Stanway sign Kosovan top league striker
LOSING 34-goal Sam Newson to Needham Market was always going to prove particularly difficult for Stanway Rovers boss Steve Downey.
Little did he know that one possible replacement would turn up on his doorstep straight from the Kosovan first division - the Kosovar Superliga.
Fatmir Tolaj took just 20 minutes to score on his debut and Downey has already described him as a “Sam Newson-type player”.
That’s not to say the Northern Irishman is getting carried away - especially when the Irish-Kosovan cross-over can often get lost in translation.
Downey said: “Fats, as we call him, came to our attention through a friend and we agreed we would sort the paperwork to ensure he could play. He has been training with us for six weeks although he is still a few weeks away from what he was like in the Kosovan first division. He is a Sam Newson-type player - quick and quite technical.”
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Tolaj, 20, arrived at the club having played for Trepca’89 in his country’s top division. He is expected to remain at Stanway for the rest of the season, staying with local family he has in the area.
And he was quick to impress - taking just 20 minutes to score on his Rovers debut in the 3-1 win over Cambridge University Press in the Ridgeons Challenge Cup.
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But Downey warned: “He has got a few issues with the language - I don’t think he understands too much of my Belfast. But he is getting to understand my gestures and he is settling in well. I was lucky to inherit a fantastic dressing room at Stanway.”
Tolaj is expected to be part of Downey’s squad for this Saturday’s FA Vase squad, one that is only missing Arron Clark after the midfielder suffered a dislocated ankle and a fracture to his lower left leg in the last round of the competition.
Inconsistent in the league where they currently lie 16th, Rovers have enjoyed a decent run in the Vase but face a difficult test when Essex rivals Stansted arrive at the Hawthorns.
Stansted are currently second in the Essex Senior Premier Division, the same standard in the football pyramid as the Ridgeons, having won the title last season.
Downey is under no illusions about the challenge facing his side, although he believes Stansted’s win over Stanway in the Essex Senior Cup could be something of a double-edge squad.
He said: “We know Stansted are used to winning but I don’t think they will be looking forward to this match as much as we are. I think they might be worried by us being wounded by the defeat in the Essex Senior Cup.”
After the match was originally meant to be played last Saturday, Downey admitted that the Rovers pitch was still suffering from a heavy frost.
This has obviously hit preparations for such a big cup match and Downey and his troops have been confined to indoor football and even a Kettlebells gym class.
The weather has been even more troublesome for Stansted who haven’t played since November 13 - the win against Eton Manor in the last round of the Vase.
The winners will play either Plymouth Parkway and Bodwin Town in the last 32.
n Spectators are advised to check before travelling to see if this afternoon’s game is still on.