Before Daniil could send his players off for a break he had four games to prepare his boys for; Lokomotiv and Dinamo to round off the three consecutive matches against Moscow opposition, before facing Akhmat and Zenit.
Knowing not to expect too much from these games, Daniil was instructing his players to make the most of the occasion and be a sponge – they would be rubbing shoulders with some of Russia’s best clubs, Daniil was hoping many of his younger players would take notes on the playstyles of the powerhouses.
Lokomotiv proved to be too much however, the shock of the season was to happen in Moscow when Daniil recorded a famous 2-1 victory over Dinamo Moscow to throw a spanner into the title race:
A real warrior-like performance from the small side from Khabarovsk ensured they stayed in the game when it was very much against them, and to snatch a victory in the dying embers was impressive. Daniil was ecstatic but knew he couldn’t get too carried away.
Akhmat and Zenit piled on the misery and ruined Christmas for Daniil after recording another set of back-to-back defeats. It was finally time for Daniil to revisit the tactics board and squad depth reports to see what was required, before checking the finances to see what was possible. There was no money available for Daniil to bring in talent during the winter break, and the inability to contribute to some players’ wages for a loan spell was hampering him. He knew he was struggling in certain areas of the park, and that it could haunt him in the second half of the season, but to get around it he could only promote from within.
An impressive mid-season training camp saw Daniil’s side build their confidence with back-to-back clean sheets at the cost of player losses. Ivan Ignatiev’s season would be over with a broken leg and Luka Ilić would be out with an ACL injury. A nightmare just before football returns, with no window open to bring in reinforcements.
With a depleted attacking front, it was back to the competitive games and both March and April were months to forget for Daniil. 0 points from 21 although games against Sochi and Arsenal Tula were edged out by a single goal – the result could have easily swung for Daniil on another day with his strongest attacking options on the park.
It was at this point in his career that Daniil was beginning to feel the pressure. Fans were beginning to turn on him, and the board were inclined to side with their paying customers; demanding more and better from Daniil. Daniil was speechless at the sudden demands. He understands that the results on paper don’t look good and he will hold his hands up for that. But to suggest a team recently promoted could be doing better against more established sides who have more financial backing? Daniil couldn’t get his head around it. However, football was a game of opinions. Daniil knew that. Let the people talk – he was just focusing on his task at hand.
April for Daniil was very much the biggest month of the season for Daniil. It was the last run of games against the big teams, with Krasnodar and CSKA Moscow on either side of a massive game against Krylia Sovetov. Unfortunately for Daniil, the current trend continued; his side was consistent with defeats yet again and the pressure was mounting. Daniil’s job security went from stable to insecure in a matter of days.
And all of a sudden it was looking as though Daniil’s hopes in reaching a relegation play-off were in tatters. 6 points behind Arsenal Tula with no form built it, it was going to be a tough ask over the remaining 5 games. All hopes swung on this 6-pointer with Khimki and it ended in embarrassment for Daniil. Defeated 5-0 in front of the Khabarovsk faithful, Daniil was booed and pelted off the park at the full-time whistle. The fans had enough; they had unanimously decided his time was up and calling for the board to take action. The board well were aware that the side was likely to go back down come the summer, but they were not impressed in the manner in which they were going down. They began to drop hints that Danill had to buck up his ideas.
By this point of the season, Daniil was feeling a bit isolated and out of love with the game. He knew that performances hadn’t been good, but when key players are missing at key moments of the season, you are always going to be up against. After everything he had done for a club that was flirting with relegation from the first division just two years ago, he was perplexed. A trip away to Rostov who was chasing a fading glimmer of hope that was European football for the new season was not the ideal game Daniil wanted, but he had to put on a brave smile and try and change the fortunes.
However, it was not to be the start of the great escape. Rostov ran out 3-0 victors and that defeat was the final nail in the coffin for both Khabarovsk and Daniil. Relegated back down, Daniil felt that his time at the club had stagnated and the club needed a fresh perspective put upon it. Knowing that he was leaving a club with talented footballers and assets that would secure the club’s finances, he could look back on his time as a general success. His last season did not play out as he wanted it to, but he could take so many positives from the experience in general, knowing that should he get a crack at the top flight again he would do so much different.
A dejected Daniil emptied his office at the Imeni V.I Lenina stadium and returned back to his flat in the city centre, yet he wasn’t eagerly awaiting his next challenge. He was actually looking forward to taking a break from the game to clear his head and vent some frustration; knowing his next job would rekindle his love for the sport.
One chapter ends. Another chapter will begin soon for Daniil. Time will tell where he ends up next in his journey to the west side of Russia. But Daniil was looking forward to the next leg, whenever that maybe…