets the leveller late on, much later than we should have had to wait for the goal. Andreas Kornelatos, on his first outing since signing for the club, gets into a good position down the left channel, and his cross from the byline is met at the near post by the French striker to spare our blushes, to a certain degree at least.

With wantaway midfielder, Giorgos Siakkas, on the verge of a move to Superleague club Doxa Dramas, we should have our new striker in the club on Wednesday morning, ready for our next Friendly. It won't just be any striker, this man is a living, and playing, legend of Greek football, a man who will go down in history in the game in this country. He would have been here already, and is due to sign on a free transfer, and is not taking a signing on fee. However, until we put some more money in the transfer pot, we can't afford to pay the agent his fee.

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Ah, memories of Euro 2004, when Greece won and Ronaldo cried...

Would be interesting if you sealed the deal for Charisteas. How old is he at this point in the game - 34, 35?

That weekend, I signed up to rent a house in Newcastle after deciding to move here from South Wales. I watched the game in a bar in town, Portuguese fans upstairs, Greek fans downstairs. After the game, they all swapped scarves or shirts, and drank together. Fantastic night.

He's 35 in the game right now, but Siakkas is proving stubborn

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Thanks oche balboa. Appreciate the comments, and glad you're enjoying the read.

Under-20's player Rafail Goutsios leaves after agreeing to terminate his contract. He is paid £4.5k. Lakdar Boussaha also leaves by mutual termination, paid £50k to do so. However, Siakkas has rejected his transfer to Doxa Dramas on the basis that the wage they are offering is not good enough. That's some turn of events from a player who labels himself as desperate to leave the club, to the point where he flat out refuses to have a discussion with me. This new twist means we are still unable to afford the agent fee for the striker we have lined up, 2004 European Championship Finals hero, Angelos Charisteas. The 35 year old, 6'3 veteran, is Greece's second highest International goalscorer with 25 goals in 88 caps, but holds cult hero status in the country for the three goals he got in Euro 2004, including the winner in the Final itself.

Wednesday 26th August 2015 - Pre-Season Friendly

Agrotikos Asteras Stadium, Evosmos

Agrotikos Asteras (0) 3 Iraklis Salonika (1) 1

Scorers : Grigoris Kyziridis (6)

Attendance : 224

Dimitris Konstantopoulos; Panagiotis Kourdakis (Anestis Argyriou 62), Dimitris Kontomidos, Samba Toure, Hjortur Hermannsson (Angelos Papasterianos 62); Lefteris Intzoglu (capt - Paschalis Staikos 62), Stavros Samouilidis (Daniil Saflekos 62), Savvas Siatravanis (Kostas Apostolopoulos 62); Grigoris Kyziridis (Nikos Karaiskos 62), Clement Goux (Andreas Kornelatos 62); Elian Tack.

Man of the Match : Nikola Miljkovic (Agrotikos Asteras)

This wasn't just a shock result, and a poor defeat, this was an embarrassment to say the least. The team we've been beaten by today, are actually our feeder team! The first half offered no clue as to what was about to happen. We dominated the early stages, and were quick to take the lead, Samouilidis tormented his marker on the left, and his cross to the middle was turned in by the advancing attacking midfielder, Grigoris Kyziridis. Once again, we failed to build on our start and the chances we were creating. And we paid dearly in the second half. Two minutes into the second half and we were pegged back. Samba Toure came out of his position in the defensive line to make a sliding tackle as a midfielder's first touch let him down. Nothing wrong with that. However the ball went to the feet of an opposition player, who lofted the ball right into the position Toure had vacated, and Hermannsson stood like a statue and watched Nikos Samouilidis stroll in on goal and pick his spot to level the game. 10 minutes later and we're behind. Labernakis crosses from the right, Miljkovic cushions it down for Samouilidis, takes the return pass, and sidefoots the home side in front. 2 minutes later, and the same combination works again, a long through ball from Samouilidis, and his partner Miljkovic slides across the grass to touch the ball in front of Konstantopoulos, and watch the ball roll beyond the keeper and into the net. Those were the only three shots that the home side got on target. The players were locked in the dressing room after the game. It was explained to them that the AEK performance apart, this pre-season has stunk to high heaven, and if the performances don't improve right away, heads will roll. They had no reason to know that it might be mine, and not their's.

Contract talks are re-visited with Angelos Charisteas. His agent agrees to drop his bonus, and a deal looks imminent. If he signs, he'll be joining a veteran International team-mate who has signed on the dotted line for us. Central defender, Sotiris Kyrgiakos won 61 caps and scored 4 goals for Greece before retiring from International football in the Summer of 2010, while playing for Liverpool. Before that, the recently turned 36 year old had played for Panathinaikos, Rangers and Frankfurt, before returning to Greece to play a season with AEK. After 3 seasons at Liverpool he signed for Wolfsburg for 2 seasons, though spent some time on loan at Sunderland. Since 2013 he has been playing in Norway for Odd Grenland, and signs on a free transfer with his contract due to expire in the next few months. Kyrgiakos missed Euro 2004 through injury. His arrival hits a nerve with Hjortur Hermannsson. The Icelandic Under-21 defender tells the press the squad is too large, and he is concerned about his place in the side. He is right about the squad being too big, he's also right to be concerned about his place. He hasn't exactly had the best of pre-seasons.

Saturday 29th August 2015 - Pre-Season Friendly

Stavros Mavrothalassitis, Aigaleo

Aigaleo (1) 1 Iraklis Salonika (1) 1

Scorers : Grigoris Kyziridis (28)

Attendance : 186

Dimitris Konstantopoulos; Anestis Argyriou (Andreas Konstantinou 62), Dimitris Kontomidos (Remy Bonne 62), Samba Toure (Hjortur Hermannsson 62), Sotiris Kyrgiakos (Angelos Papasterianos 62); Lefteris Intzoglu (capt - inj - Giorgos Siakkas 62), Stavros Samouilidis (inj - Andreas Lasnik 62), Savvas Siatravanis (Daniil Saflekos 62); Grigoris Kyziridis (Nikos Karaiskos 62), Clement Goux (Andreas Kornelatos 62); Elian Tack (Kostas Apostolopoulos 62).

Man of the Match : Tasos Pavlidis (Aigaleo)

Our final pre-season run out is against a team in an equivalent League, they play in the South version of the National B Division. Half of the back four are changed, with Argyriou and Kyrgiakos both starting. Siakkas comes onto the bench. We fall behind in the 18th minute, Pavlidis attacks down the left wing, skipping beyond the challenge of Argyriou, and crossing between the central defenders, Kraniotis turning back inside Kyrgiakos to head home from close range. It didn't take too long to get back level, 10 minutes to be exact. Clement Goux pushed himself into the channel down the right, Siatravanis found him with a neat pass, and the cross from the Frenchman was stood up to the far post, where Kyziridis continued his good pre-season scoring form with a header back across goal. We controlled the possession without really working their keeper, and 10 changes just after the hour made the second half a largely disjointed affair.

After the game, we finally get the news we have been waiting for, Angelos Charisteas has signed his contract. He has been playing pre-season games for his current club, League rivals, AE Tyrnavos, starting 3 and appearing as a sub in the other 2 of their 5 pre-season games to date. Stavros Samouilidis will miss the next 6 weeks, he twisted his ankle in the final pre-season game.

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More players leave the club. Josi agrees to terminate his contract, the Cape Verde Islands midfielder receiving a settlement figure of £14k. Armenian striker, Vahagn Militosyan is also released, but that one cost us £40k. Belgian teenager, Alexander Embrechts, is also released from his contract, paid £14k to leave. Neca is paid £28k to terminate his contract. Goalkeeper Huanderson is sold, to Sporting Lisbon no less. They pay £8k for the Brazilian.

Transfer Deadline Day arrives, and three players arrive at the club on loan. 19 year old centre back Leonidas Kastritseas is here for the season from Superleague club, Asteras Tripolis. He brings something that our defence is lacking right now, pace. Almpertos Roussos is a 19 year old midfielder who arrives on loan for the season from Juventus, where he has been turning out for their Under-19 side. From across the city, rivals Aris Salonika send 21 year old Dimitris Sounas to us on loan for the season. A dead ball specialist, he can play anywhere across the midfield and attacking midfield positions. They are joined by a fourth loanee later in the day, 21 year old Panathinaikos midfielder and attacking midfielder, Giannis Stamatakis. Utility midfielder, Kosta Bouloulis, arrives on loan from Atromitos. The 21 year old can cover all midfield, wing and attacking midfield roles. Kostas Vasilakopoulos signs on a free transfer. He'll be our backup this season, allowing us to sell or release our remaining goalkeeper who is no longer required, Yoann Djidonou, who agrees to terminate his contract. It's fair to say all these contract terminations have cost the club a small fortune that they can ill afford. In more good news, winger Savvas Siatravanis now wants to stay at the club.

The remainder of transfer deadline day was spent stocking the backroom staff, with an influx of scouts, coaches to serve the Under-20's, and also a new manager and assistant manager for the age group side, both with International experience. While we're on the subject of Internationals, Algeria have a Friendly next week away against Tunisia. A lot of unavailable players due to injuries, was compounded by further injuries and withdrawals by clubs who weren't keen to expose their players to what they consider to be, a pointless International, so early in the season. So, here's the squad that will make the trip.

 [b][u]Algeria squad for Friendly International against Tunisia[/u][/b]

[b]| Name               | Age      | Position     | Club                  | Height   | Value    | Caps     | Goals    | 
| Raïs M'Bolhi       | 29       | GK           | FC Vaslui             | 6'3"     | £725K    | 49       | 0        | 
| Alexandre Oukidja  | 27       | GK           | Stade Lavallois MFC   | 6'1"     | £1M      | 1        | 0        | 
| Jérôme Idir        | 22       | GK           | Chernomorets (Burgas) | 6'4"     | £10K     | 0        | 0        | 
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
| Madjid Bougherra   | 32       | D (C)        | Lekhwiya              | 6'3"     | £125K    | 71       | 4        | 
| Essaid Belkalem    | 26       | D (C)        | Udinese               | 6'3"     | £1.5M    | 13       | 0        | 
| Carl Medjani       | 30       | D (C), DM    | Hannover              | 6'0"     | £925K    | 53       | 0        | 
| Mehdi Zeffane      | 23       | D/WB (R)     | RB Leipzig            | 5'9"     | £300K    | 8        | 0        | 
| Aïssa Mandi        | 23       | D/WB (RL)    | Reading               | 6'0"     | £7M      | 24       | 0        | 
| Faouzi Ghoulam     | 24       | D/WB (L)     | Olympique Marseille   | 6'1"     | £5.75M   | 27       | 0        | 
| Djamel Mesbah      | 30       | D/WB/M (L)   | Suwon                 | 5'10"    | £500K    | 33       | 0        | 
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
| Florian Makhedjouf | 24       | M(RC),AM(R)  | Red Star FC           | 6'2"     | £525K    | 6        | 0        | 
| Riyad Mahrez       | 24       | M(R),AM(RL)  | Stoke City            | 5'10"    | £3.6M    | 9        | 0        | 
| Zakarie Labidi     | 20       | M(L),AM(LC)  | Olympique Lyonnais    | 5'11"    | £300K    | 1        | 0        | 
| Walid Mesloub      | 29       | M(C),AM(RC)  | SC Bastia             | 5'11"    | £3M      | 7        | 0        | 
| Damien Boudjemaa   | 30       | M(C),AM(RC)  | Valenciennes FC       | 5'8"     | £2.7M    | 13       | 5        | 
| Foued Kadir        | 31       | M/AM (RC)    | Olympique Marseille   | 5'10"    | £825K    | 39       | 6        | 
| Sofiane Feghouli   | 25       | M/AM (RC)    | Manchester City       | 5'10"    | £12M     | 37       | 12       | 
| Yacine Brahimi     | 25       | M/AM (LC)    | Granada               | 5'9"     | £8.75M   | 25       | 9        | 
| Ryad Boudebouz     | 25       | AM (RLC)     | Blackburn Rovers      | 5'10"    | £1.6M    | 38       | 4        | 
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 
| Nadir Bendahmane   | 23       | ST (C)       | AS Cannes             | 6'1"     | £325K    | 5        | 2        | 
| Islam Slimani      | 27       | ST (C)       | Sporting CP           | 6'1"     | £2.4M    | 28       | 10       | 
| Nabil Ghilas       | 25       | ST (C)       | FC Porto              | 6'1"     | £7.75M   | 28       | 8        | 
| Idriss Saadi       | 23       | ST (C)       | Clermont Foot         | 5'11"    | £3.7M    | 15       | 10       |[/b] 

While away with the Algerian national team, I receive some info by text from my Argentine assistant manager back in Greece. Firstly that half a dozen of the Iraklis Salonika matches scheduled before Christmas have been selected for live TV coverage, which gives the club a £45k windfall. He also lets me know that the draw for the First Round of the Greek Cup has been made, and we are drawn at home to National B Division South side, Kalamata. That game will become our season opener on Sunday. Should we win that game, our Second Round tie will also be at home, to Superleague club, Apollon Smyrnis. He also lets me know that Hjortur Hermannsson played the full 90 minutes for Iceland Under-21's against Slovakia, but didn't have a particularly good game in their 1-0 defeat. I'm beginning to wonder if I've been sold a pup with Hermannsson. He looked a player who could excel at this level of football, but now the number of non-Greeks are limited, I'm not so sure he'll be an asset. I'm told it's time to register players for the season. There is no squad limit numbers wise, well, 99, so no limit to worry about. I ask my assistant to mock me up a squad. He proceeds to select no fewer than 12 non-Greeks! The restriction appears to be non-EU as first thought, and there are just 4 of those players, Samba Toure, Javier Franco Cortes, Zidane and Jhoan Viafara. I'm more confused than ever, but it appears the need for firesale of any more non-Greeks is over. At least we're well under the wage budget now.

Tuesday 8th September 2015 - International Friendly

Stade Olympique, Rades, Tunisia

Tunisia (1) 1 Algeria (1) 3

Scorers : Nabil Ghilas (34), Carl Medjani (52), Foued Kadir (83)

Attendance : 33,946

Rais M'Bolhi; Aissa Mandi (Mehdi Zeffane 81), Faouzi Ghoulam, Madjid Bougherra (capt - Essaid Belkalem 71), Carl Medjani; Damien Boudjemaa (Foued Kadir 71), Yacine Brahimi (Zakarie Labidi 55), Ryad Boudebouz (Sofiane Feghouli 81); Islam Slimani, Nabil Ghilas; Idriss Saadi (inj - Nadir Bendahmane 55).

Man of the Match : Carl Medjani (Algeria)

I don't think I've ever seen a build up to a Friendly like this before. Fans phoning into radio stations to give advice on team selection, formations, best route to the stadium from the hotel, and how early before the game we should eat. This is an important game for those supporters, regardless of the fact that it's not a competitive game. There was no question of playing a weaker team today, and it's not something I like doing anyway. Goalkeeper, Rais M'Bolhi, earns his 50th cap for his country, but is beaten shortly on the half hour, a ball across from the middle to the right is chased down by Ben Yedder, who smashes the ball towards goal, M'Bolhi getting a strong hand to it, but will be disappointed that it still got past him and into the roof of the net. We were behind for just a few minutes, Yacine Brahimi and Idriss Saadi combining down the left channel, and the latter crossed to the near post. Nabil Ghilas arrived to be `Nabil on the Spot', using an unconventional method of kneeing the ball over the line. I wasn't complaining either way. At half time I kept it simple, asking the guys to keep working to make the chances, and the goals will come. And they did indeed. Yacine Brahimi drifted a corner towards the penalty spot, and Carl Medjani looped a header over the keeper. Some changes were made, Saadi taking a knock, with Slimani going up front and Bendahmane coming on and going into the attacking midfield role vacated by Slimani. We got a decisive third goal to kill off the game in the 83rd minute. Feghouli's cross was headed away, Labidi and Ghoulam retrieved the ball and fed Foued Kadir outside the box, who hit a left footed curler into the top corner from 25 yards that was more than worthy of securing the win. In other news that made me happy, Wales win 2-0 in the Czech Republic to secure qualification for Euro 2016.

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On the eve of our season opener in the Cup, midfielder Giorgis Siakkas launches an attack on me in the press. I'm given the right to reply, told by the reporter of the local paper that Siakkas is unhappy he wasn't allowed to speak to Ergotelis of the Superleague. I calmly tell the local hack that Ergotelis' bid was considerably lower than not only Siakkas market value, but also a bid received at the same time from Doxa Dramas. The eager newshound disappears with his story, and I disappear back to the dressing room to make some modifications to the name appearing on the back of Siakkas match jersey. Does anyone know the Greek for.......you know what, never mind.

The ticket office announce final season ticket sales of 1,297, a drop of nearly 300 from last season. I'm not too concerned with that right now. If we get a decent start to the season, hopefully we'll get some decent sales from walk up. Assistant manager, Guillermo Hoyos, once again expresses concern that we're losing out by not putting a man in the holding role. I trust Hoyos, he's proved to be great asset in my short time at the club, and I go with him. Now to decide who will play that role, and where the spare player will come from. The outstanding candidate, is Giorgis Siakkas. Maybe, some game time will help to iron out the differences, and the lad will get on with his football. One of the attacking midfielders will be sacrificed. With Charisteas up front, it's hoped that we'll do a better job of keeping the ball up that end of the pitch with his experience and hold up skills.

Sunday 13th September 2015 - Greek Cup, First Round

Kaftanzogleio, Salonika

Iraklis Salonika (2) 3 Kalamata (0) 0

Scorers : Angelos Charisteas (33,59), Grigoris Kyziridis (45+1)

Attendance : 1,708

Dimitris Konstantopoulos; Anestis Argyriou, Dimitris Kontodimos, Samba Toure, Sotiris Kyrgiakos; Giorgis Siakkas (Hjortur Hermannsson 74); Lefteris Intzoglu (capt - Dimitris Sounas 74), Andreas Lasnik (Kostas Albanis 74), Savvas Siatravanis; Grigoris Kyzridis (inj - 78); Angelos Charisteas.

Man of the Match : Angelos Charisteas (Iraklis Salonika)

Clement Goux comes out of the team and drops to the bench, with Grigoris Siakkas coming in to the holding role. left footed wide man, Kostas Albanis, who has been injured in the pre-season, takes a spot on the bench. The opening stages of the game were tight, as the visitors, labelled as underdogs by media and bookies, threw themselves into challenges, and attempted to control the centre of the park. Siakkas looked at home in his favoured position, and set about spraying the ball around the pitch, bringing the wingers into the game. Two quick wingers who can send in crosses when you have a big target striker is ideal, and Charisteas was already doing a good job up front, linking well with Kyzridis. The veteran striker opened the scoring in the 33rd minute, Siakkas going short with his pass to the captain, Intzoglu. He clipped a ball into the box, and Charisteas took a touch to move the ball out of his feet, before shooting on the turn, and finding the bottom corner to open his account for the club. In pre-season, we didn't build on the advantages when we found ourselves in front, and a crucial second goal before half time did the lads wonders for their confidence. Their keeper's attempted clearance from hand was woeful, Intzoglu headed it down to Charisteas, and he held the ball up, before sliding a through ball into the feet of Kyzridis, and he showed his composure by wrongfooting the keeper and finding the net. At half time the team were told that they had an opportunity to build on their good first half showing. They set about nullifying the opponents in the second half, and did a good job of that, before finding a third killer goal as the hour point approached. Siatravanis lifted a free kick into the box, the keeper trying to punching it clear. Samba Toure picked up the ball and sent it back into the middle, Intzoglu diverted it towards goal, Charisteas chested it down, and swept it home. Changes were made to keep the legs fresh, but Kyzridis was forced off with a knock a few minutes later. With a comfortable lead, Hermannsson jumps into the defence to make a back five, and Sounas sits in the holding role.

We go into the Round Two, where we will be taking on Apollon Smyrnis is a two-legged tie. The first leg of that will be our next game, before kicking off the League campaign on the Sunday after. The bookies have issued their odds, as is customary in the final run in to a new season.

Evens (favourites) - Iraklis Salonika, Levadeiakos

2/1 - AE Larisa

5/2 - GAS Aiginiakos

3/1 - Apollon Kalamarias

6/1 - AO Kerkyra

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Thursday 24th September 2015 - Greek Cup, Second Round, 1st Leg

Kaftanzogleio, Salonika

Iraklis Salonika (1) 1 GS Apollon Smyrnis (3) 3

Scorers : Grigoris Kyzridis (41)

Attendance : 2,309

Dimitris Konstantopoulos; Anestis Argyriou, Dimitris Kontodimos (Kostas Albanis 71), Samba Toure, Sotiris Kyrgiakos; Girogis Siakkas; Lefteris Intzoglu (capt - Clement Goux 86), Andreas Lasnik (Javier Franco Cortes 71), Savvas Siatravanis; Grigoris Kyzridis, Angelos Charisteas.

Man of the Match : Elio de Silvestro (Apollon Smyrnis)

A horrid 10 minute spell in the first half looks to have secured an early Cup exit for us. Argyropoulos slides the ball through to their dangerman, Petropoulos. Samba Toure dives into a tackle, leaving his feet, and taking neither the ball, or the man. The striker eases into the box, and places a firm shot high into the net. Two minutes later and we're picking the ball out of the net once again. A deep cross into the box from the right beats everyone in the goalmouth. Anestis Argyriou could have let the ball drift harmlessly out of play, but instead put his head on it and watched it go right to de Silvestro. He laid the ball across the edge of the box, where Tsokanis hit a perfect shot into the top corner from 20 yards. Our 10 minutes of madness was complete in the 20th minute, de Silvstro skipped past another wild attempted tackle from Toure, who was also out of position, and Petropoulos stepped into the gap, collecting the near post cross, and firing across goal and in off the post. We nicked one back before the break, Siatravanis curled an out-swinging cross from the right, Kyzridis beat the keeper to it as he came of his line, rounding him, and netting from a tight angle. Apart from the madness in that spell, we actually proved a match for the top tier team, but we weren't able to get beyond their well organised defence. The only highlight was a brief cameo from Colombian forward, Cortes, who had some nice touches, and looks like he'll be a good addition once he gets match fitness. The team were locked in the dressing room after the match, skipper Intzoglu confirming to the press after the game that some items were hurled, and some harsh words dished out.

Sunday 27th September 2015 - Greek National B North Division

Apollon Stadium, Kalamaria

Apollon Kalamarias (0) 2 Iraklis Salonika (0) 0

Scorers : None

Attendance : 894

Dimitris Konstantopoulos; Anestis Argyriou, Dimitris Kontodimos, Samba Toure, Sotiris Kyrgiakos; Girogis Siakkas (Giacomo di Giorgi 66); Lefteris Intzoglu (capt - Dimitris Sounas 75), Javier Franco Cortes (Kostas Albanis 75), Savvas Siatravanis; Grigoris Kyzridis; Angelos Charisteas.

Man of the Match : Lazaros Charitonidis (Apollon Kalamarias)

A deeply frustrating afternoon, when a point would have been acceptable for us with selection and formation still up in the air a bit. We looked like we were going to get that point to get us off the mark, but two late goals condemned us to an opening day defeat. Giorgis Siakkas hit an early piledriver from the edge of the box as we varied our corner routine, a brave defender putting his head in front of the shot and taking if off the line. We were reduced to shots of this nature, the home defence appeared well briefed about the threat of Kyzridis and Charisteas. A scoreless first half, I asked the guys to keep going, in fairness, they were doing okay. Siakkas ran out of puff midway through the half, and Venezuelan holding role player, Giacomo di Giorgi came in as our best alternative for that position. More changes came with Intzoglu coming out of the game, also running out of steam, and Cortes lack of match fitness seeing him replaced for Albanis. When a point looked within our grasp, it fell apart, and you could see it about to happen, like watching a horror movie when you know someone is about to get the fright of their lives. Anastasiou, got past Kontodimos, and he floated his cross, agonisingly over the heads of Toure and Kyrgiakos, and Konti poked it home from close range with 2 minutes to go. We went chasing a very late equaliser, but got caught on the break. A cross came from the left in to the near post, Gougoulias headed it across goal, and Charitonidis headed at goal through a crowded box, Konstantopoulos got hands to it, but only able to push it onto the post and it bounced back over the line. A disappointing start.

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Sunday 4th October 2015 - Greek National B North Division

Kaftanzogleio, Salonika

Iraklis Salonika (2) 2 AO Kavala (0) 0

Scorers : Angelos Charisteas (2 pen), Samba Toure (6)

Attendance : 2,256

Dimitris Konstantopoulos; Anestis Argyriou, Dimitris Kontodimos, Samba Toure, Sotiris Kyrgiakos; Giorgis Siakkas (Giacomo di Girogi 74); Lefteris Intzoglu (capt), Javier Franco Cortes (Kostas Albanis 74), Savvas Siatravanis; Grigoris Kyzridis; Angelos Charisteas (Clement Goux 86).

Man of the Match : Javier Franco Cortes (Iraklis Salonika)

A home match against a team promoted from the third tier last season, and projected to be relegation cannon fodder, could be ideal for the team to try and get themselves back on track. The referee would have a big say in this game, he was, frankly, awful. It was a quick start. Angelos Charisteas was hacked to the floor almost right from kick off. From the free kick, Javier Franco Cortes is bundled to the floor, and the ref awards a penalty, just 35 seconds into the game. The visitors complained bitterly, and when Charisteas was eventually permitted to take the kick, he blasted it low into the bottom corner. Number two was quick in coming, Kyzridis whipped across an inswinging corner, it should have been an easy catch for Kavala keeper, Giannikoglou, but he dropped it, and Samba Toure tapped it in. It was almost three very shortly after, Cortes running off his wing and winning a free kick just outside the box, Kyzridis hitting it against the underside of the crossbar. Our opposition decided that kicking and making a string of heavy handed tackles were the way back into the game. The ref offered little in the way of protection, merely booking our players when we dealt with their tactics in a similar fashion. The game was marred by these niggling incidents, even more so in the second half. Eventually, satisfied that the opposition offered no threat to taking points from us, we started taking off some of our more effective players, for their own safety as much as anything else.

Another International break arrives. This time, it's a double header of away Friendlies, organised by the Algerian FA. However, there is a Greek League game in between, so it's going to be a hectic few days. With the first game due on the Friday, Riyad Mahrez of Stoke City is added to the squad late on, with Ryad Boudebouz withdrawing due to injury. Stavros Samouilidis plays the second half of Greece Under-19's 3-0 win over Albania. Our defender, Hjordur Hermannsson, notches his 14th cap for Iceland Under-21's, they beat the Faroe Islands, 1-0, he had a decent game, playing the full 90 minutes. Samouilidis also appeared as a late sub in Greece Under-21's narrow 2-1 win over Liechtenstein. The Greek senior squad get themselves qualified for Euro 2016 with a game to spare, courtesy of a 3-1 win over the Czech Republic, securing qualification in their group alongside Wales.

 [b][i][u]Algeria squad for International Friendlies against Guinea and Zimbabwe.[/u][/i][/b]

[b]| Name               | Age      | Position      | Club                  | Height   | Value    | Caps     | Goals    | 
| Raïs M'Bolhi       | 29       | GK            | FC Vaslui             | 6'3"     | £725K    | 50       | 0        | 
| Alexandre Oukidja  | 27       | GK            | Stade Lavallois MFC   | 6'1"     | £875K    | 1        | 0        | 
| Jérôme Idir        | 22       | GK            | Chernomorets (Burgas) | 6'4"     | £7.75K   | 0        | 0        | 
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
| Rafik Halliche     | 29       | SW, D (C)     | Miedz                 | 6'1"     | £215K    | 25       | 1        | 
| Liassine Cadamuro  | 27       | D (RLC), M (R)| Astra Giurgiu         | 6'2"     | £1.5M    | 26       | 1        | 
| Madjid Bougherra   | 33       | D (C)         | Lekhwiya              | 6'3"     | £105K    | 72       | 4        | 
| Essaid Belkalem    | 26       | D (C)         | Udinese               | 6'3"     | £1.4M    | 14       | 0        | 
| Carl Medjani       | 30       | D (C), DM     | Hannover              | 6'0"     | £875K    | 54       | 1        | 
| Mehdi Zeffane      | 23       | D/WB (R)      | RB Leipzig            | 5'9"     | £325K    | 9        | 0        | 
| Aïssa Mandi        | 23       | D/WB (RL)     | Reading               | 6'0"     | £7.25M   | 25       | 0        | 
| Faouzi Ghoulam     | 24       | D/WB (L)      | Olympique Marseille   | 6'1"     | £5.75M   | 28       | 0        | 
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 
| Saphir Taïder      | 23       | M (RC)        | Atlético Madrid       | 5'11"    | £17M     | 38       | 9        | 
| Florian Makhedjouf | 24       | M (RC), AM (R)| Red Star FC           | 6'2"     | £800K    | 6        | 0        | 
| Riyad Mahrez       | 24       | M (R), AM (RL)| Stoke City            | 5'10"    | £3.6M    | 9        | 0        | 
| Zakarie Labidi     | 20       | M (L), AM (LC)| Olympique Lyonnais    | 5'11"    | £275K    | 2        | 0        | 
| Damien Boudjemaa   | 30       | M (C), AM (RC)| Valenciennes FC       | 5'8"     | £2.6M    | 14       | 5        | 
| Foued Kadir        | 31       | M/AM (RC)     | Olympique Marseille   | 5'10"    | £675K    | 40       | 7        | 
| Sofiane Feghouli   | 25       | M/AM (RC)     | Manchester City       | 5'10"    | £12M     | 38       | 12       | 
| Yacine Brahimi     | 25       | M/AM (LC)     | Granada               | 5'9"     | £9.75M   | 26       | 9        | 
| Ishak Belfodil     | 23       | AM (L), ST (C)| Inter Milan           | 6'4"     | £3.6M    | 17       | 1        | 
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
| Nadir Bendahmane   | 23       | ST (C)        | AS Cannes             | 6'1"     | £325K    | 6        | 2        | 
| Islam Slimani      | 27       | ST (C)        | Sporting CP           | 6'1"     | £2.1M    | 29       | 10       | 
| Nabil Ghilas       | 25       | ST (C)        | FC Porto              | 6'1"     | £8M      | 29       | 9        |[/b] 

Friday 9th October 2015 - International Friendly

Stade du 28 Septembre, Conakry, Guinea

Guinea (0) 0 Algeria (0) 0

Scorers : None

Attendance : 27,967

Rais M'Bolhi; Liassine Cadamure (Aissa Mandi 70), Faouzi Ghoulam, Madjid Bougherra, Carl Medjani; Saphir Taider, Yacine Brahimi (Zakire Labidi 70), Damien Boudjemaa (Riyad Mahrez 70); Sofiane Feghouli (Ishak Belfodil 70), Nabil Ghilas (Foued Kadir 70); Islam Slimani (Nadir Bendahmane 70).

Man of the Match : Faouzi Ghoulam (Algeria)

A game against a competitive, and combative, Guinea team. Currently ranked 47th in the FIFA World Rankings, our opponents are no mugs for sure. We had the best of the first half after a tight 20 minutes that saw both of our full backs pick up bookings. Slimani hooked a shot just the wrong side of the post, and Bougherra headed over from a corner. No changes made at half time, and the second half continued in much the same way, ourselves keeping the ball and playing a slow and patient build up, the home side attacking at pace on the rare occasions that they got the ball in our half. Chances were hard to come by, until the last 10 minutes, when both sides passed up opportunities to notch the victory. Bougherra again came close with a header from a set piece, and Foued Kadir took too long to pull the trigger when the ball fell to him 10 yards out, and a defender got a block in. At the other end, Belfodil came very close to putting the ball in his own net when Guinea won a very late corner.

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Takeovers. Usually good news. Not today apparently. The club's financial situation is growing increasingly worse. Chairman, Dimitris Vellidis has decided to sell up, and has sourced a buyer. A man, who can rejuvenate the club. A man who can put the club back on a sound financial footing. A man, who wants a Greek manager at his Greek club. Ohhhh. Can they do that? Isn't that discrimination? A 3 year contract, at £2k a week. It's going to cost him to get rid of me. Apparently, the sale will be done in a few days. A transfer embargo is in place, which is pretty pointless as the transfer window is closed. Meanwhile, we've got a League game to deal with. Maybe a couple of wins will change his mind.

Saturday 10th October 2015 - Greek National B North Division

Municipal Ground of Serres, Serres

Ethnikos Gazorou (1) 1 Iraklis Salonika (0) 1

Scorers : Dimitris Kontodimos (63)

Attendance : 243

Dimitris Konstantopoulos; Anestis Argyriou, Dimitris Kontodimos, Samba Toure, Sotiris Kyrgiakos; Giorgis Siakkas; Lefteris Intzoglu (capt), Javier Franco Cortes (Kostas Albanis 73), Savvas Siatravanis (inj - Dimitris Sounas 73); Grigoris Kyzridis; Angelos Charisteas.

Man of the Match : Davor Skerjanc (Ethnikos Gazorou)

Or maybe the players want a Greek manager? This wasn't good, in fact, we were lucky to get a point in our first live TV appearance of the season. Consistency is proving a problem with this group of players, they seem unable to string two performances together, in fact, one is a bit of an effort. Passing was again the key issue, far too many passes going astray, even over short distances. We fell behind to a set piece midway through the first half, Franck M'Barga heading home from close range after a corner was floated right under the cross bar. Another half time team talk that consisted mostly of me telling the players that they must do better. When we did get an equaliser, it was a fluke, though the Ethnikos keeper didn't do a particularly good job. Dimitris Kontodimos launched the ball forward from deep on the left wing, it was clearly a botched attempt at a cross, the ball swirling and changing direction, looping right over the keeper, dropping under the cross bar, and finding the net just inside the far post. I thought the team would push on and try and secure a morale boosting win, but despite my urging them forward from the touchline, they looked more worried about losing the point they had hold of. Winger, Siatravanis was forced off with a twisted ankle, and he will miss a month or so of action.

Tuesday 13th October 2015 - International Friendly

Rufaro Stadium, Harare, Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe (1) 2 Algeria (0) 0

Scorers : None

Attendance : 24,490

Jerome Idir; Mehdi Zeffane, Aissa Mandi, Essaid Belkalem (Madjid Bougherra 63), Rafik Halliche; Florian Makhedjouf (capt - Saphir Taider 63), Zakarie Labidi (Yacine Brahimi 63), Riyad Mahrez (Sofiane Feghouli 63); Ishak Belfodil, Foued Kadir (Nabil Ghilas 63); Nadir Bendahmane (Islam Slimani 63).

Man of the Match : Gilbert Mapemba (Zimbabwe)

With my club career under dark clouds and question marks, I head back to Africa to meet up with the Algeria squad in Zimbabwe for the second Friendly. Clearly, the club managers are not concerned with Algeria's fortunes in this one, a ridiculous amount of the players are being asked to play no more than 45 minutes. It would be physically impossible to play the usual First Team and meet the club managers requests. I elect to play a `second string' side. Zimbabwe are one of the lower ranked sides in African football, the team selected wasn't a `weak' team by any means, but they didn't get the job done. We had a good amount of possession, and territory too, but it was Zimbabwe who made the best chances, and took them too. Their danger man, Antipas, drew the entire defence around him when he picked up a pass on the edge of the area, and he slipped the ball square to Mukamba, who easily beat a horribly exposed debutant keeper, to earn the home side a 9th minute lead. We worked, no question about that, but we didn't do a good job of opening up a defence that look far better organised than their recent record suggested. Our best opportunity fell to wide man, Ryad Mahrez, but the left footer playing on the right wing didn't have enough confidence in his weaker right foot when it was clearly the best option, and a left footed effort only found the side netting. With just over an hour on the clock, reinforcements were called for, and half a dozen of the regular first choice players came into the game. But they couldn't find a way through either, Saphir Taider skewing his shot 5 minutes from time. As we pushed for an equaliser at least, it became easier for Zimbabwe to simply loft balls upfield and find themselves on the break, as early in injury time, they profited to seal the game. Mutumu played a neat backheeled pass into space to find Shoko, and he drove his shot across goal and into the far corner. Game over.

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The local press is full of news of the takeover, reporting that confirmation could be as early as next week, and speculation rife that failiure to beat promotion rivals, Levadeiakos, on the weekend, could signal the end of the my reign....and even a win might not be enough to save my job. Antonis Manikas is the man who is leading the takeover, and the man who it seems, will swing the axe in a matter of days. I answered six questions at the pre-match press conference, five of them about my future, the takeover, and will I be in the press conference for the next game. The other question was asking who would replace Siatravanis. Half a dozen was enough, I got up, took off the microphone, and headed for the door. It might not be the last door I head for this weekend. As I sit in the office, hiding from the press, I hear the news that IR have been relegated back into the Second Division in Iceland.

Saturday 17th October 2015 - Greek National B North Division

Kaftanzogleio, Salonika

Iraklis Salonika (0) 0 Levadeiakos (1) 1

Scorers : None

Attendance : 2,297

Dimitris Konstantopoulos; Anestis Argyriou, Dimitris Kontodimos, Samba Toure, Sotiris Kyrgiakos; Giorgos Siakkas; Lefteris Intzoglu (capt - Kostas Albanis 54), Javier Franco Cortes (Andreas Lasnik 54), Balthazar Mbizi (Dimitris Sounas 84); Grigoris Kyzridis; Angelos Charisteas.

Man of the Match : Fotis Georgiou (Levadeiakos)

Another game on Live TV, but another disappointing performance. The new-chairman-to-be took his seat in the Directors Box for this game. I could feel his eyes burning a hole in the back of my head as I paced the technical area. Balthazar Mbizi takes the slot on the right wing. We fall behind in the 15th minute, and writing looks on the wall, as the players heads noticeably drop. Niklitsiotis lofts a diagonal pass out to the right flank, and Kontodimos doesn't read it. Fotis Georgiou races onto it, and slides the ball low between Konstantopoulos and the near post. 10 minutes later, and we look to be thrown a lifeline. Manolo Martinez picks up two yellow cards in the space of 3 minutes, and is sent off. We get a period of pressure, forcing the 10 men of the visitors back. Kyzridis delivers a corner to the near post, Charisteas heads it off the upright. Cortes comes off the left wing, turning inside his marker, his curling shot forcing a tip over from the keeper. Half time arrived, and as I turned to walk back down the tunnel, I glanced up to the Directors Box, and it wasn't a happy look on the face of Mr Manikas. I decided to throw caution to the wind. Siakkas steps forward into the central midfield role, and skipper Intzoglu joins Kyzridis in the attacking midfield role. We're going back to the tactics that have brought success in Malta and with Algeria. If I'm going out, I'm going out with my own formation. And it looked very much like I was going out, thanks in part to the antics of Dimitris Kontodimos, who outshone Martinez by picking up his two yellow cards in the space of 65 seconds. Now we're also down to 10, and the plan to go back to the old formation has to be shelved, as Albanis comes on to cover left back and Intzoglu is sacrificed. We created zero after that, and when I looked up again to the Directors Box at the final whistle, Mr Manikas had already left. I'm guessing that isn't a good sign.

I didn't hear a thing from anyone on the Monday morning. It was training as usual. On Tuesday morning, the confirmation came that the takeover was completed. 6 hours later, and I was relieved of my duties at Iraklis Salonika. I'm disappointed, to say the least. I'd like to have had the opportunity to try and turn this around, but in reality, I wasn't even being judged on my results. This chairman would likely have shown me the door even if we'd been top of the League.

Iraklis Salonika Career Record :-

19/5/2015 - 20/10/2015

Games Played - 6. Won - 2. Drawn - 1. Lost - 3. Goals For - 7. Goals Against - 7. Goal Difference - 0. Win Percentage - 33.3%.

Total Career Record :-

Games Played - 99. Won - 60. Drawn - 17. Lost - 22. Goals For - 216. Goals Against - 142. Goal Difference - +74. Win Percentage - 60%.

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Ouch! A bit harsh from Mr Manikas, I must say.

Who took your job at Iraklis, and where are you thinking of going next?

The guy they employed was Antonis Nikopolidis, 44 year old, 90 times capped Greek International. The job stealing muppet! I'm not bitter.....

Where next? Well, I have 2 interviews in England. There are also job opportunities in Scotland, United States and Russia.

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The job offers weren't slow in coming my way. I applied for jobs in Sky Bet League One with Notts County, and with Peterborough United. Sunderland were looking for a manger in the Sky Bet Championship, and AZ of the Dutch Eredivisie also had a vacancy. I got interviews for all of these jobs, and was offered the job at County and Peterborough. An opening in Russia came to nothing as the team concerned are in a huge financial hole. There are possibilities in the MLS too, on both sides of the border. Vancouver Whitecaps, Columbus Crew and DC United are all looking at potentially making changes in their hot seat, and Columbus made some noise about me being offered the job as well, but it never got to that stage. I missed out on the job that hugely peaked my interest, Dundee United are bottom of the Scottish Premiership at the moment, and I would have loved a crack at that job. The interview went well, but they opted for Darren Ferguson instead. Doncaster Rovers, Oldham Athletic and Leyton Orient of League One came calling, as did the MK Dons of League Two.

We reach the next International break without me having a commitment in place to join a club, despite the numerous offers. The Algerian FA have lined up a November double header of games, both away from home, and both against European opposition. The first opponents will be Liechtenstein, and they will be followed by a game against the Republic of Ireland.

 [b][u]Algeria squad for Friendlies against Liechtenstein & Republic of Ireland[/u][/b]

[b]| Name               | Age      | Position      | Club                | Height   | Value    | Caps     | Goals    | 
| Raïs M'Bolhi       | 29       | GK            | FC Vaslui           | 6'3"     | £825K    | 51       | 0        | 
| Alexandre Oukidja  | 27       | GK            | Stade Lavallois MFC | 6'1"     | £700K    | 1        | 0        | 
| Azzedine Doukha    | 29       | GK            | Al-Fateh            | 6'2"     | £115K    | 4        | 0        | 
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
| Rafik Halliche     | 29       | SW, D (C)     | Miedz               | 6'1"     | £245K    | 26       | 1        | 
| Liassine Cadamuro  | 27       | D (RLC), M (R)| Astra Giurgiu       | 6'2"     | £1.6M    | 27       | 1        | 
| Ramy Bensebaïni    | 20       | D(L),DM,M(LC) | AC Ajaccio          | 6'0"     | £425K    | 0        | 0        | 
| Madjid Bougherra   | 33       | D (C)         | Lekhwiya            | 6'3"     | £78K     | 74       | 4        | 
| Essaid Belkalem    | 26       | D (C)         | Udinese             | 6'3"     | £1.4M    | 15       | 0        | 
| Carl Medjani       | 30       | D (C), DM     | Hannover            | 6'0"     | £850K    | 55       | 1        | 
| Mehdi Zeffane      | 23       | D/WB (R)      | RB Leipzig          | 5'9"     | £450K    | 10       | 0        | 
| Faouzi Ghoulam     | 24       | D/WB (L)      | Olympiqe Marseile   | 6'1"     | £5.25M   | 29       | 0        | 
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 
| Saphir Taïder      | 23       | M (RC)        | Atlético Madrid     | 5'11"    | £17.75M  | 40       | 9        | 
| Florian Makhedjouf | 24       | M(RC), AM(R)  | Red Star FC         | 6'2"     | £1M      | 7        | 0        | 
| Zakarie Labidi     | 20       | M(L), AM(LC)  | Olympique Lyonnais  | 5'11"    | £300K    | 4        | 0        | 
| Walid Mesloub      | 30       | M(C), AM(RC)  | SC Bastia           | 5'11"    | £3M      | 7        | 0        | 
| Damien Boudjemaa   | 30       | M(C), AM(RC)  | Valenciennes FC     | 5'8"     | £2.5M    | 15       | 5        | 
| Foued Kadir        | 32       | M/AM (RC)     | Olympiqe Marseille  | 5'10"    | £450K    | 42       | 7        | 
| Sofiane Feghouli   | 25       | M/AM (RC)     | Manchester City     | 5'10"    | £11.25M  | 40       | 12       | 
| Yacine Brahimi     | 25       | M/AM (LC)     | Granada             | 5'9"     | £10M     | 28       | 9        | 
| Ishak Belfodil     | 23       | AM(L), ST(C)  | Inter Milan         | 6'4"     | £3.6M    | 19       | 1        | 
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 
| Islam Slimani      | 27       | ST (C)        | Sporting CP         | 6'1"     | £1.2M    | 31       | 10       | 
| Nabil Ghilas       | 25       | ST (C)        | FC Porto            | 6'1"     | £8.25M   | 31       | 9        | 
| Idriss Saadi       | 23       | ST (C)        | Clermont Foot       | 5'11"    | £3.9M    | 16       | 10       |[/b] 

Friday 13th November 2015 - International Friendly

Rheinpark Stadion, Vaduz, Liechtenstein

Liechtenstein (0) 0 Algeria (0) 2

Scorers : Nabil Ghilas (52, 55 pen)

Attendance : 6,127

Rais M'Bolhi; Liassine Cadamuro, Faouzi Ghoulam, Madjid Bougherra (capt - inj - Essaid Belkalem 45), Carl Medjani; Saphir Taider (Walid Mesloub 76), Yacine Brahimi (Ishak Belfodil 76), Sofiane Feghouli (Florian Mekhedjouf 76); Damien Boudjemaa (Idriss Saadi 76), Nabil Ghilas; Islam Slimani.

Man of the Match : Nabil Ghilas (Algeria)

We didn't have a terrible Friday the 13th, but it wasn't great either. We created enough chances to win three games, but the finishing wasn't top notch in the sub-zero temperatures. Brahimi hit the upright twice, Medjani forced the keeper into a top drawer save after planting a header from a corner towards the top corner. At half time I told the players we had been unlucky, I didn't want the confidence to drop. The opener wasn't long in coming. Step forward Nabil Ghilas, who had a 3 minute spell that won us the game without ever really getting out of first gear. We didn't even break up an attack to win the ball, they did that for us, a loose pass hitting the heels of his own team-mate, and 10 seconds later, the ball was in the net. Taider passes to Slimani, he holds up the ball, and slides a pass in for Ghilas, who slammed it low beyond the keeper. Within minutes, Ghilas is shoved in the back as he tried to connect with a corner, and the ref gives us a spot kick. Ghilas takes it, sending the keeper the wrong way and doubling our lead.

Tuesday 17th November 2015 - International Friendly

Aviva Stadium, Dublin, Republic of Ireland

Republic of Ireland (1) 2 Algeria (2) 4

Scorers : Yacine Brahimi (17), Ishak Belfodil (23,73), Nabil Ghilas (67 pen)

Attendance : 36,958

Rais M'Bolhi; Liassine Cadamuro, Faouzi Ghoulam (Ramy Bensebaini 73), Madjid Bougherra (capt - Rafik Halliche 73), Carl Medjani (Essaid Belkalem 73); Damien Boudjemaa (Walid Mesloub 73), Yacine Brahimi (Zakarie Labidi 73), Sofiane Feghouli; Ishak Belfodil, Nabil Ghilas; Islam Slimani (Idriss Saadi 73).

Man of the Match : Ishak Belfodil (Algeria)

That's more like it. We're starting to come together as a team now. I want this team to start beating European nations on a regular basis. We've got World Cup Qualifiers starting next summer, and the team are expected to qualify convincingly, and make a good show of themselves at the tournament itself. We took a 17th minute lead, a deep cross from Feghouli was kept in play well by Nabil Ghilas. He couldn't get the ball across goal, so fed it back to Yacine Brahimi, who curled it around the keeper and in off the far post. Just over 5 minutes later, and we had a second. Good passing through the midfield, Slimani holds the ball up, rolls a marker and puts is across to Belfodil, who found the top corner with an accurate first time shot. Ireland got one back before the break. Boudjemaa hit a shot from the edge of the box that was blocked by O'Kane and hammered clear. Grealish was on to it in a flash and counter attacked down the left. As he made his way into the box, the cavalry arrived, led by O'Kane who had just blocked a shot, and he slammed the ball into the bottom corner. All told, I was happy with our first half performance. The Irish got themselves level in the 64th minute. Arter dispossesses Boudjemaa, and finds Mason. He measured his ball through to Simon Cox, who beat Bougherra for pace, and found the net. It wasn't level for long, as we were awarded a dubious looking penalty just 3 minutes later, Brahimi taken down with a tackle that I'm still not even sure was inside the box. Ghilas wasn't too concerned, he blasted his spot kick down the middle and restored our lead. Belfodil netted a second to complete the win, Arter tried an ill advised back pass from out wide, and Belfodil was on it in a flash, rounding the keeper, and tucking in his second of the game.

I had a great time in Ireland, maybe I'll stay......

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Sunday 6th December 2015. I arrive at my new home. Turner's Cross in the city of Cork. I'll be the new manager of 'The Rebel Army', better known as Irish Premier Division club, Cork City. A 2 year contract at £500 per week, no philosophies or board requests in place. Cork are two-time Irish Premier Division Champions, but the last time they won the title was now 10 years ago. In that time, the best they have done was a third place finish in 2009. The club, in their current form, were founded in 1984, and play at Turner's Cross, which has an all-seater capacity of 7,365. They operate on a semi-professional basis. The 2015 season has just been completed, with Cork finishing in a disappointing 8th place.

The reaction to my appointment, on the whole, was good. The fans seemed happy, and Shamrock Rovers boss, Tony Cousins, went on record in the media as saying that Cork had made a good appointment, and that he was expecting big things from the club under my guidance. Thanks for the extra pressure there Mr Cousins.

Cork have no youth squad, making the roster of players look huge. The wage budget certainly isn't huge, £9.5k per week. Newly crowned Champions, Dundalk, have just signed Kevin Doyle. You can see what we're up against. A fair few players are due to be out of contract at the end of the month. A hefty chunk of them are among the better players at the squad, and neither wish to discuss personal terms on extending their contracts, or are asking considerably more than the wages the Board are prepared to allow us to offer right now. I immediately give over a dozen players free transfers. They are mostly players who were about to run out of contract, who we didn't wish to keep. By moving them out a few weeks early, their wages come off the budget, and it frees up some room to discuss contracts with those willing to talk. It was a good plan, and paid dividends. A couple signed on the dotted lines with new deals.

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