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.

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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: 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.

transfers

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?

Season 2 – Can we push for Europe?

Season 2 saw chairman Nicola Cortese have to open his chequebook in order to push on for his target of a mid-table finish. I saw this as a chance to get in to Europe though, after a solid 10th place in my 1st season. To do this, I would have to spend big on new faces and shift a lot of deadwood in the squad.

My first signing was Celtic goalkeeper Fraser Forster, a bargain at £4m. Kelvin Davis had retired and Paulo Gazzanigga just wasn’t good enough, and as Artur Boruc was ageing, I thought a new 1st choice stopper would do no harm. I then brought in wingers Seb Larsson and Kevin Mirallas for £4.5m and £7.75m. To bolster numbers in the centre midfield, Andreas Ivanschitz, an Austrian international, came in on a free. In order to bolster the defence, centre back Neuton came in from Udinese for £5.25m, youngsters Alessio Romagnoli and Richie Davison came in on loan and £725k. Left back Ryan Bertrand came in as cover for Luke Shaw.

We started the season at home to Man United, but a late Ivanschitz penalty was the only consolation in a 3-1 defeat. A Jos Hooiveld brace helped us to our 1st win of the season, 3-0 at QPR. Wins against Stoke (2-1) and Wolves (5-0) were followed by a 3-2 defeat to Norwich. After a win against Villa, we then went 4 games without a win, followed by 3 consecutive victories. After losing out in a thrilling 4-3 to West Brom, a 3-0 win at Hull at the start of December led to only 2 more victories until mid-January. An FA cup run brought inconsistency to our league form, only winning 6 out of the next 12 league games. 6 goals and 6 points from the next 2 games were aided by Mayuka’s 2nd hat-trick of the season. A Lambert brace was unable to make up for a poor defensive display in a 4-2 defeat at Chelsea, where we conceded all 4 goals in 13 second half minutes. Our season ended with tough games, as after that Chelsea game, we played Spurs and Liverpool at home. After a dull 0-0 with Spurs, an 89th minute winner from Lambert saw a 1-0 victory in the season finale.

Yet again, we failed miserably in the COC, with a rotated team struggling through 2-1 against League 2 Burton Albion. We exited the competition 2-1 to Stoke. After going 2-0 down early on, J-Rod’s 70th minute goal gave us hope, however it wasn’t to be.

As I mentioned earlier, we had a good run in the FA cup. Mayuka score all 4 goals in the 3rd round against Fulham (1-1 and 3-0). Youngster Calum Chambers and Mayuka sunk Nottingham Forest in R4. After Bale opened the scoring in R5 for Spurs, Mayuka equalised and Kevin Mirallas scored a late winner. A Lambert brace and a late own goal saw us fly past Arsenal 3-1 in R6 and Wigan equalised late on to send the semi-final to extra time and penalties. An intense shoot out began with all 7 of the first 7 penalties were either saved or missed. Neuton scored the winning (9th) penalty to go through 3-2 on penalties. The final saw a state of deja-vu with plucky underdogs Southampton taking on giants Manchester United. An 83rd minute Jay Rodriguez goal settled a tense match, sending us in to next season’s Europa League as FA cup winners.

A quick summary of the league table is: Man United champions; Spurs, City and Chelsea in the CL; QPR, Burnley and Hull relegated. We finished 7th in the end, as our inconsistency towards the end of the year punishing us.

Emmanuel Mayuka’s 24 goals in all competitions attracted Inter Milan, but we would need him for a charge on Europe next season. As you will be able to see from the team of the season (will put up later), I switched from 4-5-1 to 4-2-3-1 to get more from Ivanschitz and Ramirez, although the ‘best 11’ played Jack Cork in that advanced role.

As always, feel free to comment or tell everyone how you are doing. I’ll put up the results, transfers, table and best 11 in a bit, and will see you at the end of our first European season since 2003/04.

Introduction to my save

As a passionate Southampton fan, there was no doubt that I would choose my local team to start my quest. A bit too fantasy, I think not. FM is more of a quest or grand voyage than any other game you can get.

Obviously I know the Saints team from key first teamers to Under 18s wonderkids, so that was a big advantage. As this is on the original database, I knew my first job was to sure up a very leaky defence. As Southampton boss, you are entrusted with £4m in the transfer kitty, a humble amount to avoid relegation. So I’ll leave the save talk there for the moment, with my next blog expressing the roller coaster of a first season.

I leave you with a little bit about myself on the game. I am a by no means a seasoned FM player, as I have only played since 2008. I tend to operate with a 4-2-4 formation with 2 CMs and 2 wingers. I place a heavy emphasis on youth, and would rather develop wonderkids than blow £50m on a world class player. I will be updating you on my world of FM whilst also offering advise to those who seek it, and will no doubt be asking for some.