• Former Northern Ireland star guides FC Pirin to promotion
  • Now he sets sights on clinching the title
  • Leven and FC Orenburg edging closer to a future in the Russian Premier League

SITTING PRETTY...Mission Accomplished for Warren Feeney in

EX-NORTHERN IRELAND striker Warren Feeney has added to his coaching CV by masterminding FC Pirin Blagoevgrad's surge to promotion to the top division in Bulgaria.

Sport Careers Agency client Feeney took the bold step of leaving Ards in his homeland to take over at Pirin back in November 2019.

He knew a rebuilding job was required if he was to take the club back into the top tier after demotion.

The 40-year-old former Bournemouth, Swansea City and Dundee United hitman - capped 46 times for his country in a wandering pro career - overhauled the squad.

This season he withstood the pressure of a slow start and guided Pirin to an inspirational run of 13 wins from 18 games that culminated in Friday's 2-0 victory over Lovech.

Pirin sealed their return to Bulgaria's elite division after a three-year absence and Feeney said: "These players are a fantastic group.

"A lot of people here told me I had great players but you have to make them play together.

”We all worked hard and we went back to where we belonged."

Feeney, who now calls the 7,500-capacity Stadion Hristo Botev home, sums up the single-mindedness and steely will that is required to survive as a coach abroad.

He faced a barrage of criticism at the start of this campaign and survived calls for his sacking.

Now he has silenced his critics in Bulgaria and he recalled: "People criticised my style and told us that we have too many players but I wanted more quality.

”People wanted to lose me as the coach, there was a lot of negative energy.

"Now this has all happened because of the players. It was difficult but now we have to enjoy this moment.

"It was certainly not easy for me. I know football, I played at a high level. I wanted the players to believe in me, I didn't care about people's opinions.

”People questioned my appointment but I don't regret anything. They are a fantastic group. From here, we start preparing for the elite."

Before now Pirin have been best known as the club where Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur maverick Dimitar Berbatov began his career.

Now they will go back into the elite with their centenary year looming in 2022 with Feeney setting his sights now on sealing the title ahead of second-placed Lokomotiv Sofia.

The Northern Irish coach reasoned: "We want to win the league now.

"I want to build a championship mentality and it will only happen if we win the league."

ON THE BRINK...Peter Leven saw FC Orenburg take a big step nearer automatic promotion in Russiadaily

FC ORENBURG assistant coach Peter Leven has taken a huge step nearer life in the Russian Premier League next season.

Sport Careers Agency client Leven, who is working as no2 to Czech Head Coach Marcel Licka, saw his side defeat big rivals Nizhny Novgorod 2-1 on Saturday.

Orenburg are now second in the table and one point ahead of Nizhny with four games left in the quest to play in one of Europe's top 10 leagues next season.

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