Ninth in the Slovak First League, 14 points behind leaders ŠK Slovan Bratislava, six-time national champions MŠK Žilina are struggling like never before – but the club are keeping faith with coach Adrián Guľa and a side filled with local talent.
Saturday's 0-0 home draw with bottom team DAC 1904 Dunajská Streda typified Žilina's problems on the pitch: dominating utterly but failing to score. "Their players barely got into our half but we couldn't get a goal," said the 38-year-old Guľa. "We threw everything at them but it didn't pay off. These are tough days for us, but I still believe. It's just a matter of hard work."
Hired this summer after an encouraging first spell in coaching with FK AS Trenčín, Guľa's mission was to remould Žilina as a talent factory. It has not been an easy switch, as sporting director Karol Belaník explained: "We are trying to change our style. We knew it might not be perfect from the start. With the new coach came new training methods, a new philosophy. We expected problems, though not this big."
Initially, Žilina seemed to be faring well under the new regime. They made it through two rounds of UEFA Europa League qualifying before losing narrowly to HNK Rijeka in the third, and took seven points from their first three league games. However, the wheels have come off since, with Guľa's troops winning just two of their next ten top-flight matches. Alarm bells should be ringing.
However, to Žilina's credit, they appear prepared to take the hit in the pursuit of longer-term goals. They may be – in the words of winger Róbert Pich – "getting slapped by football", but Belaník hopes future gain will outweigh any current pain. "Compared with how we were in the spring, we have been better – more attacking with good link-up play – but despite all these positives we are dropping points," he said. "These things happen. I watch them train and see how much effort they put in. Sometimes effort doesn't mean good results."
The expectation is that it will soon, with Žilina eager to make the most of an abundance of local talent; as well as three senior internationals, they have four Under-21 regulars and five members of Slovakia's U17 squad, and getting those youngsters up to speed remains a major part of Guľa's plan. "I know very well we need victories, but we had to focus on player progression too," he said.
Fingers crossed, that noble aim will start to bear fruit when they visit FC ViON Zlaté Moravce in their next game on 19 October.
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