No home comfort: Polonia 1 Wisła 2

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Source: sport.interior.pl

After last weekend’s heroics at Lech Poznan Polonia returned to Konwiktorska to take on a Wisła Kraków side who have been highly unimpressive this season.  Before the match Polonia sat in third place, five points behind leaders and city rivals, Legia Warsaw.  The encounter with Wisła gave Polonia the opportunity to continue their good start to the spring round of games,  It also represented the chance to further underline the sound work that trainer Piotr Stokowiec and his backroom staff have done in moulding together a decent side after considerable player losses over the winter.  Unfortunately Wisła had not read the script, coming away with a just-about deserved victory in sub-zero conditions in Warsaw.

I was joined in my fourth visit to Konwiktorska by a group of ne’er-do-wells from Northern Scotland, Piaseczno, Burnley and Kraków.  Meeting up in the mid-afternoon we got our tickets and then headed off to have a couple of jars at the charming little pub/restaurant Karafka just down the road from the stadium.  I was impressed by the friendly environment in the place and we settled down to have some beers and some excellent hazelnut vodka (well my friends did, I’m abstaining at the moment).  After several hours of engaging conversation it was almost a pity to leave this warmth and move to the ground.  When we got to Konwiktorska we found a Fanzone set up just outside the stadium.  It wasn’t really the right weather for such an attraction to say the least and we quickly bypassed the zone and took our seats.

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Source: author’s photo

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Source: author’s photo

Polonia’s formation against Wisła wasn’t much of a surprise.  Stokowiec decided to use the same system that he had employed in the Lechia home home game at the end of February.  There were several changes in terms of personnel however compared to the match with Lechia.  After his decent performance at left-back away at Lech, captain (and striker) Daniel Gołębiewski continued in this role.  Likewise the inclusion of Miłosz Przybecki, Mariusz Pawełek and Wojciech Szymanek made sense after the match in Poznań last week.  The biggest surprise was the omission of Polonia’s star winger Paweł Wszołek, who was replaced by Adam Pazio.  Stokowiec presumably took this decision due to Wszołek’s poor recent form.  New loan signing Piotr Grzelczak was also given his debut as the lone striker.

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Polonia against Lechia, 22/02/13

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Polonia against Wisła, 09/03/13

Polonia’s style of play against Wisła was similar in many ways to that against Lechia.  In general the czarne koszule aim to play the ball out of defence and use the pace of their attacking midfielders to create chances.  In the Lechia game the main attacking onus for most of the match fell on the left-sided duo of Wszołek and Adam Pazio.  However, with no Wszołek against Wisła and Gołębiewski uncomfortable coming forward, Polonia did 90% of its attacking on the right instead.  Assisting in this was the blisteringly quick winger Miłosz Przybecki who has been a revelation in the last couple of games.  Along with pace Przybecki is also blessed with decent technique and he caused Wisła no end of problems in Saturday evening’s match.  Indeed it was no surprise when Przybecki put Polonia into the lead in the 14th minute after incredibly sloppy defending from Wisła defender Gordon Bunoza.

Considering Wisła’s poor attack this season (before the game they had the second worst goal-scoring record in the Ekstraklasa), things looked bright for Polonia.  Unfortunately there was a lack of intensity from the boys from Konwiktorska and they didn’t push home their advantage.  Wisła had more and more of the ball and their attacking players increasingly found space behind Polonia’s wing-backs.  In the 35th minute Wisła’s Bulgarian striker Ivica Iliev took advantage of one such occasion to cross for Cezary Wilk who proceeded to fire home making it 1-1.  Polonia hopes were further hit in the 38th minute when midfielder Łukasz Piątek went off injured.  Piątek, although no creative midfielder, uses the ball efficiently and Polonia missed his calming influence in the centre of the park.  It reached half-time with the score 1-1 and we all poured into the tiny stand trying to heat ourselves up somehow.

The second half brought an improved Polonia performance attackingly with Stokowiec deciding to bring on Wszołek for the ineffective Pazio.  Wszołek’s presence meant Polonia had more creativity up front, although they still often struggled to provide service to Grzelczak.  Polonia’s problems in defence unfortunately continued.   In the 52nd minute Ilev, this time on the left, once more found space.  He fed Małecki in the middle who played it out to Burliga on the right, Golebiewski couldn’t prevent the cross coming in and somehow the ball found its way to Michał Chrapek who hammered the ball past Pawełek. It was 2–1 Wisła and Polonia were in real trouble.

After this setback Polonia worked hard to get themselves back into the game.  On a number of occasions Wisła’s much-maligned keeper Sergei Pareiko made decent saves to prevent an equaliser.  These included one very well hit shot from the edge of the area from Grzelczak and a pile-driver from Przybecki.   Polonia’s best chance however fell to Wszołek who found himself clean-through on goal after a neat flick from Grzelczak.  Unfortunately Wszołek showed a disappointing lack of conviction and produced a weak shot which was easily saved.  Polonia couldn’t break through and 2-1 Wisła was the final score.

The game was a bit of a mixed bag for Polonia.  On the plus side, Przybecki is producing some great form and looks to be a real find.  Also the czarne koszule actually produced a good amount of chances and fought right until the finish.  On another day they could have come away with a draw or even a victory.  Finally it’s important to note that this team is still learning to play with each other and in their somewhat a-typical formation.  The level of performance was relatively encouraging for a team that is clearly in transition.

There are some more negative things to think about though.  Firstly Gołębiewski really isn’t good enough to play as an attacking full-back.  His technique lets him down, he doesn’t overlap and , as was seen during both Wisła goals, he can’t defend that well either.  I’d rather see Pazio in that position with Wszolek in front of him on the wing. Secondly Polonia really missed Piątek when he came off.  With rumours circling that he may end his contract due to massive wage arrears Polonia may find it very hard to replace him.  Finally I’m concerned that the lone striker in this 5-4-1 formation is too isolated.  Grzelczak did ok in that position (far better than Gołębiewski against Lechia) but at times the distance between him and the midfield was too great.  Stokowiec will have to remedy this.

All-in-all though it was a decent effort from Polonia considering the ‘newness’ of the team and a draw would probably have been a fair result.  It was not to be but Polonia still sit in third place, five points behind Legia with 12 games to go.  As for the match I enjoyed the atmosphere, taking special pleasure from the ineptness of the referee and chortling at Ivica Iliev’s diving and general tantrums.  My next home game will be against Śląsk Wrocław in mid-April.  I’m hoping it’s a hell of a lot warmer for that one!

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Source: author’s photo

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