Soviet Surge Part 13 | Honvéd #4: Chasing the Hungarian Title

A swift rebuild of Honvéd FC was afoot as Vladimir Latunov had his side sitting pretty at the top of the Hungarian Division I heading into 2026, just two seasons after they flirted with relegation. With 17 games remaining, Honvéd were a huge 12 points clear, and they no longer had the distraction of European football, while Latunov was throwing youth teams into an ongoing Hungarian Cup run.

Four huge away days

Bizarrely, 2026 began with four successive away days. And they were all huge games against local rivals and title challengers. The first game after the winter break was at mid-table MTK, who somehow earned a 1-1 draw despite having eight shots to Honvéd’s 28.

That was followed by three massive away days in a week. First up was a trip to second-placed Puskás Akadémia, who also drew their first game back. The hosts started well but took until the 42nd minute to get ahead. A stern talking to at half-time worked as Zsombar Kollár, who’s training to play from the left wing, equalised five minutes after the break, but Puskás continued to dominate and deservedly nicked it with an 83rd-minute winner. That ended Honvéd’s 18-match unbeaten run.

But there was no time to mope as a trip to reigning champions Ferencváros followed three days later. This time Honvéd started superbly as right-winger Pál Farkas and target man Andrei Honceriu had them two up inside 12 minutes. Ferencváros immediately regained control and won a penalty – awarded after VAR when it looked like the defender won the ball – two minutes before the break, but 17-year-old Károly Májer – who’s enjoying crazy progress – saved it! They continued to dominate after the break and halved the deficit on 64 minutes. Latunov went even more defensive and his side just about held on.

This could be a win that confirms Ferencváros won’t defend their title, given they now linger in fifth place some 22 points back from Honvéd. On the same day Puskás lost at newly promoted ZTE, which restored the lead at the top to 12 points with 14 games remaining.

Kisvárda were second in the early stages of the league but have dropped like a stone down to eighth. A trip there followed next and, with young payers looking exhausted, Latunov rotated a little. And that worked as right-winger Renátó Ulbert opened the scoring on 22 minutes then left-winger Yuriy Lomako set up Sandro Luiz to double the lead just after half-time then made it comfortable on 67 minutes.

Puskás lost again at ninth-place Diósygor, which increased the lead to 15 points – surely a first Honvéd title since 2017 is on the cards now?

Another tough game followed with Honvéd’s first home game of 2026 (in mid-February). They were taking on third-place ZTE, who got promoted last season but are performing superbly to sit in third place. But another strong start saw Sandro Luiz score in the first 21st and 22nd minute before wrapping up his hat-trick in the 59th minute to seal a 3-0 win. That takes him to 23 goals in 21 league games – this guy is ridiculous! And his great form attracted a £3 million bid from Krasnodar, for a guy who came on a free transfer 18 months ago.

With 12 games remaining, Honvéd were 15 points clear of Puskás. But on the day they struggled to a 1-1 draw at home to Diósygor, their nearest challengers lost 2-1 at home to Paks, which extended the lead to 16 points. Paks were next up for Honvéd and they ripped them apart in a dominant first half. Sandro Luiz got things started after 11 minutes, and Paks immediately got one back. But Honvéd won two penalties in four minutes that were both slammed home by Sandro Luiz to wrap up a hat-trick inside 23 minutes, then he teed up Dawid Pakulski for a fourth. Honceriu scored a fifth before Sandro Luiz gaffed his fourth in injury-time to seal a 6-1 thumping.

New job approach

Honvéd’s great form and massive overachievement saw Latunov draw interest from elsewhere, including Czech side Viktoria Plzen who had shown interest in the summer. They’d sacked their new boss after 200 days and were so desperate to get Latunov they were willing to wait until the end of the season. With a 16 point lead to play with, Latunov considered the league title all but won and committed to move to Czech Republic with Plzen at the end of the campaign.

Ten games for the title

Refocusing on current matters, Honvéd’s quest for the title began at rivals Újpest. They again started well as Ulbert scored the opener from a corner on 20 minutes before Sandro Luiz tapped home his 30th goal of the season. Újpest came back into it but the Brazilian scored twice in the first two minutes of the second half to wrap up a nine minute hat-trick. Sandro Luiz kept up his unbelievable form with a late penalty then latching onto a Májer long ball in injury time – that’s nine goals in two games and 13 in his last five!

Puskás’ struggles continued with a draw at bottom side Dorog to grow the gap to 18 points with nine to go. While the latest win passed the board objective of finishing in the top half three years early, which shows the massive overachievement Latunov was delivering.

The little Brazilian kept his form up with a brace in a 3-1 win at Mezokovesd, in which Honceriu scored the other. Puskás had completely fallen apart as they drew 0-0 at MTK, which increased the gap to 20 points with eight games remaining and put the title just four points away. That win also broke the all-time Honvéd points record of 65, moving them on to 66.

His eyes would have lit up with the next opponents being bottom side Dogor. But he ‘only’ scored once, along with Honceriu and Ulbert, in an easy 3-0 win. Puskás also won, which put Honvéd within one point of the title heading into a repeat of the tough four opponents they faced to start the year.

The first opportunity to lift the title came against fellow Budapest side MTK. Honvéd dominated the first half but couldn’t score and MTK made them pay by scoring in the first minute after the break with their second shot. But Honvéd kept pushing and brilliant play by Honceriu teed up Ulbert for the equaliser and, fittingly, Sandro Luiz fired home from close range to seal a 2-1 win.

Honvéd were Champions of Hungary!

The Champions tour began with a 2-1 win at Fehérvár thanks to a Honceriu brace, which saw Sandro Luiz fail to score for the first time in six matches. But he did score 17 in the previous eight! He was back on the scoresheet in a clash of the two most recent champions at home to Ferencváros, which ended in a dominant 3-0 win. Ulbert scored in a 1-1 draw against Puskás, which took him to four goals in the last five and five in the last seven.

Sandro Luiz bagged his 40th goal of the season in a 3-2 win at ZTE, which was decided by a screamer from fellow Brazilian Bruce Alves Borges, then the only goal in Latunov’s final home game as Honvéd boss against Kisvárda. And he also scored the only goal in Latunov’s final game in Hungary, as they won 1-0 at Diósgyor. The final day win saw Honvéd break the all-time Division I record for most wins (28) and a record high points total.

That ensured Honvéd finished the season top on 88 points with 28 wins, four draws and just one defeat, wrapping up the title by 20 points from Puskás. Champions Ferencváros finished outside the European places in fifth, a huge 40 points back from Honvéd! Honvéd scored the most goals with 89 and had the best defence, conceding just 28 in 33 games. Puskás also broke the record for highest points total without winning the title, which Honvéd had set the previous season.

Sandro Luiz was easily the top scorer in the tournament with an outrageous 40 league goals in 33 games. Honceriu was the second-top scorer with 19 in 33 and tied for most assists with 14 alongside Daniel Gazdag. Sandro Luiz and Honceriu both finished with a league-high 7.61 average rating, which was a league record.

Away from the first team, Honved Under 19s won their National League, so the future of the club is also in great shape as Latunov leaves his legacy behind.

Season Review

There’s only one place to start, with Sandro Luiz. The 21-year-old Brazilian, who was snapped up on a free transfer at the start of the previous season, scored 42 goals in 41 games in all competitions, including his 40 league goals! He also got seven assists, and his form has attracted the likes of Dinamo Zagreb, Sparta Prague and Red Star. But the striker will be at the top of Latunov’s wanted list as he heads to Plzen.

His strike partner Honceriu also impressed, with 24 goals and 14 assists. While Ulbert scored 11, Kollár got 10, Juninho got nine and Lomako and Gazdag scored seven. Gazdag also racked up 17 assists, Lomako got 13, Farkas got 10 and right-back Bogdan Ilie and Ulbert got seven. Honceriu had the best average rating of 7.59, followed by Sandro Luiz on 7.44, Gazdag on 7.18 and Ulbert on 7.15.

Sandro Luiz unsurprisingly won fans’ player of the season and young player of the season, Lomako won signings of the season, and Ulbert got goal of the season. However, Honceriu won the league’s Player of the Year award and Májer, who just turned 18, won Goalkeeper of the Year. And Latunov won Manager of the Year. As a result, Sandro Luiz, Honceriu and Latunov were all added to the club’s favoured personnel list.

Moving on from Honvéd

Despite the success in Budapest, the time was nigh for Latunov to spread his wings and enjoy pastures new. He joined Viktoria Plzen on 21st May 2026, five days after the conclusion of the Hungarian Division I campaign.

Join us next time as Vladimir Latunov flies out to Plzen to begin life with club five in country four of his Soviet Surge!

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