Bosnian league leaders after three games, FK Rudar Prijedor are looking to cause a stir this season, with coach Boris Gavran adamant that they will "have a significant role" in the title race.
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The town of Prijedor's only real footballing claim to fame prior to this season was that Idriz Hošić – the one-time FK Partizan, 1. FC Kaiserslautern and MSV Duisburg forward who was in the Yugoslavia squad for the 1968 UEFA European Championship – was born there.
However, things are changing in the town in the foothills of the picturesque mount Kozara, with FK Rudar Prijedor upsetting the early-season formbook in Bosnia and Herzegovina. A 1-1 opening-day draw with FL Leotar, a shock 2-1 win at NK Široki Brijeg and a 1-0 defeat of FK Drina Zvornik have left them at the top of the standings, a point clear of champions FK Željezničar.
That is a surprise for some, but with his side finishing tenth in the 16-team table in their debut season in the top division, Rudar coach Boris Gavran does not lack ambition. "We didn't start well," admitted the 45-year-old, previously coach of NK Posušje and NK Čelik. "We drew with Leotar, but then we upset Široki Brijeg at the Pecara stadium. After staying up last season, this year we aim to have a significant role in the championship."
The club's history can be traced back to 1928, with the foundation of a side in the mining town of Ljubija. Rudar – literally 'miner' – played in the Yugoslavian second division, coming close to reaching the top tier in the 1970/71 and 1971/72 seasons. Rudar Ljubija lost to FK Velež on penalties in the 1988/89 Yugoslav Cup semi-finals, but had done little of note since a 1996 merger with another local side, OFK Prijedor, prior to winning promotion to the top tier in 2008/09.
Now they join a clutch of clubs with Bosnian title ambitions; Željezničar, Široki Brijeg, HŠK Zrinjski Mostar, FK Borac Banja Luka and FK Sarajevo all looked strong before the season started, but other sides have shown class. Demir Hotić's FK Velež are, aside from Rudar, the only other unbeaten team – though they have played only two games – while FK Slavija Sarajevo are among the top sides despite losing 11 of their top players from last season and, despite a 1-0 win in their first game of the season, coach Milan Gutović. His assistant Dragan Bjelica is now in command.
Gutović's resignation remains par for the course in a league which saw 16 clubs go through 39 coaching changes last season, with only three sides starting this season with the same boss as last time around. Borac have also changed coach this term, Vlado Jagodić replacing Zoran Marić who was fired after a 3-2 home loss to Široki Brijeg in his side's first game of the campaign.