We’re a day removed from the promotion chances of the both my home and adopted teams going up in smoke. Middlesbrough seemed to be heading for the playoffs before a late Derby charge put paid to their hopes, while Vasas didn’t do themselves any favours by dropping 5 vital points this week. Although Vasas still have two games remaining, a 6 point deficit means there’s next to no way they’re getting out of NBii this year.
There are similarities in these two near misses. Both these clubs see themselves as top-flight outfits, and both were a fair bet to go up this year. There were encouraging periods in the two teams’ seasons and both Boro and Vasas sat at the top of their respective leagues (it seems a long time ago now…). Similarly, both relied on their go-to strikers to pull them out of sticky situations; albeit under very different circumstances – Assombalanga can feel aggrieved at his underuse this year but still managed 15 goals, whereas Balajti was never far from the starting line of a team built around his talents and has knocked in a career best 31 so far. He’s been a revelation (as well as one of the coolest penalty takers I’ve ever seen) and deserves all the plaudits for a wonderful season.
Other differences are more marked. While Boro underwhelmed with dour, defensive football under the leadership of the dour, defensive Tony Pulis, they were at least consistently dour and defensive. Vasas’s season has been a rollercoater of high-scoring madness, with a wonderful start, terrible middle third and flying end to the campaign. Goals have been free-flowing: I’ve seen two 5-1 wins, a few 3-2s, a 4-0 and an incredible 7-4 this year, all for the price of a single Boro home game.
In truth, Vasas simply ran out of time and steam. Seven wins on the bounce brought the dream close, but this week was a stretch too far. Karoly Szanyó, who took over from the hapless Karoly Kis earlier in the season, has done a great job at getting this team back into contention. Who knows where Vasas would have been if he’d started it.
For Middlesbrough it’s the opposite. Looking comfortable for the playoffs (and even a chance of automatic promotion) for the most part, they threw everything away with a 6-game losing streak in March and April. A mini-rally saw them back in contention but in reality few would argue that they deserve to be in the top 6.
The long-term outcomes for these two clubs may also be very different. Vasas move into their new stadium next season and were hoping to do it in the top division. Having already dealt with an exodus of talent when they were relegated last year, now key players Adam Balajti and Botond Birtalan may be lured away to the NBi in the summer, especially if Vasas need to further cut costs.
There is hope though – young players such as Milan Kovacs, Benedek Murka and Botond Kiraly are coming along nicely and there’s always a hope that the key players will opt to stay under Szanyó’s improving team.
In contrast, Boro may even benefit from missing out. Few fans expected anything but annihilation in the Premier League had they been promoted, and although a clear-out is expected in Teesside as much as in Budapest, Boro fans will be a little happier to see the back of some of their players than their Hungarian counterparts. There’s also the chance that the team will be rebuilt around young stars such as Fry, Tavernier and Wing. The prospect of a consolidation year with less chance of promotion but more exciting football seems enticing to a Boro fanbase suffering under the relentlessly dull Pulis regime. Of course, Pulis may well stick around, rendering all this moot, but hope springs eternal.
So in a few weeks I’ll be off to the last Vasas game at their temporary Ujpest home. It’ll be great seeing them back in the Illovszky Rudolf Stadium next year (well done to the Project Manager Mihály Tóth for building a wonderful ground, as well as for always having time to chat at matches), but I’ll miss Ujpest a little bit as well, it being the first place I ever watched Vasas. I’ll be at the opening friendly in July so check back then. Hopefully Vasas can turn their new group into a bit of a fortress and the attendences should increase as there’s no long bus to Ujpest to contend with (I’m looking forward to shaving an hour off my matchday commute for sure).
Overall it’s been a disapponting year personally as a football follower. Earlier in the year Tokyo Verdy, the team I used to watch in Japan, lost their play-off final, now Boro and Vasas miss out too. But in the end perhaps the real promotion was the friends I made along the way.
Maybe not, but who needs the top-tier anyway?
End of Season Tables:
Hungarian NBii: Vasas sit in 3rd place with two games left.
English Championship: Middlesbrough finish in 7th place.
Japanese J2 League: Tokyo Verdy finished in 6th place and lost the play-off final.