A poor first half of fixtures in the month began away to Mladá Boleslav, who handed us our first league defeat (and dropped points) of the season. The football on display was less than impressive, as our only goal came through a fluke and both of Mladá’s goals lacked imagination too. That fluke gave us the lead on 20′, however, as an attempted clearance from Jiri Valenta ricocheted off of Miroslav Stoch and flew into the back of the net from a few yards out. The lead was far from secure, though, as lethal striker Nikolay Komlichenko equalized for Mladá from close range on 50′, somehow evading five of our defenders to tap in his own rebound from a woodwork-rattling header. The result was pointing the direction of a bore draw up until the dying moments of the match, when Tomas Soucek illegally halted winger Ewerton’s incisive run in the box, prompting the referee to give a penalty that Komlichenko thundered into the top-left corner to condemn us to our second consecutive defeat in all competitions. A very disappointing day in Central Bohemia.
We would drop points again in our next match, this time at home to struggling Slovan Liberec. After Peter Olayinka’s gilt-edged headed chance was well saved by Filip Nguyen in the first minute, Slovan hit us on the counter in the 20th. Full back Matej Hybs found Jan Pazler up front, who stayed a step ahead of our defenders and beat Ondrej Kolar in a one-on-one. We continued to go on the attack in search of an equalizer, one we eventually found early in the second half. Jaromir Zmrhal centered to Soucek from the wing, who belted in a brilliant finish from 20 yards out. There was no way we were going to be satisfied with only a point at home, but despite our continued domination of proceedings, there was nothing more we could do to breach Slovan’s defense, and the away side came away with a precious- albeit mostly undeserved- draw to frustrate us further.
The roughest result of the month came in our first Europa League group match against RB Leipzig, who showed us the most quality of any side we’ve played this season. The match went from on to over in a space of three minutes, as Leipzig exploded for an equal amount of goals in that span. The 18th minute saw Timo Werner stick one in at the back post from a ball Vladimir Coufal should have dealt with, the 19th saw Yussuf Poulsen slam in a header seconds after the restart, and the 21st saw Poulsen score again, turning past Simon Deli and firing one into the bottom-left corner past a helpless Kolar. Things thankfully slowed down after that, but we still allowed Poulsen to claim his hat trick and Leipzig’s fourth in the second half, as an attempted clearance from Coufal ending up serving the Danish international a chance on a platter, which was easily tucked away on the volley from six yards out. We would at least have the last goal, as Soucek again worked his magic from outside the box, ripping the best goal of the day past Yvon Mvogo from 20 yards out in the last minute of normal time. It was a good footnote to a poor day at Eden, and Soucek’s strike at the very least helps our goal difference in the remainder of the group fixtures, which we will be eager to move on to after this showing.
We got back on a winning track against Sigma Olomouc in Moravia, though we made it harder than it needed to be. We got on the board first on 15′, as Alexandru Baluta picked out the run of striker Stanislav Tecl, who fired past Milos Buchta with his first touch and celebrated his first goal of the season following a lengthy injury layoff. We doubled our lead on 35′, as Soucek scored for the third consecutive game, once again from outside the area, kissing one off the underside of the bar and in. Sigma would pull one back five minutes later though, as Jan Sterba’s 30-yard free kick beat the wall and Kolar, though the latter should definitely have done better than he did. We carried that narrow lead into the half and through most of the second period, until we got on the scoresheet again on 75′ through Baluta, who was teed up first through Josef Husbauer’s free kick, then through Milan Skoda’s strong header, which found him at the back post to volley in our third. But Sigma ensured this one finished nervy, as poor marking on an 81st-minute corner allowed Martin Nespor ample space at the back post to head in the home side’s second. We were able to prevent an equalizer, though, and came only a few inches away from a fourth when Husbauer’s free kick rattled the crossbar deep in added time. A good performance overall, but we need to do a better job defensively if we want to get back to winning games consistently.
Our first cup fixture of the season saw us host Vitkovice– a side at that time bottom of the second division standings- and our top-tier quality shone through in this one, as we thrashed them 6-0. This was a great day for our 2nd XI to prove their worth, as we put out a heavily rotated side but still cruised to victory. Ondrej Kudela got us started on 9′, scoring his first of the season with a low drive into the bottom-left corner. Backup Croatian midfielder Marko Alvir then took center stage, first driving home a beauty from outside the box into the bottom-right corner on 14′, then steering in a volley following a game of head tennis in the box on 39′. Our three goals in the first half would be followed by another three in the second. Alex Kral powered in a header from Jaroslav Zeleny’s free kick on 51′ to bag his third goal of the season from the back, the substitute Zmrhal scored a header of his own on 85′ from Stoch’s assist, who then repaid the favor in stoppage time by teeing up Stoch to score from close range and cap a magnificent day for the Slovakian, who had set up three goals in total and bagged our sixth for himself. A confidence booster if there ever was one, as we coast into the Fourth Round of the Pohar, the tie set for Halloween night… tasty indeed.
We ended September with our first meeting against local rivals Dukla Praha, and just as with Bohemians, we opened our season series with them with a home victory. Though we again dominated proceedings- as per usual domestically- this also ended up being a hard-fought win. Stoch carried his form from the cup game into this one, as he got our first goal of the day on 28′, cutting inside from the right wing and outpacing Dukla’s defenders before sliding the ball past Filip Rada. But Dukla responded in shocking fashion, breaking our high line straight from the kickoff and setting Vojtech Hadascok loose on goal, who slammed his finish past Kolar with Dukla’s first effort of the game. We made sure we didn’t lose our cool following the setback, but we had to be patient to find our winning goal, which came two minutes short of the hour mark. Jan Boril’s byline cross met the head of Olayinka, whose first effort was saved by Rada, but the Nigerian won the race to the rebound and scrambled the ball over the line from close range. We seemed much more confident after the second goal than we did after the first, as Dukla didn’t register a single shot after that point, and finished with only two total. After the two disappointing results in the league to start the month, this derby win at the end of it was especially important.
The good news at the end of this month is that we’re leading the Synot Liga on goal difference with a game in hand, after having dropped to third following the Mladá loss. The rest of the table is where there lies some interest. The team closest to us is Karviná, a small club on the Polish border who were predicted to finish 13th in pre-season. We’ll play them at their place in our first league match of October, in what should be a cracking game. Jablonec and another surprise package in Pribram have also started well, whilst Plzen and Sparta have already lost four games apiece, the latter looking completely lost near the foot of the table, albeit with two games in hand. That draw to Slovan looks especially bad considering they’re rock bottom with just one win from ten games, which is odd considering that they usually finish in the European places and were champions as recently as 2012.
We’re also last in the EL group after one game, which was to be expected after the 4-1 loss. Worse yet, København beat Anderlecht in a match which I was hoping would end in a draw. This means that we’ll likely need to beat the Belgians in Brussels on Matchday 2 to be in contention for advancing from the group. Bring it on.