Hradec makes a welcome return to the Synot Liga, but fears are it might be brief stay
Last season: 2nd (Narodni Liga)
CZEFootball predicts: 16th
Odds: 250/1 (via Oddschecker)
Emir Halilovic – According to the reputable website Transfermarkt, the veteran centre-forward and Hradec native Marek Kulic set up 16 goals for his teams in Votroci’s promotion year. However with the step up the veteran striker looks set to begin the season on the bench. Thus the role of playmaker in chief should fall upon the shoulders of Halilovic, a 24-year-old Bosnian who joined the Czech side from Zvijezda by the way of Buducnost Banovici. With a handful of goals and assists from left-wing last year, Halilovic could be a crucial component for Hradec’s as they return to the Synot Liga.
One to watch
David Vanecek – The old adage when it comes to relegation battles is that goals are vital, and with the FNL’s runaway top scorer amongst their ranks then Hradec have reasons – 17 of them – to enter the newly christened Synot Liga with confidence that they can outscore their rivals at the foot of the table. But the former Plzen man is, so far at least, a one-season wonder and enters this campaign with a lingering injury. He’s one to watch and was arguably Hradec’s most important player in the second tier, but football is a cruel mistress sometimes.
Just like Ceske Budejovice, Hradec Kralove ascended to the Synot Liga after a season away in the Narodni Liga, and just like Budejovice Hradec is likely to face a tough test on their immediate return to the Czech top flight.
If Budejovice had the strongest squad in the second division last year then Hradec were easily the most consistent. Devoid of sustained periods where form vanished, Lubos Prokopec fashioned a side that exhibited both youthful exuberance and experienced game management in equal measures and the Votroci calmly dealt with everything that was put in front of them, none more so than their nervy final day encounter with local rivals Pardubice.
Front and centre of Hradec’s successful stint in the Narodni Liga was David Vanecek, who scored 17 goals in 23 games before injury curtailed his prolific season. The former Plzen man was on the verge of becoming known as a lower-league journeyman before he had even turned 23 – before joining Hradec, Vanecek had previous loan spells with Usti nad Labem, Banik Sokolov, Vlasim and Jihlava – but those fears were allayed: with the security of employment, the gangly striker prospered. However in worrying news for the 1960 Czechoslovak champions, Vanecek will miss that start of the season after picking up a serious injury at the tail end of last season.
Prokopec has moved to reinforce attacking options by signing Hynek Prokes from Frydek-Mistek and Pavel Cerny from the Kazakh side Ordabasy, but strength in depth remains a problem despite a number of summer acquisitions.
One signing that has gone somewhat against the grain is the capture of David Stipek from Viktoria Plzen. Touted as the one to watch in red and blue, an ill-fated loan spell with Mlada Boleslav followed for the winger and on his return to Plzen the 22-year-old ended up being irrevocably lost in the shuffle. With first-team football almost certainly guaranteed and David Vancek’s rise to prominence in Hradec white, the true potential of Stipek will be on show once more.
Whilst the gangly Vanecek will likely lead the line upon his return to full fitness, the defence is seemingly built around another giant of the game; Adrian Rolko. Lanky and sporting an iconic ponytail, Rolko has been around the block a couple of times yet his age is his biggest weakness. At 35 the former-Mlada Boleslav defender has plenty of experience, but injuries have curtailed what little pace he has and the quicker front lines of the division will undoubtedly be targeting his creaking frame.
On paper Hradec’s squad looks set to struggle on their return to the top flight, however if they can negotiate their first four fixtures and get points on the board then, like so many other clubs, they could call mid-table their home. But it is a big if, and the club enter the season favourites for the drop.
In: David Stipek (Viktoria Plzen, loan), Ales Cermak (Sparta Prague, loan), Pavel Cerny (Ordabasy), Petr Mares (Viktoria Zizkov), Jakub Chleboun (Irtysh Pavlodar), Hynek Prokes (Frydek-Mistek), Matej Kotis (Varnsdorf), Radim Ottmar (Zivanice), Jan Kosak (Jihlava, loan)
Out: David Sixta (Chrudim, loan), Jiri Podebradsky (released), Radek Hochmeister (released), Jaroslav Zeleny (Karvina, loan)
- Posted by Chris Boothroyd
- On 23rd July 2014