‘I’m going to get you Marciniak!’, Milinković-Savić chomping at the bit
Vanja Miliković-Savić races onto the pitch to bellow invectives at the referee Szymon Marciniak, Sławomir Peszko pulls on a Lech player’s ear, Grzegorz Kuświk stamps on someone’s chest. And that was just a little part of it. It all got pretty nasty in the crucial top of the table clash in Poznań last night, and it was the league leaders Lechia Gdańsk that lost their cool in the face of some underhand provocation from Lech Poznań. Lech eventually came out on top and it could be a turning point in the race for the Polish title.
The narrative in the build-up to the match surrounded the surprising changes in both sides’ starting eleven. The biggest ones involved Lech Poznań with coach Nenad Bjelica resting three of the players who have been so crucial in Lech’s storm up the table, Dawid Kownacki, Darko Jevtić and Maciej Gajos -opting for Marcin Robak, Maciej Makuszewski and Abdul Aziz Tetteh. Lechia’s coach Piotr Nowak left out Flavio Paixao and brought in speedy winger-cum-striker Gino Van Kessel. Many commentators questioned Lech’s decision to play with two defensive midfielders in Łukasz Trałka and Tetteh in a match which the Poznań club needed to win.
The first half of the match was relatively even with Lech playing at a slower pace than in previous weeks but they still carved open some good opportunities. When they did penetrate the Lechia defence Dušan Kuciak, so impressive in recent weeks, stood firm and kept them out. As the first half came to a close Lechia began to possess more of the ball, but didn’t really produce anything with it.
As the teams left the pitch at half-time it all, quite unexpectedly, blew up. First Sławomir Peszko pulled on the ear of Lech’s defender Tomasz Kędziora, then Nenad Bjelica pounced onto the pitch to defend his player, an action which almost provoked a mass brawl. In the midst of this Lechia’s sub goalie Vanja Milinković-Savić stormed onto the pitch to confront the referee Marciniak – it took the might of three or four players to extract the massive Serbian keeper from the scene. As a result Bjelica was sent to the stands, and four players were yellow carded.
The second half continued in a similar vein as each tackle and referee’s decision was contested fiercely. The action on the pitch had quite firmly taken a back seat to the whining from both sets of players. However in the midst of the mayhem, Lech were able to fashion a lovely goal as Trałka crossed into the box, Robak laid the ball off delicately for Radosław Majewski to whack the ball past Kuciak in the 70th minute. Several minutes later first Kuświk was sent off for kicking Jan Bednarek in the chest, then seconds later Peszko saw a straight red for lashing out at Kędziora. At that, Milinkovic-Savic rose once more from the bench, threatened referee Marciniak and was also sent off. In the end Lechia received 7 yellow cards and three reds and Lech five yellow cards.
It was certainly an odd game, but one that Lech clearly deserved to win, both for their play on the pitch and for the fact they were able to handle the pressure of the occasion. Lechia, although they performed relatively well, completely lost their nerve towards the end of the game. Lech achieved an important victory which suggests they can go all the way this season, as for Lechia could this be the beginning of the end for their title challenge or will the negative energy of their loss spur them onto greater things? The Ekstraklasa rolls on.