Welcome back for part 5. At the end of part 4, the Aces were still top of the Serie B table despite winning just two of their last six matches, and they’re looking to immediately bounce back having just lost to lowly Reggina…
Fidelis Andria are the team that we hope to restart a winning run against. We’re without Pinheiro, Prutton, Robben and Hersi, who are on U21 international duty, but Hofland returns to the side in place of Klompe.
There’s a goal a piece inside 6 minutes, as Lemme responds to Lundén’s opener before Madeira continues his recent return to form by putting us back in front on 13 minutes and we take that lead in for half time.
West heads in from a corner to double our cushion on 53, but Andria hit straight back to reduce their arrears. Madeira isn’t the best at one on ones, and it takes him three or four clean-through chances before he finally puts one away to restore our two-goal advantage just before the hour. He then decides to go large and make his brace a hat trick on 77.
Bakircioglü, Moukoko and Nikiforenko come on for some late game time, and I’d clearly been playing the latter out of position in midfield up until now, as he gets our sixth goal on 84 to complete the rout.
It’s transfer deadline day in England, and it’s just the one bid that comes our way, as Newcastle offer £6.75m for Hofland, but we’re no selling club I’m afraid.
A welcome trip to Venice is next as we take on 11th-placed Venezia, who we beat 3-0 at home. This is our last match before we play the four teams below us in the space of five weeks, so we could do with a win to get some more points in the bag. Our only change is Klompe for West, who is suspended after his red card against Reggina.
The boy from Belarus puts us ahead after a quarter of an hour and it stays 1-0 until half time. It’s fairly quiet up until 68, when the hosts equalise. Nikiforenko is on for Madeira on 84, and just as it’s looking like more dropped points, Tsigalko arrives late on to grab the win. Madeira and Tsigalko seem to have an agreement whereby they can’t score in the same game, but I’m happy as long as we’re winning.
Next up are Genoa, who we had an entertaining 3-3 draw with at their place. This is the first of four huge matches for us in the next five weeks that will determine our promotion fate. Genoa made three deadline day signings, including future Monaco keeper, Flavio Roma. We have skipper Taribo back for this one, who replaces Klompe.
We start well and have several chances before Madeira puts us ahead just before half time after wasting several one-on-ones… again!
Aghahowa has a chance to double our lead from the spot shortly before the hour but balloons his penalty. There’s an unbelievable end to the match as Victory handballs to give Genoa a penalty late on, which they score and look to have salvaged a draw, but Victory is keen to make amends and scores his first Aces goal to win the match with just two minutes remaining, that is dedication to the cause right there!
In other domestic news, Cagliari beat Padova to give us a six-point lead at the top, and Bologna surprisingly beat Milan 2-0 in the first leg of the Coppa Italia final.
Now it’s time for the top of the table clash with Padova. A win would put us at least 7 points clear, depending on how third-placed Cagliari get on. After his heroics against Genoa, Victory is suspended for this one, so West moves to left-back and Klompe comes in to partner Hofland in the centre.
Despite a promising start from us, the home side take the lead on 21 minutes through a certain Massimiliano Allegri, who we all know will go on to achieve great things in management. Anyway, the hosts lead at half time.
West is clearly not cut out to be a wingback, so he comes into the centre with Klompe coming off for Prutton, who takes up the left-back spot. We look to have equalised on 56 minutes but it’s another frustrating disallowed goal. Fortunately, Lundén fires in shortly afterwards to level the score.
But it’s to be Padova’s day, and Maguy scores what turns out to be the winner on 73. Nikiforenko and Moukoko replace Madeira and Källström late on but can’t carve out any opportunities and our lead is halved to three points.
Each time we’ve suffered a defeat this season, we’ve bounced straight back by winning the next match, so let’s hope that’s the case against our next opponents Cagliari, who are 3rd in the league. This won’t be an easy match and we only squeaked a 1-0 win against them last time. Victory returns from suspension, so West moves back into the centre and Klompe drops to the bench.
We’re slow out of the blocks and behind after just 8 minutes through the Czech striker, Horst Siegl. We gather momentum towards the end of the half though and somehow take a 2-1 lead in after two very late goals. I was thinking of making some changes until the 43rd minute, but I think I’ll leave it now.
The two goals right before half time seem to have knocked the stuffing out of Cagliari and they have not been the same team in the second half. Madeira actually puts away a clean-through chance to get our third just past the hour and it stays that way until the final whistle. Padova lose to Pescara and our six-point lead is restored, happy days.
Castel Di Sangro frustrated us last time as we only managed a 1-1 draw, so we’ll be looking for revenge today. A clean sheet would be nice as we’ve not had one in seven games, plus there’s the added incentive of knowing that a win will secure us promotion and will mean I won’t lose seven of my players in the summer due to non-promotion release clauses. There are no team changes from the last match.
It’s one-way traffic from the off and we’re finally rewarded on 25 minutes as Tsigalko strikes after going three matches without a goal. Madeira doubles our lead soon after and Aghahowa adds a third for good measure 10 minutes before half time. Madeira’s goal was another clean-through chance, so things are looking up. Lundén picked up a knock so is replaced by Bakircioglü for the second half.
We’re awarded a penalty on 70 mins, which new taker Madeira tucks away to make it 4-0. Moukoko and Nikiforenko are on for the final 15 minutes, as we see out the game and get a clean sheet to boot! With Padova lose again, so Cagliari are now in 2nd, and seven points behind us.
So that win ensures that we’ll be playing against the seven sisters next season, but we still want to finish top, so we need two wins out of our remaining four matches to ensure that.
In other domestic news, after losing the first leg of the Coppa Italia final 2-0 to Bologna, AC Milan manage to turn the tie around by winning the second leg 4-0 to lift the trophy.
A couple bits of good news as I scoop the manager of the month award for April and Selakovic returns from injury earlier than expected. He isn’t quite match fit yet so he won’t feature in the next match.
5th-placed Pescara, whom we beat 2-0 last time are our next match. Lundén has recovered from injury and starts, which means we’re unchanged yet again.
It’s normally Madeira who gets the early goals but today it’s his partner in crime, Tsigalko with a quick-fire brace to give us a two-goal advantage at the interval. Källström nets just prior to the hour and Aghahowa fires home late on to make it four goals for the second match running, and a good result according to the board.
Cagliari draw, so we’re nine points clear with three games remaining, and with a goal difference of +50 compared to Cagliari’s +29, the title is pretty much in the bag.
Some good news for Italian football now as Inter beat Ajax on penalties to lift the UEFA Cup after a 1-1 draw.
Chievo are one of five teams to beat us this season, so revenge is once again on the agenda, with the added incentive of knowing that a win will guarantee us the title. The last time we faced them was Hersi’s debut from hell as he lasted just 14 minutes before getting sent off and then suffering a long-term injury the following week. So in the words of Paul Simon, I’m giving him a shot at redemption, and he’s on the bench in place of Nikiforenko in an otherwise unchanged lineup from the last match.
I tell the boys to just go out there and play how they have been all season. It’s a tense and quiet first half an hour, but Madeira fires home to settle the nerves, closely followed 4 minutes later by Hofland to ensure we hold a two-goal advantage at the halfway mark.
Tsigalko refuses to lose any ground in the goal race between him and Madeira, as he scores on 55. There’s a goal from either side on 77 as Chievo’s comeback is instantly halted by Madeira’s second, but 3 minutes later they score again to make it 4-2.
I bring on Bakircioglü, Moukoko and Hersi for Lundén, Källström and Aghahowa for the final ten minutes, and wouldn’t you believe it… Hersi scores our fifth goal… you could not write it.
Cagliari also score five but the title is now officially ours and we receive a cheque for £2m for our efforts. Well played boys, not bad for a group of players who didn’t exist this time last year!
To round off this instalment, we face a trip to Perugia, who are 9th in the table. We beat them 4-0 last time, and with the 100 goals scored mark in sight, the same result would be very nice. The only change from the last match is the fit-again Selakovic coming in for Lundén.
We’ve returned to our early-scoring ways as we find ourselves 2-0 up in 13 minutes after a goal each for our prolific strike pairing, before Milan Rapajic pulls one back for the hosts. Things are going well, so I see no reason to change things at the break.
Madeira gets his second goal on 57 minutes and we hold on for our fifth win in a row. Cagliari and Padova both seal promotion this weekend, so congratulations to them.
So with just a single game remaining, we currently sit on 79 points and with 95 goals scored, so will need to hit 5 against bottom-placed Foggia next week to reach 100. In the great goal race, Madeira has 25, and Tsigalko is just a goal behind on 24.
So tune in next week to see whether we can finish the season with a win and reach 100 goals, and also to see who will finish as our top scorer… Will it be the boy from Belarus, or mystery man Madeira?