Widely regarded as relegation candidates at the start of the Macedonian First League season, FK Turnovo go into the winter break in second place – much to everyone's surprise, including their own.
Last term, the modest club from Turnovo, a village of around 500 inhabitants in the south east of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, survived a relegation play-off to extend their top-flight stay into a fifth campaign. While the summer departure of influential players Dragan Georgiev and Saša Popin may have stacked the odds against the side run by a local betting company, results have been impressive, with returning forward Dejan Blaževski proving particularly inspirational.
Blaževski previously played for Turnovo in the second tier. After spells with FK Pelister in FYROM and several clubs in Greece, the 27-year-old returned home last summer and enters the mid-season break with nine goals from 18 league appearances, six assists and a first national team cap.
"We have surprised many people with our performances and, to be quite honest, we did not expect to be in this position," Blaževski told UEFA.com. "All we wanted before the season began was to survive, but preferably with less stress compared with the last campaign."
Three points behind champions FK Vardar at the winter recess, Turnovo have lost just one of 18 matches, the fewest in the Prva Liga, and are unbeaten in 13 games since September. They also have the second best defensive record, with goalkeeper Stojan Dimovski having kept ten clean sheets.
"These numbers are certainly an indication of the quality we possess as a team, but the secret of our success lies in the great camaraderie between the players," Blaževski explained. "There are no divisions in our squad, between young and old players, or good and not-so-good players. We are like a big family."
Masterminding the turnaround is up-and-coming coach Ljupčo Dimitkovski, who took charge midway through 2011/12. "Last season we were not scoring enough goals, but with the arrivals of Blaževski and experienced attacker Zoran Baldovaliev we now have a very respectable squad," the 39-year-old said.
Having helped a youthful Turnovo team avoid relegation in his first top-flight coaching post, the former Vardar and FK Makedonija GP Skopje player faces a new, unforeseen challenge with the village side: qualifying for UEFA competition for the first time. "We are targeting a spot in the table which will lead us into Europe, but if we have the slightest chance of winning the title, you can be certain we will grab it with both hands."
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