Slavia Prague came close to squandering what appeared to be an unassailable lead in the Czech Republic.
Sam Beckwith in Prague
With nine games of the season remaining, the championship was Slavia’s to lose. And, for a while, they came surprisingly close.
Despite selling three key players in January, and struggling to rediscover their autumn form, the defending champions doubled the lead they took into the winter break to 12 points, largely thanks to the inconsistency of their rivals. But with another title looking in the bag the difficulties of replacing striker Tomas Necid, wing-back Matej Krajcik and midfielder Mickael Tavares began to show.
A 1-0 loss at Sigma Olomouc on April 5 was Slavia’s first defeat of the spring, but the “Prague S” derby the following week seemed to nudge the title back in their direction. Facing a resurgent Sparta, Slavia raised their game and were unlucky to be held to a 1-1 draw by their city rivals.
But a 2-1 defeat by struggling Kladno and a 3-3 draw at home to Mlada Boleslav saw Slavia go winless in the league in April, and their tailspin headed into May, when they were beaten 1-0 at Brno, slashing their lead to five points with four games to play.
Meanwhile, hopes of a double slipped away with a humiliating loss to Slovacko in the Czech Cup semi-finals.
Slavia’s league game against Dynamo Ceske Budejovice took on new importance – and they found a hero in Pavel Fort, re-signed from Toulouse as a replacement for Necid. Lacking form and confidence after a frustrating spell in France, the 25-year-old repaid the faith coach Karel Jarolim had shown him, scoring both Slavia goals – one a penalty – in a vital 2-0 win.
With Sparta losing 2-1 to Tescoma Zlin later that day, the tide had suddenly turned. Needing just a point from their last three games, a newly confident Slavia clinched the title with a 3-1 win at Zizkov, Fort again scoring twice.
Jozef Chovanec made a solid start to his fourth spell in charge at Sparta, leading them to the second Champions League spot. He brought in a raft of youngsters to play alongside veterans Patrik Berger, Tomas Repka and Jaromir Blazek and it largely paid off.
Liberec, under Ladislav Skorpil, benefited from Croatian striker Andrej Keric’s goals to finish third but Banik Ostrava, third at the break, slumped dramatically after Vaclav Sverkos (to Sochaux) and veteran Tomas Galasek (Monchengladbach) left in January.
Poor spring form prompted Mlada Boleslav to switch coaches, Pavel Hapal making way for Dusan Uhrin Jr to return. Boleslav, however, took just four more points and missed out on Europe on the final day. Olomouc took fourth place, joining Liberec and cup winners Teplice in the Europa League.
Zizkov were relegated along with Zlin. Bohemians 1905, one of two Prague clubs laying claim to the Bohemians name, return as second division champions.