Autumn round Ekstraklasa round-up: Part two, the bottom half

Lotto Ekstraklasa

Last week I covered the top half of the Ekstraklasa, so this week it’s time to round up the rest of the table.  Which teams had the most issues in one of the most unpredictable leagues in the world? All will become clear

In 9th place we find Wisła Płock.  As with pretty much everyone, it’s been a rather up and down season for the club 100 kilometres to the West of Warsaw.  The start of the season saw the removal of their long-term coach Marcin Kaczmarek and the appointment of former Polish national team player Jerzy Brzęczek.  Many commentators were up in arms about the decision and predicted bad things for a coach who’s not achieved much in Polish football.

Despite these dire forebodings Kaczmarek has actually done a pretty good job.  Płock are exciting in attack, with players that stand out in the rather humdrum world of the Ekstraklasa, especially the attacking quartet of Nico Varela, Giorgi Merebashvili, Semir Stilić and José Kanté.  Clear evidence of this could be seen in their last game before the break when they defeated top-of-the-table Legia in Warsaw 2-0.  At the other end of the pitch Płock are a lot weaker, with a number of bad errors from their keeper Seweryn Kiełpin.  A side with a decent chance of making the top 8 playoff round.

Down in 10th is Śląsk Wrocław the club that plays in one of the stadiums built for Euro 2012 . If there’s any club that underlines the sheer chaos of the Polish league it’s Śląsk.  In the summer they were almost taken over by an American owner, when that didn’t happen Wrocław city council decided to pump a lot of money into the club to make sure it could be sold in the future.  This meant the signings of a host of players, including Marcin Robak, Arkadiusz Piech, Jakub Kosecki, Kamil Vacek and others.  Unfortunately most of the players signed are slightly past their sell-by date.

At the beginning of the season however, it all looked rather good at Śląsk, who began by playing open, exciting football.  This has on the whole continued at home, but their results away from home have been atrocious, they’ve only got four points from 30 without a single victory on their travels.  All this meant that their coach Jan Urban was firmly under pressure.  Indeed after a defeat to Bruk-Bet Termalica in December he was seemingly fired by the club, who then did a double-take after an impressive victory over Jagiellonia Białystok in the last game before the break.  Śląsk have the players to finish in the top eight, but who knows what will happen.

The disappointment of the season so far has to be Lechia Gdańsk.  Lechia stumbled in the second half of last season to finish fourth and just fail to qualify for their first European competition campaign since 1983.  They started the season very badly among rumours of discontent among the players with coach Piotr Nowak. Lechia have a highly-paid squad, with a lot of very good, if a little too old, players for the Polish league, so it was no surprise that they got rid of Nowak.  It was surprising though that they replaced him with Adam Owen – the Wales National team physical coach who had previously worked on player fitness at Lechia and possessed no managerial experience.

Owen has improved the situation a little, including a memorable derby victory over Arka, but still there have been some poor results under his watch including a 3-1 home loss to bottom of the table Pogoń Szczecin.  All this means that Lechia, the club with the third highest budget in the Polish league, stand seven points off the top eight and qualification for the championship playoff round.  They have nine matches to make up the gap though, and with players such as Marco Paixão, Sławomir Peszko and Simeon Slavchev it could still happen.

12th place sees us travel to the royal city of Kraków to check out the goings on at Cracovia.  The autumn round has been a bit of a whirlwind at the club with the arrival of former Jagiellonia coach Michał Probierz in the summer.  Probierz, one of the most charismatic and controversial coaches in Poland, decided to thoroughly shake-up Cracovia’s playing staff, which included letting go players who had been at the club for years, including the scorer of great goals Marcin Budziński.  Probierz also brought in a host of players, not many of them have set the world alight so far.

Indeed it’s been a distinctly underwhelming first half of the season from Cracovia.  It’s been difficult to detect a distinct style of play and they’ve only won five out of 21 games.  In terms of bright points we can see the generally decent form of their striker Krzysztof Piątek, their attacking midfielder Javi Hernández and their solid midfielder Szymon Drewniak.   The rest of the side have been average or poor.  They did however beat Górnik Zabrze 4-0 in Zabrze in the match before the break so maybe better times are on their way.  It will still take a pretty herculean effort to make up the 9 points gap between them and the top eight.

As we approach the foot of the table we make a visit to the smallest Ekstraklasa club Bruk-Bet Termalica Nieciecza.  The side from the tiny village of Nieciecza in South-Eastern Poland have, like almost all Ekstraklasa clubs, had a roller-coaster ride this season.  In the summer Termalica appointed the former Lech Poznań and Śląsk Wrocław coach Mariusz Rumak who had problems motivating a side which had an awful spring last season.  Under Rumak the club played pretty unimaginative football although they did beat Legia 1-0 – Termalica being a bit of a bogey side for the Warsaw giants.  In mid-September they got rid of Rumak and replaced him with the more dynamic Maciej Bartoszek.

Bartoszek has certainly livened up things at Termalica but has not improved the results.  This was true to such an extent that by mid-December rumours abounded that he would be sacked if they didn’t win a crunch encounter with Śląsk.  Termalica eventually got the win to save Bartoszek’s job.  The club has one of the weakest squads in the Ekstraklasa, their star man being Szymon Pawłowski, the attacking midfielder on loan from Lech Poznań.  Unfortunately the players around Pawłowski are rather weaker and I wouldn’t be surprised if Termalica were relegated in their third season in the Ekstraklasa.

In third bottom are the Ekstraklasa newboys Sandecja Nowy Sącz who were promoted in the summer of 2017.  Sandecja’s stadium does not meet the requirements of the top tier so they have been forced to play their home matches 80 kilometres down the road in Nieciecza.  This has had a negative effect on the club as their own ground had been somewhat of a fortress as they won the second tier last season and their attendances have been tiny – at just over 2,000 easily the lowest in the division.

Sandecja started the season rather well but then hit a negative patch.  Indeed since September 17th when they defeated Termalica the club have gone 12 league matches without a win.  It’s not all been doom and gloom however, the form of attacking midfielder Wojciech Trochim, Bulgarian striker Aleksandar Kolev and goalkeeper Michał Gliwa has been very decent and they were so close to sealing a famous win over Legia at the beginning of December.  Despite this, their squad is very weak by Ekstraklasa standards and it would be no surprise if they are relegated in May.

15th place is occupied by Piast Gliwice.  Piast have had a very disappointing autumn round.  Things weren’t working under former coach Dariusz Wdowczyk who famously complained to the press that he didn’t even have half a striker in September just before he was fired.  Wdowczyk was replaced by the stable hands of former Polish national team coach Waldemar Fornalik who is renowned for doing well at clubs which lack resources.  Fornalik has steadied the ship somewhat but two wins in his 12 matches in charge is not really good enough.

Piast do possess a relatively talented squad, at least compared to Sandecja and Termalica, and should have just about enough to stay up but it could be close.  Their stand-out players are the exciting attacking midfielder Konstantin Vassiljev who, despite his advancing years, still has the talent to drive an Ekstraklasa attack and the powerful striker Michal Papadopulos.  They also possess the up and coming midfielder Patryk Dziczek. I’d bet on them surviving, just.

In last place is one of the great enigmas of the season, Pogoń Szczecin. Their playing staff is good enough to easily be in the top eight and yet most of this season they’ve performed terribly, only slightly rebounding just before the break.  It took them until December 16th to record their first home victory of the season and they didn’t win in the league between mid-August and mid-December.  All this with Maciej Skorża, one of the most renowned Polish coaches at the helm.  A terrible atmosphere developed at the club, to the extent that players had to travel to work in taxis as they feared their cars would be defaced by angry fans.

The Pogoń board waited until the end of October to fire Skorża and replaced him with Kosta Runjaić.  Runjaić initially had problems sorting out the mess but by December Pogoń began to play with a dynamic exciting style and results took a turn for the better.  Importantly it means that Pogoń are now only four points from safety after looking like they would be cut adrift from the rest.  In terms of players Pogoń possess an embarrassment of riches for a bottom club: their star players are the exciting Bulgarian international attacker Spas Delev, the striker Adam Frączczak and the promising young players Jakub Piotrowski and Marcin Listkowski.  They certainly have enough to escape the drop, especially if they continue to play like they did before the break.

That’ll be that for now.  Wishing all readers a happy and prosperous new year and see you back here for more Polish footballing ‘excellence’ in 2018!

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