Last time out we completed an unexpectedly dominant season, and stormed our way to the League Two title. We even had a wee cup run.
Now we prepare to face another level of opposition, including Portsmouth, Bolton, Millwall and Forest, and attempt to avoid a nose bleed in the dizzy heights of League One…
I’ve once again signed a one year extension, taking me to the end of next season.
Even more exciting news comes in from the Chairman:
A huge increase in season ticket sales. Admittedly, compared to most in this league, it’s a small number, but it’s massive progress for us.
I’ve checked the ol’ finances, and it seems we’re paying more for staff than for players…
As a result we have the best coaching staff in the league. The idea has always been that if we can improve players at the club, a) we’ll be more successful, and b) we can potentially make a bit of cash by selling players on. I think this means the investment in staff wages will more than pay for itself, but I’ll certainly take stock at the end of the season and see if I’ve maybe gone a little too far.
I’ve been rocking variants of the 442 for most of this save because when it comes to lower league football, I’m a pragmatist. It’s simple, it’s effective and I can actually find players that fit into the system. This is the first choice eleven for last season, and they did a hell of a job:
We’ve progressed plenty over the first few seasons, becoming a more attacking side and gradually cutting down our team instructions. I don’t actually like using too many of them, but my brain has always told me that it makes sense to give your players more instruction at a lower level, because they’re not as mentally or technically capable. I have no FM-based evidence to support this idea. Ideally, within the next season or two, I’d like to remove “Play Narrower” and “Stick To Positions” as they run counter to how I want to play.
In theory, as we progress, and the standard of player in the squad improves, I should be able to work towards the tactic that I’d actually like to be playing, and that would go a little bit something like this:
I haven’t played with a back three for about fifteen years, and when I got FM18 I wanted to try it. But this save got it’s hooks into me, and so far I haven’t had a squad capable of it. But it’s the goal. One day…
With a jump in level, we need to upgrade our squad, so we’ve made several signings:
Robbie McKenzie you already know. He’s performed well for us on loan for two years, and we eagerly grabbed him as his contract was expiring.
Kelvin Mellor: WB(R)/D(RC),M(R) Kelvin offers versatility (also able to do a job at left back or DM should we need it) and a far more potent attacking threat than Perry Cotton. He’s had three successful seasons in League One with Blackpool and is a steal at £850 a week.
Conor McHugh: D(L)/WB(L) An 18 year old left back, on loan from new divisional rivals Nottingham Forest. Conor has potential, particularly as an attacking threat, and should be a capable understudy at left back.
Corey Jordan: D(C) Recently released after five years at Bournemouth, he has potential too, but at 22, doesn’t have long to make strides. Back-up centre back.
Damien McCrory: D(L)/WB(L) Experienced left back, solid all round skills. Should finally be our fix in this problem position. Recent Championship experience.
Jordan Holsgrove: AM(C)/M(C),ST(C) Versatile attacking midfielder with potential, probably initially a bench option.
Toby Edser: M(C)/DM,AM(C) Left footed playmaker. Three seasons on loan in the Vanarama National and he’d had enough. He’ll be in the mix for a first team spot.
Kevin Brown: AM(L)/M(L) Exciting prospect from Liverpool’s youth setup. Needs work on dribbling, otherwise ticks all the boxes. Can he rival Greenhalgh?
Miles Russell: M(R) Signed as a back-up option on the right. Has some promise. Only 5’3″.
Tom Bayliss: M(C)/DM,M(R) Another decent looking midfielder, released by Coventry. I may have signed one too many, but they all look good.
Denville Gumbs: ST(C)/AM(R) Absurdly named, brilliant finisher released by Man City. Our top earner on £1.5k a week and wouldn’t sign without a £750k minimum fee release clause. If we can raise his pace (11) to meet his acceleration (15) he’ll be lethal.
We’ve also successfully re-signed Corey Whelan, Max Broughton, Armando Dobra and Joey Stevens for a further year on loan. I’m particularly happy to have kept Broughton, whose performances were exceptional last year. Callum Gribbin wouldn’t even talk to us, and has joined MK Dons on a free.
First off a tribute to five important players that we have released this summer
None of these guys were really up to the job in League Two, and with promotion, they’ve got to go.
Lewis Taafe – Apps: 99(22), Goals: 12, Assists: 28, Avg Rating 7.04. Fantastic on the right wing for us for the first couple of seasons.
Billy Roast – Apps: 83(4), Goals: 4, Avg Rating 6.90. Solid centre-back who never complained about lack of game time.
Leon Lobjoit – Apps: 21(50), Goals: 22, Assists: 8, Avg Rating 6.87. Supersub, will always be remembered for winning us the Vanarama National play-off final.
Max Makaka – Apps: 113(9), Goals: 6, Assists: 5, Avg Rating 6.80. Dependable, defensive central midfielder. Allowed the rest of the midfield the freedom to attack.
Kristian Green – Apps: 49(33), Assists: 3, Avg Rating 6.79. Versatile defender, very handy off of the bench, never scored.
So far, only Max Makaka has been picked up by another club, joining Vanarama National York City. We’ve also released a bunch of unremarkable youngsters.
We’ve loaned out Kameron Stanley to Chesterfield, and Ben Adamson to Morecambe. Hopefully both will develop with regular football in the Vanarama National.
And then transfer deadline day happened:
The club couldn’t afford to lose him without that sell on clause, and he wanted to go. I think we’ve got a pretty good deal. At least £600k is coming our way, and it should rise to £900k with appearances and goals. Who knows how much the sell on clause could be worth.
Preston immediately put him in their U23 squad…
Meanwhile, our bid for a replacement, in experienced striker Marc McNulty failed, when he chose to go to League Two Crawley instead. They offered double the wages I was willing to.
So instead, we snuck through a last minute loan deal for Middlesborough youngster Arian Kalantari: ST(C), who looks a decent back-up option with his pace.
But that may have been premature, because:
He’s back baby! Gone for a total of 95 minutes. Even with the hammer down he wouldn’t have gotten halfway there. That was a hectic deadline day. I did not enjoy it.
So finally, some football:
A glorious pre-season. A televised, sell-out 1-1 draw with parent club Chelsea was the highlight. Unfortunately, Kyron Farrell damaged an achilles tendon in training and is out until at least January. Glad we signed an extra midfielder…
For once we made a little bit of progress in the League Cup:
We took care of two divisional rivals in Wycombe and Plymouth, with the performance against Plymouth being absolutely outstanding.
Everton were rock bottom of the Premier League, and frankly, I’m not surprised. Although they probably just shaded us and got the win, it was close, and we’ve once again run a top flight team very close. The prize and attendance monies are welcome as always.
Sky Bet League One:
I didn’t even contemplate changing to a more defensive mentality for this season. We were that good last season, that I’m hopeful of making a play-off run straight away.
Southend somehow had us 2-0 down, despite the fact that we dominated from minute one. I was very proud of the comeback, which gave me the opportunity to give Darren Ferguson the two-fingered salute after the game.
After a bit of a struggle against Northampton, a pair of spectacular 5-1 away wins (!) restored my waivering confidence in our 442. Denville Gumbs scoring six goals in just two games!
A double award for Gumbs. And Max Broughton’s super start to the season is also recognised. As well as our Carabao Cup tie against Everton, there were seven league games in an action packed September:
What a month. We performed largely well, and were even able to rotate the squad without suffering too much. Portsmouth deserved to beat us, and in truth, so did Oldham. We were woeful against them, but at 90 minutes we seemed to have held on for a nil nil draw. Then, chaos. Monthe scored from a corner, they equalised straight from the kick off, and then Joey Stevens bagged a winner with the last kick of the game. Phew!
We’re only bloody top! It’s early, and I’m not getting carried away, but the first couple of months indicate to me that a play-off place could be a realistic target.
With such an impressive start there are a few players whose performances are worth a mention. Top scorer is Denville Gumbs with fifteen goals already! Ryan Longman has continued to excel with six goals and nine assists, and John English has five goals and three assists as I rotate the strike force.
The wingers are performing marvelously, new team leader Max Broughton continuing his excellent form and club legend Ben Greenhalgh continues to easily keep his place in the team as we climb the divisions. Robbie McKenzie has been brilliant as the ball-winning midfielder, with an average rating of 7.54.
In defence Manny Monthe is averaging 7.55 and is a danger from corners, heading in two goals. Kelvin Mellor has made the right back spot his own, averaging 7.41 and getting forward to support attacks. Things are looking very promising!