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 (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?

torquay

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).

 

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 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.

gatter

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: 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?