West Ham United v FK Backa Topola: match preview

It's a Euro-Percy this week. So we'd just like to apologise profusely for the pronunciation as we play host to FK TSC of Backa Topola, who may not be from as far away as you think Preview Percy explains all. Badly...

Next up we return to the Thursday Night League in our capacity as Thursday Night Conference Champions. We will play host to Serbian side FK TSC who hail from the town of Backa Topola. Kick-off on Thursday night is at 8pm with TNT (nee “BT Sport”) covering the match on one of its channels.

Now I will be honest here and admit that, until the draw the other week I had not heard of our opponents. So I was even more surprised to discover that the match qualifies as a local derby. Don't believe me? Well try this on for size: The name of the town translates from Serbian as “Poplar”. So expect a bit of overcrowding on the DLR then.

The club has had a bit of an identity crisis since its formation back in 1913, running through name changes on average every 20 years or so. Back then the town was actually part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. This didn't last long as, within a year of the club's official formation the First World War kicked-off.

Once the dust had settled from that, they ended up being part of the Serbo-Croatian-Slovenian kingdom before being subsumed into Yugoslavia, whereupon the first of those name changes took place. During WWII the club actually took part in the Hungarian League, finishing second in the second division in 1942. The post-war period saw them trundling along through various Yugoslavian regional leagues, finally achieving national league status in 1974 when they reached Division 2 of the Yugoslavian national system.

However, the death of President Tito in 1980 and the general collapse of communism across eastern Europe led to the splitting up of the various states that made up Yugoslavia and the club found itself in Serbia. By 2003 the club was encountering severe financial difficulties and effectively folded, leaving only junior teams running.

A return to more senior competition was achieved in 2005 by way of a merger with FK Bajsa and, based on a strong youth development system they started working their way through the regional leagues once more. A few more name changes saw them promoted to the Serbian Super Liga in 2018-19 where they finished in 4th place at their first go, qualifying for the Thursday Night League, going out to FCSB in the second qualifying round on penalties after the one-legged playoff had finished 6-6. Quiet night, that one.

Having finished runners-up last season they actually qualified for the so-called Champions League but swiftly ran aground, losing 4-1 at home and 3-0 away to Portuguese outfit Braga. This saw them parachute into our group of the Thursday night league. On the domestic front they've had a fine start, winning six in a row after an opening day draw leaving them top of the table with 19 points from the seven they have played so far at time of writing.

At the weekend they enjoyed a win in a 6-3 goalfest against strugglers Zeleznicar Pancevo. Although the game was pretty much over with TSC having a 5-1 lead as injury time loomed. The suggestion is that TSC withdrew a few players in advance of Thursday's match. Zeleznicar hit a couple of quick goals only to see TSC hit another of their own in stoppage time. Left winger Djakovac bagged a brace in that game, so he may be worth keeping an eye on.

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The main strike threat seems to be Sacha Jovanovic. He's getting towards the “experienced” stage of his career at 31 and was capped twice by the Serbian national side around six years back. He spent a couple of years in Saudi before it became trendy for players to go there to educate that nation on human rights and in no way pick up a large amount of money towards the retirement fund.

If they go with two up front, Jovanovic will most likely be partnered by Marko Rakonjac. Rakonjac is currently on loan from Lokomotiv Moscow. He joined them from Serbian side Cuckaracki in April 2022, presumably thinking that all the fuss about Ukraine would die down sooner rather than later. It didn't and after only 12 matches he found himself back in Serbia with Red Star Belgrade on loan.

Red Star didn't exercise their option to buy and he pitched up at the start of this season at TSC on another season-long deal, again with an option to buy. There are, of course, issues with buying players from Russia at present. There are extensive sanctions between the EU and Russia and, whilst Serbia isn't part of the EU yet, they are in the process of joining and so won't want to rock the boat too much. Incidentally the accession process commenced in 2012. I think they're rushing it a bit personally.

Let us move on, shall we, to the wild and wacky world of Association Football. And congratulations to Tottenham Hotspur. It appears that the internet has finally reached that god-forsaken part of north London judging by the sudden appearance of their supporters on Facebook, the thing formerly known as twitter and all other forms of social media etc etc after years of silence.

They are looking forward to the Blu-ray release and open top bus tour of N17 which will follow their referee-assisted win against Sheffield United last weekend. The date for the parade hasn't been announced but a Thursday night looks favourite. Meanwhile the internet connection up there may be a bit fragile so don't be surprised if it goes all radio silence as soon as they start playing anyone likely to be on their fixture list next season.

Elsewhere Burnley were denied a late winner at Forest thanks to VAR spotting what was deemed to be a handball on the grounds that “it came down tails”. Well that's the best explanation anyone can come up with for the decision making process these days. Burnley boss Kompany admitted “I turn off whenever they try to explain the laws to me”, which is something he clearly has in common with the so-called select group at PGMOL.

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And so to us. Well we gave Man City a game – something that hasn't always been the case in the past - but ultimately if there is any game for which you have to be on your mettle for 100% of the match it was that one.

We were still back in the changing room for the equaliser and the goal that gave them the lead was a comedy of errors defensively. That Haaland would score eventually was a given – we got well and truly stitched up on the break down our left-hand side as Emerson got stranded in a well-intentioned bid to support the attack. Ah well at least a go was given and it wasn't the capitulation of previous seasons.

We have no major worries on the injury front other than Alvarez whose knock at the weekend saw him hooked in the second half. He would have been available but an inconvenient red card gained whilst at Ajax last season means that knock or no knock he will have to sit this one out.

We have cover and I'd expect to see a start for Kudus and possibly for Konstantinos Mavropanos who, and I am grateful for Daisy pointing this out, seems to be known universally as 'Dinos', which will save quite a lot of wear and tear on my arthritic wrists over the course of the season. Fabianski will start having swapped places in the pecking order with Areola.

So the prediction then. Well I can't see anything other than a home win this time around. I'm sure that their first time in a European group stage will galvanize them to some extent, and we do have the occasional habit of making things difficult for ourselves against lesser-ranked opposition (Kidderminster anyone?). But overall whatever side takes the pitch ought to have enough quality to prevail on this occasion.

I will therefore be placing the £2.50 that I was originally going to spend on singing lessons for Paolo Di Canio on a 3-0 win to us, as long as I can get the Winstone Turf Accountancy App going.

Enjoy the game!

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When last we met...

You are joking, aren't you?

Referee Filip Glova

At some stage we will start to encounter referees in Europe who we have previously met. Hopefully not the clown we had in Prague though. This is not one of those occasions. Glova is a 35 year-old Slovakian who was in charge of the Thursday night qualifier between Hacken and Aberdeen which finished up in a 2-2 draw, with Glova's performance being described as “inconsistent” and the use of VAR as “baffling”. Just another referee then.

Danger Man: Sasha Jovanavic

Right winger with a pair of goals and a pair of assists in the league this season. Their Bowen if you will, though it's not known whether the player has had any dalliances with the daughters of any Serbian soap-opera actors to be immortalised in song.

Percy & Daisy's International Fact Of The Week Type Thing

This year in Europe we aim to give you an insight into the world inhabited by our opponents. To start with we look at the municipality of Backa Topola, or “Poplar” if you will.

Although the population of the municipality is shown as being c33,000 this refers to the wider municipal area, the county if you will, and includes the population of a number of smaller towns and villages. In fact the town of Backa Topola itself is homes to a shade under 15,000 souls, most of whom think of themselves as Hungarian. To put that into context, the population of the whole town could comfortably be contained within one end of the Olympic Stadium. If they could get the ticket gates to work.

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