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THURSDAY August 3rd, 2017
Game day. N.E.C. v Luzern.
Well, a two goal deficit to overcome with three away goals scored by us. 2-0 would be good enough. Taggart got a shot on target in the 14th second, which would have been a very nice start. It was not to be, but Breno sent in a cross from heaven in the seventeenth minute that landed just past the retreating defender and onto the boot of Djurdjic who was basically standing in the goal itself by the time he got the ball. 1-0.
I didn’t need to wait long for our second goal, but boy I would wait an eternity to see it again. Mr. Happy Go Lucky, Vela, took the ball from a Breno pass at the edge of the box and nutmegged a defender on his way forward, then sliced the ball between a second defender and the diving keeper. Now that’s jovial.
Now, if we could just keep the score that way for the next 70+ minutes. In the 33rd minute, Jimmy Smits, villain of match one, made a ridiculous save with his foot to keep us ahead on aggregate. Well ahead on away goals, anyway. In the 39th minute, Vela shot just past the outside of the post. Half time, we had a foot in the door to Europe.
We went back out nervously, but in the 56th minute, Buysse sent a ball into the box. It was met by the head of a defender, but it was a pretty awful defensive header. That is to say, it dropped straight to the ground where Taggart pounced and scored us a third goal. Now they’d need two goals to go through. Things were beginning to de-tense. However, I was painfully aware that Jimmy Smits was still in between the sticks. Five minutes later, I stopped worrying about that. We were given a penalty and Djurdjic converted. 4-0. Ridiculous.
In the 79th, Buysse took an audacious lobbed shot from the sideline that went over the keeper, but bounced off the cross bar and back into play. Sylla said, “thank you very much” and gave us a fifth goal. And that’s how it remained. Five goals against a European team. This tactic works brilliantly when it works. Our guys hassle the man on the ball in numbers, pass with imagination when they have it, and make forward runs from all over the pitch. Watch out Ajax!
WEDNESDAY August 9th, 2017
Game day. N.E.C. v Excelsior.
Feeling buoyant after the amazing European game, the boys were excited to put on another show for the Goffert faithful. Who better to come up against than Excelsior, perennial whipping boys. Buysse was certainly enthused. He decided he’d go for another sideline to goal lofted shot and this time it went in! Absolutely insane. That was after four minutes.
In the sixteenth, Diarra played Vela into the box and the happy Spaniard blasted across the front of the keeper and into the net at the far post. Wow. This team is pulling off things last year’s team wouldn’t have dreamed about. I credit myself with giving them the inspiration. It’s hard to imagine where else it would be coming from.
Excelsior scored before the half and that was mostly the end of the story. We won 2-1, but definitely took the foot off the pedal after the two wonder goals. 64% of possession and 10 shots on target from 23 in total. These are happy times.
FRIDAY August 11th, 2017
The press want me to pick a winner for the Eredivisie. I said no comment. Twice. That’s a lose-lose question. If I’m honest and say Ajax, then my fans (and a few players) are going to be mad. If I say us, many players are going to be angry for my ridiculous expectations. And the media would have a field day.
SUNDAY August 13th, 2017
Game day. AZ v N.E.C.
We haven’t beaten AZ in the previous four games. From the kickoff, Breno took the ball down the right flank and whipped a cross into Sylla, but it didn’t make it. A defender headed it away. In the fifth minute, Breno tried it again and this time Sylla headed it in. At 19, Sylla broke through the offside trap to get onto a ball from Breno and went one-on-one with the keeper. The keeper held his nerve though. This was turning out to be a one-note match.
Our ex-captain and general annoyance, Van Eijden, came off the bench in the second half and scored almost immediately. Both centre backs earned yellow cards shortly after that and had to be careful. In the 83rd minute, AZ got a wonderful offside goal to take the lead. I do love it when a referee wins a game.
I told the players not to worry much as we have a big European game on Thursday against Borussia Munchen Gladbach. It took me four times to pronounce that in the locker room. I think I got it right eventually. Either way, they’re big and they’re German, and we can’t let a stupid game against stupid AZ and stupid van Eijden distract us.
THURSDAY August 17th, 2017
Game day. N.E.C. v Borussia Munchen Gladbach. Europa League Playoff Leg 1.
I must say, I appreciate the Eredivisie schedulers giving us a Sunday game before a big European qualifier. Every little bit helps. Van der Vaart was taken off after 24 minutes, but thankfully it’s not going to keep him out of the next game.
Right as the clock ticked over to 30, Taggart played a ball into the box and the path of Happy Vela who slammed home a goal. I admit that I jumped up and down. A bit. I was so tempted to park the bus, but I’m still not sure how to do that. We went in at the half with the lead intact.
I asked Rafael how to park the bus as he’d played for Mourinho. He said he had no idea as he played for Harry Redknapp right after Jose and Harry made him forget everything about tactics. So, I just pulled back the inside forwards, told everyone to keep possession, and pray.
And it worked. We all just sort of stood dazed for a while before applauding the fans and heading back into the locker room to see if we could work out how we just managed to win against zee Germans. Having 59% possession was certainly part of it.
SUNDAY August 20th, 2017
Game day. Willem II v N.E.C.
I had to rest a ton of players after the midweek match, particularly as we have the follow-up match in a few days. Marengo and Rijswijk, one of our young guys trying to take the step up, played at the inside forward positions. That’s a pretty green attack. And I paid for it. We went over 60% in possession again, but with little attacking thrust, we offered basically nothing. Well, exactly nothing as far as the scoreboard went. Thankfully Willem II were worse than us. The boys were so frustrated that two of my defenders got yellow cards after the 90th minute. Oh well, a point is a point. But we really need to start winning in the league. Cup games are great, but come on.
WEDNESDAY August 23rd, 2017
I bought a new pair of green pants just for tomorrow’s game, because I am sure I’m going to have many more midweek games this season. Well, I kept the receipt, but I’m quite sure.
THURSDAY August 24th, 2017
Game day. Borussia Munchen Gladbach v N.E.C. Europa League Playoff Leg 2.
Green pants on. Pregame talk delivered. Serious time. I stood at the touch line for the entire first half. I got to watch BMG waltz into the box in the ninth minute and strike for a 1-0 lead. That tied things up rather quickly, negating our amazing 1-0 win in the first leg. Things were very tense for both teams for the rest of the half with neither group doing much to threaten another score.
In the 56th minute we flirted with their keeper a bit. Passes in and out of the box a few times finally led to a pass out to the left back, Rios, who sent in a timid cross that was caught easily. Their striker got behind the defenders near the end of the 81st minute and my heart started going nuts. Somehow Golla caught up with him and kept him to a left-footed shot that sailed way wide of the mark.
The final whistle blew. 1-0. 1-1 aggregate. Extra time. My guys were wrecked, but I did my inspirational best (which is very good), and sent them back out looking for a goal. No way did I want Jimmy Smits in a penalty shoot out.
In the 105th minute, Breno got deep down the right side and sent the ball in to Adlène Guedioura who made to shoot first time. The keeper charged out, but Guedioura instead chose to pass it in to the waiting Taggart, who simply slotted it into the net. The keeper basically ran past the ball. We scored! It was away from home. They now had to score two to progress. We went into shutdown mode.
Less than three minutes later we scored again. Breinburg sent a shot from outside the box past the outstretched hands of the keeper and into the side netting. On the inside. Absolutely unbelievable. We’d avoided penalties. We’d made it into the group stage.
FRIDAY August 25th, 2017
We got our group – Lazio, Sporting (POR), FC Kobenhavn. Not the easiest group I’ve ever met. But this is only the second group that I have met, I guess. It will be nice to go to Portugal and I’ll probably get to see Legoland.
SUNDAY, August 27th, 2017
Game day. N.E.C. v Cambuur.
The fans packed out the Goffertstadion to welcome home their European heroes. Their raucous cheering and chanting went a bit quiet after Airam Cabrera scored with 110 seconds on the board. Sylla became a man possessed after they scored. Mad solo runs with the ball, stealing it back in the box. Still didn’t score. We went in down 1-0 at the half. I gave my usual yelling exhibition. They went out and let Cambuur score again.
This must be what they call a continental hangover.