Part II: As you were

I’ve had 12 matches in charge of Chorley now, and the situation remains pretty much the same as it was when I took over – a few points above the relegation zone, and just a couple of bad results from dropping into it.

Ok, a quick recap of the situation…

I began my FM17 career unemployed with a Sunday League reputation, and it was the end of November when Chorley came calling. They were battling against the drop, struggling to string a few decent results together.

If I was meant to come in and keep that infuriating inconsistency going to keep everyone at the club nervous, looking over their shoulders, then I’ve been right on the money.

Things began well, with a 3-2 win at a Halifax side pushing for the play-offs. A 1-1 draw at home to Tamworth felt solid enough, and I picked up a point at title-chasing AFC Fylde before beating them 1-0 at home in the festive double-header.

So far, so good.

We then lost back-to-back away games, 2-0 at Brackley and 1-0 at Boston – both above us in the table. We were then totally shit at home to Altrincham, but somehow drew 0-0.

We’d stopped scoring. In particular, Marcus I-want-to-move-to-a-bigger-club Carver had stopped scoring. Jason Walker, a player who has spent all his career scoring at wherever he’s played, hadn’t even bothered to score for me. So I went out and brought Macclesfield target man Jack Sampson on loan – and sensing I needed an uncultured battering ram for non-league’s sake, I also managed to get Guiseley’s big-arsed centre forward (and all-round journeyman) Michael Rankine on loan too.

Our next match was a biggie – away at Bradford Park Avenue. They were one of the five or six teams below me who had closed the gap. Sampson scored 21 minutes into his debut and we won 2-1.

Sadly Adam Blakeman, the only half-decent midfielder I have in my ranks, got injured in that game, and his absence told in the next as I managed to get stuffed 5-1 at home to Darlington 1883.

A 2-0 defeat at second-bottom FC United of Manchester wasn’t great, either.

I turned it around with a great 1-0 home win over Kidderminster, which has derailed their play-off ambitions, and we put in another impressive home performance against mid-table Alfreton, except we forgot to score while we were on top for 80 minutes and conceded two in the final 10.

With 11 games to go, this is what the table looks like:

Screenshot of league table in March 2017, Chorley 18th

In other transfer news, I signed 20-year old defensive midfielder George Pierce on a free transfer, more as back-up than anything else, but what with Blakeman’s injury (and fellow central midfielder Dale Whitham also getting crocked for a few weeks) he’s been thrust into the side.

Want-away Carver got his dream move… to Boreham Wood. Well done, you idiot. There are bigger clubs on a golf course.

 

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Part I: Chorley you can’t be serious?

I am – and stop calling me Chorley.

How utterly predictable. After making great inroads to my FM16 save with Grimsby Town I gave up because of, er, things. Life got in the way.

Now, I fall into a particularly narrow bracket of the UK’s population in the sense that my wife actually buys me the latest FM games. I know, it’s crazy. Amazing! But totally crazy. And she’s fully aware that this book exists (I bought that myself and read it a couple of years ago).

So I now own FM17.

The last time I touched FM 16 was at the end of December 2015. The fact that I didn’t actually play the version of the game in the year that was emblazoned on its cover wasn’t lost on me.

The thing is, real football got really interesting – and it gave me one of the best days of my life. Plus, I decided to quit my job to become a freelance copywriter, so that took up a lot of my time and energy.

As usual, I was overwhelmed not just by the amount of information that’s crammed into this game, but which club I should choose to manage. I also toggled between the full FM version and ‘FM Touch’, which I’ve been a fan of since it made its debut in FM13.

Grimsby, Tromso, Weston-super-Mare, Leeds and Bath… whichever team I picked, I couldn’t seem to get through pre-season without getting distracted by the thought of choosing someone else to manage.

In the end I wanted the decision – or indecision – to be taken out of my hands. Finally, after a week, I think I’ve settled on a save that has the potential to last more than a few weeks…

Chorley FM(17), coming in your ears

I chose to fire up FM Touch and begin the game unemployed with a Sunday League reputation. It was November before anyone touched me, and it was Chorley of the Conference North.

They were originally in the bottom three when they sacked their manager, Matt Jansen. But they showed some improvement in the weeks when I was negotiating my contract (a magnificent £325 p/w) and I actually took over them once they had dragged themselves a couple of places (and points) clear.

I inherited a largely unhappy squad due to star striker Marcus Carver sulking because he couldn’t get a move to a bigger club. I also changed captains and vice captains, sacked my useless assistant manager and discovered I had a frankly eye-watering weekly wage budget of just £5,000.

The board hopes we can escape relegation, and after a 3-2 win at much-fancied Halifax in my first game in charge – a win that moved us up to 14th in the table – I hope so too.

Carver played – and scored – but it was midfielder Adam Blakeman who stood out. Here’s the squad I’ve inherited (click to enlarge):

Screenshot of the Chorley squadAnd these are Chorley’s results in the run-up to sacking Jansen and appointing Lord:

Screenshot of Chorley fixtures

Here’s what the league table currently looks like:

Screenshot of Chorley 14th in the Conference North

With it being FM Touch I’m hoping I can get through a nice chunk of the season in relatively quick time, so I’ll be posting an update of my progress once I have a clearer idea of how the season is panning out.

Until then, sit tight.

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Cup shock and steady progress towards the play-offs

It’s getting tight at the top. I’m on a seven-game unbeaten run in the league, but four of my last five matches have ended in draws. Although I’m currently third in the table, I’m in among six teams that are separated by just three points. Tranmere continue to lead the way.

Anyway, I’m not sure why I’m leading with the league news. The biggest news has come in the FA Cup! After easing past Blyth in the fourth qualifying round, and finally defeating Maidstone in the first round in a replay, we were drawn away at League 1 Gillingham.

The Gills weren’t going too well in the league, down in 21st place, but I still wasn’t given much of a chance. We ended up beating them 1-0, and it wasn’t just the result that pleased me, it was the way we played too.

I’ve eluded to it before on here – about how difficult it is to get more than 50% of the possession – but we achieved 56% in this match, away from home, against much higher opposition. We had a good go, too – it wasn’t just about sitting back and defending. Although I set us up to play more defensive than usual, we were probably the better side in the first half.

That meant I was in the hat for the third round draw. We’ve got Reading at home, who are currently top of the Championship.

Here are the fixtures I’ve played since the last update:

Grimsby Town fixtures on FM16Our unbeaten run in all competitions actually stretches to 12 matches, which I’m pretty pleased with. We did a professional job at Nantwich to progress into the second round of the FA Trophy, so it’s been a good month in the cups.

Omar Bogle has now scored 20 for the season. He’d been a little bit quiet up until his brace in the Bromley match, and then he scored two more at Nantwich. His strike partner Padraig Amond is out for two months, so it’s given Pittman and Cofie a chance to address the concerns they’d each been having about not getting chances in the first team.

Disley was injured in the win over Kiddy, but Clay has returned to the fold after his four-match suspension and Scott Brown continues to do well following a lengthy injury of his own. Alex Lawless has been steady too.

Andy Monkhouse has been disappointing, though. I’ve used him mainly as a sub, for Arnold (who’s now got 10 assists), but he never seems to get more than 6.70 when he starts. Jack Mackreth, on the other hand – and on the other side – has been in fine form. He’s got Mariners legend John McDermott purring.

This is what the latest league table looks like:

National League table screenshotDown at the bottom Guiseley remain helpless. Just above them are Bromley, which is why I was disappointed to only draw 2-2 down there, while Aldershot and Braintree complete the bottom four.

I’m now officially out of beta, and since I’ve not been beaten for a while I’m inclined to say that I can’t find many more faults with the game! Even my central midfielders are popping up with the odd goal and getting the occasional rating of 7 and above. And the early goals aren’t so frequent.

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Possession concession – but we’re still scoring plenty and up to 2nd

I’m nearing the halfway mark in my first season in charge of Grimsby Town on FM16 (still in beta, by the way). Despite a mini wobble when I lost two consecutive games against Halifax and Torquay, things are going pretty well. After 21 games I’m second in the table, just one point behind Macclesfield – but it’s congested below me, with Lincoln just four points behind me in 8th.

Any new bugs or weird things to report?

Apart from early goals, low average ratings for central midfielders and ex-players almost guaranteed to score against you… there’s not too much to add to the list. One thing I will say is that it seems remarkably difficult to win the possession game. Despite playing a pretty standard 4-4-2 with the side instructed to keep the ball and pass it short, I’ll typically see my possession hovering around the 40-45% mark, even against the worst teams in the league.

And no matter what you do against some sides, it just seems like they’re conditioned to pepper your goal. I managed to concede 10 shots in my home match against Cheltenham inside the first 10 minutes, which is something I’ve not seen before.

Then again, everything that I’ve flagged up about FM16 so far could well be down to the tactics I’m employing. I’ve never regarded myself as an expert in that department (hence 4-4-2), but when I compare myself to my good friend Stu, who up until recently was playing every match in real time and finishing every season in 15th place with Gainsborough, I could argue I’m prolific.

Decent league form

I’m not keeping as many clean sheets as I would like, but I’m scoring my fair share of goals. Bogle and Amond are winning me games, and even when I’ve introduced Pittman from the bench, or given him a start, he’s contributing too. Although I was outplayed by Cheltenham (one of the clutch of teams hovering in and around the play-offs) I recorded a 2-0 win, which was much needed after that little wobble I mentioned earlier.

So this is what the league table is looking like at the moment:

Screenshot of National League table, Grimsby 2ndOnly Tranmere have scored more than me, and with us both being so strong up front I guess you could say it was obvious that we would both draw blanks when we met at Blundell Park. Anyone who is currently in the top half would say they had a chance of reaching the play-offs at this stage.

Guiseley are propping up the league with 14 points and look good bets for relegation already. Just above them are Aldershot and Bromley on 17 points, with Braintree (21) completing the bottom four. Barrow and Woking are just above them.

Here are our results since the last update:

Screenshot of Grimsby fixturesThe 2-0 defeat at Southport came as a bit of a surprise. I’ve had some excellent results on the road (5-1 at Braintree and 4-1 at Barrow) while there was a comfortable passage into the FA Cup 1st round against Blyth – although they did give me a scare by scoring first (and yes, it was an early goal – first shot on target and all that shizz).

The home game against Maidenhead was ridiculous. I had 24 shots at goal, 13 on target and yet they took the lead in the 70th minute. Luckily Pittman scored near the end to rescue a replay, which was hard fought (but we won in the end through an Amond brace).

Midfielder Craig Clay got sent off in the home Halifax defeat for a two-footed lunge. He was banned for three matches, and then it was extended by another match on review – I didn’t even appeal it. He was fined and dumped in the reserves.

New players

Just the one addition since last time – I’ve managed to bring Luton’s central midfielder Alex Lawless in on loan for three months. He’s sort of a replacement for Matty Dixon, who’s returned to Hull. Dixon did ok (the fans loved him for some reason, despite coming from a rival) but already Lawless looks better. At 30 years old he brings a lot of experience.

And Scott Brown, a midfielder I’ve had all along, has begun to get back into the side after a long lay-off (basically since the game started). Another one who’s integrating back into the starting XI is right winger Marcus Marshall. He went out on loan to Solihull Moors to get some match fitness and has done well when given a chance in the first team (albeit against Maidstone).

Here are the squad stats so far this season. Clay isn’t included as he’s still being punished in the reserves, and I forgot about that when I took the screenshot:

Screenshot of Grimsby's player statsThe only ever present this season is keeper James McKeown, although left back Gregor Robertson has featured in every match so far (with one appearance coming from the bench). I could do with some back-up in that department as Danny East plays much better at right back. Arnold has impressed with 8 assists from the left wing, and Mackreth has weighed in with 5 from the right. Monkhouse and Cofie remain useful from the bench.

I’ve got a couple of tricky league games up next, and then a tough FA Cup 2nd round match at League 1 Gillingham. The next time I play the game it’ll probably be in the full release, as the game is officially launched tomorrow (Friday 13th November).

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Early goals, average ratings, curse of the ex – but we’re still up there!

Well, I’m 11 games into my first season as Grimsby Town boss and we’re 4th in what 99% of us still call the Conference. We’ll have none of that ‘Vanarama National League’ rubbish round here! Things are going steady. We’ve won six, drawn three and lost two, scoring a healthy 21 goals and conceding 12. Tranmere lead the way with 23 points, then it’s Torquay (also on 23), Lincoln on 22 and then us on 21.

Are there any bugs in FM16?

As this is the beta version it’s almost expected that one or two oddities will be in the game. The only things I’ve noticed so far is that central midfielders tend to get very low ratings (Disley and Clay are averaging 6.55) and there tends to be an early goal scored in just about every match I play – but these things may be down to the way I set my teams up, so it’s difficult to say one way or the other.

I’ve also noticed that ex-players are almost certain to score against you. While we’re having a good season, it hasn’t stopped Richard Brodie, Ross Hannah and Connor Jennings finding the back of our net (and there was an assist in there for Sam Hatton too). But when you’ve used as many players as Grimsby Town have over the last few years the likelihood of a former Mariner coming back to haunt us is higher than with most other teams.

Season 2015/16 season results so far

A Kidderminster 3-1

H Barrow 2-2

H Bromley 2-0

A Altrincham 3-0

H Torquay 0-1

A Lincoln 0-2

H Macclesfield 3-1

A Boreham Wood 3-1

H Aldershot 3-2

A Chester 1-1

H Tranmere 1-1

Following an injury to Toto Nsiala I brought in young Doncaster centre back Ben Askins, but he had a nightmare debut in our defeat at Lincoln. Luckily Shaun Pearson was back from suspension for the home game against Macclesfield – a game we won comfortably after falling behind to one of those early goals I mentioned.

We continue to look good going forward

The partnership between Bogle and Amond continues to flourish (as it does in real life), which means John Cofie’s appearances have mostly been from the bench. He did start the last two games, however, after Bogle picked up a niggle. Jon-Paul Pittman opened his account for the season coming on as a sub against leaders Tranmere, netting late on. That game claimed I had just 24% possession, despite playing 4-4-2.

Bogle has nine for the season, Amond five and Arnold two (plus five assists). Bogle has the highest average rating (7.90), then Arnold (7.16), then Pearson (7.06). As mentioned earlier, Disley and Clay have the worst average ratings.

Transfer dealings

Askins’ loan has expired (he made just one more appearance as a late sub) so I’ve moved to replace him with another Donny reserve player – Paul McKay, who my bald scout reckons is a quality player. The fans have been excited by the loan of Matty Dixon from Hull, by the way. With an average rating of 6.6 I’m not sure I get why they’re so excited.

I’ve also brought in 19-year old defensive midfielder Michael Freiter on loan from Gillingham for three months, given that I have absolutely nobody in my squad capable of playing in that position. My assistant Chris Doig is sounding like a broken record, telling me we’re being overrun in midfield at least three times every game, so I like to have an option of playing a 4-1-3-2 – or even a 4-1-4-1 – in the future.

Defensive death wish

What I have discovered is that there’s little point setting up your team to play defensively. It just doesn’t seem to work at this level. You make them compact, disciplined and difficult to break down, but all that seems to do is invite constant pressure and plenty of shots. The best form of defence, in the Conference at least, really is to attack.

I finish the month of September with away games at Wrexham and Southport, who are both lower-mid table. I’ll be back soon with another update.

 

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Introducing my Grimsby Town save on FM16

FM16 intro screenHello there! It’s been a while since my mood was last affected by electrical impulses, and even longer since I last blogged about it. That’s because, as usual, my enthusiasm for Football Manager wained somewhere between April and June, when the real life football wound down for another season and the real life Grimsby Town failed in the Conference play-offs for a third consecutive season. But I’m back with a bang! That’s because FM16 entered my life yesterday in the most unexpected way when I discovered my wife had ordered it for me as a gift through Steam – and, as most seasoned campaigners will know, pre-ordering the game allows you to play the beta two weeks before it’s physically released.

The beginning of a beautiful FM16 campaign

Let’s get straight into it. I’ve begun, as I always do, by taking charge of Grimsby Town. As an incredibly slow player at the best of times it saves precious hours learning who the hell is in my squad and working out their strengths and weaknesses.

I’ve also chosen to run the ‘Touch’ version – what was previously termed the ‘classic’ version (or FMC) – rather than the ‘full fat’ version, again to give me as much assistance as possible to whizz through the seasons. Tunnel interviews and team talks are enjoyable until the novelty wears off, and then I find them tedious obstructions.

There’s a nice little option when setting up a new save that allows you to begin your campaign at the end of pre-season (for those who can’t be arsed to deal with all those friendlies). For me that’s wasting precious practice time, when I can build an effective formation and develop decent tactics.

I’ve also decided to use the dark skin option on Touch (or FMT, which it’ll no doubt be called) as this makes it feel a little less childish than previous versions. A cynic might be tempted to suggest this slimmed down, stipped back version is becoming cluttered with information, but crucially it doesn’t get in the way of you progressing as quickly as you’d like.

Getting stuck into it

Grimsby Town squad screen on FM16When I meet my players for the first time there are three long-term absentees – Scott Brown (ankle), Marcus Marshall (medial ligaments) and Jon-Paul Pittman (thigh). None are expected back any time sooner than mid-September. That left me with just two fit strikers, Padraig Amond and Omar Bogle (who I’d previously managed on FM13 during my Solihull save), so I set about finding a new striker.

That’s when I realised I didn’t have a scout. There are no decent ones out there. The best I could find was some slaphead who had 8 for judging player ability and naff all else. He did help me find John Cofie, though. He scored just 56 seconds into his debut (which was a friendly at Belper, so not strictly his debut, but you know what I mean).

The squad is just about there, although a bit thin in central midfield beyond the two Craigs, Clay and Disley. I manage to bring in Matty Dixon on a three-month loan from Hull, to cover in the centre and out wide on the right, then discover he’s injured and won’t be back until our first game of the season at Kidderminster.

Pre-season

Grimsby Town fixtures screen on FM16My first match is a comfortable 2-0 home win over Grantham, followed by a 6-1 demolition of Belper where Cofie scored two goals inside the first five minutes. Things went a bit awry at Harrogate, where we lost 2-1, and we did well to limit a strong Sunderland side to just a one-goal victory. It was looking really ropey when 2-1 down at Mossley with just 15 minutes ago, but we came back to win that one in a game where we created more than enough chances to win very, very comfortably.

Disley had a poor pre-season, but Danny East, Nathan Arnold, Bogle and Amond all did well – as did Nathan Arnold and young prospect Harry Clifton, who scored in the 3-2 win at Mossley. Cofie scored three in two starts but picked up an injury that meant he wasn’t quite ready for the curtain-raiser at Kiddy.

The 2015/16 season so far

Conference table screen on FM16As you can see, I’ve only played three games. I was pretty happy with the 3-1 win at Kidderminster in what was a fairly even game, but we really cocked things up at home to Barrow. The visitors were reduced to 10 men just before half time with the score at 1-1. Bogle made it 2-1 and it should’ve been a routine win, but Clay picked up a second yellow and we conceded an equaliser late on.

That was all rectified in what was a dominant performance against Bromley, who currently sit bottom of the league. Bogle has three in three, and Amond scored on his debut at Kiddy, so we’ve been good going forward. We’re not watertight at the back by any means, but I was pleased to record our first shut-out against Bromley before it became a bit of a niggly nuisance.

I’ve managed to achieve all this in one lazy Sunday afternoon. On FM13 I remember completing a full season in just over two weeks, and that for me is incredible pace. I’ll be back soon, no doubt, with another update.

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Mystic Rich is right – the slide begins

I suspected as much. Top of the table after four games, now outside the play-offs after 13 games. When something amazing happens you hear commentators say that you couldn’t write the script. Well I’m the opposite of that analogy. Sadly – and I do mean sadly – my script was written before the season started, and we’re following it to the bloody letter.

Let’s get the whiny bit out of the way first – the bit that makes me sound like I’m blaming the run of results on stuff out of my control. We’ve had a few injuries.

Jack Mackreth, who admittedly isn’t an automatic first teamer, has missed the last few games.

Ryan Jarvis, my big striker signing of the summer, has only just come back into the reckoning after being injured since pre-season.

Will Atkinson, the player who was meant to set my midfield alight, is out for two to three months (and he didn’t bother to set anything alight before dislocating his shoulder).

Jeremy Balmy, the Frenchman from Notts County I brought in to replace Mackreth can’t play for two weeks because he’s got a poorly face. Soft bastard.

And Lenell John-Lewis, who’s scored 7 in 12, is out with a damaged heel.

Of the nine games I’ve played since the last update, we’ve won three, drawn four and lost two. Our first defeat of the season came at Alfreton, who were sat right behind us in second. I accepted it gracefully.

Grimsby's fixtures so far in 2015/16

We then had a favourable run against teams that were doing shit all down near the bottom. We failed to punish Harrogate in a game where they failed to have a single shot on target, and then followed that up with a disgusting 1-1 draw at home to Nuneaton, in which Eoghan Stokes scored his debut goal.

There then followed two very winnable games at Blundell Park against Chester and Sutton. We dealt with Chester the way all promotion hunting teams should deal with painfully average sides, scoring well and not giving them a sniff. But then, inexplicably, the players found themselves 2-0 down at half time to newly promoted Sutton. John-Lewis and Aswad Thomas of all people got us level, but despite the opposition playing the last half an hour with 10 men we failed to get a winner.

Then we lost 3-0 at Barnet, who were insanely good. Keanu Marsh-Brown ripped us a new hole in the first half, scoring a hat-trick (although I was left more impressed with the way that our up-until-then tight defence were made to look like a bunch over overweight Sunday league cloggers).

All of which means we now find ourselves outside the play-offs (see below), with a tricky looking tie at Northampton to come.

Conference table at the end of September

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Back into it: the Grimsby save continues – second season starts

Well it only took me five months to complete my first full season as Grimsby Town manager on FM15. Even by my standards, that’s slow. But the crucial thing is that I’m beginning to enjoy it – much more so than I was back in November and December, when I struggled to accept SI’s claim that the game wasn’t ‘buggy’. It was. But last week, when I had the burning desire to return to the game, I noticed there were several updates to install, and since then everything has been smooth – and enjoyable.

I had about eight games left of my first season to play. We had fallen out of the play-offs and looked certainties for a mid-table finish, and despite winning five of those eight (drawing two and losing one) we still only managed 9th – six points short of the play-offs – which was disappointing for me but acceptable for the board.

Shaun Pearson, one of the nicest, dedicated and most loyal non-league players you’re ever likely to meet in real life, was an absolute nob on the game. Despite being my best and most consistent performer, he refused to sign a new contract. The sticking point was his demands for a quite ludicrous £1,500 a week, which was far, far above his existing deal of £650 a week. I’ve played four games of my second season and so I can reveal he got his move to a League 2 club, but he’s actually on just £600 a week at Bury. Work that one out.

Scott Neilson was another greedy bastard when it came to contract negotiations. I was having none of it, so he left in the summer too. He’s being a tosser at Tranmere, if you’re interested. Ross Hannah, my 15-goal striker, proved a prickly customer when it came to money. I eventually managed to persuade York’s Ryan Jarvis to join us for less than what Hannah was asking, so he was shown the door. He’s still without a club.

In all honesty, the change in personnel was relatively low-key for a Conference club. I made five signings that would be considered first teamers, plus a loan and a back-up. Southend’s versatile midfielder Will Atkinson, Bristol Rovers’ towering centre back Mark McCrystal, Scunthorpe’s Andrew Boyce and Wimbledon’s winger Chris Arthur all joined Jarvis in travelling to the east coast for a crack at promotion. Like the board’s expectations for the season, my wage budget has risen – just a bit – and I’m expected to get the team in the play-offs, reach the first round of the FA Cup and semi-finals of the FA Trophy. Or else.

Right now I’m ok with that. My first four games of the season have gone well – an opening day 1-1 draw at home to the much fancied Forest Green has been followed by a 3-1 win at Telford, a 1-0 home win over relegated Wimbledon and a remarkable 4-0 win at Eastleigh, who had won their first three games of the season. Next up is a home game against 17th placed Woking.

I think that brings you up to date for now. I’m sure I’ll be back before long with another update, which will probably detail our fall from grace and struggle to get back into the play-off places in a manner that mirrors the events of last season.

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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