Tag Archives: tactics

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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Part VIII: The toys have left the pram

Oh my god, we’re actually awful. I mean, we’re falling to pieces.

That sliding sound is our season going down the pan. You know that really rubbish run of results that got me sacked at Chorley? Well, the same’s happening here.

One win in nine. Six points from a possible 27. And my defence, which knew how to keep the occasional clean sheet to get my strikers off the hook, has dissolved. It’s crumbled. Something has officially ‘gone wrong’.

Queen's Park results - 1 win in 9

We’re now 8th and looking nervously over our shoulders at Stranraer and Albion, who are slowly closing in on us.

Technically, because I’m not getting paid to manage Queen’s Park, it’s not my full time profession – therefore it’s technically not possible to be ‘unprofessional’.

Which is handy, because I’m now going to a) blame my players, and then b) blame the game.

Yes, I’m lashing out.

Right, firstly I think it’s worth pointing out that we scored in our last six consecutive games. Sadly, five of them were defeats, and a four were heavy. We conceded three at home to East Fife, four against Dumbarton and Airdrie, and a magnificent five against Ayr.

In three of those four heavy defeats, their star striker scored a hat-trick, and each of those defeats followed a similar pattern:

No matter what formation, personnel or mentality I start with, the opposition scores from their first attack – normally the player I told centre back Adam Cummins to mark, and normally within the first 10 minutes.

If there’s a danger man highlighted by my scout before the game, he has a worldy. There’s no stopping him.

We miss all the chances we create – which aren’t many, to be truthful. Strikers are missing sitters and the keeper’s having ‘one of those games’.

They’re having ‘four of those games’ in my case.

It’s normally 2-0 before half time when one of their unstoppable wingers (who puts in 430 unstoppable crosses) has a ‘he certainly didn’t mean that!’ moment.

Goals three, four (and sometimes) five follow. With the game well out of sight and, ironically, my tactics all over the place because I was chasing the game, this is when we usually get our goal.

Every goal comes from a cross. I’ve tried marking the wingers, I’ve tried standing off them. I’ve tried closing them down, staying on my feet… nothing works. I am powerless to stop crosses – and my two centre backs, who are decent in the air if nothing else, lose every header.

And those six goals I’ve scored? They’ve all come in the last 10 minutes (81, 83, 85, 87 and two on 89, to be precise).

My latest defeat – 3-1 to East Fife – included everything I’ve just covered. The concession of an early goal; two down by half time; a hat-trick for their star striker who I tried to mark out of the game; all goals from crosses.

We had 17 shots. They had 17 shots. We had 52% possession, and clear cut chances were two apiece.

I’ve played 50 games now, as boss of Chorley and Queen’s Park, and I’ve scored a magnificent total of 41. My win percentage is a rather pathetic 24.

I knew it wouldn’t be long, given that record, before I resorted to a massive, childish whinge. And when I work out how to get my tactics right in the future, I’ll read this article back and probably feel a teensy weensy bit silly.

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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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Laboured draws after FM hiatus

I’ve been on one of those unplanned FM hiatuses, where I hadn’t played or even thought about the game for a little while. So when I finally got back into my Solihull save after an absence of two months I realised I had forgotten all my little tactical tricks. You know the kind – the subtle tweaks here and there that make very little difference, but because they worked once against Worksop you think they’ll work every time.

I had a look at the 4-4-2 tactic which had got us 7th in the table after 10 games but realised very quickly that it wasn’t particularly clever or elaborate. My players were knackered from their exertions against Shepshed Dynamo and were in no state to travel to Harrogate Town, who were sitting pretty in second position with eight wins from their 10 league games so far this season. We laboured to a 1-1 draw, which I was pretty happy with, given that I felt I was coming back into this save relatively blind.

In fact, ‘laboured’ is the word I’d describe my last five performances since re-introducing myself to the Moors. A 1-1 home draw against Workington was followed by a 2-1 away defeat at Tamworth, which dumped me out of the FA Cup in the fourth qualifying round. So I’m yet to reach the first round proper in my three years at the club.

My three strikers of Stephen Reynolds, Ross Wilson and Jamar Dobson were struggling to play twice a week. None of them were able to start games in decent condition. But with no money to bring any other strikers into the club – and seemingly no one available to loan, according to my scout – we just had to soldier on. And it was no surprise when we drew 0-0 at lowly Blyth.

The final game of this little FM spurt came at home to local rivals Hinckley – another side doing nothing in mid-table and one that was asking for a hiding. The condition and morale of my strikers was at such a low and desperate point that I actually dug 38-year old Stern John out of my reserve team for the clash. My assitant manager tells me that, despite his age, he’s still a very good player. I wish he’d show it in games. For the past season and a half he’s been terrible. I had to bring him off at half time in this match because he was so tired.

The game finished 1-1, so that’s four draws in the league and one defeat in the cup. I’ve also got a shitty away draw at Conference South side Oxford City in the FA Trophy third qualifying round, which hasn’t pleased me.

14 games into my third season with Solihull and we’re 8th in the Conference North, with six wins, five draws, three defeats, 22 goals scored and 13 conceded. We’re four points adrift of the play-offs.

I feel like I need to bring in reinforcements but there is literally no one out there who I can afford (and who is better than what I’ve already got). Wilson and Reynolds are two of the division’s best strikers but both have hit bad form at the same time. And my midfield has no consistency. I don’t know who my two best central midfielders are. It should be Will Roberts and Junior English, but Jay Denny, Alex Price and Andy Gooding put in a 7.20+ performance to win their place in the side and then always follow that up with two 6.10 performances.

Left winger Tommy Taylor is permanently knackered. It’s not been a bad season, really, but it feels like things are unravelling a bit. The only consistently good player is Conor Roberts-Nurse, whose average rating is 7.46 after 18 games. Sometimes it feels like it’s just him keeping us together.

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