Saturday’s disappointing defeat away at Puskas Akademia brought to a close the first full round of league fixtures of Tam Courts reign as manager of Budapest Honved. After the first 11 games of the season Honved find themselves in 10th position and just one point off the bottom of the table.
Courts, the first Scot to manage in Hungary since Wille McStay at Ujpest in 2009/10, has endured a difficult first four months in the job since taking over from Serbian head coach Nebojsa Vignjevic in the summer as he looks to develop a new culture at the club geared towards long-term success.
The departure of a number of experienced players in the summer, coupled with new signings still arriving up until the final minutes of the summer transfer window left Honved with a threadbare squad going into the season. One that was further hindered by players coming back out of shape after the summer break and requiring further conditioning to get up to speed for the new season and demands of the new coach.
The opening games against Zalaegerszeg (H), Fehervar (A), Paks (H), and Vasas (A) saw Courts tinker with the side throughout the matches as he sought to cover the cracks in the team and bed in new additions, while also implement his own style of play.
Honved began to take on a more solid defensive structure as the partnership between Prenga and Cirkovic, both previously together at Kisvarda, and goalkeeper Szappanos strengthened. With Gomis and Bocskay in midfield, Honved also became more competitive in the midfield with two players capable of winning the ball and feeding the wide forwards.
The pay-off came against Vasas where Honved came from behind to record their first win of the season after remaining tight despite losing the first goal, and hitting Vasas on the counter.
However, Honved’s season has been blighted by a couple of consistent themes. Lack of belief after losing a goal, and profligacy in front of the opposition goal – Honved has scored 6 less goals than this time last season with only Fehervar and Vasas finding the net on fewer occasions this term.
Away at both Ferencvaros and Debrecen the players visibly shrunk after losing the first goal despite matching their opponents up to that point in both games. At home to Ujpest and Kecskemet the forwards could not take the chances they were presented with as both games ended 0-0.
Football is a game of fine margins and at the moment Honved are coming up just short. However, in Courts, they have a man-manager who is meticulous in his preparation, who takes time to understand his players on a personal level, and who will leave no stone unturned in his efforts to get an extra 5% out of his players and improve their matchday psyche.
The late summer arrivals of Jairo Samperio and Brandon Domingues have added pace and creativity to the attack, leaving a centre forward capable of finishing off their hard work as the final part required of the attacking jigsaw.
A fit and in shape Nenad Lukic could be that man, however, a more probable source is young forward Dominik Kocsis who has emerged as one of the bright sparks of the season so far.
The emergence of Kocsis, alongside Alex Szabo and Bertalan Bocskay as regulars in the first team this season underpin Courts desire and willingness to integrate his young stars in to the first team set-up.
Followers of Dundee United, Courts previous side in Scotland, will be all too aware that Courts is a manager who is not afraid to give youth a chance, with no less than 16 Academy graduates being given first-team minutes at Tannadice last season.
Having survived the first round of matches, four other managers have already been sacked, Courts can take his team into the second round with renewed optimism, despite Saturday’s loss at Puskas.
He knows each of his opponents a little better now, and knows his players better.
There is still a lot of work to be done throughout matches 12-21 and a few additional reinforcements in January would not go a miss. But with a little more belief and a rub of green going their way, the season is still far from over for Honved.
That said, with the nature of NBI being as it is, if results do not pick up fast then Honved could find themselves in a perilous position.