Season 3 (March Update): Still In Contention

With just 11 games left of the season, we’re still very much in contention for a play-off position. After our failings in previous seasons over the winter period, this year we managed to glide through with relatively no issues. We sit third in the table, two points behind Maidstone with a game in hand, and six points off top. Joe Parker still leads the club’s scoring charts, with an impressive 17 goals in 33 games. Strike partners Lewis Gill and Harvey Knibbs have also broken double figures, meaning that our goal difference is the second best in the league.

The Results

We opened up November with a feisty affair with lowly Basingstoke. The hosts opened the scoring early on, but then gave away a penalty just minutes later. Top goalscorer Joe Parker stepped up, but blasted the ball straight at the keeper. Things went from bad to worse just after half time, as Charlie Owens ignored my pleas for him to calm down and picked up his second booking three minutes after the break. Even a late red card for Basingstoke was not enough to let us back in to the game.

daly-4-goalsWhat followed was a perfectly inconsistent run of games, winning one, losing the next. But we managed to resurrect our form after a 0-1 loss to leaders Dulwich Hamlet. That result had seen us drop to sixth, but we went on a run of nine games unbeaten. This included a 6-2 win against Bath, where James Daly netted 4 goals and provided an assist. This was part of a four game run where he netted 7 of the 8 goals that he has scored this year.

But the 6-2 against Bath wasn’t the highest scoring game of the Vanarama South this season. Fellow play-off contenders Torquay travelled to top half Dorchester (it wasn’t even one of the whipping boys!) and hit them for 10. 10-1! TEN – ONE! Jake Beesley got four and Nathan Blissett got a hat-trick. They only had 15 shots too! Why can’t my strikers do that?

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Our run in the FA Trophy was ended by Vanarama North side Altrincham in the fourth round, which was disappointing after we had fairly comfortably seen off Eastbourne, Dover, and Dulwich Hamlet after a replay.

The Stars

Joe Parker’s goals have started to dry up, he has only netted 5 times in the 17 games that he has featured in over the winter. The real star has been new signing Daniel Ballard, who we signed at the beginning of December from league rivals Dulwich. Since his arrival, Ballard has played 16 games and has an average rating of 7.26.

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We have also had our regen day, where there is only one potential star. Centre back Nathan Crawford potentially has 3 1/2 star potential, and already has 9 Marking, 8 Tackling and 7 Positioning. With 11 leadership and 13 decisions, he looks like he will make a very good centre back, maybe even a captain, at Conference level.

What’s To Come?

We start our run-in against the free scoring Torquay, but then face quite a kind last few games. We only face 4 top half teams in our last 11 games, including a mouthwatering trip to second placed Maidstone on the penultimate matchday.

Should we finish in the play-offs, I will do an end of season update before playing through the play-offs in a bonus update. If we go up automatically, it will just be a normal end of year update, and if I don’t even reach the play-offs, I think I’ll just give up Football Manager!


Sorry for the lack of updates over the past month. It has been down to actually realising that I actually have to do some work in the final year of uni! I did also go through a spell of just not enjoying FM (you’ll find out why in a future update). I have now played on a bit and there is lots of exciting content to come! I will now be able to go back to two updates a week (Mondays and Thursdays at 6pm in the UK).

 

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Season 3 (November Update): Deja Vu?

Just like last season, we have started the season very strongly. In fact, we have actually started even stronger this year, as we sit second in the league. With 8 wins from 15 games, we sit a point behind the leaders Dulwich Hamlet. Joe Parker has come in from the cold to lead the scoring charts, netting 12 times from 14 starts. With just 2 points covering the top 6, the league is looking incredibly tight at the moment, but only Torquay have lost less games than us and our goal difference puts us in a good position.

The Results

We opened the season away at Dulwich Hamlet. Despite being newly promoted, they were favourites for the title. Even with all our new signings, it was the old guard that saw off the hosts. Lewis Gill opened the scoring, and Harvey Knibbs added a second minutes later. Daniel Carr pulled one back immediately for the hosts. The game turned rather bad tempered, with both sides picking up four bookings, and sure enough, just after the hour mark Dulwich had a man sent off. Harvey Knibbs completed the scoring late on to confirm the 3-1 win.

dulwich-hamletWe lost the next game to Maidenhead before Lewis Gill rescued a late draw in our first game at the Victoria Park. Back to back 3-0 wins against Whitehawk and Eastbourne we followed up by another win and two draws. Despite dominating the game, we lost 0-1 to Staines, before a strong team saw off East Thurrock in the FA Cup 2nd Qualifying Round thanks to a Joe Parker hat-trick.

We went another six games without defeat, overcoming promotion rivals Torquay, as well as getting revenge on Canvey Island for dumping us out of the FA Trophy last season. This run did include a 3-3 draw with Weston-Super-Mare, where we bottled a 3 goal lead against the relegation candidates. Of course it would be Concord Rangers who knocked us out of the FA Cup, meaning that we had only beaten then twice from 8 games. In the last game of October we were completely dismantled by lowly Wealdstone, managing just 4 shots in a 1-4 loss. Our 1 shot on target wasn’t even our goal, a David Arrowsmith own goal was about as potent as we got.

The Stars

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The stand out player this season is Joe Parker, who has come in to the team from being a back up last season and has topped our scoring charts with 12 goals. Lewis Gill has again been on form, netting  7 goals and providing 5 assists. With a 7.1 average rating, Robbie Burton has been the stand out of the new players, despite only providing 2 goals and 1 assist from his Deep-Lying Playmaker role. In goal, Emmanuel Idem has 7 clean sheets in 15 games, whilst Jonathan Miles has 2 in 3 games. It is worth noting that without James Granger we haven’t had a player sent off this season, however hard Charlie Owens has tried.

What’s To Come?

We are out of the FA Cup, but a FA Trophy 3rd Qualifying Round game against Eastbourne is coming up. Although the league is the priority this season, a cup run would be nice. In the league we face a number of the worse teams, but then have a run of four games in December against other promotion challengers.Will this finally be the year where we don’t do an Arsenal and collapse over Christmas.

 

 

Season 3: Summer Transfers

After two years in the Vanarama South, we really need to at least reach the play-offs this season. For the first time, the media predict that we will finish in the top 10, so with the right additions a top 5 finish is possible. I was relatively happy with my squad from last season, but I just needed to strengthen the core of the team to push on that extra bit to get promoted, whilst getting rid of some deadwood.

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The Outs

I tried to keep the squad roughly the same as last year, only getting rid of the players that weren’t going to feature at all. With my change in formation, Steve Devlin, who didn’t really feature last season, was not going to get a chance. Last season Devlin made 21 appearances last season, 12 of which were starts, but did not fit in to my narrow 4-3-3 formation, and at 32, it wasn’t worth keeping him around.

Ryan Case also left the club. The right back was unhappy with his lack of involvement last season, having only featured 12 times. With Tyler Cordner and Owen Brown also in his position, it made sense to let him go and not risk him upsetting the rest of the squad.

The third exit was youth player Ray Ingram. I hadn’t planned on releasing him, but the youngster missed training four times after going out the night before. I warned him the first time he missed training, and fined him two weeks wages (a whole £10!) for the next two times. By the fourth time, all within a couple of weeks, I bit the bullet and paid the £20 to release him from his contract. Saying that, he only had 2 star potential, so I really didn’t care that he was gone.

The Ins

With no transfer budget, I would again have to mainly rely on the Premier League academy rejects to strengthen my team. The change in formation also meant that I needed to stock up on Centre Midfielders, as well as adding a Striker or two.

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At the back, we brought in Left Back Dominic Thompson from Arsenal. The 18 year old has about the same ability as my current Left Back Louis Hall, so should provide great competition for that position, something that we did not have last year. His main strength is his 14 pace, meaning he will hopefully be able to bomb up and down the wing, providing us with width.

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The midfield has seen the most change, with four new additions and one returning face. Our first recruit was Tonbridge’s Charlie Owens. The former Tottenham trainee prefers to play as a Ball-Winning Midfielder, but he can also be used as a Centre Midfielder on Defend. Another player who fits that role is Connor Gallagher, who joins from Chelsea. Gallagher can play as my Centre Midfielder on Defend, but his 13 work rate, 12 leadership, 11 teamwork and 12 longshots make him an ideal Support Midfielder.

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The next addition was Welsh Under-19 international Robbie Burton. Like Dominic Thompson, the youngster joins from Arsenal, and he will be the link between the Midfield and the Strikers. Burton plays as a Centre Midfielder on Attack, but can also play as both a Advanced Playmaker or a Deep-Lying Playmaker. Lewis Bryon also comes in, joining from Crystal Palace. The Defensive Midfielder will provide cover for Charlie Owens, whilst also being competent at both Centre Back and Right Back, making him the ideal non-league substitute. The final addition in Midfield was a renewal of Theo Widdrington’s loan from Portsmouth. It is unlikely that he will feature as heavily as he has done in the last two seasons, but his 75 appearances so far for Poole adds some experience as well as more strength and depth in Midfield.

 

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The final addition of the summer is James Daly, a 18 year old Striker from Crystal Palace. Daly is a natural as both a Poacher and an Advanced Forward, whilst also being competent on either wing or as an Attacking Midfielder, should we need to change formation. Daly will probably feature as my Advanced Forward with his 14 pace and 14 acceleration, but his 10 finishing needs to improve.

I did try to bring in another Striker, Matthew Patterson. The 28 year old scored 16 in 31 for Havant & Waterlooville last season, and would add some much needed experience in to my young side, but we didn’t have enough wage budget remaining to add him to the squad.

What’s To Come?

We open the season away to the newly promoted title favourites Dulwich Hamlet. We have to wait for our first game at Victoria Park, as we host last season’s runners up East Thurrock in the third game of the season. The next update will be in November, where we will be looking to match last season’s strong start.

 

Season 2 End of Season Review

After a dismal run over the winter which saw us plummet from 2nd to 10th, we really needed something to change. We had ten games left, we were 3 points off the play-offs and we were definitely not going down. Could we finish higher than last season’s 12th place, and possible challenge for a play-off position?

The Results

After two wins in the previous eleven games, I needed to switch things up. We switched back to our 3-4-1-2 formation from last season, and scraped a 1-1 draw at home to lowly Hungerford. I could tell that this wasn’t the answer, but at least we didn’t lose.

The threat of returning to a three at the back formation seemed to do the trick though. A 2-1 win over promotion chasing Hemel Hempstead, with goals from both strikers, saw us get back on track. Another 2-1 against Bath showed that the Hemel Hempstead win wasn’t a one-off, and the next game saw a clean sheet! This came at a price though, as Lewis Tallack went off with a torn hamstring. In came centre-back Charlie Gatter from Havant & Waterlooville, who had previously scored an own goal for us in our 1-6 defeat earlier in the season.

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Two more goals from Harvey Knibbs against Tonbridge made it 5 in 4 games for the striker. But even Knibbs in this form couldn’t stop a shock 1-4 loss to Chelmsford. We had 11 shots, they had 9. We had 4 shots on target, they also had 4. 4 goals from 4 shots on target, what was Idem doing? We then drew two and won one of our next three, putting us in sixth place, just one place off of the play-offs, and crucially, just one point.

We faced top of the table East Thurrock in the final game. They needed a win to secure the title, we needed a win to secure a play-off place. In a game that could decide our fate, I decided to switch formation to the narrow 4-3-3 that my assistant had  been insisting on since the start of last season.

4-3-3The reason for this switch, mostly, was the amount of injuries to my wingers. Abdulai Bell-Baggie and Steve Devlin were my only fit wingers, with injuries ruling out James Waite, as well as new recruits Mike Connah, and Jay Rollins.

I packed the centre of midfield, with James Granger playing as the Central Midfielder on Defend, with Curtis Young (Central Midfielder (Support)) and Theo Widdrington (Deep- Lying Playmaker (Support)) on either side. Up front, Harvey Knibbs played as an Advanced Forward, with Lewis Gill doing the leg-work as a Defensive Forward. Also up top, Danny Clifton returned to the side as the Poacher after Joe Parker was looking out of sorts.

The Switch looked to be paying dividends. We took the lead through Harvey Knibbs in the 20th minute, but Thurrock pegged us back almost straight away. At half time it was 1-1, we were finishing 6th and East Thurrock were not winning the league. 19 seconds in to the second half Lewis Gill slotted home to give us the lead. It took 10 minutes for Thurrock to equalise, but substitute Joe Parker put us back in front with 20 minutes to go. As we switched to contain, trying to close out the result that would see us rise to 5th, East Thurrock scored from a free header from a corner to snatch a draw for the hosts. That would be the last action of the season. We didn’t make the play-offs, but be had maybe found a new formation for next season.

Although a little disappointed that we didn’t make the play-offs, I was pretty happy that we were even in with a shout thanks to our form in the last 10 games. I was handed a new contract and was met by a surprise steam achievement…

Yes, we’re leaving the Tatnam Ground. Poole’s stadium does not meet the requirements for the Conference South, and the board have decided that building a new stadium is easier than buying the Tatnam Ground from the council and upgrading it. We will be moving in to the Killick Arena, named after Poole Legend Tom Killick, who managed the club in the rise through the leagues from 2004 until my appointment. Our next season, and hopefully our last in the Conference South, will be played at Victoria Park, home of local team Bournemouth Poppies, of the Wessex Premier.

The Awards

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Lewis Gill finished as our top scorer with 25 goals. Harvey Knibbs was close behind, netting 19 goals in 41 games. Joe Parker was our next highest scorer with 6. Abdulai Bell-Baggie topped the assist charts with 11, followed by Gill and Knibbs, who had 8 and 7 respectively. Only Lewis Tallack (7.14 from 42 games) and Ryan Case (7.03 from 13 games) had average rating over a 7. At the other end, Emmanuel Idem kept 10 clean sheets from 33 games, and Jonathan Miles kept 4 in 16 games.

Lewis Gill was voted our Player of the Season with 35% of the fans’ votes, ahead of Lewis Tallack (31%) and Louis Hall (23%). Emmanuel Idem was our Signing of the Season, whilst Gill was also given our Young Player of the Season. Special mention has to go to James Granger, who picked up 19 yellow cards, and one red.

After guiding Poole to a 7th place finish, when we were predicted to finish 20th, I was awarded the Vanarama National League South Manager of the Season award.

What’s To Come?

So after solid finishes of 12th and 7th in my first two seasons, next year we really have to get promoted. Of course I didn’t tell my players this. I’ve learnt my lesson after two seasons.

“I think we can finish in the top half next season lads”, I say to the team.

“We completely agree with your targets and think they are realistic”, replies Jonathan Miles on behalf of my team.

At least they actually think we can stay up next year.

Season 2 (March Update): The Wheels Have Come Off

It was all going too well. We were fourth. A group of players that considered staying up a success were fourth. But of course it couldn’t last. Just like last season, we suffered a horrendous drop off in form in the middle of the season, winning just 6 games in four months.

The Results

We opened November with a glamour FA Cup tie against League 2 Grimsby. Despite dominating possession, we fell behind to a Tyler Cordner own goal. Grimsby’s superiority showed, as they doubled their lead just after half-time. Harvey Knibbs pulled one back for us late on to make the score respectable, but in truth Grimsby deserved their win. Wins against Chelmsford and Bishop’s Stortford made it look like that FA Cup defeat had not knocked us off our stride. Not learning from our FA Cup scares earlier in the season, we played a rotated side against Canvey Island in the FA Trophy, and lost 1-2.

Two more league wins in the next three games saw us rise to second in the table, but it was from there our form plummeted. In a run that started with a 1-2 loss to East Thurrock, we won 2 of our next 11. These games were mostly against our promotion rivals, playing 6 of the top 10.

A 3-0 win against rivals Basingstoke sparked hopes of a revival in form. Yes, it was an even game, but we were solid at the back and took our chances. This is the result we needed. Or not, as it turned out. The next match saw us thoroughly dismantled by Havant & Waterlooville. At least we were starting to score goals…

Three more losses, to Gosport, Weston-super-Mare and Maidenhead, saw us slump to tenth. But we are still only three points off the play-offs. Surely something needs to be changed if we are to stop the rot and get our promotion push back on track.

Lewis Gill continues to be our top scorer, with 20 goals in 38 games. Harvey Knibbs picked up over the winter though, having now scored 12 in 32 games.

What’s To Come?

With 10 games to go in the league, we can still push for the play-offs. We face a slightly easier run of games, facing only Hemel Hempstead, St Albans and East Thurrock from the top 10 teams. Being out of the cups means that we can focus completely on stopping our horrendous run of form.

 

Season 2 (November Update): Promotion Hopefuls?

After the wholesale changes that I made in the summer, I was unsure at how my squad would react. But it is fair to say that the team has hit the ground running. By the start of November, we sit in fourth place, having lost just 3 games. Lewis Gill has continued where he left off last season with 15 goals from his 20 appearances, and we look well in the promotion contention.

The Results

After a steady start, a 0-0 draw with tipped play-off contenders Whitehawk, our new winger James Waite saw off the relegated Torquay. We did lose the following game, but that would prove to be a rare occurrence. A Lewis Gill hat-trick saw off Welling as we scored 11 goals in the next 4 games, taking 3 out of 4 wins. Two mad games followed, a 1-6 defeat to 20th placed Havant & Waterlooville, cancelled out by a 6-1 thumping of Gosport.

Both games were surprisingly equal, with one team being more clinical than the other. As you can see from the Havant game, they had 6 shots on target and scored 6 goals – good work Emmanuel Idem! Interestingly our goal came through an own goal from centre back Charlie Gatter – remember that name. Gosport did get a red card, but we were well in control before they went down to 10 men so they can’t use that as an excuse.

After the Gosport game, we went a further 6 games unbeaten, although this did include two FA Cup replays against lowly Frome Town and Merstham. Joe Parker bailed out our rotated team against Frome, scoring a 92nd minute equaliser to take it to a replay. We then let the lead slip twice against Merstham, with a 90th minute own goal from Lewis Tallack taking us to penalties in the replay. As a result of these scares, I played a strong team against Truro, and was rewarded with a 4-1 win, including two from Gill.

Although we are sitting comfortably in fourth, key winger Abdulai Bell-Baggie picked up an injury in the replay against Merstham, and will be out until mid-January.

The Tactics

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This season we have settled on a 4-2-4 formation. The four at the back have proved very reliable (apart from the 6-1 demolition by Havant), with James Granger sitting in front of the defence. I like to keep the instructions fairly limited, so as not to over-complicate things for the players. We play fairly narrow, making the defensive unit very compact and hard to break down, whilst when attacking the wingers will tuck in to give support to the strikers, with the full backs providing the width with the ‘look for overlap’ instruction on. I also look to play at a higher tempo and to press more, as we look to win the ball back higher up the pitch to start attacks.

The Stars

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As we look at the player stats, there are very few players that have an average rating higher than a 7. Only the defence, Lewis Gill, and the injured Bell-Baggie have averaged over a 7, which, given our positive results, is a bit concerning. Gill’s 15 goals put him well in the lead as our top scorer, with no-one else getting more than 3. Gill’s 5 assists also puts him top of the assists charts, one ahead of Bell-Baggie.

What’s to come?

Our next game is an FA Cup 1st Round match against League 2 Grimsby, and being at home could see an upset at the Tatnam Ground. We face Canvey Island in the FA Trophy 3rd Qualifying Round, so should progress comfortably there. In the league, we have a favourable run of fixtures until the new year, but face a tough run of promotion contenders in January.


Thanks for sticking with the blog despite this long absence. I’ve not had the time to play much FM with essay deadlines and having a dissertation to write. But the uploads should be a lot more regular from now on. Thanks for reading and hopefully we will see Poole in the Prem very soon!

 

Season 2: Summer Transfers

After a season of consolidation last year, the aim for this season was to push for the play offs. My first issue would be strengthening the side. There was a lot of deadwood that needed moving on, and although I had a strong core of the team, that extra bit of quality was missing. Added to that, the threat of a takeover not only had me worrying for my job, but also meant that I would have a transfer embargo to negotiate over the summer.

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As you would expect at this level, we didn’t recoup any money from player sales. A lot of the players released were fringe players last season, with most of them the wrong side of 30. Right back Lewis Lindsay was the one player I did have to think about releasing, but despite his decent potential, he wouldn’t get the football he needed and he had an annoying habit of reminding me about it.

The ins were a lot more eventful. I tried to get a lot of my business done early; I didn’t want to be left scrambling for players at the beginning of the season after the transfer embargo that would come with the rumoured takeover.

I spent my pre-season scouting all the youngsters released from Premier League and Championship clubs, and that resulted in 7 new signings. To replace the departing Nick Hutchings, two young keepers came in. 18 year old Emmanuel Idem joined the club from Aston Villa, with 24 year old Jonathan Miles joining from last season’s champions Ebbsfleet as his understudy.

In defence, Louis Hall was another recruit from Villa. Hall is an 18 year old left back with the potential to be a star Vanarama National defender. His high(ish) level of determination and potential means that I’ve made him our new Vice Captain. On the opposite side of the defence, Tyler Cordner, also 18, joined from Bournemouth.

 

Our raid from Dean Court hadn’t finished there, with centre midfielder Curtis Young, 19, coming in as our first choice Centre Midfielder (Support). Young would replace Theo Widdrington, who we had managed to loan for a second season from Portsmouth. James Granger, our first choice Ball Winning Midfielder/Centre Midfield (Defend) also renewed his year-long loan from Eastleigh.

Abdulai Bell-Baggie was our only winger of any real quality. Steve Devlin’s late season form had earned him another year with us, but he shouldn’t be any more than a squad player if we are looking for promotion. Former Cardiff youngster James Waite is a natural on both flanks, and offers a bit more quality than Devlin. 22 year old striker Joe Parker came in from Gloucester to back up Danny Clifton and Lewis Gill.

Then came the frustration of the next two months. A long drawn out takeover meant that we couldn’t bring in anyone else until late August, a few weeks after the season had begun. I only added two new players. Harvey Knibbs continued the transition of Poole becoming ‘Aston Villa B’, and 27 year old centre back Adam Bailey-Dennis added some much needed experience to our young team.

 

Knibbs’ 13 finishing is incredible for non-league football, and coupled with 13 pace and 13 acceleration he could make for a formidable striker, either as a a poacher or an advanced forward. Adam Bailey-Dennis, on the other hand, is just a giant. Standing at 194cm (roughly 6ft 4in), with 18 jumping reach and 16 strength means that nothing will go over the top of him, and 15 determination means that he is an excellent tutoring candidate for my other young centre backs. Obviously his 3 pace is not ideal, but playing a deeper line or playing a quick centre back on ‘cover’ should counteract this.

Overall I’m pretty happy with my squad overall. We have real strength and depth throughout the core of the team and have brought in a number of players who have the potential to play at a higher level. My only concern is my wingers, as having only three senior wingers in the squad could be a risk should injuries hit or if form declines.

The next update will track our progress through to November. Can we push for the play offs or am I expecting too much from my inexperienced side?