The Ekstraklasa’s points-split took effect last week, with drama both on and off-the-pitch deciding the league’s outcome. Now entering the final seven rounds of the season, there is plenty to play for at both ends of the table, and plenty of talking points from Matchday number 31. Here are five of them:
Fine margins could prove costly for the Highlanders
It had all looked rosy for Podbeskidzie after the conclusion of their Matchday 30 game at home to Termalica. The 2-0 victory seemed to have handed them a place in the Ekstraklasa’s Championship group – a top-eight finish guaranteed for the first time in the club’s history. Having snuck in ahead of Ruch Chorzów by virtue of their fair play record (their head-to-head, goal difference and goals scored records being identical); they were then ceremoniously booted out, after Lechia Gdańsk – themselves already safe in the top group – decided that they no longer wished to appeal the point deduction handed to them in January. As a result, Lechia joined Ruch and Podbeskidzie on 38 points, with the Górale losing-out on the three-way tie-breaker.
The same opponents returned to Bielsko-Biała on Sunday after just a week’s break, hoping to claim revenge by pulling themselves away from the Ekstraklasa’s trap-door. They did so too, with Mateusz Kupczak’s goal on the hour-mark earning a deserved three points.
For Podbeskidzie, it was a sixth home league defeat of the season, with only Korona Kielce and Górnik Zabrze failing to pick up more points on their own turf this season. After the points split, they now sit just three points above the relegation zone; and with games to come against Górnik and Śląsk Wrocław – two of the sides below them – they need some big results to avoid bringing their five-year stay in the top-flight to an end.
A miracle at R81? Unlikely…
“Tumultuous” doesn’t even begin to describe Górnik Zabrze’s 2016 so far. You have to go back to 18th December 2015 to find the Trójkolorowi’s last victory – 4-2 against Zagłębie Lubin. Now, ten games and just four points later, they remain rooted to the bottom of the Ekstraklasa, with relegation staring them in the face.
The points split means that, as long as you are within reach of 14th place, and hit form at the right time, safety is more-than-achievable. The problem for Górnik is that 6th-place in the Relegation Group is now beginning to advance further into the distance, and there is no change of fortunes on the horizon. With just five goals in this calendar year, and not a single one from a striker, it’s difficult to see where a victory would come from.
Sunday’s 3-1 defeat in Kraków hasn’t yet buried Górnik, but they are well-and-truly in the grave, and fast running out of air. Failure to win at least one of their next two games – at home to Podbeskidzie, or away at Jagiellonia – would leave the 14-time champions of Poland on the verge of a return to the second-tier for the first time since escaping it in 2010. And now with the demotion of three players – Paweł Golański, Maciej Korzym and Łukasz Madej – to the 2nd team due to poor performances and unprofessional behaviour, morale at the club seems to be just as low as their league position.
The league is Legia’s to lose
For Piast Gliwice to stand any chance of pipping Legia Warsaw to the Ekstraklasa title, they will have been relying on games like Friday’s against bitter rivals Lech Poznań for the Wojskowi to drop points. Alas, in front of their own support, Legia were too strong for the outgoing champions: Aleksander Prijović’s goal just after the hour mark helping to extend Legia’s lead at the top to three points.
After their 1-1 draw with Cracovia, Piast captain Radoslaw Murawski told reporters that Piast “do not focus on whether the other teams defeat Legia, but only if we defeat the others”. The fact though now remains that, with the gap at three points and requiring a swing of four points due to Legia’s better regular season finish, Piast will be relying on those other teams if they harbour any hopes of claiming the unlikeliest Polish Championship in recent memory.
Wdowczyk has high hopes for Wolski
Despite restoring his side’s advantage against Górnik on Sunday, Wisła coach Dariusz Wdowczyk was heavily critical of midfielder Rafał Wolski’s performance against the league’s basement club.
“For the first 40 minutes – until they scored – we did not have Rafał on the pitch. I told him in the locker room, and he knows it. He was neither defensive nor offensive. Rafał can, and should, give the team more in both defence and attack. Once again though, I emphasise that I am very glad that he scored the goal; but it was a glimpse, and he can play much better than against Górnik”.
Wdowczyk was clear however, that the performance will not be enough for him to remove Wolski from his starting eleven to face Górnik Łęczna on Wednesday evening. The 23-year-old has been in startling form since his return to Poland from Belgian club Mechelen, claiming four goals and five assists in seven games. He could even be in contention for a call-up to Adam Nawałka’s Poland squad for Euro 2016 – a spot Wolski’s club manager clearly feels he is more than capable of filling.
For a side which has seen just one defeat in its last FIFTEEN games, it seems silly to suggest that Pogoń Szczecin need to do a little bit more if they wish to claim the third European spot. However their advantage over the chasing pack has been significantly slashed in recent weeks – largely due to a run of five-straight draws, and going without victory since the middle of February.
Czesław Michniewicz’s side are indeed resilient – since the turn of the year they have taken points off of 5 of the seven other teams in the Championship Group, and with just four defeats all season they are clearly no pushovers. However it is the lack of wins which could put an end to their European dream. Pogoń have lost 17 points from winning positions this season – nine of them during the last eight games. Only by being able to hold onto a lead will the Portowcy be able to snatch a podium place from the likes of Cracovia, Lech or Zagłębie.
Pogoń’s back-line is the second-tightest in the league this season, conceding on average once-a-game; however their attack is the joint-worst in the Championship Group, with even two Relegation Group sides boasting more goals to their name. If they are able to take a lead and then concentrate on their strengths, rather than try to kill a game with a second goal, there’s no reason that there cannot be a bronze medal with Pogoń’s name on it.
Great round-up: have been a bit out of the loop. Be a shock to see Legia blow their centenary Ekstraklasa from here!