Here we are, at the start of another end of season run-in. There’s no KNVB Beker to distract us, we’re unbeaten in our last 5 Eredivisie matches and are finely placed to make our bid for European qualification. The biggest obstacle in our way is our usual end-of-season choke. It’s time to exorcise those demons!
February is always a chance to make big strides in the final stages with it being a five-game month. A late equaliser against AZ was a first league goal for Tomas Suslov and in they very next match new signing Neven Blazevic marked his first goal for the club. 9 points from a potential 15 left us a bit disappointed but not distraught.
International fixtures meant March was a quick month. Two wins from two doesn’t tell half the story. 2-0 down to FC Twente after 9 minutes, it felt like our old problem was returning but Juan Foyth led the way in an inspirational comeback. Didier Acevedo and Demetri Mitchell recorded their first competitive goals for Groningen in a blow out victory over local rivals sc Heerenveen.
April almost got off to a smashing start as Taiwo Awoniyi’s 84th minute strike gave us a lead against struggling Feyenoord but a 93rd minute equaliser for De Trots van Zuid broke a few hearts van het Noorden! Helmond were seen off with ease with Acevedo registering on the scoresheet again. Groningen took a 1-0 lead into the second half against Ajax but the Amsterdam side were too strong and fought back valiantly to claim the win. Mitchell equalised after an early Excelsior goal but we couldn’t hold out and let slip again to lose two in a row in the league for the first time since August/September. It seemed like an all too familiar story of falling at the final hurdle!
History was not to repeat itself, though, as results elsewhere went in our favour! As it stood, all we had to do was record a win against lowly SC Cambuur and we would seal 4th place! Safe in the knowledge that Ajax had already won the KNVB Beker, we knew 4th place granted automatic qualification for the Europa League qualifying stages! With that, we set about our business and completed a professional job, Ritsu Dôan even making a rare cameo from the bench to grab the final goal of the season!
A fantastic result! For the second time in three seasons we have finished 4th in the league! More than that, this is year-on-year progression in motion: 1- playoff semi-final, 2- playoff final, 3- automatic qualificaiton.
As an upwardly mobile team it felt like the right time to rid ourselves of some deadwood. A total of 14 players, mostly ‘B’ team, would be released following the conclusion of their contracts. Notably this includes players who have made senior appearances such as Ritsu Dôan, Jannik Pohl, Tom van de Looi and Amir Absalem.
I continued my selective method of youth recruitment by only opting to sign 3 players from this year’s intake. Midfielders Anouar En Nesyri and Frank van den Berg join the ranks along with striker Thomas van der Steen.
End of season stats and awards
I have no complaints at all with who the game has decided for our Best XI this season. Suslov and Acevedo look set to have an interesting battle for that midfield spot next season.
Majetschak and Foyth started every game of this season (34 League and 3 KNVB Beker) but it was Foyth that just shaded it on minutes played with his 3,269 to Majetschak’s 3,208. Awoniyi scored a respectable 15 goals but we had 15 different goalscorers over the course of the season (not including own goals). Bruno Varela kept an incredible 17 clean sheets in the Eredivisie – an average of one every other game and a record high for FC Groningen under my management.
Our season was credited at the awards night also. Erik Majetschak picked up Eredivisie Talent van het Jaar while I was named Manager van het Jaar. Bruno Varela was 3rd in the Keeper van het Jaar category.
We love our SWOT Analysis!
We’ve got a goalkeeper to have confidence in and that is no mean feat! The weakness may be a mentality issue, it may be a quality issue or maybe it is simply that I am tactically naïve!
The financial sums to be gained from European participation could really accelerate the club’s growth but it shouldn’t be ignored that we need to have a big enough and strong enough squad to fight on more than one front.
We enter the Europa League in the Best Placed – Third Qualifying Round. Making it through to the group stages won’t be the cake walk some may expect as you can see from the match-ups from this stage at the beginning of this season. I’ve highlighted a few of the most difficult opposition (ignoring the other Dutch clubs) and as you can see, there are some tasty clashes there! We’ll need to be at our absolute best to make it through this round and the following round in order to see the group stage!