Mike Relishing The Heat Of Top-Of-Table Battle
Mike Stowell has touched down back in Israel, eager to help his new employers extend their excellent start to the season.
The record-breaking keeper has just had almost a week at home in Bristol during the international break but games resume this weekend and are soon about to take on a regular Thursday-Sunday routine for he and his colleagues.
His club, Maccabi Tel Aviv, won four and drew two of their six games in the knockout stages of the Europa Conference League and are through to the group phase that starts shortly.
In addition, they have won two out of two in the domestic league programme and both of the ties they have played in one of Israel’s cups to leave themselves promisingly placed in three competitions.
“It’s a pleasing start but we feel we will know much more about where we are in a few weeks’ time,” Stowell told us.
“We probably haven’t played the most fancied teams so far and have been drawn in Europe with Gent, who we expect to be tough.
“We also have teams from Iceland and Ukraine in our group. We don’t know much about them yet, so it might be a question of trying to take enough points against those opponents if we see Gent as the favourites.”
That next Conference phase kicks off for Maccabi with a home game against Breidablik next Thursday, an assignment in Belgium against Gent following on October 5.
“Sunday and Monday tend to be the main match days over here, so it won’t be too big a change of routine for us,” he added. “But obviously the workload is going to be high.
“One difference from England, though, is that the country is smaller and the journeys for league matches are generally shorter. Kick-off times are later as well, so overnight trips aren’t a regular thing.”
Stowell is working under the management of Robbie Keane, the essentially English/Irish staff living in close proximity in apartments around four miles from the club’s training ground, which is less than a mile from the Bloomfield Stadium.
“The ground holds about 26,000 and is shared with Hapoel Tel Aviv. Our colours are yellow and blue, theirs are mainly red and we have been getting 21,000 or so, with more variable attendances for away games.
“The atmosphere is very lively. Because the weather is so warm, some spectators whip their shirts off and there’s singing for 90 minutes, with some drummers to generate even more noise.
“Parts of life over here are very western, with bars, restaurants and a good tourist industry as we are close to the sea. But training, like games, is quite late here, so we have our sessions then maybe meet for a drink as a staff in the evening and then sleep and rest ready for the same the day after.”
More international breaks lie ahead this autumn and Stowell is hoping for a visit from his wife and daughter over Christmas.
Tel Aviv, who finished third last season, are at home to Maccabi Bnei Raina on Sunday.