(*this pun only works if you know that Balajti rhymes with Delight-y in Hungarian, rendering it worse than useless)
The winter break is almost upon us in Hungary and the cold nights are drawing in. To rubber-stamp this a blanketing of snow fell on the city last night, giving Budapest a festive air as I walk towards the Szusza Ferenc Stadium for the last time in 2018.
It’s a sparse turn-out despite Vasas’s recent uptick in form – about 550 have made the trip to Ujpest to see the Angyalföld boys against struggling Budafoki this afternoon. Vasas have been resurgent under new manager Károly Szanyó, winning their last three league games and narrowly losing in the cup to Debrecen (who sit 3rd in the NBI).
There’s also an all-woman officiating team today, which is a nice surprise and something I’ve not seen before in Hungary (or indeed in men’s football in the UK). Having done a bit of research it seems the official world’s best woman referee is Hungarian so there seems to be a positive pedigree in this regard. I believe today’s ref is Gyöngyi Gaál but I may be mistaken.
Vasas fly out of the blocks – one thing Szanyó has undoubtedly brought to this side is urgency on the ball. No dallying, this is one-touch passing with intent. There is still the odd misplaced pass but in general it’s pretty fluid, even on a snow-covered pitch. Budafoki look a little taken aback and are soon pinned in their own half as Vasas knock it about confidently, testing the keeper.
Budafoki rally and manage a few dangerous breaks (one chance is bravely saved by 19-year-old Vasas keeper Bese) but are soon undone by the home side. Szatmári plays a slide-rule ball to Birtalan, who takes it expertly in his stride before slipping it past the onrushing keeper on the 26 minute mark.
Budafoki look lost after this and start to lose shape. 36 minutes in: a cross from the right is poorly defended, and Balajti nods in what is (I think) his 12th of the season. Though he’s a big show-off and selfish on the ball, you can’t help but like him. Imagine an in-shape, Hungarian Lee Tomlin with socks rolled down to his ankles and you’re halfway there. He knows he’s better than pretty much everyone else on the pitch and isn’t shy about sharing this information with the wider public.
Just 8 minutes later and it’s game over. Balajti is fouled in the box and gets up to coolly slot home his second. Budafoki manage a few attacks before half-time, but Szilagyi and Kelemen are on it tonight and stamp out any nascent dangers. Half time, 3-0.
At the break they play Driving Home For Christmas by Middlesbrough’s own Chris Rea. It feels like a little red thread leading back to the Riverside.
The second half starts badly. A great save by Bese is followed up and seemingly cleared off the line by the Vasas defender. A flag is waved, a whistle is blown and somehow it’s 3-1, the lineswoman adjudging it to have crept over. I was at a bad angle for this one so will have to watch the highlights, but it didn’t appear to cross. No big appeal from the home team so I could be wrong.
Nevertheless, after that kick up the arse Vasas decide to kill this one off, and it’s good to see them with this ruthless edge. A botched backheel by Birtalan somehow comes back to him and he curls it home for 4-1 and his second of the night. Balajti is so full of confidence that he pulls off a frigging Zidane turn in the box and gets away with it. He’s a cocky git and I love him.
A daft consolation is gifted in the 92nd minute to make it 4-2, but there’s no dampening the atmosphere as Vasas go into the break hale and hearty for 2019.
On the bus home I speak to Mihály, the project manager for the new Vasas stadium. He and Sándor – one of the club’s communication team – were kind enough to invite me for a stadium tour last week – I’ll be blogging about that soon. It was ace.
Vasas 4-2 Budafoki MTE (Birtalan 2, Balajti 2. Attendance 600)
A promising end to a terrible 2018 for Vasas. Four league wins in a row put the club back in contention. With a new stadium on the way and the costs that come with it 2019 is going to be a big year.
Notes on other teams I follow:
Middlesbrough are sliding away from the automatic promotion spots in the Championship. No win in 4 drops them to 6th in the table, 8 points adrift of 2nd place Norwich.
In Bahrain, Al Shabbab are now in the relegation places after a 5-game losing streak.