Monthly Archives: February 2013

Big scores but play-off heartbreak for sullen Solihull

The play-offs – a great way to get promoted; a terrible way to end the season if Bradford Park Avenue do you over in extra time. As I just found out.

It’s like I’ve just been served a cold cup of sick in one of those really cheap and horrible cafés outside train stations that have those electric blue lights behind a grill to kill flies. After winning one of the most bizarre but euphoric play-off semi-finals against a Histon side that finished above me by just two goals, I was made to play the final at Bradford PA’s Horsfall Stadium, which seems a bit of a cheek given that any other league above the Conference North plays its play-off finals at neutral venues.

After falling behind on 13 minutes, Ross Wilson equalised with his 18th league goal of the season on 27 minutes. It was deserved. Bradford PA turned the screw after the break but it remained 1-1 at full time. We went behind just four minutes into extra time, and then gave away a penalty on 107 minutes, which PA scored. I made my final substitution. Jamar Dobson made it 3-2 with eight minutes left, but then my centre back Dominic Langdon got injured and had to be brought off. PA inevitably scored through the striker Langdon was supposed to have been marking and secured a 4-2 win, leaving us to face a third season in the Conference North.

However, simply making the final looked unlikely after losing the semi-final first leg 1-0 at home to Histon. It was a smash and grab performance – we dominated and wasted chances; they scored with three minutes to go with their only shot on target. I wasn’t happy. I may have sworn and put my ‘page up’ key out of action for a while. It should really get fixed but I don’t use that key so much.

I needn’t have worried. Because this happened:

Screenshot of a 6-2 win for Solihull Moors at Histon.

That’s right. Langdon got us level on aggregate justsix minutes into the tie and not-so-Junior English put us ahead later in the half. Langdon made it 3-0 on the night on the stroke of half time, and then goals from English and Tommy Taylor made it 5-0 with 26 minutes still to play. Although Histon pulled a goal back almost immediately, English completed his hat-trick just a couple of minutes later to make it 6-1. Histon grabbed a consolation near the end but it finished 6-2 to Solihull and 6-3 on aggregate.

It was, without doubt, the most remarkable play-off game I had ever been involved in on any version of Football or Championship Manager. It got me thinking back to times when I may have scored six goals as the away side, and I don’t even think that’s ever happened to me before.

It wasn’t the only big score of the night – check out the other semi-final:

Screenshot showing Bradford PA's 7-1 win over Gainsborough Trinity.

You can see why I didn’t fancy playing Bradford PA in the final after they came back from a 2-0 deficit to trounce Gainsborough Trinity 7-1 in their second leg. Ultimately I have very few complaints with how the final went, but it’s still a kick in the teeth not to get promoted after a pretty solid season:

Chart showing Solihull Moor's2013-14 league progress.

When I last blogged there were still six league games to go. I got a great 1-0 win at Guiseley, who were above me and in the play-offs at the time, and I followed that up with a good 2-0 home win over mid-table Tamworth. A 2-0 defeat at Harrogate didn’t go down well after I’d had more than 20 shots on goal, but we grabbed a decent 2-1 win at Stalybridge to keep us in the play-offs by a couple of points going into the final two games of the season.

What made the 6-2 win at Histon so remarkable was that it followed an incredible 6-1 win over Gainsborough just a few weeks earlier. Gainsborough were just below me and a win for them would have seen me drop out of the play-offs with one game left. Tyler Collishaw – a fringe player for the entire season and an average rating of around 6.55 (with no goals or assists from roughly 10 starts and 10 sub appearances) turned in a man of the match performance, scoring two and setting up another in a completely unprecedented rout. It was a game in which everything hit the back of the net.

The final game of the season – after we had secured a play-off spot – was a 0-0 bore draw at home to Vauxhall Motors. It was a result that actually relegated the side from Ellsmere Port. Had they won, they’d have survived. Meanwhile, Hednesford scored in the 91st and 93rd minute at Colwyn Bay to turn a 2-1 defeat into a 3-2 victory to stay up at the Welsh team’s expense.

Ultimately, the board seem happy with what we’ve achieved this season:

A summary showing largely positive progress bars.

You’d think the board would offer me another year on my contract to say thanks, wouldn’t you? Well, that they did… but £50 less than what I was earning. That’s right – they considered my current deal of £400 p/w and chose to reduce it to £350 p/w, to reward me for such a thrilling campaign.

In all honesty I’m not sure I’ll be staying at Solihull Moors next season. It’s not just down to petulance over £50 that doesn’t exist or even have any bearing on the game whatsoever; it’s just that there are top players like Connor Roberts-Nurse and Ross Wilson who I know I won’t be able to keep for next season.

And with the club more than £250,000 in debt because of its pathetic weekly attendances of 350, I’m anticipating a further reduction in my already meagre weekly wage budget – making a repeat of this season’s feats highly improbable.

I’ll take time to decide whether I will spit my dummy out.

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Clinging onto the play-offs; greedy Belgians and Brazilians

Six wins, two draws and one defeat since my last update lifted me into the play-offs, but a couple of annoying defeats in my last two games means that my place in the top five hangs in the balance. FC Halifax and Histon await like vultures to pounce on the last play-off spot that I’m currently clinging to.

There are no games in hand for anyone. All teams in the Conference North have played 36 matches. For a game that prides itself on realism, the makers seem to have missed a trick when it comes to postponements. We all know that at non league level it’s not unusual for one team to have about six games in hand on another at this time of the season. It can be a complete ball ache if it’s your team that has to play a million matches in three weeks (especially when your part time players are already whinging about needing a rest) but I’d take it just for the challenge it offers. Mind you, I probably wouldn’t say that if it derailed my promotion train.

As you can see from the graph below, we’ve been lurking around the play-offs like a socially awkward geek hangs around a fit girl he’s got no chance with at a party. I’m hoping there’s no downward movement between now and the end of the season, but I’ve got some tough looking fixtures coming up, including Guiseley (3rd) and Stalybridge (8th) away, and Gainsborough (4th) at home.

Graph showing Solihull's league positions throughout the season.

Striker Ross Wilson, on loan from Hereford, continues to bang in the goals. He’s got 17 for us this season and has been supported well by Jamar Dobson – picked up on a free transfer in the summer after his release from Stoke. He’s added another 11 goals. And when he’s struggled to find the net, Stephen Reynolds has chipped in with seven goals in eight starts (and eight sub appearances).

What all this means, is that the board have finally stopped banging on about what a bad piece of business it was to let Omar Bogle go last summer. I’ve got the team scoring way more goals this season with Wilson, Dobson and Reynolds, so I think I know who’s come out of this looking pretty clever.

Mind you, with six games to go I’ve turned my attention to renewing some of the contracts of players that have done well for me this season. Two outstanding performers have been centre back Connor Roberts-Nurse and not-so-Junior English. The success of being fifth in the Conference North has obviously gone to their heads, though, because they’re asking for silly money. I’d have to break my wage budget just to keep Roberts-Nurse. He’s after £650 p/w when my current top earner, Roberts-Nurse, is on £300 p/w. He’s getting above his station.

One other thing to mention is that my Brazilian trialist, Rodrigo, didn’t really do anything in his couple of reserve matches to earn a permanent deal. Someone who did impress, however, was Belgian striker Mehdi Lazaar. He had been released by Burney without ever troubling their first team, but despite two goals and a rating of 9 in a 4-1 behind-closed-doors friendly win against Buxton, he got a bit greedy and the deal fell through. He then went and signed for rivals Gainsborough on a tiny contract, which caused me to let out one of the more squeaky exclamations I’ve made in my time of playing the game.

Mid-season update on the mighty Moors

Hello! I am Solihull Moors manager. I have taken it upon myself to do something about the fact that absolutely nobody has heard of Solihull Moors by making them win games (albeit on a football management simulation game and not real life). I made them win a fair few games in my first season in charge and finished 7th in the Conference North.

Ok, so we’re 24 league games into the 2013/14 season – my second season in charge. I’m ecstatic to report that we’re not actually occupying 7th spot any more. No – we are 6th, with 40 points. We’re just one point outside the play-offs, and I’m feeling pretty pleased with myself.

I’m particularly happy with a striker called Ross Wilson at the minute. I found him hiding in Hereford’s reserves and managed to bring him to Solihull on a three month loan. He scored eight goals in 12 starts and so I renewed his loan deal until the end of the season and he now has 11 goals in 14 starts. He’s going some way to replace the goals that I lost in Omar Bogle when he decided to chase big money at Brackley. Even though we’re six months on from that incident, the board is still moaning about it on a monthly basis:

Your decision to let Omar Bogle leave the club is regarded by the fans to be a poor piece of business.

Yeah, whatever. We’ve got Ross Wilson now, so shut your faces.

This is a screenshot of my squad, showing their statistics for the season on 1 January 2014:

Solihull squad statistics page as of 1 January 2014

There are a couple of things worth highlighting from this. Firstly, my outstanding young centre back Connor Roberts-Nurse. Despite being only 19, he’s by far and away the most talented player in my squad. My assistant manager Mick Carlton can’t stop praising him in the monthly training update he gives me. I think Carlton might have a thing for him.

Yes, that’s Stern John – the same Stern John that played in the Premier League for Birmingham and (briefly) Sunderland. He’s got great attributes for this level of football but he seems intent on playing like a granny. He scored some great goals in pre-season and then suddenly went goal shy when the season got underway. He infuriates me, but the coaches and fans seem to think he’s very special, despite the poor goals-to-game ratio and average rating. I’ve concluded that I must be smarter than all of my coaches, board members and the entire population of Solihull put together because I’ve worked him out. He’s largely useless. I hope he retires in the summer so I don’t have to release him, because if I do I’ll have the board whinging at every monthly update.

You’ll also notice that I have a player by the name of Tyler Collishaw. “Oooh, he’s got great potential,” said my scout. He promised. I brought him in on this basis. He’s been an utter clown in every game I’ve played him. Sadly, this has amounted to six starts and six substitute appearances because my squad doesn’t cope well when one of two players get injured.

Some of my best players this season have been right back Ben Montgomery, my centre back pairing of Roberts-Nurse and Stuart Pierpoint, not-so Junior English as the midfield destroyer, left winger Tommy Taylor and Hereford’s striker Ross Wilson.

Another point worth mentioning is that I actually won a cup match for the first time with Solihull. Last season was a complete disaster as I lost in the second qualifying round of the FA Cup and the third qualifying round of the FA Trophy to teams I had never heard of. This season I managed to draw 0-0 at home to Nuneaton in the FA Cup second qualifying round before losing the replay 2-1, and then contrived to draw 2-2 against a team calling itself St Neots in the FA Trophy despite having 25 attempts on goal. Thankfully justice prevailed and I won the replay 3-0, only to then lost 2-0 at home in the next round to Newport County.

In November I was offered the manager’s job at Eastleigh in the Conference South. They were 15th in the league but had a budget four times larger than mine at Solihull. I was tempted, but I turned it down. I’m loyal to my Moor.

And that brings you up to date – apart from the laughable contract discussions I had with Manny Panther. The Scottish central midfielder, who’s currently without a club, spat his dummy out and said he got tired of these “protracted negotiations” after I made him my very first contract offer of £125 p/w when he was looking for £150. I’ve left it a few weeks and since gone back to see if he continues to have an attitude. He’s now willing to take £70 p/w. Talk about changing your tune. He soon realised who was right.

The media predicts I’ll finish 13th. I’m fairly sure that my standard 4-4-2 with Ross Wilson up front will surpass that.

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New beginnings: Football Manager 2013

Guiseley and FM12 are but a distant memory. Since November I’ve been playing (and swearing at) FM13, which was a surprise present from the girlfriend… who has since become the fiancée. But not because of the FM13 purchase, you understand.

I got quite excited about FM13 since I liked the idea behind the classic mode. I probably wasn’t quite as excited as the time my good friend Stuart got so excited about Christmas 1991 that while dancing around the living room in merriment of the decorations going up he didn’t realise one of his socks had come loose off his foot. He trod on said sock and propelled himself in a forward and southerly direction until his mouth caught the edge of the fireplace. He lost a few teeth in that incident.

Going back to FM13, I was intrigued to see how this ‘classic mode’ would play out. I missed the days of being able to power through seasons in just a couple of weeks. Back in the glory days of CM2 I’d get through a season in a weekend. And I’m a pretty slow player – as has been proved by owning FM12 for a whole year in real time and only getting one and a half seasons into my Guiseley campaign until FM13 was released.

Anyway, the good news for all you fans that wanted to whizz through seasons is that it’s entirely possible on the classic mode of FM13. My first save was with my home town club Grimsby in the Conference, and I completed the season within a fortnight (finished 9th). Mind you, I was playing on it more than usual since that’s what you do when you’re trying out the new version.

I’ve since played out a full season with my current save, as Solihull Moors boss in the Conference North, and that took me three weeks. It’s very easy to get through a couple of months in one sitting (usually after Match of the Day and before my Saturday night bedtime of 2am).

For the record, I did try the full version of FM13, which gave the perception that you could power through the days and weeks at a similar rate, but I became bogged down with the tiny little things that I tend to obsess about. It was after I saw this series of FM13 videos on YouTube that I decided to start over again on the classic mode as a pretty terrible non league team.

In short, my first season as Solihull Moors manager was relatively successful. I finished 7th with 68 points – three points short of the playoffs – having won 19, drawn 12, lost 11, scored 57 and conceded 37.

Conference North league table final standings 2012/13 - Solihull Moors 7th

Conference North end-of-season table 2012/13.

I could go into a lot more detail but for a side that was tipped to finish in 20th place and with a weekly wage budget of just £2,900 it wasn’t a half bad achievement. For one very brief moment in January we were in the playoffs but inevitably fell away as the players failed to cope with two games a week.

I signed a one-year extention to my managerial contract (mega bucks at £400 per week!) only to be rewarded with a bloody reduction in the weekly wage budget. For season 2013/14 it’s just £2,600 and I lost my two best players – Omar Bogle and Darryl Knights.

That’s right – I had a player called Omar Bogle. Sounds kind of made up, but his history tells me he spent time at Celtic and Birmingham City. He was my strong and pacy striker who scored 16 goals in 32 appearances. Knights, a fast winger who could also play up front, got six goals and 12 assists in 40 starts. The pair were the only players to finish the season with average ratings over 7.00.

I had a nightmare summer but I’ve brought in a raft of distrinctly average players to replace slightly better than distinctly average players. The board expects me to stay clear of relegation given last season’s success, but the fact that I couldn’t organise one half decent friendly against a big name and I’ve failed to win a single cup match so far, the club is over £120,000 in debt. But my position appears to be secure given that we’re 7th after 15 league games this season.

We just love 7th!

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