Well Polonia did it again. After a winter of losing player after player and of almost total uncertainty somehow Polonia trainer Piotr Stokowiec and his rag-bag of assorted reserves, youngsters, loanees and want-aways are still pulling off unexpected results. This Friday it was the turn of the mighty Lech Poznań, over whom the Polish national media had crowed only a week ago, to get the Polonia treatment. An early beauty of a goal from their former captain Łukasz Piątek in the 6th minute was enough to bring all three points away from Lech’s attractive, newly-renovated stadium.
Although Polonia have been haemorrhaging players, the most important member of the club still remains, their eloquent and innovative manager. Stokowiec surprised many last week by playing an unorthodox 3-6-1 or 5-4-1 formation which put great focus on defensive solidity but lacked in attacking intent and speed. Stokowiec’s substitutes in that match, Jacek Kiełb and Miłosz Przybecki, changed the course of the encounter and allowed Polonia to rescue a point from the jaws of defeat. This week Kiełb, on-loan from Lech, couldn’t play against his parent club but Przybecki was thrown into the team in place of the Lithuanian attacking midfielder Vytautus Lukša.
Stokowiec’s other major change was to play striker Daniel Golębiewski deeper than against Lechia. In the first half against Lech Przybecki, Wszołek and Gołębiewski interchanged in attack but by the second period it became clear that Gołębiewski had started to play as a conventional left-back. Not many managers have the nerve and faith in their players to try them in such unfamiliar positions but Stokowiec is obviously no ordinary manager.
In terms of the match itself it seems clear that Stokowiec sent his team out to get an early goal. In the first minutes Polonia counter-attacked with pace and determination. In the 3rd minute Miłosz Przybecki showed how exciting a prospect he is by speeding past several players in an exhilarating 30 yard run which almost resulted in a goal. Several minutes later an unsuccessful through ball landed at the feet of midfielder Łukasz Piątek 25 yards from goal. Piątek took one look up and fired a beautiful shot past the despairing dive of Lech’s keeper Jasmin Burić.
From this moment the pattern of the match was set. Lech would have more of the ball and Polonia would sit relatively deep and break several times dangerously on the counter. Crucial to Polonia’s system was the no-nonsense work carried out by their two central midfielders Piątek and Tomasz Hołota, players who seem to compliment each other perfectly. When Lech were able to create opportunities they were either wastefully spurned or dealt with effectively by Polonia’s hard-working back-five, which in the second half, included Gołębiewski. As the second half progressed the Poznań side increased the pressure on Polonia. Indeed towards the end of the game Polonia resorted to hoofing the ball clear in order to clear their lines. Lech could quite easily have equalised a number of times but Polonia were able to hold on for a superb victory at a team with genuine title ambitions.
Stokowiec’s tactical ploy had come off and it was a pleasure to see the Polonia players dancing joyously in the centre-circle after the final whistle. It’s been a horrible couple of months for them but tonight the team really played for each other and deserved the success. After the game Gołębiewski their victorious striker-cum-left-back captain was interviewed on Polish television. The interviewer asked him how he felt after the result to which Gołębiewski with tears in his eyes replied: ‘Everybody said we were corpses. Well we’ve just risen from the dead.’ If Stokowiec continues to be so tactically creative Polonia may yet cause more shocks before the season is out.