Sunday, August 6, 2017

Second Division. That it was significantly inferior to the top level was nothing new, but now it appeared even weaker: at least 8 clubs were historical nobodies. Half of the republics of USSR had no representative at all and technically it was a championship of Russia ( 9 teams) and Ukraine (7 teams). Lituania, Georgia, Moldova, Latvia, Uzbekistan, and Tadzikistan had one team each. At a glance, the championship showed the general decline of the clubs of the Army system: the highest placed was 10th. As ever, the candidates for promotion were few and high above the rest and a good chunk of the league was only concerned with escaping relegation. The sedated mid-table clubs were still very happy with their state of affairs. Scoring was low, ties were the result of preference, although the limits imposed made everybody a bit more attacking-minded: only 4 teams went above the limit and lost points and the higher number of ties was 13 – in the past it was normal for a team to tie half of their championship games. The other positive side was the race for the two promotional spots: 5 teams went head to head, an almost unheard of number. Typically, there were 2-3 teams way above indifferent league. Two hopeless outsiders at the bottom. And one a bit better.
Spartak (Kostroma) ended last with 17 points. SKA (Kiev) second to last with 20 points. SKA (Odessa) ended 20th with 34 points. These three were relegated.
The three newcomers for the season managed to sit themselves in mid-table: Dinamo (Kirov) – 15th, Rotor (Volgograd) – 14th, and Daugava (Riga) – 8th.
Dinamo (Kirov). Just keeping a place in Second Division equaled success.
Dissapointing season for some of the potential candidates for promotion: Tavria (Simferopol) – 13th, SKA (Rostov-on-Don) – 11th, and SKA Karpaty (Lvov) – 10th. The eternal mid-table teams played as ever... Metallurg (Zaporozhye) – 12th, Pamir (Dushanbe) – 9th, and Shinnik (Yaroslavl) – 7th. Zarya (Voroshilovgrad) seemingly was joining the 'mid-table teams' – they finished 6th, but were not aiming at promotion at all. Looked like Zarya settled for a long live in Second Division.
Interesting was only at the very top – five teams finished divided by only 2 points. Fakel (Voronezh) was 5th with 54 points.

Lokomotiv (Moscow) bested Fakel on goal-difference. Both teams exceeded the limit of ties and lost a point each – if there was no lomit, they would have been ahead of the third place, but still unable to get promoted.
Kolos (Nikopol) ended 3rd with 55 points. A raising team, keep an eye on them in the future. Lost promotion by a point, but it was very strong season well finished.
The promoted succeeded just by a point – the two top teams finished with 56 points and goal-difference decided their final position.
Nistru (Kishinev) was 2nd and going up. No doubt, a great success – they played first division football before, but very briefly. Top level was not exactly on their minds since their relegation in 1975. From this almost forgotten first division season just about 2 players remained: the captain Pavel Chebanu and Ivan Karas. Nistru settled for mid-table comfort without a care or ambition on mind for so long, the first big problem was to shake the team out of apathy. Which was aggravated by internal tensions. The squad was not particularly interesting – like every typical mid-table team, it was experienced and solid, but not first class. Like the goalkeeper Kurochkin – a good second-level player, but for a long time just that: bellow first league keeper and satisfied with that. Of course, there were talented and promising players like the goal-scorer Grigory Batich, but how long would be before he decided to fall asleep? To keep him awake meant to go up – either the whole team or he alone to transfer to first league club. One clearly positive thing this year was scoring: Nistru depended on defense for years, following 'the wisdom' of a mid-table club: get the point and then there is nothing to worry about. This year Nistry scored the most goals in the league: 67. Well done, but... the big test was still in the future: the squad was not strong.
Thanks to better goal-difference Zhalgiris (Vilnius) became the champion of Second Division. It was quite of a surprise: they played first division football once upon a time, but so long ago hardly anyone remembered. For years they were entirely out of mind, playing in the Third Division – practically forgotten team. Unknown. Coming finally back to Second Division a couple of years back, they were generally expected to go down rather quickly. Yes, Lithuania, made mostly of Zhalgiris players, was pleasant surprise at the last Spartakiad – the all-USSR 'olympic games' – but it was not a tournament most people paid attention to and republics like Russia and Ukraine did not bother to select their best players for it. Lithuanian players in First Division could have been counted on the fingers of one hand and there was not a single star among them. Lithuania was a backwater of football... Zhalgiris had unknown players, unknown coach... it looked like a freak accident. May be pure chance. Lucky to go up, only the be relegated immediately – what else to expect from a team made only from local guys with unpronounceable names. Well, it was all wrong, just wait and see.