Mid-way through his first full season as an actual Football Manager, Robinho Lazaró was pretty satisfied with how things were going at Deportes Puerto Montt. He’d led his side to a mid-table position, only three points off the playoffs but was a bit concerned by their dire away form.
A strangely positioned transfer window had seen Lazaró bolster his squad with Mexican attacking midfielder Erick Espinosa, who scored on his debut, loanee goalkeeper Márcelo Vásquez, backup striker Dylan Garat and midfield prospect Yovany García.
Back to league action
The second half of the season began with a trip to Deportes Melipilla. Puerto Montt’s woeful away form led Lazaró to channel his inner Claudio Ranieri and offer the side free pizza if they finally won a match on the road. And it looked a possibility as midfielder Eduardo Vilches to open the scoring, only for the hosts to equalise just after half-time. Lazaró thought they’d nicked it late on but substitute Garat saw his strike ruled out for offside, and the long wait continued.
Luckily, their home form had been strong and they recorded a sixth win out of eight at Regional de Chinquihe with Vilches scoring the only goal against Deportes Magallanes. The midfielder then turned creator for centre-back Flavio Rojas to earn a point with third-place San Luis de Quillota, who were very lucky to score late on after a terrible refereeing decision.
But a first away win in 10 attempts finally arrived at San Marcos de Arica who, strangely, were the only team to have won at Puerto Montt this season. But another brilliant Vilches performance saw him score twice and lay on a goal for striker Arnaldo Castillo in a 3-1 win.
Their reward for that was entertaining league leaders Rangers de Talca, which turned out to be an absolute classic! Rangers scored with their first three shots before winger Nicolás Gauna got one back inside 15 minutes. Rangers scored again with their fourth shot but Espinosa and a Castillo brace in a mad eight minutes sent Puerto Montt in 4-3 up at the break. And Vilches scored again to round off a ridiculous 5-3 win! And that win suddenly had them up in playoff contention.
With 10 games to go, the Puerto Montt were infatuated with their new manager and had upped their rating to an A+ and gushed that he was doing “an unbelievable job.” Although apparently that wasn’t enough for them to agree to another coaching course…
The sudden great form continued as Puerto Montt raced into a 4-0 lead over fellow playoff challengers, and brilliantly named Santiago Morning. And a 4-1 win temporarily took them third in the league! They also set a new club record of six games unbeaten. But that well and truly ended with a 4-0 thumping at Deportes Santa Cruz as midfielder Nicolás Queiroz got sent off after eight minutes.
They responded in style to win another away game – that’s two in three! – against Unión San Felipe led by a Castillo brace that took him to double figures for the campaign and some magical play from Gauna. Out of nowhere, Puerto Montt were just four points off the top of the league!
The good times away from home kept on coming as they raced into a 4-0 lead at 14th-place Deportes Copiapó thanks to the flying Gauna bagging a brace. That saw them surpass last season’s tally of 37 points with six games remaining. And they backed it up by dismantling title favourites Coquimbo Unido in a sensational match, winning 6-2 led by a Castillo hat-trick and a Gauna brace!
The team’s excellent form saw the board reward Robinho Lazaró with a new contract that extended his deal for another year through to December 2023, still on £500-per-week – which is £150 more than any of his players.
Outside promotion challenge?
A streak of one defeat and seven wins in ten games had lifted Puerto Montt to third in the league. They were eight points clear of seventh-place Santiago Wanderers with five games remaining – meaning the playoffs suddenly looked on the cards. Furthermore, they now trailed leaders San Luis de Quillota by just two points!
The good form continued with a massive 2-1 win at home to fourth-place Fernández Vial. The turnaround in form coincided with Castillo ending an eight-game goal drought then scoring 10 in eight games. But he picked up an injury that ruled him out of the last three league games. Regardless, his teammates won 3-1 at Deportes Iquique, which confirmed their place in the playoffs – four years ahead of the board’s schedule!
Even more excitingly, San Luis lost, which took Puerto Montt second in the league with three games to go. But out of nowhere, they went and lost 1-0 at bottom side Cobreloa, who got relegated despite winning. They then threw away a two-goal lead to draw with Santiago Wanderers and rounded off the season with a dire 0-0 at home to AC Barnechea.
That ensured an impressive third-place finish for Puerto Montt, who finished just three points off automatic promotion! They won 15, drew six and lost nine, and finished with the best attack in the league as they scored 53 goals and conceded 39. This year, eight of the 16 teams got docked six points for failing the under 21 player usage rule.
Castillo finished as the third-top scorer with 14 goals, eight behind top scorer Gonzalo Sosa at eight-place Deportes Milipilla. And Vilches had the second-best average rating of 7.35 and the second-most assists with 11. While Rojas and Vilches made the league’s team of the season.
Into the Playoffs!
Strangely, five teams go into the three-round Chilean promotion playoffs, which took place while the winter World Cup was going on in Qatar.
Puerto Montt were drawn to play title favourites Coquimbo Unido, who slipped to sixth having led the league at one point, in the first playoff round. They started the away leg well with Castillo clipping the bar and Espinosa finally made the breakthrough just after half-time. But a Vásquez clanger gifted an equaliser before he redeemed himself with a penalty save to earn a 1-1 draw. Puerto Montt again dominated the second game and Espinosa repeated the trick three minutes after the break in the home leg then Rojas headed home from a corner. A red card didn’t affect them, as Espinosa doubled his tally to seal a 3-0 win.
That took them into a semi-final with Santiago Wanderers. The away leg was first again and the hosts came out flying, took an early then idiotic left-back Camilo Saldana got sent off after 33 minutes, and Lazaró’s boys just about held on for a 2-0 defeat. Back on home ground things didn’t get much better as the visitors scored after 28 minutes to kill the tie off. Gauna got a goal back and Espinosa made it interesting late on but they exited 3-2 on aggregate. Wanderers lost the final 5-3 to San Luis.
The main man this season has been Vilches, who topped the club’s assists with 11 and the best average rating of 7.3. Vilches won fans’ player of the season and Espinosa the young player of the season. Gauna and Castillo were joint-top scorers with 15 goals, followed by Vilches with an impressive 10 and Espinosa, who got nine in 21. Rojas also popped up with six goals from centre-back. Quiroz chipped in with seven assists, as did 41-year-old Villagra, who’s retiring in the summer after a strong 25th season of his playing career.
Join us next time as Robinho Lazaró moves into his second full season at Deportes Puerto Montt. But will his performance this season attract interest from elsewhere?