Well clear of the rest of the field in Montenegro, FK Budućnost Podgorica and FK Rudar Pljevlja embark this weekend on what could be a thrilling end to the season separated by just a point at the top of the First League.
While leaders Budućnost are seeking their first silverware since winning the title in 2008, Rudar have designs on emulating their double-winning campaign of 2009/10. The clubs meet in a potential championship decider in the penultimate round of the 33-game season, which is two thirds completed, although Budućnost coach Miodrag Radulović expects things to have been decided before then.
"I'm almost sure that everything will be over before that game [on 26 May]," he said. "Both teams have a lot of very difficult tests and from past experience it is obvious that trophies are won and lost in so-called smaller matches."
Despite their barren spell, Budućnost are still regarded as the biggest club in Montenegro due to the size of their fanbase and former alumni such as Dejan Savićević and Predrag Mijatović. "I hope our supporters will have reason to celebrate at the end of the season," added Radulović, a former Budućnost player and Montenegro Under-19 coach. "Too much time has passed [since our last trophy], so this team has an opportunity to usher in a new era in Budućnost's history."
Rudar, in contrast, have won three trophies since Budućnost last stocked their trophy cabinet, including the past two Montenegrin Cups. Coach Dragan Radojičić said: "We are not under pressure, but we are ready to fight until the end. In such a difficult situation, when one mistake could be crucial, things will be decided by small margins."
Radojičić's team, whose sole league defeat this season was way back in October, demonstrated their title credentials last month when they beat Budućnost 2-0 in Podgorica. "We played that game with a lot of confidence and now we know that Budućnost aren't stronger than us. On the other hand, we don't think we are the best team in league. We respect every opponent, but respect ourselves most."
Confident he may be, Radojičić is nonetheless concerned about how his young squad will fare in a busy run-in which features 11 league games in seven weeks and a cup semi-final second leg against FK Petrovac. "We have seven U21 players in the first team," he said. "Their inexperience could be a problem, but I hope they will cope with the pressure.
"I hope we will play in the cup final because we have a two-goal advantage from the first leg. We will need a lot of energy and mental strength to finish the season in the best way."
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