The Pierwsza Liga Promotion Push

With nine games left in the Polish Pierwsza Liga, we are all set up for an interesting climax to the season. With Arka Gdynia in sixth a mere five points behind leaders Pogoń Szczecin, the race for the title – as well as the battle for the second-placed promotion spot – is destined to go right down to the wire. So when the curtain falls on the second tier’s season, here are the clubs who EKSTRAKLASAreview thinks could be in with a shout of reaching the top-flight promised land.

 

Hailing from the north-eastern corner of Poland, Pogoń Szczecin currently top the Pierwsza Liga on 45 points, just four goals clear of their nearest rivals; a gap that, before the spring round started in mid-March, was a much clearer four points. With Pogoń returning to action as favourites to make their way back to the Ekstraklasa after a five-year absence; three successive losses in late-March and early-April saw the Pogoń board dismiss manager Marcin Sasal, and replace him with former Śląsk Wrocław and ŁKS Łódź boss Ryszard Tarasiewicz.

It’s been a long, hard ride for fans of the Portowcy since their Ekstraklasa relegation in 2007, and subsequent demotion to the fourth-tier for their financial problems. Two successive promotions were followed by a couple of seasons stuck in mid-table, just one level below the top flight. This season is the closest that they have been to returning to the Ekstraklasa; but with form dipping, and a change at the helm, it remains to be seen whether Pogoń can hold onto one of those all-important top-two spots.

Last nine games:

Ruch Radzionków (A)

Flota Świnoujście (H)

Dolcan Ząbki (A)

Kolejarz Stróże (H)

Bogdanka Łęczna (A)

GKS Katowice (H)

Zawisza Bydgoszcz (A)

Wisła Płock (H)

Arka Gdynia (A)

 

Nieciecza (or to give them their full, sponsored name, Termalica Bruk-Bet Nieciecza) have so far been the surprise of the Pierwsza Liga season. Less than ten years ago, the small club from the Małopolska region were playing in the Tarnów A Klasa (sixth-tier); before four promotions in just seven seasons saw them quickly rise to a level which fans could only have dreamed of. Their success has coincided with, and been massively helped by, a their sponsorship with the local concrete company which adorns their name.

Finishing last season back in 14th position, Nieciecza picked up a few young players from the youth teams of Ekstraklasa clubs, as well as a few from the lower leagues to strengthen their squad. Despite having only lost four games (the lowest number in the league, and two less than leaders Pogoń), Nieciecza have drawn 9 of their 25 games so far – leaving them tied on 45 points with Pogoń at the top of the league. Currently they occupy the second promotion spot; and with only their final game of the season against a current top-six side, the Orange and Blues could – against all-odds – find themselves as an Ekstraklasa team by the time that May ends.

Last nine games:

Sandecja Nowy Sącz (H)

Górnik Polkowice (H)

Olimpia Elbląg (A)

Olimpia Grudziądz (H)

Ruch Radzionków (A)

Flota Świnoujście (H)

Kolejarz Stróże (A)

Dolcan Ząbki (H)

Bogdanka Łęczna (A)

 

Having been relegated from the Ekstraklasa at the end of the 2009/10 season, Silesian club Piast Gliwice have been aiming to find their way back there for almost two seasons now. After falling drastically short last season, finishing 17 points behind second placed Podbeskidzie, Piast are now in a prime position for a promotion challenge. With only two sides to play from their potential challengers, the Niebiesko-Czerwone have one huge advantage over their rivals – the home advantage.

After spending last season playing in front of small crowds at Odra Wodzisław’s Stadion MOSiR due to renovation works at their own ground in Gliwice, Piast were allowed to switch their opening home ties with the corresponding away fixtures until the opening of their new 10,000-seater stadium in late October. This means that, of their 14 remaining games after the winter break, only the opener against Pogoń Szczecin, and May’s trip to Bogdanka Łęczna were scheduled away from home.

With just two points to make up to the promotion spots, there is no reason why Piast cannot push on and return to the Ekstraklasa. Although they face tough games against Zawisza Bydgoszcz and Bogdanka, and Silesian derbies against Radzionków and Katowice, the home advantage will give them a massive boost for the remainder of the season.

Last nine games:

Olimpia Elbląg (H)

Olimpia Grudziądz (H)

Ruch Radzionków (H)

Flota Świnoujście (H)
Dolcan Ząbki (H)

Kolejarz Stróże (H)

Bogdanka Łęczna (A)

GKS Katowice (H)
Zawisza Bydgoszcz (H)

 

Another one of this year’s surprise packages, Zawisza Bydgoszcz were only promoted from the II Liga in the summer, and have gone on to make an instant impact on the second tier. After dropping from the top-flight back in 1994, the club experienced a rapid downfall – even reaching the fifth tier for a season back in 2002/03. After five years in the fourth tier and another three in the third, Zawisza finally made it back to the second level in the summer, and have been quick to impress.

An 12-game unbeaten start to their I Liga campaign lifted the Rycerze Pomorza quickly to the top of the table; but without a win in October – including losses to Pogoń Szczecin and Arka Gdynia – Zawisza surrendered the top-spot before Christmas. On their return to action in March, a win against Olimpia Grudziądz looked to set the tone for their run-in; but just two points from their next four games has left their challenge stumbling. If the teams above them hadn’t dropped so many points too, Zawisza could well have been out of the race.

The Blue and Black of Zawisza have one of the more difficult run-ins to the season, as they face tough trips Piast Gliwice and Bogdanka Łęczna; whilst they host both Arka Gdynia and Pogoń to their 20,000 capacity Zdiszław Krzyszkowiak Stadium. If they can come through those games without too much damage, we could be seeing Zawisza in a push for promotion.

Last nine games:

Bogdanka Łęczna (A)

GKS Katowice (H)

Górnik Polkowice (A)

Wisła Płock (A)

Arka Gdynia (H)

Polonia Bytom (A)

Pogoń Szczecin (H)

Warta Poznań (A)

Piast Gliwice (A)

 

Back in the second-tier after a three-year spell in the Ekstraklasa, coastal club Arka Gdynia are aiming to make it back to the top-flight at the first attempt. Czezh boss Petr Nemec has had to build the majority of his squad from scratch, following the loss of 30 players over the last 12 months. But with just nine games left, Arka are in a great position for a late promotion charge.

After suffering the last-day heartache of relegation last season, a depleted Arka took five games to pick up their first victory of the season, and then had to wait another four games to pick up their second. But just one league loss since mid-September’s trip to Flota Świnoujście has kick-started their promotion campaign; and are one of the form teams going into the last run of games. Arka have also managed to net 42 times in their 25 games so far, making them the league’s joint-top scorers along with Pogoń.

A fairly tough run-in faces the Żółto-Niebiescy, as they are forced to travel to Zawisza and Bogdanka; as well as taking on leaders Pogoń, and Polonia Bytom, Polkowice, Wisła Płock and Dolcan Ząbki sides battling to avoid the drop.

Last nine games:

Dolcan Ząbki (A)

Kolejarz Stróże (H)

Bogdanka Łęczna (A)

GKS Katowice (H)

Zawisza Bydgoszcz (A)

Wisła Płock (H)

Górnik Polkowice (A)

Polonia Bytom (A)

Pogon Szczecin (H)

 

The Green and Black of Bogdanka Łęczna (the name Bogdanka coming from their sponsors) last occupied a spot in Poland’s top-flight back in 2007, before they were demoted as a part of the corruption scandal which engulfed Polish football. It has since taken them five years to get within a sniff of the top-flight again, but it is likely they will have to wait at least another year.
After losing star attacker Prejuce Nakoulma to Górnik Zabrze in August, it was up to Brazilian striker Nildo to help fire Bogdanka towards the top of the league; and with 11 goals this term, he is definitely keeping his end of the bargain. However a 7-game spell without a win during October/November stalled the club’s promotion challenge. A great start to 2012 – picking up ten points from their first four games – left Bogdanka on the cusp of the promotion spots, but last week’s surprise defeat to Katowice meant that the Zielono-Czarni missed their chance to move up to third position.

Of the top six clubs in the Pierwsza Liga, Bogdanka are the outsiders for promotion. Despite being just five points behind leaders Pogoń, they have the hardest run-in – welcoming all of the sides above them to their 7000-capacity Stadion Górnik. Trips to relegation-threatened Bytom and Wisła Płock also will prove difficult tests.

Last nine games:
Zawisza Bydgoszcz (H)<
Wisła Płock (A)
Arka Gdynia (H)
Polonia Bytom (A)
Pogoń Szczecin (H)
Warta Poznań (A)
Piast Gliwice (H)
Sandecja Nowy Sącz (A)
Nieciecza (H)

As it stands, it is difficult to look outside of the top three for promotion; but if Pogoń or Nieciecza continue to drop points, one of the lower clubs could easily be allowed into the challenge. Playing eight of their nine games at home is an obvious advantage for Piast, but they will need to make their new stadium a fortress – and in Poland, there are many examples of where clubs cannot do that. Arka and Bogdanka are the two in-form teams, but they could be just a little too far away from the top two – especially the latter, who have the most difficult run-in by far. Zawisza meanwhile will need a change in fortunes to keep their push alive.

With nine games remaining, there is still plenty of time for things to change in the Pierwsza Liga promotion battle. Over the next few weeks we will quite possibly see sides fall away from the pack; but as the games come thick and fast, it'll take something special for one side to pull clear and become champions. 

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