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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