By Martin Pavcnik
NK Gorica are running away with the Slovenian title while their biggest challengers have been battling with their own supporters. They may be out of the UEFA Cup after defeat against AEK Athens on 30 September, but champions Gorica are seven points clear at the top of the table after ten games and have yet to lose.
Pavel Pinni's side are still focused around the group of largely homegrown players who won the title last season, with Andrej Komac the only major addition in the summer. Gorica's hard-working style brought victories in UEFA Champions League qualifying round ties against FC Flora and FC København before they lost to AS Monaco FC, and it seems that they are too hot for their countrymen to handle too.
The same cannot be said of NK Maribor and NK Olimpija Ljubljana. Gorica's main challengers for the title last season, the first rounds of the 2004/05 campaign have been miserable for both clubs. Tellingly, their combined points total of 22 is still two points less than Gorica's 24.
Used to success after a run of seven consecutive titles which ended last season, Maribor's fans, the 'Viole', mounted a campaign to oust coach Matjaz Kek after a grim start to the season. Kek was duly dismissed after a goalless draw against FC Koper on 19 September and replaced by Branko Horjak. Results have barely improved but with Albanian striker Kliton Bozgo marking his return to the club with five goals already, Maribor should improve.
Olimpija's fanatical 'Green Dragons' supporters have also been on the offensive, invading the pitch to vent their feelings to coach Milivoj Bracun three minutes from the end of a 4-1 home defeat against NK Publikum on 26 September, forcing the match to be abandoned. "I am ready to go, if it means results getting better," said the coach. He has yet to leave the club.
In the midst of this turmoil, Publikum have emerged as an unheralded force, and are second in the table behind Gorica. Meanwhile, former Slovenia captain Darko Milanic has fashioned a fine, defensively solid side at NK Primorje, and newly promoted NK Drava are holding their own in fourth place. Fellow newcomers NK Bela Krajina and NK Zagorje are not adapting to life at the top level so well, and occupy the bottom two slots in the table.
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