Coach Phạm Minh Đức of Hồng Lĩnh Hà Tĩnh in a training session during the V.League 1 season 2020. — Photo vtc,vn
V.League 1 newcomers Hồng Lĩnh Hà Tĩnh were tipped for relegation at the start of this season, but instead hav become the surprise package of the top-flight.
The team from central Viet Nam squeaked into the top eight for the second leg of the season and now have an outside chance of lifting the title.
Their success is partly thanks to head coach Phạm Minh Đức who made use of the strength of his squad of unknown but young and promising players.
“The playing style of the team shows my style when I was a player. I am realistic. I understand who I am and who my rivals are. I also always choose the right moment to shine,” said Đức.
“My players are asked to change tactics to match with the situation. They can move from a pressing style to playing defensively. We also know how to decrease the pace of the game when necessary and play with more than 100 per cent because all matches are like finals.
“In Việt Nam, there are no world-level players. Some players have signed contracts with international clubs but none of them have been successful yet. My players have learnt that whenever they are on the pitch, they have to contribute to football and the supporters,” he said.
Đức is also one of few coaches in the country to use tech like the InStat app.
“Players’ performance will be analysed after every game. With the app, I have evidence and images to send to players. They watch clips in the morning and go on to fix the problems in the afternoon in our training. With this method, we save time while working quickly,” he said.
Hà Tĩnh’s joy to win a place in the V.League 1 didn't last long, as they knew how tough the top-flight would be.
Đức and the players worked hard to prepare for the step up to a higher level of competition but were unsure if their efforts would pay off.
“I worried a lot when seeing the competition schedule. We faced strong teams including defending champions Hà Nội FC and former winner SHB Đà Nẵng in the first matches. It was really difficult for such a new team,” said Đức.
“I thought we may only get a point from a match with Nam Định in the second game but we set a target of five points from five matches.”
However, they suffered two defeats in two first games to Viettel and Nam Định.
The losses strengthened the consensus that the team were destined for relegation.
“We made individual mistakes causing losses but it also gave us good lessons to stand up. Meanwhile, the COVID-19 pandemic forced the delay of the competition. Then we had time to restructure our team.”
Hà Tĩnh won two matches in the National Cup before returning to compete in the V.League 1.
Using a counter-attack stragety, they beat Quảng Ninh 2-0 and drew with Hà Nội and Đà Nẵng.
“The second rest because of COVID-19 was unexpected but it helped players recover from tiredness and injuries,” he said.
Hà Tĩnh performed well with draws against stronger Becamex Bình Dương and Sông Lam Nghệ An before beating last year’s runner-up HCM City FC.
In the last two games, they came from behind to beat Thanh Hóa and Quảng Nam and secured enough points to enter the final eight.
“Hà Tĩnh got a little luck when we reached the top eight. I told my young players that we are already champions because it was a really unexpected result.
“We were set a target of not being relegated but my own goal is a place in the top eight. I want a high bar for the team so that we must focus and try hard every minute, Đức said.
The former coach of Hà Nội FC's squad is made up of young and unknown players who would be unlikely to make the starting XI of many other V.League 1 teams, but he said the likes of Phạm Hoàng Lâm, Lê Mạnh Dũng, Nguyễn Văn Tám and Nguyễn Văn Toản have a great deal of potential.
With an average age of 24.45, Hà Tĩnh team are the third-youngest team in the league.
"They are young but I am proud of them. Discipline is strict in Hà Tĩnh but I always encourage them to believe in themselves and give them my experience,” said Đức.
“I told them to do their best, then sweet results will come. My players are young. Their technique may not be as good as others but their mental strength is really stable, they do not suffer nervousness regardless of who they play.
“Our team have been running well and the players have shown strong progress,” said the 44-year-old coach.
On Friday, Hà Tĩnh will continue their great adventure when visiting league leaders Sài Gòn FC at Thống Nhất Stadium. In their meeting earlier in the season, the two teams drew 1-1. — VNS