Credit: Елена Рыбакова
By Stel Stylianou – Lead European Football writer
Michal Duris’ extra time winner for Slovakia in their Euro 2020 qualification play off victory at Windsor Park ended a torrid seven days on a perfect high.
The 32 year old has endured a difficult start to his Omonoia Nicosia career since his arrival in August 2020, leading to many supporters and journalists questioning Henning Berg’s decision to sign the former Anorthosis striker. Having netted just once in fourteen matches, and with the team struggling for goals from all over the pitch, Duris (as expected) has been made a scapegoat.
Replacing captain Matt Derbyshire was always going to be a mammoth task for both Omonoia and Duris. The former Blackburn Rovers striker enjoyed four years at the club, netting 69 goals in 126 matches – of which 14 helped Omonoia win theirfirst title in decade.
Derbyshire’s goals, experience, leadership qualities and interaction with supporters off the field made him a fan favourite. His successor had huge boots to fill.
Henning Berg bolstered the squad’s attacking options with the acquisition of veteran Fotis Papoulis and Ghanaian international Ernest Asante on a free. FC Basel forward Kaly Sene joined on loan, whilst versatile Nigerian international Abdullahi Shehu signed on a free.
By the beginning of October, some fans had the temerity to ask “Matt who?” after victories over FC Ararat, Legia Warsaw and Red Star Belgrade in the Champions League qualifiers earned Omonoia a play off encounter with Olympiacos, guaranteeing a Europa League group stage spot for the first time in its history. However, the physical and mental demands of European football has affected performances and results domestically. Omonoia sit fifth in the table, seven points behind Anorthosis and are on an alarming three game goal drought.
A laboured 0-0 draw with Paralimni was followed by a shock defeat at Olympiacos Nicosia – a side that hadn’t beaten Omonoia in the previous ten encounters. Sandwiched in between were home defeats in the Europa League to PSV and Granada.
Losing to Granada wasn’t a surprise, neither was the workman like performance; despite playing the majority of the match with ten men, following Duris’ dismissal for two yellow cards. Three days later, Omonoia missed several chances in a frustrating 0-0 draw with Doxa – one of which being a shot from Duris, whose rebounded effort from 5 metres out was straight at the goalkeeper.
Many fans were disgusted. Internet forums and fan pages called for Duris to be dropped from the team. His goal scoring record came under further scrutiny, leading to news outlets urging the club to sign a new striker in January to avoid slipping out of the top six.
Typically, strikers are judged on scoring goals. What they offer on the pitch from a tactical perspective during a barren spell is often ignored. Those with agendas won’t praise Duris for his work rate, physicality, pressing, energy levels, movement off the ball, or hisability to be a nuisance for defenders. They won’t admit Duris has been feeding off scraps due to the lack of clear cut chances created by his team mates, or that he has had to create chances out of nothing for himself. Supporters with short memories won’t remember Duris winning the penalty in Poland which Jordi Gomez converted to open the scoring. They won’t remember Duris challenging AEK Larnaca goalkeeper Tono in the air, causing him to palm the ball to Tzionis, who gave Omonoia the lead on the stroke of half time.
The striker offers more to Omonoia than meets the eye; something Henning Berg is aware of. Same applies to Stefan Tarkovic – Slovakia’s (interim) head coach, who called him up to the national team squad despite his goal scoring record.
Duris’ winner in Belfast seven days after seeing red in the Europa League stuck two fingers up at doubters, repaying the faith shown by Tarkovic and those who have supported him throughout his bad patch. In a quite poetic turn of events, the goal was conjured out of nothing. Henning Berg must have felt vindicated a little upon seeing the goal.