FC Mika are six points off the top of the Armenian table, but as they meet FC Pyunik for the first of two summit battles before the end of the season, the cup specialists are dreaming of a first title.
The race for the championship has frequently been close in recent years, but the outcome has always been the same, with Pyunik successful in each of the past eight campaigns. The capital club made major changes from the side which triumphed last season, bringing a new generation of players into the first team, and their position at the top of the table is not yet secure.
The champions' coach Vardan Minasyan told uefa.com that things may not be so simple, explaining: "Pyunik are always fighting for first place regardless of the age of the squad. The race for the gold medals is not over and anything can happen. The fight will be tough." Exactly how tough may become clear as Pyunik visit Mika on Saturday for the first of two potential title deciders.
With eight rounds to go, Mika are in an almost unprecedented position. Having earned their reputation as Armenian Cup specialists, winning the competition five times, the once-Ashtarak-based club peaked in league terms with runners-up finishes in 2003 and 2004. And while they lost their most recent match 3-2 at FC Kilikia, coach Samvel Darbinyan is not abandoning hope of claiming a maiden title.
"Nobody can play well in every match," Darbinyan said. "We have had our ups and downs, but I hope that the worst is over. We have two important matches against Pyunik and have to win if we want to get the title." They may be assisted in that aim by the champions' fixture schedule, with the likes of FC Ulis Yerevan, FC Banants and FC Gandzasar Kapan all capable of giving them tough games.
Ulis could indeed be the biggest surprise package of all. Founded in 2006, the signings of international players Karen Aleksanyan, Armen Tigranyan, David Grigoryan and Grayr Mkoyan have raised the club's ambitions, and a late assault on the summit is not entirely beyond them. "We want to play attractive football; that is the most important thing," coach Sevada Arzumanyan said. "We're in a good shape. Third place would be a success to us but we want more."
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