Vladimir Latunov had made a great start to life in Slovakian side FC Nitra, the ninth club and eighth country in his Soviet Surge. This represented a new challenge in the second tier of a nation for the first time and the Russian manager was showing his class with an unbeaten run through to a long winter break.
The new year began with 18-year-old winger Lukas Kalman crucially signing a new deal at the club after having previously wanting to leave due to extensive interest in him. Latunov added to his ranks by returning to one of his former sides, Romanian club FCSB, to snap up 19-year-old defender Nemanja Vesic for a club record £450,000. He also snapped up some free transfers in 21-year-old left-winger Evgeny Kulikov, backup striker Andriy Stolyar and 20-year-old Brazilian attacking midfielder Fabian Harry, who he’ll convert into a centre midfielder.
Long winter ends with a bang
A four-month break from football finally came to an end as FC Nitra began 2032 with a Slovak FA Cup clash at Trnava, who were second in the top tier. And they started the new year with a bang as Kalman crossed for top scorer Tomas Bobcek to slam home from close range after three minutes. Seven minutes later, new boy Vesic announced himself by curling in a 25-yard free-kick to double the lead! Trnava got a goal back with one of those ridiculous breakaway from corner goals only for Kalman to curl home a delicious shot from 22 yards then double his tally from a breakaway of our own. After 24 minutes, Nitra led 4-1! And it stayed that way for a massive result that sent them into the semi-final.
In the semis they faced a two-leg clash with another top tier side Trencin, who were third in the First Division. Nitra started the away leg brightly with Kalman hitting the bar before Bobcek opened the scoring after 24 minutes. Trencin got level just before the break and it finished 1-1. Trencin dominated the early stages of the second leg only for Peter Kalman (no relation to Lukas) to break the deadlock 10 minutes before half-time and it stayed that way to send Nitra into the Final!
Back to league action
119 days without a league match ended at home to mid-table side FC Kosice. P Kalman got things off to a good start, then won a penalty that Bobcek converted to break the club record for most league goals in a season (17) and sealed a 3-0 win in injury-time. Another home game against Zvolen saw 18-year-old academy product attacker Vladimir Petrov score his first goal for the club as they laboured to a 1-1 draw against a side that had two shots. That set a new club record of 24 games unbeaten in all competitions.
That great run continued with a 3-0 win at Poprad, thanks to a L Kalman brace, which extended their lead to 11 points. That game saw Bobcek ruled out through injury so exciting 16-year-old striker Deivids Kalnins made his debut. A few days later, he made his debut for Latvia and scored a hat-trick and followed it up with a brace on his second cap (albeit against Liechtenstein and Gibraltar…)
Another academy player, 16-year-old midfielder Anton Gula, scored his first Nitra goal in a 2-0 win at Trebisov, who’re in a tight relegation battle that sees eighth place to 14th separated by four points with 13th to 16th getting relegated. That was followed by a big clash with third-place Dubnica, which Nitra won with a L Kalman brace to move 21 points clear of their opponents with seven games remaining – which all-but confirmed at least a second place finish, which means a playoff position with only the league winner getting promoted.
The unbeaten run looked to be coming to an end at Bardejov, who scored either side of half-time, threw away the lead then regained it after 86 minutes. But the exciting Kalnins went down the other end to score his first goal for the club and earn a 3-3 draw.
Kalnins again came off the bench to score and did so twice in a 3-1 win at Samorin that moved Nitra nine points clear with five games remaining. That teed up a home clash with second place Pohronie with a win all-but confirming promotion. Nitra made a great start as Aleksander Cichón headed home from a free-kick after 15 minutes and L Kalman doubled the lead nine minutes later. The visitors didn’t even have a shot as Nitra led 2-0 at the break. The dominance continued as Geliel made it three to seal an easy 3-0 win that moved them a dormie 12 points clear.
Slovak FA Cup Final
The Slovak FA Cup Fnal took place on 30 April 2032, with four league games still remaining. This was Nitra’s fifth Slovak Cup Final, having previously reached the big game in 1975, 1983, 1987 and 1991. But they were looking to win the competition for the first time in their 132-year history.
Nitra’s opponents on the big day were another top tier side Podbrezova, who are eighth in the top league – below both the sides Nitra had already knocked out – and, unlike Nitra, are two-time winners of the cup. Interestingly, Latunov’s assistant wanted him to switch to a Very Attacking mentality from his regular Positive, which he duly ignored. But, the team he selected was as follows:
Starting XI: Maly; Baran, Straka, Cichon, Méndez; Liska, Spak, Geliel; L Kalman, P Kalman; Bobcek.
Subs: Kalnins, Cech, Vesic, Fabian Harry, Sokolov, Petrov, Weiss.
The boys came out flying as L Kalman picked up a Geliel pass, turned and shot into the far corner after nine minutes. He then fired a cross/shot that missed everyone just before the break, but Nitra went into the break 1-0 up after having nine shots to Podbrezova’s three. Nothing happened until Podbrezova had a wild shot go well wide and Cichón headed just wide late on and Nitra held on for a famous victory.
FC Nitra were the Slovak FA Cup winners!!
Sealing a record-breaking season
That was just the fourth trophy in FC Nitra’s history, but they immediately had a chance to lift their fifth as they looked to seal the Slovak Second Division title. Their first opportunity to do so came as they hosted third-place Petrzalka. They were given a helping hand as Petrzalka scored a ridiculous own goal from a corner in the second minute then gifted Bobcek a second six minutes later. Petrov put the result beyond doubt in the first minute of the second half as Nitra eased to a 3-0 win, with the visitors having just one shot (to add to their zero in the previous clash), nine bookings and a red card!
FC Nitra were Slovak Second Division Champions and promoted to the First Division!
The unbeaten run continued with a draw at Presov then a 2-1 win at Skalica, with L Kalman scoring in both and Fabian Harry getting his first two assists on his league debut in the latter. That put an invincible campaign in all competitions on the line at home to Banska Bystrica, who’d just avoided relegation. It started well as L Kalman bagged his 18th of the season after seven minutes then his 19th in the first minute of the second half before creating a third for Cichón.
That ensured Nitra finished the campaign unbeaten, winning the Second Division with 78 points from 30 games, winning 24 and drawing six, scoring 67 and conceding just 19.
Nitra’s unbeaten season beat the previous Second Division record of 25 games unbeaten. They also set a new record of five Second Division titles, surpassing Michalovce’s four. They also set new club records for most wins in a season, highest points total and least games lost. Bobcek broke the record for most goals in a season (24), most league goals in a season (19) and most goals in a match (3). While L Kalman broke the record for most player of the match awards (9) and Radoslav Maly set the most Nitra clean sheets ever (18).
The key man this season was probably striker Bobcek, who was top scorer with 24 goals and got a team-high 10 assists. But his form tailed off at the end of the campaign when 18-year-old L Kalman came to the fore and racked up 19 goals and seven assists with an average rating of 7.32 from the right wing. His namesake Peter got six goals and seven assists, which saw him replace summer signing Evgeny Sokolov, who scored eight earlier in the season. Midfielder Geliel got four goals and nine assists but also tailed off at the end of the season, while fellow midfielder Liska got four goals and seven assists.
L Kalman won fans’ player and young player of the season, Vesic won signing of the season, Sekolov won goal of the season, and Adam Liska had the best pass completion.
The future is certainly looking brought for Nitra, considering they not only walked the Second Division but comfortably beat three top-tier sides en route to winning the Slovak Cup. And a lot of that promise comes from an exciting group of homegrown youngsters that excelled this season, including L Kalman alongside 16-year-olds Peter Kral and Gula, 17-year-olds Mario Fila and Kalnins and 18-year-old Milan Cech and Petrov.
On a sidenote, this season earned me four new badges on Steam that takes me to 62% completion. First was the ‘Top Form’ badge for going 30 games unbeaten (completed by 33.4% of players). Then came Beating Expectations for gaining 90% board confidence in overall competitions (33.9%). Then there was the National Hero badge, earned for taking a club from a nation’s lowest tier to its top tier (just 7.6%), and last but not least Invincible, for an unbeaten season (19.2%).
Join us next time as Vladimir Latunov leads his FC Nitra side into the Slovak top tier, looking to surpass their best-ever league finish of third back in 2007/08.
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