Synot Liga 2014-15 Season Review: Plzen’s emotional victory

As Viktoria Plzen cruised to a 2-0 victory over Jihlava and with it the 2014-15 Synot Liga championship, a celebratory mood began to wash over the Doosan Arena. But soon that triumphant feeling gave way to sadness: Sadness for careers coming to an end; sadness for lost loved ones; sadness for friends facing an unimaginable future. Yes, the champagne corks popped and everybody partied – even Miroslav Koubek got a tattoo – but it’s hard to recall such an emotional title ceremony because this victory meant much more to those involved than the monetary rewards, Champions League qualification or a medal: It was a title that was inspired by loss on a personal and collective level.

Marian Cisovsky, the Slovak defender, last played for Plzen in March 2014 before he took some time off to get a knee complaint looked at and healed up. He never returned. The injury turned to illness and the club remained tight-lipped until it eventually broke that Cisovsky, now 35, had been diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a form of motor neuron disease. Flanked by Pavel Horvath and Adolf Sadek, he was helped onto the stage to join in the celebrations. Tears flowed, as did the champagne.

“If I could swap this title [for Marian’s] health I would do it immediately,” said Miroslav Koubek in the aftermath. He wouldn’t be alone in wishing that.

It was also a special, perhaps cathartic, moment for Daniel Kolar who sadly lost his wife during the season, a personal tragedy that has loomed large over the midfielder these past months. This was their title.

On the pitch Plzen started off in stasis: They were comfortably beaten (again) by Sparta Prague in the season-opening Super Cup before being held by Pribram in their first league fixture. A systematic demolition of Jablonec breathed hope into their campaign, but they were soon brought down to earth with a thump as Petrolul Ploiesti dumped them out of the Europa League in embarrassing fashion and Dusan Uhrin’s short tenure as coach was over before it had really begun.

Hindsight, however, tells us that Uhrin was always destined to fail at the Doosan Arena, just like David Moyes was always doomed when he swapped Goodison Park Old Trafford. Sometimes, the chalice is poisoned and there’s no escaping your fate.

Miroslav Koubek was the man chosen to replace Uhrin and it was he who eventually oversaw Pavel Horvath’s transition towards retirement. With that elephant in the room dealt with, Koubek simply set Plzen up in a sensible manner and wasn’t afraid to swing the axe when necessary. It didn’t matter if you were Vaclav Pilar, Aidin Mahmutovic or Patrik Hrosovsky; if you weren’t playing well you were on the bench.

The same couldn’t be said of Plzen’s nearest challengers, Sparta Prague. Despite embarking on a thrilling, but again ultimately disappointing European adventure, Vitezslav Lavicka always looked like he was a lame duck who was being leant upon to utilise his named players. Vaclav Kadlec returned to the club in a blaze of glory but was often accommodated into the starting XI by being named on the right wing. Meanwhile, on the other flank, Ladislav Krejci retained his place in spite of a dramatic loss of form. David Lafata was ever present up top, dominating proceedings despite not really looking at his best. Kadlec out wide, Dockal central, it was all very much square pegs in round holes.

Yes, Kadlec coming ‘home’ was a big deal, Sparta’s other forays into the transfer market were mind-boggling to say this least: Jakub Reznicek was consigned to the bench and other signings barely even figured. It seemed that Sparta’s first-team was closed shop. It was to be their downfall.

Lavicka was sacked with a few games of the season remaining when all hope of silverware was effectively lost after a cup defeat to Jablonec and his replacement, Zdenek Scasny, didn’t fare much better in terms of results and Sparta casually headed towards their fifth second place finish in eight seasons. Unless they pull their fingers out and get things together, it’ll be six in nine next time around.

But with all this talk of there being a top two, the reality was that it was almost a top three. When the season was all said and done, Jablonec finished just three points behind Sparta and given Miroslav Pelta’s financial and political clout they could well break up the perceived duopoly next season.

Despite being almost universally unpopular, the FACR chairman has authorised a calculated spending spree that has seen Jablonec acquire guile, promise, and experience in equal measures. He’s finally realised that after years of selling off his silver, the best way to get to the top is to spend money wisely.

If Jablonec’s ascension is a talking point, then so is the fall of Slovan Liberec who have dropped from the latter stages of the Europa League to the bottom of the Synot Liga in twelve short, cruel months. Samuel Slovak led them on a downward spiral before the duo of Jiri Kotrba and Josef Csaplar failed to stop the rot. Players of eminent quality at this level – Josef Sural, Martin Frydek and Jiri Fleisman et al – all looked alienated and frankly disgusted at the situation they were in. Luckily, David Vavruska was promoted from within and the former youth and reserve boss dragged the club out of the relegation places and to the final of the Czech Cup, which they won on penalties. His reward was to be low-balled by the board when it came to contract negotiations….

Liberec survived, but the same cannot be said of Hradec Kralove and Ceske Budejovice who both made an immediate return to the Czech second tier. This column described the clubs as having wretched campaigns back in 2013 and we, unfortunately, have to repeat that assessment two years on.

CZEFootball’s Best XI

Vlastimil Hruby (Jablonec) – Pavel Kaderabek (Sparta), Ludek Pernica (Jablonec), Vaclav Prochazka (Plzen), Filip Novak (Jablonec) – Ondrej Vanek (Plzen), Jakub Rada (Bohemians 1905) – Jiri Skalak (Mlada Boleslav), Daniel Kolar (Plzen), Martin Zeman (Pribram) – Milan Skoda (Slavia)

Substitutes: Matus Kozacik (Plzen); Roman Hubnik (Plzen), Josef Hnanicek (Pribram); Martin Pospisil (Jablonec), Borek Dockal (Sparta), Jaroslav Divis (Slovacko); Libor Dosek (Slovacko)

CZEFootball’s Player of the Season

3rd – Pavel Kaderabek – The right-back may have been voted the Synot Liga’s Player of the Season by some distance, but whilst the full international had an absolutely breakout year that has culminated in a move to Hoffenheim he never quite surpassed our expectations of him. Meanwhile….

2nd – Filip Novak – Whatever Pavel Kaderabek did last year, Filip Novak decided to do this year. A marauding inspiration from left-back, the Jablonec player slowly turned into one of Jaroslav Silhavy’s most important weapons as the season wore on. Novak is the unsung Galactico.

1st – Milan Skoda – Who predicted this? Skoda was Slavia Prague’s shining light in what was another turgid season for the Eden club. We doubt he’ll ever reach these heights again and he could easily go down as a one season wonder, but my; what a year it was.

Team of the season

Pribram haven’t been mentioned thus far and that’s because they get this entire section to themselves, the lucky so-and-sos.

Pribram (the club that was written off by this very writer at the start of the season) went into the final game of the league season with a shot at qualifying for the Europa League. In fact, had Jablonec not fallen to Liberec in the Czech Cup final then Pribram would be preparing for a jaunt across Europe right now. Unfortunately for them, they couldn’t perform some final day heroics against Viktoria Plzen and Mlada Boleslav did just enough to scrape across the line in fourth. Even so, fifth was an outstanding achievement.

It started out badly: Petr Cuhel was sacked after picking up two points from his first seven games in charge. But then everything changed when Pavel Tobias was promoted from the academy to the first-team. Tobias oversaw a gentle restructuring process that was designed to play to their strengths: In came some rather ‘innovative’ set-piece routines and the team began to play slightly more towards the strengths of Jakub Reznicek and in turn those of Martin Zeman and Martin Fillo. By Christmas they were 10th.

In the new year, there was a changing of the guard. Again another subtle switch saw the likes of Ales Mateju and Jan Suchan both come into the first eleven and take the league by storm. Further forward, Roman Bednar had replaced Jakub Reznicek and Fillo and Zeman remained in their pomp. At times, they stumbled over the line, but they gradually climbed up the table and were in European contention up until Viktoria Plzen turned on the style in the final fixture.

And all of this was with a squad comprised of rugged veterans, those who had been written off by the bigger clubs and generally unproven youngsters. To say they underachieved is an understatement.

Manager of the Season

Pavel Tobias. See above.

Goal of the season

Nestor Albiach’s screamer against Ceske Budejovice was straight out of the top draw, and Elvis Bratanovic held his own goal of the season competition in the final fortnight when he embarrassed Plzen’s Matus Kozacik and Sparta’s Marek Stech in successive weeks.

But nice as those goals were, there was only ever going to be one winner. Step forward Milan Skoda for this individual goal against Sparta in the Prague derby.

Synot Liga 2014-15 Table

P W D L GD Pts
1. Viktoria Plzen (C)(UCL) 30 23 3 4 +46 72
2. Sparta Prague (UCL) 30 21 4 5 +37 67
3. Jablonec (UEL) 30 19 7 4 +36 64
4. Mlada Boleslav (UEL) 30 13 7 10 +9 46
5. Pribram 30 12 7 11 -5 43
6. Dukla Prague 30 11 8 11 -6 41
7. Teplice 30 9 11 10 +4 38
8. Bohemians 1905 30 10 8 12 -6 38
9. Slovacko 30 10 7 13 -3 37
10. Vysocina Jihlava 30 10 6 14 -5 36
11. Slavia Prague 30 9 7 14 -5 34
12. Slovan Liberec 30 7 12 11 -4 33
13. Banik Ostrava 30 8 9 13 -18 33
14. Zbrojovka Brno 30 9 6 15 -11 33
15. Hradec Kralove (R) 30 6 7 17 -26 25
16. Dynamo Ceske Budejovice (R) 30 5 7 18 -43 22
  • Posted by Chris Boothroyd
  • On 14th June 2015

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