Welcome back folks, this FM15 journey continues at pace!
September was on me before I knew it and we opened it up with a home fixture against VCD who were down in tenth place. Their season, as their position suggested, had been a mixed bag – some wins, some draws, some losses. Heathy was back and available, so reclaimed the number one jersey from Coote and I decided to also recall Ebsworth who had completed his ban. Barney’s injury meant a start for Ronnie Green, and young Charlie Goldberg was called up from the U21’s to take a spot on the bench. September was going to be a busy month with five league fixtures scheduled, as well as an FA Cup qualifier, so I was keen to see us get it off to a good start.
It wasn’t the best performance so far, but goals from Green and Cooper saw us take all three points with a 2-1 win. VCD were down to ten for 40 minutes, but we didn’t capatilise and in the end I was relieved to take the points. I probably gave my worst post-match teamtalk ever, leaving the lads pretty confused and demotivated to a man, so hopefully that will not have caused too many problems for the trip to Aylesbury United on Saturday. Freshness is also concerning me, lots of the lads have dropped to below 50% after this match. We are, however, still top of the division.
Aylesbury United, for me probably best known for playing England in a pre-Euro 88 friendly and Cliff Hercules nearly scoring, currently sit 7th in the table – so I was ready for our toughest game yet. Their main striker, Blair Anderson, needed to be watched as he had seven in four games so far. Despite concerns about players being fresh, I decided to name the same eleven for the game – if I changed one player for being sub 75% conditioning I would needed to have changed 8, so fingers crossed we ‘d have enough to kill this game off early. That wasn’t available to me, as we dug in for a defiant 2-1 victory. Kieron Osborne put us ahead early on, with a close range finish following an uncharacteristic goalmouth scramble. In the 78th minute we got lucky, their centre back rifling pat the ‘keeper from six yards. In injury time they pulled one back but we held on, tired but victorious for the seventh straight league game this season, and quite a few more than that overall from what I recall from our run in last season. Aylesbury were the toughest side we have played yet, and we did ourselves justice by winning a battle rather than just outplaying the opposition.
By the time Aveley came to The Old Spotted Dog we were five points clear at the top as lost to Malden & Tiptree. I named an unchanged side for the match. Ronnie Green got us off to a brilliant start, scoring after just 18 seconds, but it took two excellent saves by Dan Heath to ensure we came in at the break 1-0 up. We needed Heathy to be at his best again twice in the second half, before Gilfedder got on the end of two right wing crosses to take his tally to ten for the season, and earn us another three points in a convincing 3-0 win. Eight from eight now.
Saturday 19th brought the biggest clash of the Isthmian D1N so far this season – The Tons travelled to second place Dereham. This was a game that was going to tell me how good we were. In the build up to the match there was the FA Cup 2nd Qualifying Round draw, in which we drew Burnham Ramblers, currently 5th in the division. The draw could have been kinder, that’s for sure. There was more bad news as Kieron Osborne was ruled out for the next seven weeks with a hernia. It was a tight affair, Heathy again kept us level in the first half with another top save, but they took the lead early in the second half. We then went through the gears, Gilfedder forced two unbelievable saves from their ‘keeper before Nade headed home from close range to get us level. Axten, already on a yellow, clumsily chopped down their striker way after the final whistle should have gone and will now miss a couple of games. The point means we still have a five point gap at the top though, I am a very happy manager at this point in time.
Wingate & Finchley were our next opponents. Going into the game without my skipper, Axten, was an unfortunate selection dilemma. Well, not really a dilemma as such as Nimmo slotted straight in and young Em Hassan was on the bench. Looking at the side selected, it occurred to me that my squad had some depth, we were going into this game without Barney, Axten, Osborne and Herron and I still felt we had enough to get a win. After 40 minutes I was not so sure, we were 2-0 down and not playing well. Luckily X pulled one pack to have the deficit before the half-time whistle and I was able to tear into the lads before being a bit softer on an individual basis. It did the trick as Nade won us a penalty that Gilfedder fired home for the leveller. Their goalkeeper punched a corner into his own net to put us ahead before Humm got himself sent off for a second yellow. With all of the back four on yellow cards after 65 minutes, one was bound to go. I dropped Nade into a deeper midfield role and he scored twice to put us 5-2 ahead. In the 90th Pulford chopped down their striker for the second pen of the game, duly dispatched so it ended 5-3. Nade won MOM, but for me it was Heathy who made two great saves when we were 2-0 down, having a top ‘keeper is really showing this season. Dereham got thumped at Ware tonight so we are now six points clear at the top, with Thurrock moving up into 2nd place.
There wasn’t much time to prepare for the FA Cup game against Burnham, so I was keeping my fingers crossed that players would recover in time. Axten would be back, and would come straight in for the suspended Humm. Nade twisted his ankle at the end of the Wingate & Finchley game and is going to be out for 6-7 weeks, which is a major blow, coupled with Daniel Moloney picking up a dead leg, which he will not recover from in time for Saturday. Adam Carrick will slot into the deeper midfield slot, but I am not totally convinced that young Charlie Goldberg is ready to be the pivot in the Treq role. After some thought, I decided to push Daryn Hennessy forward into that position and bring in Blake to play the deeper midfield role. The team was starting to look unrecognisable.
We went into the FA Cup tie a little nervous, as once again it was unchartered territory for The Tons. Goodness knows when we last played in it, but the furthest the club had got was the Third Round in 1924/25! I would say sit back and watch the game here but the video highlights are going to take over an hour to load on to YouTube, and I don’t have enough battery 🙂 We hammered Burnham 5-1, a really dominant performance. Could we have a an FA Cup adventure to rival the FA Vase jaunt last season? Who knows, but what a performance from Cookie off the bench. I have been training him to be a DLP, but after that performance playing as one of the deeper midfield runners I might well change my mind. Two goals and an assist is a great start. Sadly, the reason he was brought on was as Adam Carrick broke his leg. Other than that, all in all, it was a very good first run out in the FA Cup and on we roll!
In between the FA Cup tie and the final September fixture I was offered an interview with Bristol Rovers. It was very nice to see the offers becoming more glamorous, but I declined, again, as my future is definitely with The Tons. The 3rd Qualifying Round draw was made, and we pulled out either Cadbury Heath or Aveley, another two teams that, frankly, I know nothing about. Cadbury then won their replay, and we will face them on October 10th. They are in the Western Prem, which I am presuming is the equivalent of the Isthmian Prem, and the media have predicted them to win it, so I would imagine we have been given a tough draw. Oh, and Hereford came in for me. I said no.
For the Ware game, I recalled Humm after his ban and gave Cookie his first start as he did so well coming off the bench in the cup. Moloney was fit enough for the bench. Ware were managerless, down in 20th place, but had beaten Dereham this season so we had to be vigilant. Vigilant we were, and brilliant we were. Gilfedder put us ahead after nine minutes, Humm nicked a second after twelve and we dispatched another three in the second half, another for Gilfedder, and one each for Green and Moloney. 5-0, and a long month ended on a high. We sit six points clear of Thurrock at the top of the table and I really hope we can push on in October.
What a month. I really hope October matches it. I’ll be back very soon to update you with the next bit of the Clapton adventure on FM15.
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Author of the “Johnny Cooper, Championship Manager” series available on Amazon here
Read the first chapter of “The Second Season Syndrome” at www.chrisdarwen.com