Matchday 26: It’s been a pivotal week at both the top and bottom of the league
When the final whistle went at the Stadion Střelnice on Sunday evening to bring an end to an exciting and unpredictable round of games, it felt as if much had been settled. But paradoxically too, there was an air of the unknown still lingering, such was the gravity of the weekend’s results.
At the top of the table, Viktoria Plzeň
took a huge step towards claiming their fifth league championship in eight
seasons as they comfortably strolled to a 2-0 victory over
relegation-threatened Karviná. After tormenting Zbrojovka Brno last weekend,
Aleš Čermák immediately set about the task of tying Karviná’s back four up in
knots. With the game in its infancy, the attacking-midfielder turned this way
to set up Tomáš Hořava, only to see Ondřej Lingr’s last-gasp challenge deny the
hosts an early lead.
After creating multiple chances that were all thwarted at the death by some desperate Karviná defending, Plzeň eventually took the lead five minutes before halftime. And it came from the boot of Tomáš Hořava, who opted to try his luck from twenty-five yards out.
The second-half followed a similar pattern to that of the first with the hosts creating multiple chances, only to be continuously denied by a mixture of ragged defending and wayward finishing. But Karviná failed to make Plzeň pay and Pavel Vrba’s side sealed the points with a quick-thinking counter-attack late on that caught the visitors cold. If Viktoria avoid defeat next week away at Slavia Prague, they’ll be crowned champions.
If Plzeň put one hand on the league title this past weekend, then Zbrojovka Brno took a giant stride towards confirming their place in the FNL next season. The struggling Moravian giants fell to their fourth successive defeat as they were beaten by Dukla Prague in the Czech capital.
Brno actually took the lead and looked on course to pick up a vital three points when Michal Škoda fired in from close range. But just before the interval, Dukla equalised through Lukáš Holík before they took the lead ten minutes into the second-half when Ivan Schranz’s header squirmed through the grasp of Pavel Halouska. The defeat, coupled with results elsewhere, leaves Brno stranded at the bottom, six points away from safety with just twelve left to play for.
Elsewhere, it was a chaotic weekend and no match was as chaotic as the clash between second-bottom Baník Ostrava and Sparta Prague.
The rivalry between Baník and Sparta needs no introduction and the two sides have already served up two classics this season, with Baník triumphing in the MOL Cup on penalties after an entertaining 2-2 draw, only for Sparta to gain a measure of revenge by recording a 3-2 victory in the league a few days later.
Here, there was another 3-2 result. But crucially, this time it was in favour of Baník Ostrava and in a similar way to that reverse in Prague, a late goal settled the tie for the home side.
After some Sparta pressure that forced an Laštůvka into action, Baník took control of the tie and opened the scoring through central defender Martin Šindelář. That lead did not last long, however, as the visitors piled forward in search of an immediate response, which they found when Srđan Plavšić was felled in the box just before the half-hour mark. Guélor Kanga made no mistake from twelve yards.
The capacity crowd at the Městský stadion v Ostravě-Vítkovicích had to wait until the second half to see another goal, though there was plenty of action in between, with Milan Baroš seemingly at the epicentre of every flashpoint.
Marek Hlinka restored Baník’s lead with a well-taken free-kick but again, the home side’s advantage didn’t last too long as Sparta quickly equalised, this time through Václav Kadlec.
The hosts should have scored their third through Robert Hrubý’s, but the international midfielder was denied and left lost for words as he watched Florin Niţă somehow keep his spectacular diving header out. And just to make things worse, Hrubý saw Tomáš Poznar put the rebound the wrong side of the post.
There was to be late drama and a final twist in the tale when Milan Baroš, after skying high from six yards out and clashing with Martin Frýdek, stooped to head in a cross from the Brazilian winger Dyjan Carlos de Azevedo. Baroš ran away in celebration as Baník recorded another crucial victory in their battle against the drop, one that came at the expense of one of their biggest rivals.
Jablonec welcomed their north Bohemian rivals Slovan Liberec to Střelnice on Sunday. And under the shadow of the Jested mountain, Jablonec managed to gain some measure of revenge for the defeat they suffered the last time these two sides faced off in the league. Although Slovan started the better team, it was Jablonec who were much the better side on the evening, picking up a deserved 2-0 win thanks to goals from Martin Doležal and Jaroslav Diviš.
The victory for Jablonec moves them above both Liberec and Sparta into fourth.
Sigma Olomouc remain third due to a 2-1 win away at Teplice. The Champions League hopefuls made a fantastic start to the tie, taking the lead after just forty-seven seconds when Tomáš Zahradníček raced in behind the Teplice defence and squeezed the ball in from a tight angle.
That lead lasted just six minutes as the Glassmakers quickly responded and levelled through Tomáš Kučera’s deflected shot. The third – and decisive – goal came deep into the second half and ultimately settled the tie in favour of the visitors. Zahradníček turned provider, with his corner finding an unmarked Jakub Plšek, who guided his header into the bottom corner.
With that victory, Sigma were able to cut the gap to second-placed Slavia to just two points, thanks in part to Slavia’s 0-0 draw with Slovácko. Next up for the defending champions is now a must-win tie with Viktoria Plzeň – if the Slavia do not beat the current league leaders, then the title will be heading west to the Doosan Arena.
Just like the tie at Eden, the game between Vysočina Jihlava and Mladá Boleslav ended goalless after ninety minutes. And the match between Zlín and Bohemians 1905 also ended all square, though the near-4,000 crowd Letná were treated to two goals. These came at opposite ends of the match, however, with Moses Ubong Ekpai putting the hosts ahead after two minutes. That early strike seemed to have put Zlín well on their way to securing their eighth victory of the season, only to be denied the three points when Martin Hašek equalised for Bohemians deep into stoppage time.