On January 5, Castel Rigone had won five in a row and was in fifth place, solidly in place to retain a place in Serie C next season. At that point, they had 29 points. On March 23, they lost their fifth out of the last six games (the other was a draw), and have 34 points, fifth from bottom, and solidly in place to be relegated into Serie D next season.
When they were at their best, they were beating the top teams in the league; now they have lost to the two worst teams in the table. Gutted by injuries and suspensions they continue to accumulate due to too many red and yellow cards, they have not been able to keep a consistent lineup, which has shown in the stuttering linking of their play through the midfield. More and more they have resorted to booting the ball long up the field, hoping to pick up some scraps with their forwards. The last two games they even played 4-2-4, in the hopes of gaining more attacking opportunity, but with such a narrow midfield, can’t retain and build possession unless the wide forwards track back consistently for the ball. And it is a truism in soccer that it is easier to run forward than it is backward.
Well, they are streaking backward now.
Some kind of nervousness began to creep into the team toward the end of winter. Headline quotes in the Giornale dell’Umbria from the team before these latest games were earnest but also negative (“vietato sbagliare“; “we absolutely can’t screw up” – 1 March); “Abbiamo toccata il fondo“; “we have touched bottom” – 5 March). They have gone from playing without fear to playing under its shadow.
We went to the Ischia Isolaverde match two weeks ago; Don Bosco had arranged an outing for their club, and about 100 players, coaches, and family members arrived in their colors to enjoy the match on a sunny but windy spring day. The atmosphere was leavened by the vibrant enthusiasm of the visiting team and its fans. Throughout the first half, their sizable traveling contingent churned out songs, chants, and cheers in full-throated measure, giving the often staid San Bartolomeo a more energetic ambience.
At halftime, two Ischia fans came over, shirts off and smoking, clearly inebriated, to engage the Castel Rigone side. Cracking jokes and speaking loudly and incessantly, sometimes shaking hands, the visitors had the local fans in smiles, who took the incursion in good humor. Little did we know that it was but a sign of things to come.
The match had largely been better played by Castel Rigone, led by the indefatigable midfielder Matteo Coresi, who gave everything he had on the field. But an errant pass by the mercurial Bontà (who had begun to tire and was pulled seven minutes later) led to the sole Ischia goal 23 minutes into the second half. Castel Rigone had avoided what had plagued them in previous games — surrendering goals in the first 30 minutes — but had failed to score themselves, part of the poor form that has seen them lose three in a row at home. Scappini struck the bar off a marvelous cross, and the greater chances were theirs, but none went in.
At the end of the match, the Ischia squad, who are now almost certain to have earned salvation into Serie C, and therefore stay in the professional ranks, ran over to their fans to acknowledge and thank them. The crowd howled in response, and called to the players, several of whom then stripped down to their underwear and then threw their sweaty shirts and shorts into the crowd. Even the Don Bosco kids were asking for them. If any women had been among the Ischians, you might have expected some swooning. As it was, there was just a steady stream of triumphant swearing. It was positively gladiatorial.
If Castel Rigone has any chance now of making the playout ranks of places 9-12 in the standings and saving their season, they will have to fight like gladiators. Their next opponent, at home on March 29, is formidable: Foggia. But in late November, Castel Rigone played a superb match against them, which kicked off their run of five consecutive victories.
Foggia now sits in fifth place. Where Castel Rigone used to be.
[[Sky Sports Special on the history of the Castel Rigone club, from 17 Feb 2014]]
Official Lega Pro video highlights of the week 29 1-2 loss v. Gavorrano:
Official Lega Pro video highlights of the week 28 0-1 loss v. Ischia:
Official Lega Pro video highlights of the week 27 1-1 draw v. Melfi:
Official Lega Pro video highlights of the week 29 3-4 loss v. Arzanese: