Since the return of the Ekstraklasa in the middle of January, only three sides remain unbeaten in the League. Górnik Zabrze got off to a great start by beating title contenders Legia Warszawa, but their last five games have been blighted by draws against arguably inferior sides and a postponed trip to an out-of-form Lech Poznań. However it is two unfancied sides in the form of Ruch Chorzów and Korona Kielce who are making a Spring push for the European spots.
Although accumulating enough points to steer well clear of last season’s relegation battle, Ruch and Korona’s dismal seasons meant that they could only manage 12th and 13th position respectively in the final Ekstraklasa standings. Neither side were able to spend excessively, mostly preferring (or being forced, rather) to bring through youth or look to the lower leagues to bolster their squads.
Even though former Korona midfielder Jacek Kiełb did return to Korona on loan from Lech Poznań, and Ruch picked up Wisła fringe player Łukas Burliga; little money available in Chorzów, and the league’s second-top scorer Andrzej Niedzelan heading to Cracovia from Kielce on a free transfer, meant that both sides looked to be facing another tough year ahead.
Both Leszek Ojrzyński’s Korona and Waldemar Fornalik’s Ruch started their Ekstraklasa campaigns with 2-1 victories before the pair played out a 2-2 draw in front of a 7000 Kielce crowd in Round Two. But whereas the game was the second of what would become a 9-match unbeaten run, which would see Korona top the table; Ruch were, albeit expectedly, unable to pick up a point in their next two games – a 1-0 loss to vice-champions Śląsk Wrocław, and a 3-0 defeat to Lech Poznań in Wronki. But 9 points from their next three ties saw the Niebiescy clamber their way up the standings.
A roller-coaster late-September and October for Ruch saw single goal losses to Champions Wisła and strong visiting sides from Warsaw interspersed with important wins against their friends from Widzew Łódź and their hated rivals Górnik Zabrze. The same period however saw Korona surrender first position following three straight defeats.
Just seven points for Ruch and a mere six for Korona from a possible twelve left both sides limping towards the winter break; and when the two sides met in Chorzów for the final game before the league’s two-month hiatus, there wasn’t much in the form-book to separate them.
But clearly not ones for adhering to statistics, the home side cruised towards Christmas with a 4-1 victory; midfielder Marek Zieńczuk’s first half hat-trick and a last-minute Paweł Abbott strike rendering Aleksandar Vukovic’s penalty useless. The victory left Fornalik’s men going for their holidays sitting in fourth position – just two points from a European spot – whilst Ojrzyński’s Scyzory trailed four points further adrift, tied with Widzew for seventh spot.
The winter transfer window saw both sides remove the deadwood from their squad, but unlike in summer, bigger names were brought in for their European push. Though Korona did lose 4-goal striker Michał Zieliński to Górnik Zabrze, they took Polonia’s Daniel Gołębiewski on loan in return after he had spent Autumn on loan in Zabrze. Ruch also strengthened their already-prolific attack by bringing in former fan-favourite Andrzej Niedzielan, after his summer move to Cracovia from Korona proved to be unsuccessful.
On their return to action in 2012, both sides started by stating their intentions for the remainder of the season. Ruch drew with then-leaders Śląsk in Wrocław before ending Jose Mari Bakero’s reign at Lech Poznań with a 3-0 demolition; whilst two from young Łukasz Jamroz gave Korona three points against Jagiellonia, and a trip to an out-of-form Wisła Kraków proved fruitful thanks to a solitary Paweł Sobolewski strike.
Both sides continued their impressive unbeaten starts from February throughout early March. Korona earned seven points following wins at home to Podbeskidzie and away at Śląsk Wrocław (the latter of which can be read about HERE), before a goalless draw at Lechia Gdańsk last weekend. Ruch picked up a further five points with a victory at Jagiellonia Białystok, followed by back-to-back draws against Zagłębie Lubin and Podbeskidzie.
Korona and Ruch’s challenge for the European spots has likely been such a surprise due to their lack of individual talents within the team. Whilst their league positions will show that they have quality players in the squad, they are not reliant on star players like Wisła are with Melikson or Lech with Rudnev. This is evident in the goalscoring charts, as unlike the struggling former champions, Ruch and Korona’s goals have come from a wide range of sources.
The Niebiescy’s strike force of Maciej Jankowski, Arkadiusz Piech and Paweł Abbott have a total of 21 goals between them; and they have been backed up by a number of others including 5-goal midfielder Marek Zieńczuk. Korona haven’t scored as many, but what they have scored has again have been spread across the side; Zieliński bagging four before his move to Górnik, Korzym grabbing three and another eighteen being shared between the rest of the squad.
In contrast, only 10 of Wisła’s goals and 11 of Lech’s were not scored by their top scorer. It surely can be of no wonder that their league positions aren’t as good as the fans are demanding, when they are reliant on individuals who haven’t performed well on a number of occasions.
We will find out whether Waldemar Fornalik or Leszek Ojrzyński can guide either of their sides to European competition in the coming weeks, but they do face very stiff opposition in the form of Polonia Warszawa – and even a resurgent Wisła side under Michał Probierz.
But Korona and Ruch are helping to demonstrate that having a couple of star players is absolutely no match for instilling a fantastic team spirit within a squad. And if some of the so-called “bigger teams” can take a leaf out of their books, then maybe we wouldn’t be talking about their underachievement.
Ruch Chorzów’s Round 23 tie at home to Wisła Kraków takes place on Sunday 25th March at 17:00 (16:00 UK), whilst Korona Kielce host Polonia Warszawa on Monday 26th at 18:30 (17:30 UK).
Along with Stuart Fuller of TheBallisRound.co.uk, EKSTRAKLASAreview editor Ryan Hubbard has been working on a number of city guides for the Euro 2012 tournament. These are now beginning to trickle on to the internet over at the world-famous In Bed With Maradona. If you’re heading to the tournament, these will be well worth your time.