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.

 

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Season 4 (November Update): Oh Dear!

Poole Town are playing in the fifth tier of English football for the first time in their history. We have a brand new stadium that holds over 3000 fans. Everything is coming up Milhouse. Well, that’s what I thought before our season opener at Boreham Wood. 18 games, 3 formations, 4 panic buys, 1 horrific injury and 1 win later, I’m starting to think we’re not cut out for this level.

The Results

As you might have gathered by now, things are not going great. We opened the season fairly positively. Boreham Wood were expected to finish mid-table, and picking up an away draw seemed a solid enough starting place. However, our tough start then began to hit.

We then hosted relegated Grimsby for the first game at our brand spanking new stadium, and, well… we scored. The less said about the rest of the game the better. We went 3-0 down within 36 minutes, and despite having 11 shots (5 on target) to their 15 shots (5 on target), despite having 53% possession, we could only find solace in a late James Daly consolation. Three more defeats followed against middle of the pack opponents, and last season’s player of the year Robbie Burton broke his leg against Forest Green. Great. But finally, something came along that we could celebrate.

5-3-1-1

Gateshead were our opponents. The 4-3-3 hadn’t been working so I switched it up to a rather Italian looking ‘Narrow 5-3-1-1’. For the first 7 minutes I felt like Antonio Conte. “What a genius” I heard one of our 6 away fans cry. It was going brilliantly, until, rather predictably, Gateshead went and scored. But we were not deterred. We are Poole Town, the team that made Charlie Austin who he is today. Those hardened 6 away fans hit the roof on the half hour mark, as Harvey Knibbs, who I was starting to wonder still knew what a goal looked like, found himself some space in between the two centre backs and slotted home. For the rest of the game we carried out our Italian gameplan to a tee. We didn’t give the hosts a sniff…if you don’t count the 12 shots, 3 clear cut chances, 1 off the post, and 9 corners that they had after our goal.

Seems it worked so well in our last game, I kept it Italian at home to Woking. It worked again! It worked so well in fact, that they got so frustrated that they had 7 players booked and 1 sent off. We limited them to not a single clear cut chance (we didn’t have one either, but who need goals). This was it. I had found how we would stay up. We were going to draw every game of the season 0-0. What’s that? For each of the last 3 seasons 46 points hasn’t been enough to stay up. And we’ve already lost 4 games. Damn it!

4-5-1

I then made a huge tactical blunder. We had picked up 2 points from 3 games, and were facing fellow promoted club (and smugly mid-table) Torquay. We did alright against Torquay last year, I half-remember, I think we’ll try and score today. I switched to a 4-1-2-3 (DM) with Daly and Conneh on the flanks. We match them in every department. They have 11 shots, we have 9. They have 5 shots on target, we have 2 (ok I’ll give them that). We dominate them on possession 58%-42%. But they have Nathan Blissett – a striker who is not completely incompetent. We lose 1-0. That’s what I get for trying to score goals.

A loss and a draw (Harvey Knibbs scored a brace!) later and we faced FC United of Manchester. They, like us, were new to this divison, but unlike us they were annoyingly doing alright. We continued in our new attacking formation, and for once it actually worked. Louis Hall found himself at the byline and lofted in a deep cross. Harvey Knibbs challenged the keeper, who could only flap it in to the path of Charlie Owens, who drilled home from the edge of the box. Charlie Owens can score! I thought he was only good for getting needless bookings. More importantly, we can win. If I switch back to the Italian formation now we can pick up…41 points. Shit, we need to win 3 more games.

only win

What followed was a run of games where we alternated between losing and drawing. To make things worse, a brief moment of joy in the FA Cup 4th Qualifying Round was soon extinguished by Ebbsfleet in the First Round. We just aren’t cut out for this level.

We now sit bottom of the league, 1 win and 7 draws for 18 matches. To be fair, the other teams in the relegation zone have been equally shit, it’s just the ones outside that are worryingly pulling away.

The Transfers

As I mentioned in the intro, I have been splashing the panic cash. Robbie Burton’s injury led me to bring in Eroll Ujkani, a 19 year old Kosovan deep-lying playmaker. I also brought in Josh Smile, a happy young fellow who is a natural at both defensive and centre midfield. You can’t have too many midfielders.

My decision to attack left me with a problem too, as I have no natural left wingers. Sure Abdulai Bell-Baggie and James Daly can play there, but I could do with an actual left sided player. So I got two: Colin Daniel, a 31 year old who used to play for Stevenage, and Taylor Morrison, a 19 year old released by Gosport. Wait, didn’t Gosport get relegated from the Vanarama South last season. Oh well, can’t be any worse than what I’ve already got.

The Stars

Can I still use that sub-title when we have 1 win in 18? Daniel Ballard tops the average rating charts with a 7.04, with the injured talisman Robbie Burton second with a 6.98 from his 4 games. Only 5 players have scored goals. Harvey Knibbs has 6, James Daly 2, and Lewis Gill, Charlie Owens and Colin Daniel all have 1. Charlie Owens is the only man with multiple assists, claiming 3. Schofield, Knibbs, Burton, Bell-Baggie and Hall all have 1 to their name. Poor Nick Tzanev has 3 clean sheets in his 19 appearances, whilst Emmanuel Idem has 1 from his only game.

What’s To Come?

As you can probably work out, this was about the time I took a month away from FM. Turns out losing all the time is not that fun. Anyway, we have an important double header against Braintree and Dartford coming up, both of whom are in the relegation zone along with us. 6 points would hugely improve our position, especially as they are both at home. We also have the FA Trophy coming up at the start of December, so maybe we can have a run in that.

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

player stats.png

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 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

tactics

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

team-stats

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 3 – Champions League?

As I started my third season managing Southampton, I faced the task of managing a charge on 3 fronts, Premier League, FA Cup and Europa League. As it was my first, and hopefully only, year in the Europa League I decided to take it seriously. To strengthen the squad, I spent about £25m on new players. First in was Ezequiel Cirigliano, a defensive midfielder from Argentina, so he would hopefully add some South American flair to my dynamic midfield. Next, I signed £13m Italian striker Mattia Destro. He is a young striker with bags of potential and an eye for a goal. I also brought in a few youngsters in, Rafinha, a Barcelona promising attacking midfielder, Manuel Mancini, a Right back with 4.5* potential. Mbaye Niang came in on loan from AC Milan, to add depth and a bit of continental experience.

For the first time in the save, I started the season with the community shield, what a waste of time. Man united went 2-0 up in the first 25 minutes, with goals from Neymar and Baines (pen). Mayuka pulled one back in the second half, however it wasn’t enough and we struggled to a 2-1 loss.

The Premier League opened in controversial circumstances, as we travelled to Wolves. A wonderfully struck Ramirez 30 yard free kick gave us a half time lead, however Ebanks-Blake slotted past Forster, despite being at least 2 yards offside. Fully expecting a ticking off from the FA, I went mad in the post-match press conference, but the FA were silent over the matter. 2 points cheated away from me by the game!!! The first signs of a league push was on show against Chelsea, as we dominated from start to finish. James Tomkins headed home on 8 minutes from a corner. For all the chances, we couldn’t add a second goal, and Chelsea punished us, with Juan Mata equalising. But none other than Emmanuel Mayuka popped up to score a well-deserved 88th minute winner. After a few more games unbeaten, we travelled for a real thriller at Everton. It was a real ding-dong affair, as Ramirez opened the scoring, but immediately Nikolas Bendtner (I know-how unrealistic!!!) levelled. Mattia Destro then scored 2 in 10 minutes to put us 3-1 up. Anichebe pulled one back just before half time. Destro completed his hat-trick on 51 minutes and quickly added a 4th, and our 5th. However the lack of realism continued as Bedtner score again to make it 5-3. Youngster Ross Barkley scored in the 84th minute to make a tense end. But then, in the 91st minute Nikolas bloody Bedtner scored his hat-trick for a 5-5 draw. Mad.

In the consecutive games against the Manchester clubs, we beat United 2-0, but were dicked 5-1 by City. We the beat Arsenal and drew with Spurs in an extraordinary run of tough games. A run of 12 consecutive wins saw us climb up to 2nd in the table, before a draw with Everton and defeat to United saw us drop to 3rd. Although only winning 7 out of the last 15 games, our good start of the season saw us hold off Spurs by 6 points to 3rd place. Included in that were shock losses against Stoke (2-0), Brighton (1-0), West Brom (5-3) and Newcastle (3-1).

In terms of the cups, it was an uneventful year. In the COC, we conquered Fulham (3-1), Swindon (3-0) and Liverpool (2-1 aet) before a 1-0 aggregate defeat at the hands of Man United. Our FA Cup run ended abruptly in the 6th round with a 3-0 loss to Spurs, after beating Sheffield Wednesday (2-2; 4-1), Blackpool (3-1) and Wolves (4-0).

Contrary to popular consensus, I wanted to take the Europa League seriously, as I hoped that this would be the only time we entered it. Our group consisted of Sparta Prague, Wolfsburg and AZ. After a strong start, a 2-0 win at home to Sparta, we slumped to draws with Wolfsburg (2-2) and AZ (3-3). Wins against AZ and Sparta saw us top on goal difference over Wolfsburg, both qualifying with a game to go. That game, against Wolfsburg, was a typical dead rubber game, a dull 1-1 draw. Round 1 saw us play Dortmund, after last years CL the most popular team in the world. A tough draw, but Mattia Destro took only 3 minutes to find a way through their defence and net an away goal. Kevin Mirrallas scored a second before Robert Lewandowski (who I discovered on FM 2007) scored. But to my amazement, Mirrallas scored a 2 minute brace to make it 4-1 at half time. Morgan Schneiderlin added a 5th just before the hour before Destro rounded off the scoring to make it 6-1. BOOM! For the second leg I made a few changes, but vitally I kept our star signing Destro in the team, as he took even less time to net at home, just 2 minutes. J-Rod added a 2nd, before Gundogan and Subotic levelled it up on the night. Calum Chambers put us ahead at the break, before we wrapped it up in the second half with goals from Lambert, Ivanschitz and Ramirez made it 6-2 on the night, 12-3 on aggregate. The next round was just as mad, as we played Lille. I was in complete shock as we went 2-0 down at home within 3 minutes. Destro pulled one back on 5 minutes but Lille scored 2 more. J-Rod pulled another back on 22 minutes, but Lille added another before Ramirez scored a third for us to make it 3-4 at half time. But Lille must have had a kick up the arse at half time, as they came out the blocks scoring 4 in 20 minutes, leaving the score 3-8 after our home leg. My computer let me down in the second leg, as I set up in a 3-2-2-3 formation, and we hit the ground running. 4 quick goals was too much for my laptop, as it crashed with the score at 7-8 on aggregate. The rebooted game was a lot more uneventful, even though I lined up in the same adventurous formation. Destro and Niang scored early on, but we tired and Lille scored twice in the second half to send us out 10-5 on aggregate.

So there we are, a positive season on the whole and Champions League next year. Can we win it? Can we win the Prem? Hopefully it will be our year next season.