One hand on the trophy: Captain fantastic sees Legia to within reaching distance

Ivica Vrdoljak fires Legia five points clear of Lech. (Photo: Mateusz Kostrzewa/Legia.com)

Ivica Vrdoljak fires Legia five points clear of Lech. (Photo: Mateusz Kostrzewa/Legia.com)

Legia Warszawa have one hand on their 9th Ekstraklasa championship after a nervy and sometimes fractious encounter against Lech Poznań at the Pepsi Arena.

Match report by Sports Tonight Live Commentator Mike McKenna.

When Jan Urban arrived in Warsaw on a one year contract last summer, the message from Legia’s board was very simple: we want the title, and anything less is a failure. After Saturday’s lunch time kick off, Urban has brought his men within touching distance of a first league championship in seven years.
He made two changes to the side who comprehensively put Jagiellonia to the sword last weekend, with former Polonia defender Tomasz Jodłowiec dropping to the bench in favour of Iñaki Astiz, and vice-captain Ivica Vrdoljak returning in midfield in place of Janusz Gol.

Lech arrived in the capital in buoyant spirits. Last weekend’s destruction of Widzew was their seventh in a row, and they were arguably playing the better football of the two sides. Mariusz Rumak shuffled his pack by making three changes, with Luis Henriquez returning from suspension to the back 4 in place of teenager Tomasz Kędziora, while Karol Linetty also dropped out for key man Kasper Hämäläinen. Top scorer Bartosz Ślusarski got the nod to start up top.

Lech started the game very tentatively, with both Kosecki and Kucharczyk causing them problems on the flanks. Despite Legia’s early pressure though, the first shot in anger came from Mateusz Możdżeń at the other end. The U21 international scored his first of the season last weekend with a scorcher from 20 yards, but his driven effort was just off target this time.

Kebba Ceesay has been notorious at times this season for being caught too far up the pitch, and Kosecki was giving him a torrid time on Legia’s left. The Gambian was the first man in the referee’s notebook after scything Kosecki to the ground, although Łukasik resulting free kick was tame.

On 20 minutes though came the first major chance of the game. Once again, Ceesay was caught out of position with a long ball forward to Saganowski, who found Dvalishvili to his left. ‘Lado’ delivered a peach of a cross to the far post and the unmarked Michał Kucharczy somehow contrived to put his header into the side netting when it looked easier for him to score.

Kosecki was next to threaten, and when Wołąkiewicz gave the ball away on the edge of his own penalty area, the 22 year old needed no second invitation. His strike from 20 yards stung the palms of Kotorowski, although Kosecki will be disappointed his shot was straight at the 36 year old.

Legia were beginning to dominate, and carved out another chance from a Łukasik set piece. His delivery was whipped over and met firmly by the forehead of Jędrzejczyk. It was the type of header that on another day flies in the corner, but today Kotorowski made a solid save.

Lech were sparked into life by this latest let off, in particular their skipper Rafał Murawski. He found himself in front of substitute Łukasz Teodorczyk, who had replaced the injured Ślusarski, and in on goal – albeit from out wide. His driven effort was saved by the legs of Kuciak, although if he had looked up he could have tried to pick out Możdżeń, who was arriving at the far post.

Lech were forced into another change when Kebba Ceesay picked up a knock, although the full back was lucky not to see a second yellow as he left the field. He had words and a small confrontation with his chief tormenter Kosecki before he was replaced with Kędziora, but it was needless and could have been costly. Lech finished the half brightly, and when Kędziora’s cross was dummied by Hämäläinen on the edge of Legia’s box, Teodorczyk worked Kuciak with a low drive for the final chance of the half.

Lech continued their good spell from the end of the first half for the first 10 minutes of the second period, and so very nearly were in front thanks to a little defensive confusion from their hosts. A hopeful cross from the left was headed up into the air rather than away, and then off the legs of goalkeeper Kuciak. The ball dropped on the head of Murawski, and his looping header found its way over the keeper, only to be nodded off the line from Jędrzejczyk. This was to be the closest the visitors would come.

Legia took control, and after a hopeful penalty appeal from Saganowski was waved away in favour of a corner, Łukasik’s delivery was met firmly by the unmarked Vrdoljak. His effort evaded Lech’s keeper, but was blocked by Murawski. Replays suggest it might have been over the line, but in real time it was pretty much impossible to tell and Lech were off the hook.

The ball certainly was over the Lech line with 15 minutes left to play, but the celebrations in the stands were to be short lived. A great cross from the right was met by Dvalishvili and just about squirmed over the line before Kotorowski cleared. The referee gave the goal, but after a conversation with his assistant it was chalked off, albeit erroneously for offside. The wrong decision, but the right outcome as the ball had clearly come off the arm of the Georgian international.

Legia were not to be denied, and finally got a deserved lead 5 minutes from time. Lech were throwing players forward looking for a winner, and after they took off defender Wołąkiewicz for Linetty, Możdżeń found himself the latest victim of Kosecki’s trickery. The winger had been going to ground with minimal contact for most of the game, but when he found himself racing after a long ball over the top, Możdżeń couldn’t live with his pace. Kosecki raced into the penalty area and was clearly caught from behind by a desperate last-ditch challenge, leaving the referee with no option but to point to the spot and produce the red card.

Skipper Ivica Vrdoljak took the responsibility upon himself to secure the points, and although Kotorowski guessed the right way, the penalty was low and hard into the bottom corner. The Pepsi Arena erupted, the Legioniści had produced a cacophony of noise for 85 minutes already, but the deafening roar that met the ball hitting the net was the start of a Warsaw party that will go long into the night.

The 10 men had five minutes to save themselves, but they couldn’t carve out another chance of note, and despite their magnificent run this spring, the title is destined to pass them by.

Jan Urban will keep his player’s feet on the ground until the trophy is in his hands, but surely he’ll already have one eye on an even bigger prize: qualification for next year’s Champions League.

Legia Warszawa – Lech Poznań 1:0 (0:0)
Ivica Vrdoljak (penalty) 86′

Legia Warszawa: Dusan Kuciak – Bartosz Bereszyński, Artur Jędrzejczyk, Inaki Astiz, Jakub Wawrzyniak – Ivica Vrdoljak [kpt.] (Janusz Gol 87′), Daniel Łukasik (Dominik Furman 62′) – Michał Kucharczyk (Miroslav Radović 77′), Wladimer Dwaliszwili, Jakub Kosecki – Marek Saganowski

Subs not used: Wojciech Skaba, Tomasz Jodłowiec, Michał Żewłakow, Tomasz Brzyski.

Coach: Jan Urban

Lech Poznań: Krzysztof Kotorowski – Kebba Ceesay (Tomasz Kędziora 35′), Hubert Wołąkiewicz (Karol Linetty 79′), Marcin Kamiński, Luis Henriquez – Łukasz Trałka, Rafał Murawski [c] – Gergo Lovrencsics, Kasper Hamalainen, Mateusz Możdżeń – Bartosz Ślusarski (Łukasz Teodorczyk 24′)

Subs not used: Jakub Miszczuk, Ivan Djurdjević, Piotr Reiss,  Szymon Drewniak.

Coach: Mariusz Rumak

Yellow Cards: Daniel Łukasik 33′, Jakub Kosecki 45+1′, Artur Jędrzejczyk 53′ – Kebba Ceesay 13′, Mateusz Możdżeń 36′, Tomasz Kędziora 57′.

Red Card: Mateusz Możdżeń 85′.

Referee: Szymon Marciniak (Płock)
Attendance: 29 416

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