Śląsk Wrocław so nearly pulled off a miracle comeback after falling 3-0 behind to Jagiellonia Białystok yesterday, and were left to rue missed opportunities after their 3-2 loss. The match took place in scorching sunshine and sweltering temperatures around the 40c mark, turning Stadion Wroclaw into a giant sauna and creating a huge challenge for the players. Stanislav Levy's team have no time to lick their wounds however, and will gearing themselves up to prepare for the visit of Club Brugge in the Europa League qualifiers this Thursday.
Given the extreme temperatures and high humidity yesterday, one could be forgiven for predicting a low-scoring match played out a snail's pace. That's not how it turned out however, as the two sides produced an Ekstraklasa classic. Sadly it was Śląsk who came out on the losing end, thanks to some defensive mishaps and spurned opportunities in the final moments.
It was the home side who were on the front foot in the opening stages, with Śląsk's forward line looking eager to press the Jagellonia defence and force them into mistakes. Patejuk in particular was buzzing on the left wing, and Śląsk looked the more likely to break the deadlock early on. Sadly however, that's not how it turned out as it was the visitors who took the lead in the 25th minute. A swift Jagellonia counter attack culminated in a square ball across Śląsk's penalty area, which was neatly dummied to allow Rafał Grzyb time to compose himself and wrong foot Gikiewicz in goal.
Jagellonia then added to their advantage with the last kick of the second half, much to the frustration of head coach Stanislav Levy. Martin Baran was left completely unmarked in the penalty area following Jagellonia's corner, and after latching on to a header, the defensive midfielder had enough time to turn and volley the ball into the back of the net.
With Śląsk Wrocław 2-0 behind, Levy opted to throw caution to the wind, bringing on more offensive players in the shape of club captain Sebastian Mila and new signing Marco Paixao. The sense of urgency in the Śląsk team was obvious from the off, although the eagerness to attack did leave them vulnerable to counter attacks. Unfortunately that's exactly what happened in the 53rd minute, when a neatly threaded through ball played in Bekim Balaj. The Albanian centre forward finished off his chance with aplomb, coolly lofting the ball over the body of the onrushing Gikiewicz.
With the hot, energy sapping conditions taking their toll, the chances of Śląsk making any kind of a comeback didn't appear to be he highest. Nevertheless, the team fought back bravely thanks to some determined play from Sobota and Mila in particular. It was the latter who sparked the comeback in the 72nd minute, whipping in a cross from the byline for Paixao to head in from close range.
Dudu, another new signing, added a second goal just 8 minutes later, giving the fans and players real belief that an epic comeback could be on the cards. The Brazillian's goal came from a blistering long range strike that proved too hot for Jagellonia's keeper to handle.
With the fans in full voice and the stadium rocking, Śląsk threw the kitchen sink at their opponents and came within a whisker of nicking a draw. With just three minutes left, Dudu laid on a pacey cross for Paixao, who had left the Jagellonia defence for dead and only had the keeper to beat. The Portuguese forward looked certain to fire in the equalizer, but was thwarted by a tremendous close range save.
Ultimately it was Jagellonia who left Wrocław will all three points, and coach Stanislav Levy was in no doubt as to why:
"The difference between the two teams was their effectiveness. Our opposition took their chances, and while we had opportunities to score, we failed to finish them effectively. The pivotal moment for me was just before halftime, when we conceded a goal after a set piece. The Jagellonia player was unmarked, and from there it was difficult to make up the deficit. After the break, we quickly lost the third goal, but in the end it was reassuring that we showed fight to the last minute. Paradoxically, I thought Jagellonia had more problems coping with the weather. I must admit that at temperatures like today and on Thursday in Montenegro, it is hard to play in such extreme conditions – but this is no excuse for us."
Śląsk Wrocław will play at home twice in the next seven days – firstly against Club Brugge in the Europa League on Thursday and then against Wisła Kraków in the Ekstraklasa on Sunday. Click here for ticket info on the Brugge game, and here for the Wisła match.
Photocredits – Krystyna Pączkowska, slaskwroclaw.pl