With my first taste of the Ekstraklasa behind me, I threw myself once more into the fold as I went to see Polonia take on Zagłębie Lubin at Konwiktorska on Saturday afternoon. I was hoping for a bit less of a traumatic experience this time around.
The build-up to the game was dominated by discussions of Polonia’s inability to score from the penalty spot. Indeed the czarne koszule had missed an incredible four in a row coming into the Zagłębie game. Łukasz Teodorczyk stepped up to take last week’s kick, ignoring his manager’s decision to assign fellow striker Vladimir Dvalishvili to the role. Teodorczyk of course missed and on top of this disappointment was fined for disobeying Piotr Stokowiec’s orders. This week unfortunately Polonia were not given the opportunity to end their awful penalty sequence.
In the corresponding fixture last year a very different Polonia line-up was thrashed 4-0 with Zagłębie’s star winger Szymon Pawłowski getting all four goals. In that match Teodorczyk had ended up in goal after the sending off of goalkeeper Sebastian Przyrowski. Zagłębie have been in good form recently while Polonia’s momentum has slowed, with opponents defending deep to prevent their free-flowing, direct attacking style. Would Zagłębie set up the same way as others and if so would Polonia be able to find a way to break through?
Polonia’s manager Piotr Stokowiec went with one change to the starting eleven which had drawn at home with Górnik Zabrze last week, deciding to replace the pacy but erratic Adam Pazio with the Serbian Đorđe Čotra at left back. As the first half progressed it became apparent that Zagłębie had indeed come to frustrate Polonia. The home team were doing most of the pressing but Zagłębie did a good job of defending stoutly and breaking forward from time to time. They managed to prevent Polonia from creating too many opportunities, despite this the czarne koszule did have a number of decent chances. In the 26th minute Vladimir Dvalishvili danced around the Zagłębie defence and his right-foot shot was blocked well by Michał Gliwa. Polonia had an even better opportunity in the 38th minute when Paweł Wszołek’s cross was turned towards goal by captain Łukasz Piątek only for a Zagłębie defender to clear acrobatically off the line. However, these chances aside Polonia seemed to be lacking the dynamism of the early weeks of the season. It reached half-time with the score remaining goalless.
The second half was a similar story to the first with Polonia being the most adventurous but lacking any real precision in front of goal. Their passes were just a little off, shots were fired over and they lacked the quality to break down the resolute Zagłębie defence. It got worse in the 62nd minute when Zagłębie broke away down the left-hand side. A decent cross deflected off the foot of Polonia’s centre back Marcin Baszczyński and found its way to the feet of Czech striker Michal Papadopolous in the box. Papadopolous managed to manoeuvre his body well to plant the ball past Przyrowski, making it one-nil to Zagłębie.
Could Polonia come back from this? Their best chance came a couple of minutes later in the 66th minute when Adam Kokoszka’s header was cleared off the line by Aleksandar Tunchev. Unfortunately Polonia’s manager Stokowiec seemed a bit unsure how to change things. Adam Pazio was brought on in the 72nd minute to bring a bit more urgency to Polonia’s attacking play but he wasn’t able to find the breakthrough. Both Teodorczyk and Wszołek were having bad games but Teodorczyk stayed on to the end and Wszołek was only replaced in the 85th minute. Polonia continued to press for an opening but Zagłębie, rather too easily held firm. Soon the final whistle blew and Zagłębie had come away with the classic smash and grab away win.
So what can Polonia take away from this disappointing defeat? Firstly they have definitely been found out. Teams are now coming to Konwiktorska ready to park the bus in front of goal and hit Polonia on the counter-attack. It is the responsibility of the czarne koszule to break the opposition down, a difficult task as today showed. Secondly it seems that Stokowiec needs to think a bit harder about how to mix things up. In my opinion his substitutions today were too late and he seems too attached to the personnel which were so impressive in the early weeks of the season. He needs to go back to the drawing board to think of an alternative way to play when the chips are down. It will be interesting to see if he comes up with an answer. Finally it’s clear that the young starlets of Wszołek and Teodorczyk are looking jaded and sluggish. Wszołek in particular looks a shadow of his former rampaging self. This begs two questions. Firstly should Stokowiec continue to play them when they are off form and secondly whether the time is right for them to move on in January or not. They don’t seem to be dealing very well with the pressure of being watched by foreign scouts.
Somewhat fortunately Polonia get the chance to play away from Konwiktorska next weekend when they take on Piast Gliwice. Polonia’s counter-attacking prowess should be able to shine there but answers need to be found for their future home fixtures. If not their promising season could peter out disappointingly. Let’s hope that’s not the case.