Guest blogger Rick Elliott prepares to batten down the hatches as autumn settles in…
After an unusually warm October had extended the summer feeling, autumn has finally arrived in Mantova with a bang. The murky, grey mornings and early dark evenings contrast with the wonderful change of colour in the foliage. The high humidity creates a hazy mist that electrically hovers above the fields at dusk and at dawn. The clocks have gone back as have the kick off times, which are now at 14.30.
Working life is back into full flow too, the summer holidays a distant memory. The long dormant winter is the only thing to look forward to. It is cold, damp and foggy, and many people are falling ill. The streets are deserted with most tucked away in their homes under the living room covers re-energising themselves with satisfying broths and minestrone soups, rich pasta sauces, risottos, pumpkins, chestnuts and the year’s new Vino Novello wine.
It’s also hunting season here in the province of Mantova; hare, pheasant, duck and birds of different types are all high on the list. Mushrooms are around if you know where to look. The prestigious tuber, the white truffle, spontaneously grows to perfection in communities along the Po River only to be sniffed out by specially trained dogs and sold for extortionate prices. And just as precious and rare, teams coming up against unbeaten Mantova covet the 3 points on offer.
The team’s rising stock once again saw changes to fans’ schedules. This week’s opponents Progresso hail from the small town of Castel Maggiore, just north of Bologna. They have been playing their home games in Riale di Zola Predosa to the west of Bologna, due to not complying with Serie D stadium regulations, and not having the finance to resolve these issues quickly enough. But news came through early in the week that the game would in fact be played in Budrio to the east of Bologna, home of Mezzolara, another team in our division.
Newcomers to the league this year, Progresso have been plying their trade in the 5th and 6th tier for the last fifteen years or so. But they have settled in well to life in Serie D and sit comfortably in mid-table.
Guided by successful veteran Roberto Moscariello, they are the true definition of a semi-professional club, with training in the evenings after work and a heavy reliance on bringing through talented and motivated young players. It is these young charges that hope to follow the example of players such as Andrea Cistana, a central defender for Brescia, who last week was selected for the national squad by Roberto Mancini for the upcoming international games. For the last two seasons he had been playing Serie D football on loan for Ciliverghe and Prato.
Andrea Cistana is a classic example of how this level can help and promote young players by giving them opportunities of competitive football. The annual decimation of squads and huge turnaround of players each summer is driven in part by the requirement that Serie D clubs must have at least four young players on the field for the duration of each match. This season, one must have been born in 1999, two born in 2000 and one born in 2001. In practice, these young players are usually loaned out from Serie A and B’s U19 Primavera squads (youth teams) with the rest of the Serie D squads comprised of a few experienced players on their way out or lower league stalwarts who have never quite made the grade.
Injuries have started to hit Mantova hard in recent weeks, especially in midfield, and it has forced manager Lucio Brando to change formations, tactics and utilise younger players previously unseen. Despite remaining unbeaten, Mantova’s performances have suffered. A win and a couple of scrappy away draws preceded a dramatic 3-2 home victory against Mezzolara last week, having been two down at half time.
This week’s pre-match press conference was about starting the game well and not allowing opponents to get an early advantage. After seeing a couple of open training sessions during the week, defending drills had been the big focus for the squad.
However, after just 4 minutes one of the young starters, goalkeeper Adorni, was picking the ball out of the net! A cleanly floated ball into the box was powerfully headed in after some nervous defending had gifted Progresso a corner. Brando had his head in his hands.
But parity was quickly restored with Mantova’s best move of the half. A slick passing move through midfield saw stalwart central midfielder Valentini cooly slot home from just inside the box. Further chances came, but were not taken and Progresso started to dominate the central areas.
The well-drilled, energetic and talented hosts had had the better of the first half overall and deservedly took the lead midway through. Young full backs Galazzini and Haveri had been given a torrid time throughout, so much so that the latter was replaced after only 39 minutes.
The half time team talk was presumably strong as the team was sent out a few minutes early. But Progresso continued to press well, stopping the supply to Mantova’s front three and looking to counter when possible.
Changes came midway through the second half and in abundance. Each team in Serie D is allowed up to 5 substitutions whilst still maintaining the four young players policy. The changes are almost routine now, but this week they were needed and worked. The static Altinier was replaced by the livewire debutant Carnicelli and a change in midfield saw Mazzotti take the place of goalscorer Valentini. He took the game by the scruff of the neck and added a bit of urgency to their attacking play. The 150 strong away support got louder, sensing an equaliser could come.
And, with 15 minutes to go, it did. After several attempts and several good saves, the ball finally ricocheted to Luigi Scotto who poked home his eleventh of the season. Mantova pushed for the winner and a golden opportunity came right at the death for debutant Carnicelli, but he sliced his shot wide of the open goal. On balance, a 2-2 draw was all that Mantova deserved and Progresso will feel mighty unlucky not to have held out after a sterling effort. The hosts’ starting eleven had only one player over the age of 23, striker Gabrielle Girotti, aged 26.
As for the league leaders and their young goalkeeper and defence, they are looking more and more nervous and exposed as the weeks pass by. The numbers are racking up after an excellent start to the season: 27 points out of a possible 33, 35 goals scored and 16 conceded. But the honeymoon period is over for Mister Brando with supporters becoming a little restless with the team’s defensive frailties. Up next at the fortess Martelli stadium, second placed Fiorenzuola, who will be looking to bridge the 5-point gap to the leaders.
The hunt is on.
Teams: Progresso 2-2 Mantova
League: Serie D Girone D Matchday 11
Time & Date: 10 November 2019, 14:30
Att: 400 (circa 150 away)
Prices: €15 home Tribuna, €10 away section
Stadium Info: Progresso Stadium: Via Lirone 44, Castel Maggiore (BO).
Matches in Riale: Comunale ‘Filippetti’, Riale di Zola Predosa, Via Gesso, 26.
Travel Info: From Bologna Centrale trains direct to Riale. The ground is a 5 minute walk.
Tourist Info: Ikea and a couple of big shopping centres are within short distance to the ground in Riale. Bologna is obviously a wonderful city to see and explore.
Next Trip: ASD Savignanese
Catch up here in Rick’s other articles following Mantova on the road this season