Porto were crowned Liga NOS champions at the conclusion of Jornada 32 of 2019/20 in defeating Sporting in Wednesday night’s “clássico”, Benfica’s own victory over Vitória Guimarães not enough to prevent the title heading back north.
That is done and dusted but there remains much to be sorted out in the final matches of the campaign. Famalicão boosted their European hopes this week with a late win over Vitória Setúbal, who as a result plunged further into the relegation battle as well as Tondela, who tasted defeat to Gil Vicente.
One team that has really stirred up the battle to avoid the drop is Portimonense, who looked doomed before the restart but PortuGOAL Figure of the Week Paulo Sérgio has done wonders in charge of the team to give the Algarve side a real fighting chance of staying in the division, and he led them to another crucial win over Boavista on Tuesday evening.
52 year old Paulo Sérgio has amassed a huge amount of experience not only in his native Portugal but further afield in the football world. His work in charge of Paços Ferreira and Vitória Guimarães at the back end of the previous decade earned him a move to giants Sporting before the globe-spanning element of his career began.
Spells in Scotland, Romania, Cyprus, Saudi Arabia, UAE and Iran followed, Sérgio never able to sit still on one project. His most recent task has been one of his biggest to date, hired by Algarve side Portimonense to somehow turn around an ailing campaign in which relegation from Liga NOS had looked a near certainty upon his appointment in February of this year.
He took over a club that had registered a paltry two league victories all season, half of what the next worst sides had managed. Some initial struggles for Sérgio were then somewhat alleviated in the form of the pandemic giving him time to acquaint himself with his new team more, albeit in trying circumstances, but the results of this extra time have been illuminating.
Deservedly elected Liga NOS Manager of the Month for June, Sérgio turned Portimonense’s fortunes around to now give them a real fighting chance of survival in this division, on Tuesday he led them to their sixth win of the league season to finally move out of the drop zone for the first time since the start of the campaign.
Sérgio’s style has never been overly-lauded, compared with José Mourinho (in a negative way) during his days in charge of Hearts but in the south of Portugal he has managed to blend together some of the flair that exists with Portimonense’s squad and tie in a sense of pragmatism that has not only brought about wins but a sense of toughness to beat, only falling to narrow losses to good sides in Rio Ave and Vitória Guimarães since the restart, and impressively fighting back to draw with Benfica in early June.
Tuesday’s encounter saw Portimonense hosting a wildly inconsistent Boavista side that seems capable of any kind of result this season. The home side started the more confidently as the impressive Lucas Fernandes tested Helton Leite with a firm shot in the fifth minute.
Boavista’s Brazilian keeper was being kept busy throughout but couldn’t prevent Portimonense from taking a deserved lead in the 14th minute. One of Sérgio’s big calls since the resumption of the season paying off, defender Willyan Rocha has been used far more frequently by the current manager than previously in 2019/20 and it was he that rose to head in Bruno Tabata’s corner.
Rocha’s constant recent selections over the previously immovable Jadson Morais raised eyebrows at first but the 25 year old has been excellent since earning Sérgio’s trust not only in his natural centre-back role but also slightly further forward in anchoring the midfield on occasion.
Portimonense continued to threaten at set-pieces, Emmanuel Hackman should have doubled the lead when well-placed from another dangerous corner delivery but the Algarve side found themselves 2-0 up not long before half time. Tabata again instrumental, he won a penalty kick after Nwankwo Obiora’s foul, and Rocha’s centre-back partner Lucas Possignolo stepped up to confidently slot past Leite.
Leite then prevented Portimonense from extending their lead in the second half with some outstanding saves, while home keeper Shuichi Gonda did likewise to deny Boavista substitute Cassiano. Gonda couldn’t keep out a superb late goal from Marlon but ultimately it proved a consolation as Sérgio was able to celebrate another priceless 3 points.
The turnaround in fortunes that Paulo Sérgio has orchestrated is quite extraordinary, Portimonense now dragging Belenenses, Tondela and Vitória Setúbal into the relegation dogfight that looks too close to call with only two matchdays remaining, and just 2 points separating the quartet. Sérgio might not be a coach that has earned the plaudits his skills deserve but he will have pulled off a minor miracle if he manages to keep the Alvínegros in Liga NOS for another year.
By Jamie Farr