By Igor Panevski
FK Rabotnicki remain top of the Macedonian First League after recovering from their first defeat of the season at home to FK Baskimi by beating FK Shkendija 79 1-0 away on Sunday.
Rabotnicki were the only unbeaten side after five rounds, but a surprise 2-0 home defeat by Baskimi allowed FK Vardar, in second, to close the gap on the leaders. Rabotnicki had struggled to overcome FK Sloga Jugomagnat 1-0 the previous week, but any doubts over their form were quashed with an impressive 3-0 victory over Vardar in the first leg of their Macedonia Cup quarter-final, a success they followed up by beating Shkendija.
Vardar are two points behind Rabotnicki and have won their past two games after drawing 1-1 away to FK Cementarnica 55 on 12 September. Vardar have struggled in recent seasons against their city rivals and their disappointing run of results continued when Cementarnica equalised late on. But since then, 2-1 victories over Sloga and FK Bregalnica Štip have pushed Vardar back into title contention.
In contrast, champions FK Pobeda have been unable to find their rhythm and are already seven points off the pace. After a demoralising 4-0 defeat at home to Rabotnicki, Podeba bounced back by beating Baskimi 2-0. But a 1-1 draw against Shkendija triggered the resignation of coach Dragi Hristovski. His replacement, Petar Kurcubic, has been unable to arrest the slide, kicking off with a 3-0 defeat away to FK Belasica GC on Sunday.
It is Sloga, however, who have provided the biggest shock. Last season's cup winners lie second from bottom having won just twice. Adnan Zekiri resigned after their poor start and new coach Blagoj Kitnovski has struggled to turn things around, though Sunday's 2-0 win over Baskimi suggests Sloga are heading in the right direction.
The same cannot be said of former champions FK Sileks, who are ahead of Sloga on goal difference alone after slumping to their fifth defeat of the season 2-0 away to Cementarnica on Sunday. While the big guns falter, some of the league's lesser lights are shining brightly, in particular promoted FK Madzari, in third, and sixth-placed Štip who have surprised with their excellent early-season form.
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