SATURDAY December 2nd, 2017
The calendar has ticked around to December and the transfer enquiries and rumours have already started. Allegedly Ajax are going to buy Taggart from us, PEC Zwolle are going to buy Breinburg, and we’re after some Heracles defender.
SUNDAY December 3rd, 2017
Nikola Djurdjic wants to stay now. I am shocked, I tell you! Shocked! He’s a 31 year-old forward, what did he think his options were?
Game day. Excelsior v N.E.C.
After a last ditch tackle in the box from van der Heijden, the boys countered quickly with four passes and a finessed goal from Taggart. 1-0 after 17 minutes. Eight minutes later, to the very second, Taggart scored again, this time with his head from a Breno cross. Ten minutes later, Taggart got his hat trick when he took the ball at the edge of the box, did a little dance, and slammed it home from a fair distance. Wow, 3-0 with plenty of time left in the half, let alone the game. Poor Excelsior.
At half time I told the boys I was impressed, except with Taggart who should probably have scored a perfect hat trick, left foot, right foot, head. But I told him I had faith that he could make amends in the second half. That was perhaps the wrong approach.
A few minutes into the second half, Alessio da Cruz struck a ball from so far out that Jimmy Smits probably couldn’t see him. It went into the inside of the netting at the far post. An absolute goal of the year contender. I wasn’t worried, we had three goals on the board. We settled back down and got back to controlling the ball.
In the 61st minute, as I was working out who to give a rest to, Tom van Weert sent a ball across the whole pitch that went just over the head of Breno and just onto the foot of da Cruz and just into the net just past the outstretched hand of Smits. We went back to controlling the ball.
In the 86th minute, Alessio da Cruz stole the man of the match award after tapping the ball into the goal after a crazy pinball in the box. 3-3. We did not go back to controlling the ball, we went into emergency, score at all costs mode.
With three minutes of extra time, I walked back into the dressing room, embarrassed and irate at the same time. Thus, I missed the Guedioura goal at 93:17 from a Zimmerman cross. Every one of my players made sure to explain the goal in great detail after the match though. And on the bus. And when we got home with text messages and emails. And an Instagram post that went viral.
THURSDAY December 7th, 2017
I sent the backups in for the unimportant final game of the Europa League against Sporting. And it showed. Nothing to write about really, we lost 3-1. We have more important things to worry about. Like the Vitesse game this weekend.
SATURDAY December 9th, 2017
Zidane told the press he’s looking forward to testing himself against “one of the best in the business.” How quickly I’ve tamed the great man. Or maybe I should be watching out for a head butt at any moment.
SUNDAY December 10th, 2017
Game day. Vitesse v N.E.C.
I gave a spirited pre-game talk, asking (not quite begging) the boys to kick some Vitesse ass. They responded pretty quickly. From the kickoff, the back triangle passed the ball around a bit, letting the attackers take their positions. Taggart took the ball and drove into the box, taking on two defenders, then kicked it out to Breno. Our signing of the year then sent the ball across the face of goal to a waiting van der Vaart who tapped it in. I do love seeing a scoresheet with 1’ on it.
Towards the end of the first half, happy Vela took the short corner from van der Vaart and sent it into the path of a running Diarra who headed it home. 2-0 up as we went in at the half. Learning from the Excelsior game, I told the team not to get complacent. It’s hard to tell whether they all took my advice, but Jimmy Smits certainly did. He made a couple of amazing saves in the second half and added a man of the match award to his clean sheet. 2-0 on a visit to Arnhem, which is always sweet. 2-0 against Zidane is even sweeter.
Vitesse had 51% of the ball, which is unusual for an opponent of ours, but true to form on the season, as they’re currently 0.72% ahead of us on season average. Zidane has really got them performing quite quickly. I mean, he hasn’t done as good a job as I did in my first season, but one shouldn’t hold people up to such high standards.
Utrecht want Djurdjuc. Now that he’s decided to stay, I get interest. Of course. Erik ten Hag was at the game to watch Nikola. Thankfully it was not a “come and get me” performance from him.
MONDAY December 11th, 2017
AZ have signed a Chinese manager. He’s been a coach at den Haag for a year and now has made the step up. That should be interesting and provide a “clash of the superpowers” when we face each other. Obviously, the U.S. is the only real superpower, but it’s hard to create rivalry if you don’t big up an opponent from time to time.
We’ve been drawn against Galatasaray in the first round knockout. We lost 6-3 last time we played them, but we’ve improved. Hopefully they haven’t.
THURSDAY December 14th, 2017
Game day. Roda JC v N.E.C. Dutch Cup 4th Round.
I got to see ten Hag at the game again. Such a pleasure. And Djurdjic is not for sale. The joke was on him though because I left Djurdjic on the bench. Cup matches are for the backups.
Christian Santos got us started with a short cross into Breinburg who shot from distance. The shot was on target, but the keeper had it covered. Luckily it bounced off a defender and into the back of the net. Nine minutes in and we were ahead. It stayed that way until we took our break for oranges. Could we get to a quarter final?
My band of misfits went back out with a warning against complacency (worked once, might as well keep going). Santos the Adonis was the provider again, this time to Diarra who had made a run into the box. They got a goal back with twenty minutes to go after a winger pounced on a Smits rebound. But we held firm and now we get to play in a final. A quarter final, but it’s still a final.
Now for some reason that is beyond me, we get to play FC Groningen, currently in first place, twice in four days. They are on a sixteen match unbeaten streak. We haven’t scored past them in the last four games. We’ve established that the Eredivisie schedulers are no friend to we poor N.E.C.ers.
SUNDAY December 17th, 2017
Game day. N.E.C. v FC Groningen.
After four away games, we finally got to play in front of the Goffert faithful. No ten Hag in sight, which was a shame for him as Mr. Djurdjic was the man to finally beat Sergio Rochet. It wasn’t exactly top drawer stuff – the ball landed at his feet on the far post after it somehow made it past two jumping defenders.
Unfortunately, Michael de Leeuw performed almost the same trick half way through the half. His first shot rebounded off the post, but he tapped it in when it came back to him. De Leeuw doubled the misery a few minutes later with an amazing shot that went between two defenders and inside the goalkeeper.
Thankfully Taggart and Vela were up to the task of equalising just before the half. Simple football – wide run, cross to the near post, head home, run to the corner flag. Tied up at home at the half against the unbeatable team. It was a decent start.
Twenty minutes went by without much action in the second half, but we started to turn on the magic. Djurdjic took advantage of another defensive mistake and slammed home a goal in the 67th.
Groningen won a corner in the fourth minute of extra time. They pushed everyone into the box to try to score the equaliser, but as luck would have it, the ball was cleared out of the box to a lonely Taggart who had three quarters of the pitch to dribble all by himself. He got to the keeper and with a little razzle dazzle, won the one on one. 4-2!
THURSDAY December 20th, 2017
The Groningen manager (and nearly my friend) van Looi has said that he supports my use of foreign players. So nice of him to go against the trend of bashing me in public.
The Groningen players seemed a bit browbeaten after the last game. They were standing off my guys from the kickoff. Now, I haven’t built a passing, space-making, visionary team for nothing. Within 90 seconds Vela had scored. So much for Groningen’s dominance this year.
That man, Michael de Leeuw came back to haunt us though. At the end of the half, he was in the right place at the right time and tapped home an easy goal. It was his eighth of the season (four months long) and the third against us in four days.
The second half was an exercise is exhaustion as both teams suffered from the recent schedule congestion. The last forty-five minutes of the calendar year were not the best advertisement for the Eredivisie. At the end of those forty five minutes, things changed. A lazy back pass from van der Laan allowed Taggart to get to the ball before the keeper and he slotted home a winner! I’d say our hoodoo team is no longer our hoodoo team.
Slaven Bilic from West Brom was at the game allegedly watching Taggart. I can’t sell Taggart. He’s scoring well this season and his pace is a huge benefit. And I’m starting to like Vegemite. Don’t tell him that though.
FRIDAY December 21st, 2017
Now we’ve got a month off. 1st place is FC Twente on 43 points. Groningen are in 2nd with 36, while Ajax is on 35, equal with us. PSV sits behind us, three points back, with a game in hand. Those back to back matches against Groningen made a pretty big impact on the league table. There are now lots of us in contention for second place.
TUESDAY December 25th, 2017
I know I shouldn’t check my email on Christmas Day, but it’s not like I have family over here. After exchanging emails with Bilic over the weekend, he let me know today that he’d been fired. After ten months. On Christmas Day! Remind me to never take a job at West Brom.