It's been quite an eventful month: matches against two of the Bucharest sides - Steaua and Rapid, a new coach, a cup match. So let's take it from where we left.
It was supposed to be a life and death match, but instead it was one of the most boring and uninteresting of clashes. I can't even say that Poli and Steaua were taunting each other, as both suffered severely in the tactical compartment. Perhaps unaware of the actual realities in Romanian football, Petrovic lined up an ultra-defensive team with 5 defenders, against a shadow of the team that Steaua's name from twenty years ago might suggest. Thus, the first half, we simply had no opportunities at all, letting our adversaries control the game. Not even at half time, did Petrovic react. It was necessary to concede a goal for him to finally send in some offensive players: Zicu and Magera before the one hour mark, and Contra in the 64th minute, who would go on to score the equalizer from a very good free kick. We could have won, but the changes were a bit too late. Looking back, I feel these were two points lost. While at that time Steaua were 4 points ahead of us, today they have fallen 2 points behind us.
After this match, the players enjoyed a two-week break due to the European qualifiers. During this time, Poli signed two players - right wing Helder and attacker Nikolic, whom I have presented earlier.
Rumors were already running that Petrovic would be assigned to the Serbian national team. Indeed, the away match against Astra was his last one as Poli's coach. And it was one of the poorest yet. You could have excused the decisions for the match with Steaua, as the players were relatively tired after the joust with Manchester City, and had, perhaps, gotten used to the defensive system, but to play in the same manner against Astra as well, after two weeks? Preposterous.
As in the previous match, after an uneventful first half, we conceded a goal close to the 60-minute mark. To blame is the totally misguided defense, after one of the dumbest moves I've seen from a Poli coach. Despite the appalling display of the hostilities, at half time, Petrovic decided to take out an attacker - Goga, and send in Mera, a central defender - the fourth one on the pitch! Admittedly, Helder moved up a notch to play midfield, but the whole defensive line was composed of central defenders, who were totally confused as to where each one's place was. As had become customary, Poli pushed ahead with Zicu, and the goal came with 15 minutes to goal, after a great header for Helder, who made an excellent debut for Poli. Nothing happened till the end, as Petrovic was satisfied with the draw, or rather was fearful of a defeat.
In the time spent at Poli, Petrovic managed 2 wins and 5 draws in the championship, one win and a draw against MyPa and two defeats against Manchester City. Following his departure, the easiest solution at hand was to appoint Contra, who was also approaching the end of his football career. With no experience whatsoever, he put a great amount of effort in preparing the matches for the next period. He started well enough with a win, albeit a hard one, against Sportul Studențesc. In the customary manner, Poli conceded a goal after a quarter of the match, when we were in control. However, it would be Scutaru's night, who scored two goals, both after a header. The end of the match found Contra sending himself on the pitch to guard the one-goal advantage, which almost proved fatal, as the opponents came surging down. Contra almost destroyed his first match as coach, when he headed a ball straight into Pantilimon's crossbar.
Only a few days afterwards came our first cup match, against Juventus Colentina, a Bucharest outfit from the second league. A few of the key players were rested, and some less used players were given the chance to show their stuff. Among them was Mansour, who was coming after an injury, and it was his first match after the one against MyPa. It started great for him, having the first opportunities and scoring the first goal. But it all came crumbling down when he injured himself close to the end of the first half. A ligament rupture and around 6 months off for the unlucky Senegalese. The win was quite easy, but not without tension, as after leading 3-0, Cisovsky received a red card, and we also conceded a goal, but it all ended well.
The next match marked the first away win for us this season, against Pandurii Targu Jiu, where Axente managed to score his only goal in what has been a very dry period for the young striker.
And so we reach the last match, and the most important yet. Rapid was having a great period, with consecutive wins and at big goal differences. They had the best defence in the country, with only 4 goals against in 9 matches, and also the second number of goals scored. This was a battle between second and third. The beginning looked very dark for us. We couldn't keep control of the ball, Rapid looked superior, and we were wondering if we would ever be able to score, especially after Rapid took the lead in the 25th minute. Luckily for us, the equaliser came very quick and swiftly, when Alexa provided an excellent cross for Zicu's header. Poli began to connect passes more easily, and looked more into the match, as Rapid sat back, waiting for the end and a well earned draw. Helder was very hard working on the side, putting a lot of effort into it. Once again, Contra decided to take matters into his own hands and came in, retreating the Brazilian to the defender's line. Good move, as one of Rapid's long ball met him, and he blasted it back, finding Rapid's line of defenders too high, and our attackers in an excellent position. It was Zicu to score the double in an excellent win for Poli, which was his ticket to being capped by the national team for the match against France.
The best player for this month is Zicu by far, not only for his last performance, but also for how he is able to find the best place on the pitch, and is able to bring something to the team, even when he comes in the latter parts of the game. Helder proved to be an excellent acquisition, bringing that extra punch on the right flank. His sprints can always prove deadly against any defender. In fact, our whole defense was very solid, even though goals were still conceded. At least there weren't grave mistakes. Luchin is on an ascending path and in good form, and Burcă as well, after a bit of hard adapting. Sepsi was in shape, but he needs some competition for his spot. Dukic as well played very good in the cup match, and I am sure he will prove usefull when needed. On the other hand, Magera is in a bad period, with some under par efforts. But it might as well be because of the new style, which may not suit him very well. Axente, as mentioned before, was not the same as last month. This too can be attributed to how some matches went, starting from the ones against Manchester City, in which he was very isolated, and couldn't do much. Nevertheless, he scored a winning goal, and was constantly sent in from the beginning of the game. He also had a very good chance in the match against Rapid, when Zicu served him perfectly, but he lacked composure when face to face with the goalie. Axente is very important for the attack, being the only solution at the moment, but he needs to get back in form. Goga, however, is only an appalling phantom moving around the pitch, not finding his place there. It's very sad. Last, there are few words to be said about Dan Alexa, who lives up to his position as captain - the chief in defence, but also very effective in attack. Also, Pantilimon seems to be regaining his form. No more goofs, a more assuring performance between the posts, which has gained him, like Zicu, a spot on the national team. In fact, he was excellent in the match against France, having at least 3 outstanding saves, in a short period of time.
An excellent start for Contra, with 4 wins out of 4. Currently, Oțelul Galați lead surprisingly, with us 2 points behind. Rapid are tied with Steaua another 2 points behind, followed at the same distance by Gaz Metan, and then very closely by a pack of other teams, which include Vaslui, Dinamo, Urziceni, and CFR Cluj. It's a crazy championship, with very compact standings.
The two week break in the championship can be very dangerous. And the next period will be the hardest, with matches against most of the top teams. The first one is away, against Targu Mures who are currently lead, by Poli's last season coach, Ovidiu Sabău. It will be very hard, and a real test for the team and for Contra. Stay tuned.