Season 4 (March Update): Steadying The Ship

Four months in to my time in Essex and I’m settling in to life in League One quite nicely. We sit 11th, five places higher than when I joined. Crucially we’re six places above Giggsy’s Millwall. They don’t know what they passed on. Refreshingly, we’ve only suffered defeat four times in these four months, and a couple of new players have given us hope of sneaking in to the play-offs.

The Results

My first game as U’s boss was a much anticipated trip to Fratton Park. Portsmouth were sitting 2nd in the league, with us in 16th. As a Southampton fan, I can’t stand the thought of heading back down south and getting beaten.

Pompey game

My asymmetric 4-1-2-3 (DM) gets its first test, and it starts very well. Centre Midfielder Craig Slater hits a bullet from 25 yards in to the bottom corner to put us a goal up, and we dominate the first 25 minutes. But then things started to go tits up, as two defensive cock-ups see us fall behind, one scored by one of my must-buys from back in the days of FM12, Jake Forster-Caskey. Loanee striker Alex Babos equalised at the start of the second half, before some kamikaze Pompey defending gifted us an 82nd minute penalty. Denny Johnstone coolly slotted home, but in my jubilation I forgot to park the bus. Predictably, Harry Cornick equalised in stoppage time, but a 3-3 away draw at one of the league leaders is a decent first game.

After that decent point, I returned home for my first game at the Weston Homes Community Stadium (I really need them to change the name) against midtable Port Vale. However, Alex Babos and Denny Johnstone picked up injuries in training, meaning that I had to rely on the untested 22 year old Tariq Issa, who had previously just be sat in my reserves.

Port Vale game

We fell behind in the first ten minutes, and I was not feeling hopeful about our chances. But after 25 minutes, Port Vale fail to clear a corner, and Issa unleashes a viscous scissor kick from around the penalty spot. Two minutes later, Ryan Hedges put us in front, and he added his second after the break. Sammie Szmodics added a fourth, and even a late consolation couldn’t dampen our spirits.

We went and lost our next game, but then went five unbeaten in the league. Bury thoroughly dismantled us, beating us 3-0. Bury had 24 shots to our 9, 12 on target to our 2. We bounced back with three draws and two wins, before we lost at home to Millwall. Damn you Giggsy! If I had £2.3 million I would sign Tom Davies on loan from Everton as well. Bastards.

During that time we crashed out of the FA Cup in the Third Round. We hosted Championship side Crystal Palace, whose team included James Tomkins, Yohan Cabaye, Danny Welbeck, Wilfried Zaha and Christian Benteke. We lost 3-1 in a fairly even game: we had 15 shots, 6 on target and 51% possession, Palace had 12 shots, 8 on target and 49% possession.

The Transfers

Maddison

As soon as I got to the club, I noticed that we didn’t have the strength in depth in attacking midfield, especially in the shadow striker role. Even though my assistant doesn’t think that he is a natural in the role, I decided to bring in James Maddison, who had been without a club since his release from Norwich.

I let right back Andy Yiadom leave on a free to Peterborough. I needed to free up some wages after bringing in Maddison, and although seen as a key player, he was only averaging around a 6.3 for me. Anyway, I had 23 year old Kane Vincent-Young who could do with the match experience. Also on the outs was Brennan Dickenson, my third choice left winger, for £150k to League Two Plymouth.

Winks

My second signing was an audacious loan bid for Harry Winks, which was much needed as we only have George Saville, Craig Slater, and Thomas Lapslie who can play there.

We have also just had our youth intake. It has been a very promising intake, with four players having four star or above potential. The first is goalkeeper Steve Moore. The 15 year old is just about 6ft, but has 14 handling, 14 agility, 12 decisions and 13 bravery.

Moore

The next player is Paul Barnett, a right winger, but he is accomplished as both an attacking midfielder and a left winger. The 15 year old Welshman has decent pace and natural fitness, but his technicals and mentals really make his stand out. He has 10 crossing and first touch, and 11 dribbling, and most importantly 15 technique. His 14 teamwork and 13 determination means that he is likely to reach his potential, whilst his 14 flair means that he will be a nightmare for defenders.

Barnett

Along with these two, we also have a David Luiz wannabe, centre back Ryan Cherry, who has 15 tackling, 11 marking and 12 free kick taking. We have also got a decent advanced forward, Duncan Brennan, who has 14 acceleration, 17 natural fitness, 16 teamwork, 16 work rate and 14 finishing. Both of these have four star possible potential.

The Stars

James Maddison has 5 goals from his 11 appearances, whilst Denny Johnstone has 3 despite his injury problems. Ryan Hedges has three goals and three assists since I have joined, with Danny Fox also providing 3 assists from left back. My centre backs, Tom Eastman and Ashley Eastham, top the average rating charts, with a 7 and a 7.06 respectively. James Bransgrove has 7 clean sheets from his 16 appearances under my management.

What’s To Come?

We have 10 games remaining of our season, and although we are the very definition of midtable team, we are still only 7 points off Walsall and the play-offs. However, our run-in is not kind, as we face both of the top two, as well as all the teams between 5th and 8th. This includes a final day match at home to Walsall, which could decide who reaches the play-offs.

 

Season 4: A New Challenge

So, it’s with a heavy heart that I leave Poole. I wanted to stay there until the end, take them up to the Premier League. But that was looking increasingly unlikely. If the Vanarama National had caused me to stop playing for a month, what would League Two do, let alone the Premier League? So Colchester is my destination. Can I turn their season around? Can we sneak in to the play-offs? Most importantly, can I cut it at a level that isn’t the Vanarama South? So far I had flopped at Vanarama National level, but how much of that was me, and how much was the situation I was in?

profile

My appointment got me looking at my profile for the first time in a while. One star reputation, how on earth did I get this job? One of the conditions of the job was that I improved my media handling, which shouldn’t be a problem because it is only that low because you get no interviews in non-league. I also notice that half season in the Conference has really damaged my win percentage.

The Club

Enough about me, now on to things I probably should have covered in the last update. Colchester, which I now know is in Essex, are a 2 1/2 star club, with okay finances and a 10,000 seater stadium. They’re predicted to finish 11th in League One, but sit in 16th at the moment. The stadium is in very good condition, whilst the youth and training facilities are both good.

The Squad

Squad

I had looked at the squad before I joined, but only briefly. According to my assistant, this is a pretty average squad, so mid-table seems about right. My first real issue is that I have no right wingers, apart from Lawrie Wilson who is more of a full back. Normally, this would mean a narrow formation, but then I notice that I have an abundance of left wingers, and crucially, Ryan Hedges is one of my best players.

Hedges

My midfield looks to be my strongest asset. Craig Slater has been around the SPL for a number of years, and I recognise George Saville from his time at Brentford. Thomas Lapslie looks a very strong defensive midfielder, even if his decision making is a bit on the low side.

Lapslie

Up front I have Denny Johnstone, who has an impressive record of about 1 goal every three games over his three and a half seasons at Colchester.

Denny

I do also notice a couple of attacking midfielders, one of whom, Sammie Szmodics, loves to play as a shadow striker. The football hipster inside of me started celebrating. What sort of formation can I come up with to take League One by storm?

The Formation

formation

I have decided to go with a variation of the traditional 4-1-2-3 (DM) formation. The main idea is to primarily attack down the left, but for my Right Back to bomb forward to provide width on the other flank. My Box-to-Box midfielder has been set to move in to the channels to give the full back cover. My Shadow Striker is allowed to roam from his position to try and find the pockets of space in between the opponents defence and midfield. We will sit back and look to transition in to attack quicker through more direct passing.

What’s To Come?

Fixtures and results

Despite our poor run of form, I have joined the team after two wins on the bounce. We face Portsmouth away in our first game, who sit second in the league. Now, I always want to win my first game, but for a Southampton fan, a trip to Fratton Park is always spicy. We then face a run of games with teams around us, before hosting bottom team Notts County and a big FA Cup game at home to Crystal Palace. I will look to bring in a few players in January, but will probably not sell anyone until the summer. My board expectation is to finish in the top half, but my only goal is to finish above Giggsy’s Millwall.

Season 4: Wanted

It’s fair to say that this season has not been going to plan. It’s pretty depressing this whole losing thing. We are still rock bottom of the Vanarama National, having picked up just one win all season. It’s just under a month since my last update, but something big has gone on.

On December 1, League One Millwall offered me a job interview. Now, I haven’t been looking to move club. The whole point of this save was to get the club where Charlie Austin first made his name up to the Premier League, and hopefully to play against him. The only offer I have had so far was in season 2 with Yeovil, and I turned them down straight away. I didn’t even turn up for an interview. But they were in the Conference, only a division above where I was at the time. Millwall are in League One. League One! I take a glance at the table. 13 points, 1 win, 23 games. I look at the squad morale. It’s getting to the stage where these players can’t be left in the dressing room by themselves. There’s only so many: “Don’t worry, it’ll all be better soon” chats that you can have. I order the kitman to unlace everyone’s boots just in case.

I pop in to town and buy myself a navy blue tie. That’ll impress them, I think to myself. I set my sat-nav to the Den and make the relatively short trip up to London. Now Millwall are sitting 15th in League One, and have just sacked Mick McCarthy…

Coach-Mick-Mcarthy-Look-at-Camera-Smile

… Yes, that Mick McCarthy (Come on, I had to include it!). I attend the interview and everything goes well. They want me to play attacking, possession based football and develop the youth academy. I like attacking football. I also like dominating the ball. I also like (better choose my words carefully here!) giving youngsters a chance. They tell me that I would need to achieve a top half finish, and ask me whether a budget of £2.3m would be enough. £2.3 million! I’ve never seen that much money. You could buy the whole of Poole Town for that, stadium and all. I modestly tell them I could do it for less, and leave feeling pretty confident.

5 days later and I’ve heard nothing back. I begin to think it won’t happen. Sure, I’ve won Manager of the Year twice in the Vanarama South, but League One is a completely different ball game. I barely notice our 0-0 at Lincoln, I’m just staring at my phone, waiting for the reply. Then I get an email, but not the one I expected.

Colchester United have sacked their manager, and they’ve invited me to come and have a chat. Well, that new blue tie is almost paying for itself now. Maybe I should go out and start applying for these jobs, but only for teams that play in blue. Colchester sit 16th in League One, one place behind Millwall. To be honest, I have no idea where Colchester is, so I blindly follow the sat-nav until I arrive at the Weston Homes Community Stadium. I weigh up whether I’m in the position to demand a name change for the stadium. I decide that can wait ’til the summer.

L1 table

The interview goes well again, I think, and I give more or less the same answers, although I have trouble keeping a straight face when I say that I’m a loyal manager in what is my second interview in under a week. Then a complication. Top half finish – that’s fine. £270k transfer budget – it’s no Millwall, but that’s fine as well. They want me to play direct, attacking football. Now I have never played direct football in my life. I stick photos of Sam Allardyce on all the dartboards around the Poole training ground. Will I betray my philosophies just to land a job in League One? Do I hold out for the tiki-taka of Millwall? Then I think back to Poole, where my assistant is pulling his hair out trying to explain to Matt Roberts that he won’t play if he hasn’t scored a goal in 10 games. “Fine,” I say begrudgingly. “I’ll play direct”.

Give it Giggsy

Two days later I get a call from Millwall. They loved what I had to say, but they decided instead to give it Giggsy. Ryan Giggs: the man who led Fulham to 15th in 2017. The man who left to join Brighton, took them down from the Prem, and then got sacked with them thoroughly mid-table in the Championship. “Fine,” I snap. “I never wanted to join your hooligan club anyway”. It was at this moment that I realised the middle-classness (yep, I’m going with that) of Poole was rubbing off on me.

Colchester offer

But the next day, something amazing happened. Colchester wanted me. The offered me an 18 month contract on a very decent £725 a week. Well, decent for what I’m on. I bet Giggsy would turn his nose up at that. I agree to their terms and bring with me my assistant manager Jamie Gleeson, my goalkeeping coach Glyn Garner and my chief scout Nathan Smart. I pack away my red Poole Town tie and say goodbye to the lads. Now all I have to do is come up with a Colchester related name as witty as ‘Poole To Prem’.