Back in July, I wrote an article on this site documenting how Boavista were preparing for the club’s second season back in the top-flight (click here for more on that). Within that article, I asked if the club might fall foul of the infamous “Second Season Syndrome” which affects so many sides around the world after a positive debut season at a higher level. Unfortunately for Os Axadrezados such as myself, it looks very much as though that has indeed been the case.
Let’s be clear, what the club achieved under Petit’s tutelage last season was nothing shy of a miracle. Having been promoted not one, but two levels into the Liga NOS, few gave the club any chance of avoiding the wooden spoon. However, thanks to shrewd signings and a collective battling spirit in the camp, the side from Oporto not only managed to avoid relegation, but did it comfortably with a 13th place finish and an 11 point cushion from the drop zone.
One factor contributing to the side’s success in 2014-15 was a midfield with bite. Senegalese holding midfielder, Idris, was complimented superbly by the likes of Reuben Gabriel, Diego Lima, Marek Cech and Tengarrinha. There was width in the shape of Zé Manuel, Brito and Quincy Owusu-Abeyie (prior to his February release) and striking options that included Bobô, Fary, Pouga and Michael Uchebo. Add to this the solid form of Portugal Under-21 stopper, Mika, between the sticks and also the surprisingly good form of Honduras international full-back Beckeles. It was a side that perhaps wasn’t the easiest on the eye, but it was efficient.
Petit and the club were extremely active with recruitment in the summer of 2015, scouring the four corners of the globe for reinforcements. In came experienced Brazilian centre-back, Paulo Vinícius, who had been plying his trade in the third tier of Brazilian football the season before. The former Braga man was joined by compatriots, Gideão and Rivaldinho.
Also arriving at the Bessa were several African players. Ghana supplied Eugene Hackman and Samuel Inkoom, Nigeria provided Uche Nwofor and Senegal was represented in the form of Ibrahima Faye. There was Alex Junior from the Caribbean nation of Haiti and also Andre Bukia of the DR Congo.
The exotic new signings were complimented by Portuguese signings such as Luisinho from Viseu, Tiago Mesquita from Freamunde and also Renato Santos from newly promoted, Tondela. All in all, it gave the squad a look of substance but also of some experience and options.
A Mixed Start
The 2015-16 season began in positive, if inconsistent, style for Os Axadrezados. A 2-2 draw at Setúbal on the opening day was followed by a 1-0 win at home to Tondela a week later. Luisinho had also managed 2 goals in those games and things looked rosy.
Game three then saw a sound 4-0 beating at Braga. Despite the one-sided affair, Braga’s form this season has shown that losing at the Estádio AXA is not exactly a rarity for those who visit. The next game was a 1-0 home loss to Paços de Ferreira and a second red card in just the four games. Inkoom was to see red after two yellows at the Bessa, with Idris having been given his marching orders on the opening day.
There was a 2-0 win at Académica in game 5 but this was to mark a watershed in the still young season for Boavista…
The Rot Sets In
A stubborn defensive performance earned a creditable 0-0 draw at the Bessa against Jorge Jesus’ Sporting side to produce what is possibly the most outstanding result of the campaign so far. However, it was to be until game 18 in the Liga NOS before As Panteras would taste victory in that competition again. Only wins against Loures (after extra time) and Operário in the Taça de Portugal kept the home fires burning.
It all came to a head for Petit when, on 28th November, Boavista visited Guimarães to take on Vitória. A 2-1 defeat proved to be his final game in charge, with only the poor form of newcomers, Tondela, preventing the side from occupying the basement position. The former Portugal midfielder left the club with his side having managed a paltry 6 goals in 11 league games and a first hurdle exit from the Taça da Liga against Segunda Liga side, Feirense.
Under New Management
Shortly after Petit departed the Bessa, it was announced that former midfield playmaker, Erwin Sánchez, would return to the club and take over the reins. The Bolivian international of 57 caps had arrived fresh from coaching experience in his native country and had also spent 25 games in charge of Boavista during the 2003-04 campaign.
In the immediate aftermath of the coaching change, things were looking up. Jorge Couto presided over a narrow 3-2 loss at Arouca, while Sánchez was given a watching brief to get to know his squad. But, in the Bolivian’s first game in charge, there was a 1-1 draw at Estoril. A change to two up front from Petit’s preferred lone central striker, looked to be bearing fruit and this was followed up by a 1-0 win at home to Académica in the last 16 of the Taça de Portugal.
However, it looked as though form was returning to normal when Boavista went on a five game losing streak, including to sides around them towards the bottom of the table. Losses to Moreirense and União Madeira did little for morale in the camp and this run was rounded off with a narrow 1-0 quarter final Taça de Portugal loss at home to Porto on the 13th January. That said, it was an improvement from the 5-0 drubbing Porto had handed out to their local rivals just three days prior.
January Reinforcements Turn Things Around
Sensing the need to make improvements to a squad that was clearly struggling with the demands of Liga NOS football, Erwin Sánchez set about pruning and re-shaping the squad. It’s perhaps no surprise that he relied heavily on his Latin American roots to strengthen. In from Argentina came striker, Imanol Iriberri, from Jorge Wilsterman in Bolivia; from Blooming in Bolivia came Spanish midfielder, Mario Martínez; Colombian striker, Cangá, arrived from Atlético Huila and there was also English-born Algerian midfielder, Aymen Tahar, who arrived from Romanian club, Steaua Bucharest.
The turnaround was immediate as Jornada 18 saw Boavista wrack up their biggest victory of the season to date - a 4-0 win at home to Setúbal. And this was followed up a week later with a 2-1 victory at fellow strugglers, Tondela. Imanol Iriberri grabbed his first goal of the campaign as Boavista now possessed a real presence in the final third.
A hard-earned 0-0 draw at home to Braga on 31st January had many at the Bessa believing that good times were back and relegation could comfortably be avoided. And this was further enforced with an impressive 1-0 win at Paços de Ferreira, this time thanks to a Mario Martínez goal. Some were disappointed by the subsequent 0-0 draw at home to struggling Académica but it meant that a five game unbeaten streak had taken the side out of the drop zone, finally.
There was a three game run of defeats to follow, one of which was at the Alvalade against a title-chasing Sporting side but a 3-0 win in Madeira against Marítimo eased the worries of the faithful. And that brings us neatly to the latest result which was an extremely heartbreaking 1-0 loss at the Bessa against table toppers Benfica. I say this not because Benfica didn’t have more than enough chances to put the game to bed earlier, but because it took until the 93rd minute for Jonas to give the leaders all three points.
And so there are seven games left of the season for Boavista to pull clear and save themselves from relegation. Erwin Sánchez will be looking to the games at Moreirense and at home to União Madeira for maximum points. There are also games against mid-table sides such as Estoril, Belenenses and Vitória Guimarães which could possibly yield much-needed survival points. And they may be required as a home game against 5th placed Arouca beckons on 10th April and the side goes into the final game of the season with a short trip across town to the Estádio do Dragão. Whilst it’s reasonable to assume Porto’s title aspirations could be settled by that point, it’s almost certain that Boavista will not want to go into this game relying on points to secure survival.
It’s clear that the lack of goals is where Boavista have really fallen down this season. It was clear early on that Petit’s favoured lone striker, Michael Uchebo, was well out of his depth at this level. Uche Nwofor, Rivaldinho and others have been tried up top but without success in the main. Zé Manuel currently leads the scoring charts with six goals in all competitions which tells a story. And a quick glance at the goals scored column in the league table shows a mere 20 goals scored in 27 league games. Only União have scored fewer in Liga NOS this season.
Despite the lack of goals scored, there has been a positive in the number conceded. A tight and hard working defence has given up 34 goals in the league - the same amount as 7th placed Paços de Ferreira and only two worse than 5th placed Arouca. Paulo Vinícius has been superb in the centre of defence this season and looks to have been an inspired signing, despite his advancing years.
So definitely some positives for those of us of a Boavista persuasion to take from this campaign. Tondela look resigned to relegation in 18th place which leaves 17th place “up for grabs” by any one of a number of sides. With just five points separating Boavista from the comfy environs of Marítimo up in 12th, just a couple of wins could make all the difference and secure Boavista Liga NOS football for 2016-17.
by Paul Gellard