EvilDave

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About EvilDave

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  1. Still four games to go, but yeah, not the best time to hit a slump. Torpedo are doing very well, and have had a bit of a strange end to the season - their manager was poached by Rostov just before the run-in, and they then pinched Mashuk's boss (current Spartak GK Artem Rebrov), who only replaced me in the summer. Not sure if they're PL material though...
  2. "Just got to keep it going now. More of the same, exactly what we've been doing all season. Ticking over, and we'll be there. Eight to go." Valeri's largely meaningless mantras were becoming a fixture of his Anzhi office as the season drew to a close, but the intent was clear - keep going. Four wins and two draws since Christmas put his side in a strong position, with promotion a real possibility. "Just the 10 points clear of the play-off places - and we showed Torpedo what we're made of. Look at Dinamo too - just look at them, skulking back down the table where they belong. "Kids look good though, and another badge won't hurt - how many of these things are there? Eight games left, that's all. Eight to go." Was our man feeling the pressure?
  3. "Two wins from five? Two sodding wins? For a team looking to go up, it's pathetic. Yes, Tom and Mordovia are decent sides, but we're better - simple as. Play and that after Christmas, and we're more likely to slide down the table than top the damn thing. "The positives? Sokol must be sick of us, and Kuban were seen off with 10 men away from home. More of that, and we're home and hosed." Going down to 10 men was something Valeri was getting used to - six red cards and almost 50 yellows had been shown to his Anzhi side since the start of the season. That wasn't helping them pick up wins consistently, and it had shown itself a real problem in November. "The best thing about this - watching everyone else struggle. Dinamo's seconds have hit the wall with us, and we're better than we are - we have to be, and the board know it. Just 14 games when we pick up again in March - 14 games we need to win, win well, and win more than the others. We've got this." Is it me, or does it sound to anyone else like our Valeri is trying to convince himself?
  4. Our last two games of the season were at home, handing us another slight advantage in our ongoing battle with Chicago - or at least it would have been, were it not for the fact that the Fire wrapped up the campaign with three home games of their own. We began our final stretch by hosting Chivas USA, who had robbed us of two points in our last meeting with an injury time equaliser, and we were determined not to fall foul of them once again. However, that man Lin Montalvan was on the teamsheet again for the visitors, and once more he managed to find a way past Santiago and earn a side an equaliser. The difference this time was there were still 70 minutes of the 90 to play, and until that point we were very much in the ascendancy, Sibandze’s early opener setting the tone. We stayed at 1-1 for the remainder of the first half, and there would be just a single goal in the second - and a crucial one at that. Christian Bustos was the man to inch us ever closer to the Supporters’ Shield and overall league glory, supplying Shannon with the pass and then reacting quickest when the goalkeeper could only parry our striker’s effort into a busy penalty area. Three days later, we gathered as a squad to watch Chicago creep past Colorado 1-0, and the status quo remained - we were closing in. “Now then lads, it’s been a long season - and it isn’t over yet - and you’ve been brilliant. We’re top of the table for a reason, we earned our play-off spot months ago, and unless we get this wrong we win that trophy today. “There are 60,000 people out there who want to see you win it. Tomorrow, Chicago will be going all-out for a miracle to try and turn it round if we win here, and they won’t get it. We’ve got the advantage on points, we match them for wins, our goal difference is streaks ahead. All we need to do is win here tonight, and we will be champions. “I know you know what needs doing, but I’m going to say it anyway. Gentlemen, friends, fellow Sounders - get out there, and win this game.” For 27 minutes, Real Salt Lake spoiled the party. They showed no intention of getting forward themselves, but seemed intent on breaking up our attacks and dropping deeper and deeper towards their own goal. To my side’s credit, they continued their patient, disciplined approach, and finally it paid off. Fittingly, it was Jon Shannon who put us ahead and on course for the Shield title. Finding himself unable to find any space inside the area, he instead checked his run, took a pass from Sibandze with his back to goal, turned and smashed a shot beyond the static goalkeeper and into the back of the net. The Amazon erupted, my fist flew skywards, and we had 70 minutes left before being officially crowned champions. Now needing a goal, Real tried to shift gears and come at us. But they simply couldn’t, so far into their stride were my men. At the break I said very little, leaving the rallying cry to captain Perez, and within 10 minutes of the restart we had our reward, Bheka Sibandze driving into the area and firing a left-foot shot beneath the goalkeeper’s dive to double our advantage. Fifteen minutes later, it was all over. First Shannon grabbed his brace, heading in Matt Lawton’s cross from deep over on the right. Then, just four minutes later, Sibandze matched him, shrugging off a challenge on the edge of the area and then powering home before the keeper could react. After 20 minutes of normal time and two added minutes, the final whistle blew and, barring a double-digit swing for Chicago in their final two games, the trophy was ours. In fairness to the Fire, they went for it. In fact, they went for it hard at home to Chivas USA. Unfortunately for them, attempting to overturn a goal difference deficit of 14 in two matches necessitated nothing less than reckless, gung-ho attacking, and against one of the better sides in the Western Conference, that was never going to pay off. Chivas hit them for four, Chicago failed to find the net even once, and without stepping foot on a pitch, we were Supporters’ Shield champions. Two down, two to go.
  5. "Half way there. A couple of frustrating blanks on the road - I don't think Neftekhimik would have known what to do had they crossed the halfway line - but we're on the move. Krasnoyarsk was horrific - I had half a mind to make the players walk home from Siberia. Next time I won't be so kind. "Zenit were Zenit. We had one disallowed, but you didn't need me to tell you that. I don't know why we bother." Anzhi were performing well, that one obvious aberration aside. It was their only league defeat in two months, and a dominant draw at leaders Dinamo-2 did their confidence no damage whatsoever. "A handful of games, then the break. An actual break, three solid months - not like the fortnight I got at Mashuk. I don't know what they'll do with it in Pyatigorsk, poor guys will be all confused. We'll have to offer them a friendly or something." Valeri was looking forward to his holiday. He hadn't really had one since his career change, and he had some homework to do.
  6. Yeah, I'm surprised to see them up there. On the one hand, they've got some very good players for this level. On the other, it's frustrating being bettered by a reserve squad! I guess the positive is that I only need to finish 3rd to go up automatically...
  7. "We're still in this. Rome wasn't built in a day, and they didn't have the sodding Muscovite elites conspiring against them while they were at it. Bloody Torpedo, with their backward romanticism. Streltsov wasn't Pele, get over it already. There's a reason they've not won anything in decades." A surprise 3-0 home reverse to the aforementioned Torpedo put the damper on a decent month for the new-look Anzhi, an away defeat at relegated Arsenal more palatable. Still, they were through to the next round of the cup, flying high in the league and with facilities being upgraded, so Soldatkin was surely pleased? "Speaking of the establishment trying to get a man down, who did they pull out against us in the next round of the cup? Only bloody Zenit, I mean it couldn't have been anyone else really, could it? "And again, what are Dinamo's reserves even doing in this league? With their internationals on several thousand a week - we can't do that! I swear, this country..." Maybe not...
  8. Yep, I used to blog about Russian football so Anzhi's antics are familiar indeed. Hardly a surprise that things don't work out when you move the goalposts every 10 minutes. I'm half expecting to have half my players sold at any given moment and replaced with local schoolkids!
  9. "Was I worried for a second? Did I have any doubts that Anzhi were going places under my management? Did all the players in and out the door sow a seed of hesitation? "I was. I'll admit it. This was a big step up. Operating on a level I'd never seen before. A team with a whole people living every win and loss, not some no-mark provincial outfit. This was the big time. "Now I see it. I understand. "I am a genius. Upheaval, chaos, crowd favourites leaving for nothing, and yet. Four games, both of the teams dropping down from the Premier League, and four wins from four. Mordovia didn't know what hit them. We go again, we go hard, and we go up this year." Valeri was in gladiatorial mood after a spectacular opening month. It was impressive, that much was true - a couple of hard-fought battles in there with the Mordovia thrashing - but four games into a 38-game season seemed a little early to be opening the champagne. "I'm glad Mashuk aren't doing too badly either - I like to think I left them well set. As if getting promoted wasn't enough. We'll finish way ahead of them, though." He was probably right - but then again, he did have the advantage of several millions, a huge squad, and another coaching badge behind him.
  10. Thanks - it's a big step up, and it looks like I've been brought in as the fall guy for a couple of old but excellent players leaving on a free. Something I've noticed that may snooker me is that there's a league salary cap of £925/wk (with one or two exceptions I haven't figured out, maybe two players?). This doesn't apply to players who got relegated with the club, or loanees, but what it does mean is a) the longer we stay in the FNL the harder it is to get back, b) players who would improve the squad aren't interested because of the wage issue, and c) there's a big scramble for loans from the PL sides. On the other hand, low wages (for contrast, the striker about to leave is on £17k/wk!) should mean more money to spend and invest in the long run. Cheers, and interesting is certainly the right word! They seem to have swung from world superstars to local players, to more imports and back again in the blink of an eye - hopefully I can bring some sort of stability...
  11. Before then, however, duty took up to El Salvador for a second Champions League meeting with Isidro Metapan. We knew that a win here would all but guarantee us a place in the quarter-finals - barring a catastrophic defeat in our final game - and that was something that was hammered home to the players before kick-off. Unfortunately for us, our opponents were keen to do some hammering of their own - forcing Cho off the field with fractured ribs inside five minutes, ruling our playmaker and inspiration out for five weeks at the most crucial time of the year. Luckily our star player’s injury did nothing to reduce the obvious gulf in class between the two sides, and it did not take us long to make it show on the scoreboard. Cano got the ball rolling after 20 minutes, substitute Reus doubled the advantage shortly after the break, and in the dying moments Cano made it a brace from the penalty spot after being hauled down when trying to reach a cross. Job done, and time to focus on domestic matters. Last season we had travelled to Chicago close to the end of the MLS season, but this time we were the side with home advantage. Like us, the Fire had also been in Champions League action - earning a hard-fought draw against Mexican side Santos Laguna that left them unlikely to make further progress - and so it was two tired sides that lined up in front of a packed Amazon Arena. Even with both sets of players flagging however, there was no chance of any quarter being given or taken. The tiredness did show though, and the opening moments passed by almost at walking pace until Romo stung the palms of Fabian Giefer with a long-range sighter. By the time things picked up were already homing in on the half hour mark, and the fans who had paid good money to watch their team were being treated to a cagey tactical battle rather than the harum scarum football we had sometimes played. Sadly for them, this one was simply too important to lose. With victory would have come the chance to all but seal the title, knocking Chicago back to six points adrift with just three games to play. Defeat was unthinkable, as it would surrender our advantage, bringing our rivals level on points with a game in hand. It was a fine line indeed that we needed to walk. In the end, it was perhaps unsurprising that we settled for a point, and a point which suited ourselves far more than our visitors. Chicago now needed to make sure they dropped no further points if they were to retain the Supporters’ Shield, and attempt to overhaul our goal difference advantage of 11. In short, they were relying on us dropping points - a position I was very happy with. But before we could settle the destination of the league title, we had the small matter of the Open Cup to deal with. Frustratingly, Minnesota United had rejected the USSF’s proposal to switch the final to the Amazon Arena, meaning the showpiece final would be held at the 10,000-seater National Sports Centre in Blaine - not exactly a venue suited to the occasion, and one which delivered another blow to the reputation of the trophy. Nevertheless, we had a job to do, and it proved no easy task against a Minnesota side in the game of the lives. Every time we got the ball we were hustled and harried, our hosts determined not to give us even half a second to settle, and it took every inch of our professional discipline not to lash out and risk losing a man. At the half-time whistle the score remained goalless, with the home fans in fine voice and Jon Shannon enduring a miserable first half almost devoid of service up front. The longer the scores stayed level the more our hosts grew in confidence, and the more likely it looked that we would find ourselves on the end of the one of the biggest recent shocks in US football history. It was not to be. With fewer than 20 minutes remaining, a simple ball over the time finally caught the Minnesota defenders napping, and in an instant Shannon was away, controlling a bouncing ball on his instep, racing ahead and slotting calmly into the corner before wheeling away in sheer jubilation. The goal meant the hosts had to come at us, and their exertions in the game so far began to take their toll. In injury time, Shannon again got in behind, had his legs chopped from under him, and Christian Bustos converted the penalty to seal our second successive US Open Cup - the fifth in the club’s history - and put us within touching distance of an historic double double. This time, the celebrations were every bit as passionate as last year, but shorter and more focused. The fire in the players’ eyes as we - accompanied on the pitch by Bethan and Rebecca - paraded the cup around the ground sent a message that could not be misinterpreted. This year, we had other business to attend to.
  12. Four points clear already, great work. It's nice to see you haven't completely overhauled the team - just solid additions here and there, and naturally replacing players as they age/want to move on. Keep it up!
  13. "This is a world away from Pyatigorsk. The wage budget for starters is 10 times what it was at Mashuk, even if they aren't the title challengers they once were." The Anzhi Valeri took over was a far cry from the Anzhi of Guus Hiddink, Roberto Carlos and Samuel Eto'o. Gone were the days of European football and challenging for titles - in 2017/8 the Dagestani side were relegated to the second-tier FNL, and had since finished 8th and 10th. Valeri would be the fourth permanent manager in as many years, meaning he would have to start quickly to keep hold of his job. "They want me to bring the kids through - no problem, not with the facilities here. They haven't told me what else they want yet, but I imagine promotion isn't too far from their thoughts. With a club this size, we should be finishing a lot higher than 10th, that's for sure." The Anzhi board, and fans, were not expecting miracles, but they did expect progress. The squad was overpaid and underperforming, and the owners wanted results. Valeri would have to provide them. "Finally, a club with a bit of faith in me. They'll praise the day they hired Valeri Soldatkin, mark my words."