Since joining the Lithuanian top flight in 2003, V?tra have secured three third-place finishes and qualified for Europe every year; four UEFA Intertoto Cup campaigns followed by a UEFA Cup bow last season. This term they lie second, two points behind leaders FK S?duva with a game in hand, top scoring with 34 goals in 14 games. Liubšys identifies team loyalty as the key to their consistency.
I would like to note the devotion of the players and all the staff at the club,” Liubsys said. “In hard times the players did not scatter. The financial crisis has hit Lithuanian clubs hard. V?tra, unfortunately, are no exception. We had a very consistent first half of the league campaign with no big slumps. Our squad has stabilised and gained balance. We also brought in Cameroonian Bertrand Ngapounou and Pole Janusz Bucholc during the league break.”
For all their domestic consistency, on the European stage our opponents are something of an unknown quantity. Hodgson, though, the meticulous coach that he is, won’t have left anything to chance. He’s been to watch them personally once and will have combed through plenty of videotape to discover their strengths as well as the weaker areas we may be able to profit from.
The Guardian article hints that Bjørn Helge Riise may start tomorrow, as we’ve left Dickson Etuhu behind (his partner is due to give birth), but I reckon Chris Baird could fill the Nigerian’s holding role in midfield. I guess we’ll know soon enough.