Maccabi Tel Aviv will visit FK Suduva on Wednesday in a one game winner take all Champions League third round qualifying match. Should the yellow-and-blue defeat the Lithuanian outfit, they will move onto the third round which will be played in mid-September after the International window. But before Giorgos Donis’s squad can even think about a potential next round foe, they have a score to settle with the Marijampolė based team.
Last season, Suduva shocked Maccabi in a two legged tie winning both games by the score of 2-1 and eliminated the yellow-and-blue from Europa League qualifying. One of the players who will be looking to settle the score is Israeli striker Nick Blackman who played in the series last year.
Blackman, who grew up in Salford, England is the midst of his second term with Maccabi and qualifies as an Israeli due to the Law of Return. In fact, his maternal grandfather survived the horrors of Auschwitz during the Holocaust. The now 30-year old attended King David High School in Manchester and also participated in the 2005 Maccabiah Games representing Great Britain.
However, now it’s all business on the pitch as he will try to lead his club to the next round of Champions League qualifying along with a bit of revenge.
“We were very disappointed in the two games as to how it turned out last season,” explained Blackman following last week’s qualifying game.
With four goals in three official games across all competitions so far this early season, Blackman has been red hot after not having the chance to play as much as he would have liked to last season under head coach Vladimir Ivic.
“I had a difficult season last season and with other guys we made a fantastic achievement as a group and won the league with some amazing records. From a personal point of view, I have a lot more to offer and a lot more to give. It’s just about the hard work that everyone’s been putting in during the preseason and that seems to be paying off for everyone at this moment in time.”
Playing in only 18 games and scoring just one goal was certainly frustrating for Blackman, but there’s not much to do when the team only lost one game in league play, “Last season I didn’t play that much and obviously we were doing fantastic as a team so there are no arguments there. When you are winning every week you have to be patient and bide your time.”
But now with new coach Giorgos Donis, Blackman and many of the other players who may have not had a chance to play big minutes last season which ended just month ago, all have chance to show their wares, “It’s a clean slate for everyone and it’s such a fast turn around between this season and last season but when a new coach comes in he comes in with a new philosophy and new ideas of how to play. Sometimes that suits other players. Everyone has a chance and it’s doing your best when you have the chance to play.”
In their first qualifying game, Maccabi had tons of chances to find the back of the goal from multiple areas on the field but the scoring came down to Blackman’s pair of penalties that helped see the squad through the test, “Any forward will tell you that the strive to score every chance they get and you can push for that. We created a lot of chances and we were unfortunate to hit the woodwork a few times and if those go in it’s a very different game. We perhaps made it a bit more difficult for ourselves but we did what we needed to do to get through this round.”
Fortunately, the Greek bench boss has a solid base of players with a good mix said Blackman, “We have some experienced players in the team and when the level does drop or when there are some uncertain moments, it’s really important that the experienced players use their knowledge on the pitch and game management to try to come out of the situation without conceding goals.”
Of course with only a couple of games under his belt as coach, Blackman knows that it will take Donis some time to get acclimated, “We’re taking it one day at a time and we’re still learning from a new coach. There were some good moments and not so good moments but that should be expected at this time of the season with a new coach coming in and the players still bit fully grasping the new ideas. He’s happy with some things and other things we have to work on which is what we will continue to keep doing.”