by Ryan Hubbard
With the celebrations following Lech Poznań’s capture of their seventh league title on Sunday, it is all-too-easy to forget that the outcome could – and some may argue should – have been very different. Not so long ago, Legia Warszawa were leading the Ekstraklasa comfortably – it was a matter of when, not if, they would capture a third-successive championship.
But ultimately, Legia didn’t deserve to claim the title – too many dropped points eventually cost them their crown. To say that they lost the title could be considered an insult to their opponents; but from the position they found themselves in – leading the standings by some considerable distance – it is difficult to believe that their failure wasn’t in some-part of their own doing.
Lech meanwhile, played the reformed league system to perfection. Hitting form at exactly the right time, turning up for the big games, and picking up only five defeats – four less than their challengers – all season; it’s difficult to find a reason why their victory wasn’t deserved. They also earned the same number of points as Legia over the season, had a better head-to-head record, a better goal difference, and scored more goals. It may have been close, but the figures stack-up in the eventual champions’ favour.
With such a roller-coaster season, identified below are the five games in which the 2014/15 Ekstraklasa title was won and lost.
1. LECH POZNAŃ 6:2 ZAWISZA BYDGOSZCZ – 20 September, 2014
While no club can win a title in September, Lech’s comfortable defeat of struggling Zawisza did represent a turning point for the club. Not only was it Lech’s third win from their opening nine games, or their first victory in five; but it was also a maiden victory under new coach Maciej Skorża.
Mariusz Rumak had been dismissed after earning six points from his opening four games; while under the three-game reign of temporary boss Krzysztof Chrobak, only a further three points were added to the tally. Although Skorża’s first game saw a narrow defeat in Białystok, the annihilation of the reigning cup holders showed the team’s potential.
Five different scorers racked up six goals, as Lech carved-up the Zawisza defence time-and-time again. The cinfidence gained kick-started a ten-game unbeaten run in all competitions, which lasted for over two months – keeping them in touch with the leaders.
2. LEGIA WARSZAWA 1-3 JAGIELLONIA BIAŁYSTOK – 15 February, 2015
Despite their lead at the top of the Ekstraklasa being cut to just three points before the long winter break; a cup trip to Wrocław three days earlier, and an impending journey to Amsterdam for Europa League action, led coach Henning Berg to field a weakened team for the visit of Jagiellonia on a cold Sunday afternoon.
It was a decision which looked to backfire after twelve minutes as Maciej Gajos was allowed space to run before firing s a sweet right-footed shot from distance, in to the back of the net off of the underside of Arek Malarz’s crossbar.
Although Gajos missed a penalty, Patryk Tuszyński’s deflected effort doubled Jagiellonia’s lead before the end of the first half. Helio Pinto pulled one back in the final ten minutes, before Gajos re-established the two goal cushion just a minute later with a simple tap-in.
Though it should have been a lesson learned for Berg, he proceeded a similarly-weak team a week later against struggling Korona Kielce. Ninety minutes and no goals later, Legia’s lead at the top had slipped to a single point. If Śląsk Wrocław hadn‘t dropped five points over the same period, Legia would have even slipped behind.
3. LECH POZNAŃ 2-0 JAGIELLONIA BIAŁYSTOK – 6 March, 2015
In third-place, trailing Jagiellonia by a point, the early-March victory kick-started Lech’s title challenge; however it was a hard-fought battle which very-nearly failed to yield results. With five minutes left, the game remained goalless, and the Kolejorz looked to once-again be losing ground on Legia.
Jagiellonia goalkeeper Krzysztof Barań had been in excellent form, denying Lech spectacularly on a couple of occasions. It was going to take something inspired to beat him, and that came with just four minutes left on the clock, when Barry Douglas’ twenty-five-yard rocket left Barań clutching at thin-air.
Tomasz Kędziora netted an injury-time penalty to ensure that what could-have been one point, was transformed into three; and while Jagiellonia had looked as though they could potentially challenge Legia, four points in six games put a big dent into their push.
4. LEGIA WARSZAWA 1:2 LECH POZNAŃ – 9 May, 2015
Lech had closed the gap on Legia six weeks earlier with a 2-1 victory in Poznań, while the points split after thirty game tightened it further – to just a single point; however with Legia’s cup victory a just a week prior to their third-and-final league meeting at Łazienkowska 3, it looked as though momentum had turned in their favour.
An understandably cagey affair in the first half, both sides seemed unwilling to commit too much for fear of falling behind in the title race. However the game turned on its head in the opening minutes of the second half. After failing miserably to clear a Lech corner, Darko Jevtić‘s left-footed shot fired past Dusan Kuciak at his near post. Just two minutes later, Legia captain Ivica Vrdoljak was dispossessed by Karol Linetty, who was allowed space to run at the Legia back-line before curling into the opposite side of the net.
A shell-shocked Legia did respond through a Vrdoljak header; but it was Lech who had most of the chances in the second period. The exception – a 94th-minute effort from Guilherme, which would have guaranteed the home side both a share of the spoils and their lead at the top of the table – was blazed over the bar, with the goulmouth gaping.
5. LECHIA GDAŃSK 0:0 LEGIA WARSZAWA – 3 June, 2015
Heading into the Ekstraklasa’s penultimate round; much of the pre-game talk was focused around rumours surrounding the Górnik Zabrze – Lech Poznań game, which the visitors won 6-1. Meanwhile in Gdańsk, the trophy was slipping from Legia’s hands.
Most of the notable efforts at goal fell Lechia’s way; but just as against Lech, the best one was squandered late on by the faltering champions: Michał Żyro failing to direct Michał Kucharczyk’s cross goalwards from just a few yards out.
The gap that had been one point, now became three. Had Legia returned from the Baltic coast with three points, Lech would have been required to win their final game against Wisła – something in reality they failed to do.