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THURSDAY May 3rd, 2018
Game day. Monaco v N.E.C. Europa League Semi Final Leg 2.
Well. Days like this don’t come around very often. Not in Nijmegen, that is. In Monaco, they happen all the time. I was in the casino last night with some of the boys. I asked them for money to play with because they all make more than I do. I lost it all, but as I explained to them, it was all a learning experience. I feel that I have a much better understanding of the slot machines now and they know to sign an agreement if they think they’re lending money to someone.
It was a nice 20 degree day for the game, though I think nearly every day is at least 20 degrees in Monaco. We needed to win, so I started with the forward-thinking tactics. Monaco needed not to lose so they kept the backward-thinking tactics. Thus, very little happened for the first half an hour. Sylla drifted wide right to try to create something and he was modestly successful. It started about three minutes of hope for me. Two shots, two corners, and some possession made me happy, but ultimately it ended in nought. It did make me think we had a chance though.
Ten minutes later, I was significantly less hopeful. Balotelli stuck the knife in with a drive forward that created space for Bernardo Silva. A simple pass across the goal from Mario gave Monaco the lead. The half ended that way and I had the mother of all tasks at the half time talk. We needed to score at least two goals.
The boys obviously listened. Within three minutes we were back level. Schlupp sprinted down the flank with the ball and crossed it in just before he himself crossed the line. Sylla met it with his head at the near post. The near post is also what his shot hit, unfortunately. It bounced back out and a scramble began. A scramble that Diarra won with a thrusted shot. We were level! Miracle-watchers were put on notice.
In the 56th, we went ahead! Christian Santos crossed way early, but Sylla made the right run and was alone to tap it in past their keeper. I ran the length of the pitch a la Mourinho, sliding to my knees in front of the traveling support.
I brushed off my green pants (no grass stains) and went back to the dugout.
So glad Sylla is leaving the club after embarrassing me like that. I have taken a photo of the replay to paste in this diary to remind me of the day Sylla died. To me.
There’s no point writing anything else. Neither team scored. Each had a couple of chances. We’re out of the Europa League at the semifinal stage on away goals. And I am making a sad face for the rest of the day. Probably tomorrow too.
SUNDAY May 6th, 2018
Vitesse are two points and two places above us on the last day of the season. PSV are also two points ahead of us, Feyenoord just one. We’re at home, while the other three are on the road. So, we could finish anywhere between 4th and 7th. From memory, those four positions play off against each other to try to get into Europe. Thus, depending on results, we could have to play Vitesse three games in a row. How much fun would that be?
Game day. N.E.C. v Vitesse
Nagasawa and Graham were in the starting lineup for this final match of the season. I haven’t been able to say that very often over the last six months. It was our strongest lineup, so I expected a win. It looked good early on – Schlupp sent a long cross into a rampaging Nagasawa who headed it in at the far post.
Ricky van Wolfswinkel (his actual name) levelled the game in the 17th. Nagasawa and Graham linked up to get us back ahead, which made me happy with my transfer business in January. Graham scored his second in the 38th and we were 3-1 up.
In the second half, there were quite a few shots from both sides – more from us though. Unimaginably, the post denied Nagasawa twice and Graham once. It could have easily been 6-1. But it stayed 3-1.
We won. We finished fourth! What a crazy season. We very nearly appeared in the Europa League final, lost the Cup semifinal, and somehow jumped from 7th to 4th on the last day of the season. This was done mostly without the two big signings I made in January who were injured for a good portion of it.
Ajax won the league despite losing to PEC Zwolle. That meant FC Twente could have won it all with a home win over VVV, but they lost 2-1. What a crazy end to the season all round.
Feyenoord finished seventh, but we’re playing Utrecht. I assume that’s because Feyenoord won the Dutch Cup and they automatically get into some sort of playoff.
THURSDAY May 10th, 2018
Game day. N.E.C. v FC Utrecht. Europa League Places Playoff 1st Round 1st Leg.
No shots from either team for 25 minutes. Nerves? In the 37th minute, Danny Graham was injured. Again. Three to four months. Again. Zero shots in the first half for us. We were the home team. Did they not realise that Europe was on the line?
I think I got them properly motivated and Rios made a run ended with a cross that landed perfectly for Vela with an out of position keeper. One goal up. We kept the clean sheet and knew we were heading to Utrecht with a slender lead.
PSV beat Vitesse 3-0 in the other playoff, which is nice. I would prefer to beat them myself, but having them humiliated is almost always enjoyable. Not almost.
SUNDAY May 13th, 2018
Vitesse are out after a 3-3 second game with PSV.
Game day. FC Utrecht v N.E.C.. Europa League Places Playoff 1st Round 2nd Leg.
It only took Utrecht 18 minutes to level the score. Their striker pounced on a parried save from Jimmy Smits. We really needed an away goal. I really didn’t know how we were going to do that. Two minutes later Van Duinen blasted a shot just wide of the post and I started to really worry. Really.
In the 35th, Sylla closed down the pass out from the keeper with a ton of energy and managed to win the ball. He left the defender on the ground, took three steps into the box, sliced a pass across the face of goal, and watched Szűcs tap it in just in front of his marker. We had the away goal and the aggregate lead. Too early to shut up shop though.
Van Duinen finally got his goal in the 52nd and the tension level ratcheted up. Forty minutes was way too long. Another goal would have been nice.
Nothing to worry about – Jimmy made a killer save in the 92nd and we were through. A date with destiny awaited. Or a date with PSV.
WEDNESDAY May 16th, 2018
Valencia won the Europa League. Next year it will be us.
Game day. N.E.C. v PSV. Europa League Places Playoff 2nd Round 1st Leg.
Sylla was tired, so I had to start Djurdjic up front. Breno came back into the first team after his break though. Win some and lose some.
Another cagey start saw both teams fail to do anything interesting until the 37th when Breno sent a ball across to Szűcs whose shot was easily wrapped up by the keeper. Szűcs was the man again five minutes later when he trapped a ball inside the box from a lush, long ball from Djurdjic. As he made his move forward past the defender, he was easily dispossessed, and rather than chase the man to win the ball back he lunged in with two feet, felling the poor guy. Red card. Thanks Sándor.
In the 52nd minute, PSV capitalised on their numerical advantage. A long-distance volleyball rally saw them head a ball in at the far (and at times, the near) post. An away goal. Lovely. Twenty minutes later they got another one. Also at the far post. Maybe I should have a defender just stand near that post at all times.
I withdrew the defensive midfielder in the hope of scoring a consolation. And we did. Breno out wide sent a ball into Djurdjic who slammed it in. The game finished shortly after that. We now have the proverbial mountain to climb.
SATURDAY May 19th, 2018
Game day. PSV v N.E.C. Europa League Places Playoff 2nd Round 2nd Leg.
We headed down to Eindhoven with a full strength first eleven (well apart from Danny Graham). We had to score at least two goals.
The first came from a Breno special. He crossed into the box and Francisco Jackson was there to meet it after a lung-bursting run. It was Jacko’s first goal for the club. Sixteen minutes in and I was moderately happy.
Ten minutes later, I could have kissed Breno. He threw the ball in, took the return pass, and crossed it to the far post where Nagasawa side-footed it home. In the 30th minute, Sylla took the slightest of touches on the ankle from a PSV defender in the box and went down. Penalty! This was like a dream. Van der Vaart converted the spot kick and we were up three to zero. Away. Incredible.
One minute later, some player whose name started with Q – not going to try to spell it – got one back for PSV. He waltzed into the box and slammed it into the back of the net. My players were clearly taking the score for granted and now we were back in danger land. The Q man nearly doubled their score (and his) ten minutes later in almost the same fashion. It bounced back into play off the post though and we thankfully cleared it.
My half time talk revolved around the central topic of “don’t screw this up or I will kill you all”. I like to go the gentle route in my talks and it seemed to work. Nagasawa took the ball in the box and fed it off to a perfectly positioned Guedioura who cannoned a shot off. 4-1 after 60.
Half way through the half, Q scored another goal, but was called offside. Obviously I sided with the linesman as I always do. You have to give these guys support regardless of whether the decisions are right or wrong, I always say.
At the start of the 75th minute we were given another penalty. The ref was definitely wrong, but again, you have to support these guys, so we humbly accepted the call. Sylla took it, but kicked it straight to their keeper. Did I mention that I’ll be glad to see the back of him?
In the 84th, Vela took advantage of a sitter when Diarra’s shot came off the post and right to his feet. The goalie was on the ground. Mr. Happy Go Lucky tapped it in for number five and we were going to Europe. Again. Bam!
SUNDAY May 20th, 2018
The board actually gave me a budget for next year. Months earlier than last year. $8 million! Well, it’s not exactly firm yet, but this is a good start. Will be nice to replace Sylla and maybe get another inside forward.
SATURDAY May 26th, 2016
Manchester City have won the Champions League. They also won the Premier League. This was Joachim Löw’ first year with City. Pretty impressive debut.
THURSDAY May 31st, 2018
The board has announced we’re expanding the stadium as well as improving our training facilities. Good news for our push up and up and up. 2018/19 could be the year we finally do something impressive.