Monthly Archives: November 2014

A fishy on a little dishy: Nov 14

If there’s one thing I’m good at on all Football Manager editions it’s being able to draw cup matches so I have to deal with inconvenient midweek replays that ruin the fitness of my players. I needed a replay against Halifax in October to make the FA Cup 1st round proper, and in November I drew 0-0 at home to League 2 Stevenage, which handed me an unwanted trip to Broadhall Way and took the number of games for the month up to a rather silly nine.

That’s right – nine games. In one month. With my injury problems. I’ll give you the short version: I won just one of those nine, but it was the replay at Stevenage, which means I’ll face League 1 Gillingham at home in the 2nd round.

Here’s how the month played out:

Fixtures in November

Despite failing to win any of my seven league matches (drew five, lost two) I somehow remain 7th in the Conference – but crucially I’m now four points short of breaking into the play-offs. I’ve now gone eight league games without a win (the last came at Wrexham on 11th October) and I haven’t won at home since beating Southport 2-0 on 30th September.

Here’s how the top half of the table is shaping up:

Conference table at the end of NovemberPerformances have been patchy. Again and again we let the opposition have too many attempts on our goal, and the fine goalkeeping of James Mckeown has probably earned us a few points along the way. I lost influential midfielder Craig Easton to injury for the month, and both Craig Disley and Scott Brown have been unconvincing in his absence. My most consistent midfielder has been Paddy McLaughlin, who’s chipped in with three goals and eight assists from his 19 starts this season.

I’ve had trouble at the back too. Centre backs Shaun Pearson and Aristote Nsiala haven’t been able to cope with the unrelenting Saturday-Tuesday-Saturday-Tuesday schedule, so Carl Magnay has filled in. That’s vacated the right back position, where Paul Bignot has also struggled to deal with the demanding fixture list. That meant that I dipped back into the loan market for Mansfield’s John Dempster, who’s provided admirable back-up.

I managed to sign Fleetwood’s Gareth Evans on loan until February, and he made an instant impression when coming off the bench to score on his debut in front of the TV cameras at Braintree. Sadly his goal turned out to be a consolation in a 2-1 defeat.

We were solid in defence in the home tie with Stevenage, but really impressed in the replay. We completely dominated using our 4-1-4-1 formation and had 18 attempts at goal, scoring at good times. Evans scored again in what has been my most satisfying performance and victory of the entire game so far.

The less said about our 3-0 defeat at Altrincham, the better. There was nothing to suggest in that match that we’d do what we did at Stevenage just a few days later.

The draws against Kidderminster, Woking and Telford have all merged into one. They all lacked any redeeming features and so I can’t really add more detail than that. I’m troubled by our lack of goal threat since Jason Gilchrist returned to Burnley. He managed to score nine goals in 16 games but any chance of getting him back on loan have gone after he opted to join League 2 Cheltenham on loan for the rest of the season.

I decided to snap up full back Ewan McNeil on a free transfer. His stats look quite poor as barely any are into double figures, but a lot of them are eights and nines, and at the age of 21 I hope they’ll improve in time. He’s on a relatively small wage, he can play both full back positions and was on the books of Rangers and Norwich.

December’s schedule is looking more manageable. Hopefully that will give Easton and Arnold a chance to return to full fitness, while the whole squad will now have a chance to rest up a bit.

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A fishy on a little dishy: Oct 14

We began the month in 4th and finished it in 5th – clinging onto a play-off position on goal difference. It’s early in the season, true, but I get the feeling that this is the way it’s going to be until the end. Inconsistent results coupled with inconsistent performances will result in a battle to make the play-offs.

Just the one silly scoreline for October, but I’ll give the game the benefit of the doubt here because 4-3s do happen. I just wasn’t happy at the time because we’d done so well to claw it back to 3-3 after being 3-1 down, only to lose it right at the end (against league leaders Torquay).

Here’s how we’ve got on:

Grimsby Town fixtures for OctoberI wasn’t convinced with our performance at Dartford but it did the job. It was looking comfortable until they scored with seven minutes remaining. Our 1-1 draw at home to Altrincham was a disgrace. We let a side near the bottom come to Blundell Park and have 20 shots at goal. Sure, only four were on target, but they led for a long time – and would’ve taken all three points had Nathan Arnold not struck lucky when his floated cross drifted over the keeper’s head and into the net.

After scoring that goal, Arnold got injured for three months. I decided to look at my tactics for a tough trip to Wrexham and went 4-1-4-1 since I was again having injury problems. Hannah still wasn’t match fit, Arnold was out for a while and Gilchrist had returned to parent club Burnley, so I was light up front.

It did the trick, though. Wrexham might have had plenty more shots on goal than us, but most were from distance (still a risky strategy, given the game’s penchant for making lots of them fly in). One of our goals was sublime, a proper team goal. Wrexham had a man sent off midway through the first half, when it was 0-0, and my centre back Nsiala got a straight red for a two-footed lunge not long after. As at Dartford, it was looking good at 2-0 but a late goal made for a nervy finish.

Then came the game at Torquay. We went behind, we equalised from the spot. Then we concided twice in five minutes before half time. A rollocking at the break worked, and with a bit of a patched-up side with no attacking threat we plucked two goals out of nowhere. And it looked like we’d hold out for an excellent point, except we didn’t. That late goal hurt.

Disappointed at conceding four goals using a defensively structured 4-1-4-1 formation, I reverted back to 4-4-2 for the visit of Halifax in the FA Cup fourth qualifying round. It was a tight game with few chances, spoilt by a card-happy ref. The draw gave us an unwanted replay in midweek, but to my surprise we played the 4-1-4-1 system like we’d been playing it all season and snatched a 2-0 win. We’ll play Stevenage in the first round.

Here’s what the league table looks like:

Conference table

Keeper James McKeown made his return to the side in the 1-1 draw against Halifax and then got injured (his third injury of the season) in the replay. Luckily I had Coddington on the bench, but had it been a league game – when I tend not to name a sub keeper – I’d have been in a spot of bother.

Craig Easton continues to impress in the centre of midfield. For someone who was brought in as back-up, it means Scott Brown, Paddy McLaughlin, Jim Stevenson and club captain Craig Disley are all competing for a place alongside him. Stevenson gets in when we go 4-1-4-1 since he’s the only player in the squad who’s capable of playing in the defensive midfield role.

John-Lewis has got nine goals for the season, which puts him on par with the departed Gilchrist. He’s performing better as a defensive forward than as a target man. Cool story, bro.

I brought in 31-year old central defender John Dempster on loan from Mansfield as he wasn’t getting any first team action there and I needed someone to cover for Nsiala, who was banned for three matches.

November has six more league matches as well as that FA Cup tie against League 2 Stevenage, which will test the fitness of my squad.

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A fishy on a little dishy: Sep 14

I’ve now played five friendly matches and 13 league matches, and I’m convinced the match engine isn’t working as it should. Goals appear to come in one of three ways: from crosses, from rebounds and from 35 yards out. Five of the last six goals I conceded in the month of September were pinged into the top corner of my keeper’s net from silly distances.

A quick read of the Sports Interactive forum* suggests I’m not the only player who feels the game is incomplete and riddled with bugs. While my scorelines have remained, on the whole, within the realms of reality, I’m still the highest scoring team in the Conference, despite playing a relatively defensive 4-4-2 formation. I’m quite leaky at the back too, but that seems to be due to the opposition’s ability to find the smallest corner of the net from well outside the box rather than anything I’m doing tactically.

In short, a large volume of FM15 players feel they have little tactical control of their teams, which really isn’t a great endorsement of the game. In fact it’s been getting a bit of a hammering on the Steam store.

Right then, back to my Grimsby Town save, and onto the month of September:

September results

The first of seven matches was a comfortable 4-0 victory over bottom club Welling and included a hat-trick from my centre back Shaun Pearson. Two were headers (from crosses) and one was a two-yard poke over the line (from a rebound). Happy to win, of course, but it was just more evidence that shows the match engine isn’t quite where it should be.

Then came the televised Tuesday night clash against local rivals Lincoln. Amazingly it looked like it was heading for a stalemate until the home side nicked a winner with six minutes to go. The board and fans weren’t happy about that.

The home win over Torquay was significant because they were unbeaten and top of the league at the time. The game at Halifax became a bit of a farce as all four goals came in an eight-minute spell. Seemed a bit stupid. The defeat at Kidderminster featured two standard 35-yard strikes (can you tell I’m bitter?) but we responded well against Chester. It was heading for a fairly sensible 2-0 scoreline with 15 minutes remaining, before four more goals flew in (despite applying more controlled and disciplined team instructions).

The 2-0 win over struggling Southport was refreshing in the sense that they didn’t score a long range goal and both strikes came from Ross Hannah, who’s been injured since I took over. And this is what the table looks like:

Conference table

Slowly but surely my injured players are returning. Both Jon-Paul Pittman and Nathan Arnold have been making appearances from the bench, while Neilson came on in the second half against Chester and scored the fourth. Keeper James McKeown made his comeback after a two-month lay-off with a broken collarbone in the reserves and got injured again. He’ll be out for another month, so I’ll be looking to renew Luke Coddington’s loan from Middlesbrough.

And I signed defensive midfielder Jim Stevenson from Luton on a free transfer just before the famous yet metaphorical window slammed shut (does it ever not slam?). I planned to use him in a 4-1-2-2-1 formation but I haven’t tried it yet because I’m scared it’ll result in a 5-5 draw or something.

Despite the glitches I’m going to continue with this game and see what October brings. But I’m not entirely sure that any of my tactical decisions are having any effect whatsoever on how the players perform on the pitch, so literally (and I do mean literally) anything can happen.

*You have to have an account with Sports Interactive to view the comments.

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A Fishy on a Little Dishy: the FM15 adventure begins!

Each year I say I’m not that interested in the latest version of Football Manager because I’ve barely played more than a season on the current version. But each year I make the mistake of watching the new features video and I get a little excited at the prospect of exploring it all – to the point where I finally give in and accept how throroughly predictable I am. I want the latest version.

So here I am, with FM15 installed on my laptop, typing my first update after playing six games as Grimsby Town manager. Just a quick word for my wife here, actually, as it was she who bought me the game. We were on holiday when the new version hit the shelves, but unknown to me she had pre-ordered it so it was waiting for me when I got back last week.

One of the new features is being able to decide what type of manager you’ll be. After choosing what your playing history was like, and how many coaching badges you have, you get to distribute a set amount of points between a number of managerial attributes. Here’s what I’ve given myself (and I believe they will fluctuate depending on how well you do, and whether you earn more badges in-game):

Screenshot: my manager attributesI was faced with an injury crisis upon seeing my squad for the first time. Strikers Ross Hannah and Jon-Paul Pittman were going to be out for the whole of pre-season, while the only other recognisable player who could play up front (other than Lenell John-Lewis), Nathan Arnold, got injured in my first friendly against Notts County.

Then Scott Neilson and Craig Clay injured each other in training. Neilson was going to be out for six weeks; Clay the entire season.

Basically, that left me light on the left of midfield too. So I set about bringing in a number of trialists – only on this version, in an effort to make the game more realistic than ever before, the scouting system has changed. You can no longer determine how good another player is from just a report. You have to watch them over a long period of time to reveal their true ability.

All this means that, if you find yourself in a corner and you need to sign someone quickly, it will always be a risk (especially at the very start of your first season when you haven’t had chance to send your scouts on assignments to create a bank of players to choose from).

In came Lee Thompson, Mark Wilson, Akwasi Asante, Carlton McIntosh, Junior N’Tamé and Sam Sodje (the last two are central defenders, who I wanted to look at because my first choice centre backs were both suspended for the first league game of the season). None of them cut the mustard (well, N’Tamé did, but his agent was a massive nob).

Here’s my squad, as of 31st August 2014:

Screenshot: Grimsby Town squadAs you can see, I have five players on loan – Luke Waterfall (Scunthorpe), Nathan Arnold (Cambridge), Callum O’Dowda (Oxford Utd) and Jason Gilchrist (Burnley). That’s only four, I hear you say! Well, the fifth is 19-year old goalkeeper Luke Coddington (Middlesbrough). I had to bring him in because my first choice keeper (and best player) James McKeown got injured in my final friendly and is out for two months.

Basically I’ve lost count of how many injuries I’ve had to first team players. A bunch of them have been moaning to my new assistant manager, Steve Gritt (who I nicked from Ebbsfleet), about training being too tough. I’m only focusing on fitness with a high intensity. These lads are meant to be full time!

Here are my results so far:

Screenshot: Grimsby Town resultsAs you can see, there have been some weird results going on. I was rather chuffed with the win over Notts Co, and we did well to hold Coventry to a 2-2 draw, while the defeat to Peterborough was expected as I shuffled the players about in order to give them all a bit of game time (including the trialists). In fact, looking back, I’m surprised I wasn’t hammered in every single one of them.

The 7-0 win at AFC Fylde came out of nowhere. I don’t think we even played that well. Every shot just seemed to fly in, until it started to get a bit silly. It came just after I signed 35-year old Craig Easton, who is my replacement for the injured Clay. But then we were brought back down to earth with a bump, losing 3-0 at home to Walsall. The result wasn’t a surprise but the performance was much better than the scoreline suggested.

Not knowing how good we actually were (trialists in and out of the team, different striker pairings, different centre back pairings, no consistency in formation – you get the idea) I was a bit worried about our opening day game at Bristol Rovers.

But the 7-1 win suggested I shouldn’t have been.

Honestly? I don’t know how it happened. A simple 4-4-2 with everyone playing in their preferred positions. I think I might have even played on the counter, with a structured approach. That’s all.

Anyway, you can see for yourself how the rest of the month of August went (ending with another crazy away game at Aldershot, in which we drew 4-4). If I have one complaint about FM15 so far, it’s that there appear to be too many goals flying in. Not just in my matches, either. Don’t get me wrong, I’m ecstatic about banging in 17 goals in six games, but each game sees both sides having about 20 shots at goal, and it’s not like I play an open game. If anything I like to err on the side of caution and play it more defensively. I’ve always been more of a 1-0 than 4-3 man.

Anyway, I’ll leave you with the Conference table as it stands after six games:

Screenshot: Conference league table

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