After our poor run in February & March The Millers (I’ve given us a new nickname) then went on a run of 6 games unbeaten that sealed our place in the playoffs. Pleasingly we dominated all the games and were good value for the results. Disappointingly we took our foot off the gas and lost our last two league games of the season but finished a respectable 6th and had met the boards expectations. Next up The Playoffs.
It hadn’t really occurred to me that Serie C is made up of 3 divisions therefore there would be 27 teams in the playoffs. This meant that if we got to the final we would play FIVE rounds of fixtures. Frankly, that seems fucking mental. And mental they would proceed to be.
The board expected us to make the quarter finals and we were seeded in the first round which meant a home draw against Prato who had finished a place below us in the league. We took the lead through loanee Daniel ‘Brazzy’ Brazziccheri but found ourselves 2-1 down after an own goal by keeper Simone Moschin and a penalty. To be fair Moschin has been excellent since i joined so I wasn’t too hard on him. With 20 minutes left Alessandro Marotta got us an equaliser. Despite dominating we couldn’t find a winner and I readied myself for extra time and/or penalties. How foolish was I? Apparently in this round of the playoffs (and this round only) the higher seeded team progresses in the event of a draw. Yep. No extra time, no penalties. We were through. Bizarre.
So we were in the 2nd round and would face Livorno, who finished second in our league, in a more traditional two-legged tie. A cagey 1-1 draw at home meant that we had now gone 5 games without victory since our impressive run and I thought the gig was up. I began considering my future. The financial situation at the club means that the summer would be very difficult but I had managed to create an affiliation with Napoli to go with the pre-existing connection with Lazio. Good opportunity for loan signings. While considering all this we travelled to Livorno and produced our best performance under my management. First half goals from Ivan Castiglia, Francesco Vassallo and an Ettore Mendicino double gave us a 4-1 half time lead and although Riccardo Secondo was sent off after 55 minutes we saw the game out.
Into the quarters to face Matera. They had finished 5th in one of the other divisions so were probably of a similar standard to us. A Mendicino hat trick in the home tie gave us a 3-2 lead to protect and the in form striker scored in the return match as we won 2-1. Dario Saric scored the other in the same week as i signed the loanee on a pre-contract agreement from Capri. He’s a Bosnian U21 international and was gathering interest from Lazio so i think it’s a bit of a coup that we’ve managed to secure his services.
We were now into the semis of the playoffs and back to a one off match at a neutral venue. Our opponents were Catania who had finished 2nd in their division only a point behind the champions. The game was nothing short of sensational. Catania were 2 up after 20 minutes and we were on the ropes. We managed to get to half time without any further damage and I told the team exactly what I thought of them. This seemed to rouse them from their slumber. Within 5 minutes of the restart we were level through centre half Aniello Panariello and that man Mendicino again. Despite absolutely dominating the second half we couldn’t find a winner and as the final whistle went I didn’t know how this would be decided. Toss of a coin? Dance off? Clearly at this stage they decided normal service would be resumed so ET it was. It did not start well as Catania scored straight away. 3-2 down and the players fitness stats didn’t look good. But this team has been through a lot this season. They would not go quietly into the night. Not with Mendicino leading the attack. Mental Mendo got an equaliser on 95 minutes and although both teams then had chances to win a mistake at the back allowed Mendo in to complete his 2nd hat trick in 3 games and get us into the playoff final. Absolute scenes. It was an incredible match.
In the final we would face FeralpiSalo who had finished 9th in their division. Despite our good results we were conceding so a 0-0 was never really on the cards, especially with Mendicino’s form, 9 goals in his last 4 games. We only had 4 days to recover from the exerts against Catania and infuriatingly Dario Saric would be on international duty (there are so many rounds in the playoffs the game will be played on the 11th June). Unfortunately this is where the fairytale would end. FeralpiSalo scored after 20 minutes after our keeper came for a cross he had no chance of getting and although the header rebounded off the bar their striker reacted quicker for the only goal of the game. There were few clear cut chances and I think the exerts of the semi final had taken its toll on our boys.
It was a disappointing end to the season but I’ve decided to stay on with The Millers and try and go one better next season. I’ll now assess the squad and see where I need to strengthen so I’ll add another (and shorter) update soon.
Final record since taking charge:
Games played: 25
Win percentage: 44%