Monthly Archives: December 2017

Part IV: The unbeaten dozen (and the surge into mid-table)

The Kidderminster board decided to offer me a one-year contract extension, which was nice. Strange how it came after a so-called ‘must win’ match against Salford, according to the press. Twice, now, they’ve claimed I was about to get booted out of Worcestershire.

But in all that time the board’s confidence in me has been fine. It’s perhaps evidence of the game’s pre-season expectations not linking up with the current circumstances very well.

Yes, mid-table for Kidderminster Harriers in the National League North isn’t good enough when most expected us to be challenging at the top, but they were in the bottom three in October and I’ve hauled them up the league to 10th by losing just four of my 23 league games.

I’ve played 10 games since my last update, and here are the results:

Last 10 fixtures screenshot (5 wins, 4 draws, 1 defeat)

Stockport, if you remember, were the opponents for my first game in charge. You’ll also remember that they were top at the time, and that we went to Edgeley Park and won 2-0.

I wouldn’t say it was a fluke, but they probably didn’t deserve to lose that day.

They arrived at Aggborough this time round still in pole position, but by slender margins (it’s been tight at the top all season between them, Southport and Blyth).

The 5-3 scoreline flattered them. We blew them away in a first half that bordered on the unbelievable. Joseph N’Guessan scored twice, playmaker Elton Ngwatala also got in on the act from midfield and centre back Tyrone Williams scored on the stroke of half time to make it 4-0.

Charlie ‘he has the edge’ Edge made it five just after the re-start. It couldn’t have gone any better.

However, County pulled two goals back with their first two meaningful shots on target before the hour, which made me both annoyed and twitchy. When their third went in on 84 minutes, I began to wonder if I was witnessing a collapse that would even surpass the worst England batting collapses of the 1990s.

Thankfully the craziness ended and we got the three points without having to lose our fingernails.

A fairly boring match by those standards then followed at Spennymoor, when Hartlepool’s loanee Devante Rodney scored twice – once in injury time at the end of the first half, and once in injury time at the end of the second half.

Draws against Harrogate, Darlington and York were decent in isolation, but had we picked up just one or two wins from those fixtures we could’ve been a credible play-off candidate. As a result, we’re now sitting six points short with four games left to play.

We got back to winning ways at Gainsborough, but we now had Wigan’s Owen Evans in goal for us owing to the broken hand our regular keeper Brandon Hall suffered in the goalless draw at home to York.

The incident occurred in the 59th minute and we don’t tend to name a goalkeeper on our substitutes’ bench. So centre back Bondz N’Gala, on loan from Dagenham, went between the sticks – and he didn’t let the side down, making a couple of decent saves to earn us a point.

I can’t say that’s happened to me many times before, but these are the risks you take when you don’t name a keeper on the bench.

And yes, we do have a lot of players on loan at our club. Evans in goal, N’Gala at centre back, Aaron Simpson at left back, Edge on the left wing and Rodney up front. We also have Gianni Crichlow and Leslie Sackey on loan deals too – although both are just back-ups.

Twice we took the lead at fifth placed Alfreton, twice we were pegged back. It’s been an annoying feature of my tenure, conceding after scoring. I tell my players to play a tighter, more disciplined game in the minutes that follow us scoring, but it seems to have little effect.

I enjoyed the 3-0 win over Salford – who wouldn’t? Remarkably, they’re now top of the division having surged past Southport and Stockport.

Suddenly we had gone 12 games unbeaten. It was to be an unlucky 13th game as we lost a close game at Boston, but showed great spirit to bounce back immediately with a 3-0 win at home to mid-table Brackley.

It leaves us 10th in the league:

National League North league table screenshot, Kidderminster 10th

Not a bad salvage mission. They were in genuine danger of being sucked into a relegation battle, but after nine wins, ten draws and four defeats in the 23 games since I took the reins, we’ve shown top seven form to climb 21 points clear of danger and sit just six points off the play-offs.

There is no doubt, though, that I inherited a strong squad for this level. How on earth they found themselves in the mess they were in originally is anyone’s guess.

We’ve got out of it by being hard to beat and threatening up front. I’ve never considered myself to be a tactical genius on any version of Football Manager, but these tactics have served me relatively well this season. Here’s a typical line-up and formation:

Kidderminster tactics screenshot of 4-3-3 formation

It feels a very balanced side. I’m not at all convinced by my defence, but Williams is young and N’Gala has done well since joining on loan.

Ryan Croasdale in that defensive midfield role is the unsung hero, though. I reckon I’ve barely mentioned his name all season in these updates yet he’s Mr Reliable. Never gets injured, never puts in a bad performance. He brings stability and consistency to this team.

If you love your stats, here’s a screenshot of my squad – complete with all the stats and information you’ll want to know:

Screenshot of Kidderminster squad

There are four games remaining, and next up is a tricky away tie at Blyth. We finish the season with two games against Bradford PA and North Ferriby – sides that have recently sacked their managers and look all but relegated.

If we can finish 10th or higher I’ll be a happy manager.

Work has already begun on shaping the squad for next season. Sadly it looks like it’ll be without Ngwatala who, despite earning £300 a week, has decided to go straight in and demand £2,300 a week. Those are League 1 wages. So the talks broke down – well, they didn’t really get started.

I also realised that we had an awful lot of shite just hanging around in our reserve team; players with no prospects but who have been draining our club of money (and eating into my wage budget) every week.

I’ve handed it over to our Director of Football to send them packing. I haven’t got time to invite them all into my office, one by one, to break their hopes and dreams.

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Part III: The honeymoon is over

Fackin’ Telford!

Oh, sorry – that should be fackin’ ‘AFC’ Telford, because you got mismanaged a few years back and had to start again.

Yes, well, they did us over twice during the festive season. First on Boxing Day, at their place, and then back at ours, on New Year’s Day, both by two goals to one.

Things were going alright until then.

I don’t know what happened, really. We played the same formation, with the same little tweaks here and there according to the match situation, but for reasons I’ve never fathomed we just didn’t show up for either. Maybe that’s just the sort of inconsistency you should expect when you manage at this level.

But I’m not having that as an excuse. It was Christmas, and we were playing our local rivals. The fans deserved better.

Having said all that, AFC Telford are currently sixth in the table. They’re not a bad side, but those back-to-back defeats put me on the back foot. I wasn’t so ballsy going into my next game away at Leamington, who were just below us in the table and have been flirting with relegation so outrageously that it’s made their fans feel hugely uncomfortable.

Left winger Charlie ‘he has the edge’ Edge (I’m not good at nicknames) put us in front in just the third minute, but we conceded an equaliser just a few minutes later – and apart from a late dismissal for the home side, the rest of the game was a non-event.

If I’m honest, we weren’t very good in this game either.

But if I thought I’d hit a low scraping a 1-1 draw against a spa town, I had a shock in store. Back at Aggborough we put in such a pitiful performance against FC United of Manchester it made me weep.

Now, they’re up with Telford in the play-offs, so there should be no disgrace in drawing 1-1. But they were made to play with 10 men for almost the entirety of the game, and they absolutely dominated us. Only an absolutely incredible goal by Joe Ironside, with a first-time volley into the top corner with the ball from the halfway line coming over his shoulder, with two minutes remaining rescued a draw, but in truth we didn’t deserve it.

Suddenly, this little run of two draws and two defeats – plus the 0-0 draw at home to Nuneaton before it – became a bit of a concern. Add in the two-legged defeat to Barrow in the FA Trophy and we’d suddenly gone seven games without a win.

Honeymoon period well and truly over, then. Four wins in my first seven, none in my second seven.

There were no ultimatums from the board, no revolts from the fans or anything like that – mainly because my good start had kept us clear of the drop zone by a useful margin – but it still troubled me. Why had my previously effective tactic, that did so well against Barrow from the division above over two games, suddenly become a bit shit?

Next up was a trip to Curzon Ashton. They’d won just two of their 26 league games but weren’t even bottom of the league virtue of their 13 draws. Anyway, we went there and…

Won! Edge scored twice, Hartlepool loanee Devante Rodney scored a third and that was that. Back to winning ways, albeit against a side in relegation bother.

Then the Southport game happened.

Southport, top of the league. Southport, leading scorers in the division by some margin. Southport, only lost once on their travels all season.

Right, I’ll say up front that it finished 3-3 because I imagine you’re thinking that I might be building up to something (like a heavy defeat, or an unexpected win).

We deserved to win, though. Centre back Tyrone Williams put us in front after just five minutes, they equalised after 20, then we retook the lead through Rodney and N’Guessan put us in dreamland just before half time.

Clearly, whatever I said at half time – which was nothing, because FM Touch doesn’t do team talks – didn’t work. We conceded straight from the restart, which is never ideal, and the equaliser came just after the hour. We had loads more chances to win the game, but we also could’ve lost it in the fourth and final minute of injury time.

We did ourselves proud. Central midfielder Dan Bradley had a bit of a strop in the week and said he wanted to play more games, so I gave him a chance and he repaid me with a nice assist for our third goal.

The players have proved that the tactic works. If there’s one thing I’ve tweaked in the last two games it’s to go more structured rather than flexible, but I’m sure the improvement is down to more than just that.

It’s worth remembering, though, that it’s still just one win in 10 in all competitions. It’s not like we’re flying.

The league table shows that we’re in 16th place, which is where we’ve been for a good while now, and we’re 11 points clear of relegation with just 14 games to go.

Oh – we’ve signed left winger Gianni Crichlow on loan from Macclesfield, and centre back Leslie Sackey on loan from Scunthorpe – more as back up than anything else. I got a shock when my centre back Fraser Horsfall suddenly went back to Huddersfield at the start of January when I hadn’t even realised he was a loan player.

And the takeover went through. Some local businessman has invested some money in us, but not enough to take our wage budget any higher than its existing £11,000 a week level. But we do still have £10,000 to spend in the transfer market.

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