After a seventy-six day break, the HET Liga roared back into action this past weekend with a mouth-watering set of fixtures.
For some clubs, the time off has allowed them to rebuild, none more so perhaps than Slavia Prague. The sešívaní may have entered the seventeen round of games in second place, but the Prague side trailed league-leaders Viktoria Plzeň by fourteen points. That, coupled with Europa League elimination, was enough for the reigning Czech champions to dispense with manager Jaroslav Šilhavý and appoint Slovan Liberec’s Jindřich Trpišovský as his predecessor.
Trpišovský raided his old club, bringing Ondřej Kolář and Ondřej Kudela with him to Eden, and gave both of them debuts away Slavia’s tie with Jihlava. But with the snow falling, it was home side, who started the day last in the table, who started the better team and took an early lead when Pavel Dvořák calmly slotted the ball past Kolář after a well-worked counter-attack.
Jihlava, with new man Martin Svědík at the helm, rode their luck at times as the visitors created chance after chance. But try as they might, Slavia couldn’t find a way to put the orange ball in the back of the net.
Slavia’s surprise defeat on Saturday afternoon added extra intrigue to the two games played on Sunday.
Fresh from a gruelling trip to Belgrade in the Europa League, Viktoria Plzeň headed down south to Moravia to take on Sigma Olomouc. Both sides had a relatively quiet winter, with their only real business of note seeing the two clubs effectively swap strikers, with Tomáš Chorý joining Plzeň on a long-term deal and Jakub Řezníček heading the other way on loan.
In something of a surprise move given Viktoria welcome Partizan to the Doosan Arena in midweek, Plzeň boss Pavel Vrba named his strongest available XI for the trip to Olomouc. But despite fielding an experienced side, the league-leaders were second-best for most of the first-half at the Andrův stadion.
After the break, Plzeň rallied and played their part in an entertaining game of football that ultimately ended goalless. As far as 0-0s go, this was definitely one of the better ones. The point for Sigma sees them move up to second, a point ahead of Slavia.
Following on from the fun in Moravia was Sparta Prague versus Slovan Liberec, a tie tends to be all blood and thunder. When these two sides last met, they shared two goals, twelve bookings and three red cards. And things started with a bang at the Generali Arena when Nicolae Stanicu scored a sublime volley just five minutes into the game.
Nicolae Stanicu was one of three debutants for Sparta, with the Romanian, signed for a club record fee from Anderlecht, joined by compatriot Florin Niţă and Gabonese midfielder Guélor Kanga in Andrea Stramaccioni’s starting line-up. All in all, it was a good day for Sparta’s newcomers as Kanga joined Stanicu on the scoresheet and Niţă kept Liberec at bay in the game’s closing stages, ensuring that Sparta ran out 2-0 victors.
There was late drama at both the Adidas Aréna and the Stadion Střelnice as two late goals decided the games between Mladá Boleslav and Karviná, and Jablonec and Teplice. And on both occasions, it was a former Mladá Boleslav forward that got the winner.
At the Adidas Arena, Tomáš Wágner grabbed a ninetieth-minute winner to condemn the modrobílí to their fourth successive league defeat and leave last season’s fourth-placed finishers just four points off the drop zone. Over in the Czech northeast, it was Jan Chramosta, who has recently swapped Mladá Boleslav for Jablonec, who scored late on. The twenty-seven year-old’s last-gasp penalty helped his new side to a 2-1 victory over Teplice.
Elsewhere, Roman Pivarník’s birthday celebrations were cut as his Zbrojovka Brno side lost to Bohemians 1905 1-0 in the Saturday night game. The win moves Bohemka up to sixth, leaving some quarters of the Vršovičtí eyeing up a surprise chance to fight for a European place. Brno slip to fourteenth.
Baník Ostrava now sit bottom of the HET Liga after a 2-1 defeat at home to fellow relegation rivals Slovácko. Goals from Stanislav Hofmann and Czech Under-21 international Tomáš Zajíc put the Uherské Hradiště club in a commanding position before Tomáš Poznar pulled one back for Baník to set up a tense final fifteen minutes.
Finally, Zlín and Dukla Prague played out a 1-1 draw, a result that keeps both clubs locked in mid-table. Dukla’s Daniel Tetour opened the scoring when he headed home Jakub Podaný’s cross after some well-worked play down the left, only to see Zlín replicate the move down their right, with substitute Ubong Ekpai setting up Petr Hronek for a carbon-copy of an equaliser.