FK Makedonija GP Skopje have headed into the winter break in F.Y.R. Macedonia with a comfortable lead at the top of the table, but fifth-placed FK Vardar are not yet giving up hope despite a turbulent autumn.
After 16 games Makedonija are seven points clear of second-placed FK Milano, having been the only truly consistent performers before the winter break. They underlined that fact with a 1-0 win at capital rivals Vardar in their final game of 2008. Beaten only once this season, they are the highest scorers in the league with 32 goals, half of them coming from Brazilians De Brito (nine) and Washington (seven).
Makedonija also have the best defensive record in the league, with only eight goals conceded to date, and are also in line for a domestic double as one of the four teams set to compete in the Macedonian Cup semi-finals in the spring. However, with Kumanovo-based Milano once more second, having picked up silver medals last season, the big shock has been Vardar's dwindling form.
Champions FK Rabotnicki are third, but their disappointment has been nothing compared with that of Vardar, who have been in freefall following the departure of Serbian coach Ratko Dostanić for political reasons. They have not won a game since, despite the arrival of former FK Crvena Zvezda and FK Partizan player Milko Gjurovski as his replacement, slipping from first to fifth in the table.
President Trifun Kostovski threatened to quit after the team bus was attacked by supporters following a 1-1 draw at FK Napredok on 7 December. Left-back Nikola Gjosevski conceded: "The players are asking themselves whether it's worth playing for Vardar, regardless of the prestige and current results, because ultimately our safety is the most important thing for us."
Kostovski held talks with players and supporters in the following days and eventually decided to stay on at the club, promising that Vardar would redouble their efforts to claim their sixth post-independence title in the spring. However, given that they are already 13 points behind Makedonija, that sounds more than a little like wishful thinking.
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