Monday, December 7, 2009

The Elche CF revival continues

Six league games and a losing Copa del Rey tie away at Cartagena, were quite enough for the Board of Directors of Elche C.F. to dispense with the services of popular coach Claudio Barragan. Four defeats, a draw and a single win yielded four points and twentieth place in the Segunda A table. It didn't help Claudio that the straw that broke the camel's back was a dismal capitulation away to hated Alicante rivals Hercules.

Enter stage left one Jose Bordalas Jimenez, "Pepe" to local journalists, TV types and football fans. With no pre-season opportunity to build a squad of his own choosing, Pepe was compelled to go with what was already there, and since taking over has had to contend with one or two long term injuries to key personnel.

From a low point of being publicly humiliated in the Alicante derby, Elche have acquired the persona of the snotty nosed kid, who, after being slapped around once too often in the school play ground, took it upon himself to learn self defence. Since the beginning of October, the Franjiverdes have put on some weight, puffed out their chests and, home or away, simply refuse to quit. In the nine league games since taking over, Bordalas has steered his new charges to five win and four draws, at least a couple of which were wins for the taking before the opposition scored late equalizers.

At the time of writing, Elche sit sixth out of twenty two in the divisional classification, a remarkable turn around from wallowing third bottom and scratching around for points. In the space of five or six games, Elche have become one of those sides that the opposition treat with considerably more respect. Previously, a trip to or visit from Elche was seen as a chance for some points and to improve the goal difference, no longer.

Amongst the teams the new tenacious Elche have taken by surprise recently are promotion hopefuls Cartagagena, old rivals Rayo Vallecano and recently relegated Real Betis, both of whom lost without scoring. As expected, fans favourites Argentine goal-keeper Willy Caballero and playmaking midfielder Santos haven't disappointed. Elsewhere in the team, various different players have stepped up to the plate to give the notoriously fickle Elche public some food for thought when choosing their player of the season.

Argentine midfielder Acciari has been immense, not least because of his calming influence over Ghanaian colleague Wakaso, a player who was once yellow carded whilst warming up and who later helped himself to a straight red card five minutes after coming on off the bench. These days, Wakaso draws ripples of appreciative applause as a new found maturity sees him a regular and well deserved starter, playing the part of combative ball winner and spraying passes to colleagues everywhere.  Up front, the goals are starting to come regularly for burly number 9 Jorge Molina after a sluggish start during which locals fans scratched their heads in frustration. The Alicantino striker is a single goal away from heading the top scorer list, the majority of his eight goals to date have all come since Pepe took charge.

At the back, if you stop them scoring you stop them winning, as part of a settled back four, ex Real Mallorca centre back Marti Crespi has been outstanding. In and out of the side under Barragan, the twenty two year old hasn't missed a game under the new manager and has played an integral part in shoring up a defensive unit that once leaked sixteen goals in six games.

Clean sheets and plenty of goals for make a useful combination, the result of which is steady progress up the table. For Elche the early season threat of relegation seems a thing of the past and, collectively, the squad are now looking upwards and not over their shoulders. Sixth place, three below the promotion places and just six points off top spot are the rewards for Pepe Bordalas' Elche revolution. A tremendous effort by all concerned.

PHOTOS: Top - "Pepe" Bordalas greets his opposite number, Javier Gracia, ahead of the recent game against Cadiz.
                  Bottom - Jorge Molina celebrates yet another goal 

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