Happy New FM15 Year! I haven’t played my Clapton save for a few days as I have been letting the blogs I had written in advance catch up. We are now very much back in real time, and I am genuinely excited about pushing The Tons forward in the remainder of the 2015/16 season. Offline, I have been looking at ways that I can tweak the Strikerless formation that we are using and seeing if there is anyway I can tighten up a touch defensively, whilst losing none of our attacking brilliance – and I think I may have done, so we shall see how it pans out this month.
What have I tweaked? I have been looking at our defensive shape a bit. When I say “looking” I don’t mean to the extent some of the brilliant FM15 tacticians look at it, I haven’t delved into barrow loads of stats, analysed the matches in full-mode or anything like that. I have just noticed that my back four shape isn’t tight at times even though we are winning. Having listened to the excellent @statisticalapproach on the weekly @fm_central show last week I decided to have a look at playing a Limited Defender and Ball-playing Defender combination at the back and for some reason I was suddenly thinking about George Graham and his Arsenal side of the late 80’s, early 90’s. I remember one of the midfielders, maybe Merson, telling a story about training with George. It went something like, and this is very much my version of what I can remember, “all we ever did on training was work on our defensive shape, making sure the back four were always in the right places. George used to tell them that they would all play until 40 if they always defended like this. I remember thinking, ‘yeah they will George, they don’t have to run – us lot will be finished by 28 as we are running all over the place closing everyone down like dogs on heat.”
It got me thinking about the way Clapton are playing with @merryguido’s excellent Strikerless formation. It was time for me to look into some of the individual player instructions and see if there was anything there that I could tweak and make us a little more solid. Having looked at them, I decided that I was going to ask each member of the back four to close down less, which seemed to be the complete opposite of closing down the opposition all over the place. My theory was that when we don’t have the ball, I hopefully have six players further up the pitch looking to win it back as quickly as possible, and my back four should really be thinking only about getting their positioning right. Do I really want my left back trying to win it on the edge of their area? Sure, if he does, great, but more often than not I would rather he was getting back and making the right shape. So, not revolutionary changes to the set-up, hopefully subtle modifications that might make a difference, we shall see.
January looked like this for us:
We were to start the New Year by entertaining Brentwood, down in 16th place, at The Old Spotted Dog. The benefit of the last game of 2015 being postponed was that the lads were looking fresh, and I fully expected to go out and get three points. Barney was still on the injured list, so Ronnie Green kept his place in the attacking midfield trio and Hennessy was still a while off playing again so I stuck with Cookie playing deeper. 2016 is a year that holds much promise for us, four points clear with two games in hand so I really want no slip ups!
The first ten minutes concerned me, Green tamely put the ball in their ‘keeper’s arms when he had all the time in the world, then Gilfedder missed from three yards after their ‘keeper fumbled a cross from Cooper. Pretty much everything we did in the first half was half arsed and average, so I had a quiet word at half time. It seemed to make a difference, as Nade struck after 48, hammering home at the near post following a very patient move. Wroked you say? They levelled straight away, free header from a free kick. I finally lost patience with Green and threw on Barney, a bit of a risk as he wasn’t completely fit. Our finishing continued to be dire, Osborne shooting aimlessly wide when a great chance presented itself, and then bang – 2-1 down as they followed up a saved shot quicker than we did. We didn’t even create another chance from there, so 2016 started with me in quite a bad mood! Did I choose the wrong time to tinker with a style that was working really well? I hope not, and I am not going to change it back off the back of that. I don’t think it was the tactics that failed today, I think we just forgot how to pass, move and shoot! That was very much a game in handed wasted.
I had four days to lick my wounds and decide on a side to face VCD, away. I decided on two changes, Barney back in for Green and Osborne for Cookie. With a game on the Tuesday and then on the Friday the issue of freshness started to play on my mind again, but on the back of a defeat I was not going to let myself get drawn into “rotation.” Win the game first, worry about everything else later.
VCD are currently 6th, so I gave the lads a team talk that I hoped would relax them a bit and off we went. We controlled the opening passages of play, and another poor cross from Cooper was only half-cleared after 22 minutes. The ball fell to Osborne who fired us ahead. Suddenly we started to play, Heathy starting a move from the back and it went through the trio of Barney, Gilfedder and Nade before Nade dinked it home with a delightful little finish. 2-0! VCD pulled one back on the hour, a cracking goal from a corner and I faced the dilemma – try and shut the game up or keep things as they were? I decided to stay as it was. It was the right call was Gilfedder finally found his shooting boots, getting his 22nd of the season from close range. I decided to try our slightly more defensive “close a game out” strategy. We switched to “counter”, dropped a bit deeper and became less expressive and scored the 4th four minutes later, hitting them on the break – Ronnie Green getting it. Nade made it five after a mistake in their defence and we closed the game out in a pleasing manner. After the blip against Brentwood this was the perfect follow-up, and made the gap four points again. A great win was marred in the aftermath by my physio, Steve Snelling, telling me that Barney was out for another four weeks, this time with a twisted knee.
The re-arranged fixture with Potters Bar was next up. Axten had picked up his 5th yellow so was going to miss the game – meaning a chance for Callum Nimmo. Green was down to slot back in for Barney. I was looking forward to the fixtures settling down again, back into Saturday matches. Potters Bar had been moved to a Thursday, then the next game was on a Tuesday, then we get a run of Saturday only matches which means rest in between. Gateshead offered me an interview, no thank you. On the day of the game my main concern was, as expected, freshness. Ebsworth, Osborne, Batti and Clarke were all way under 85%. Potters Bar were down in 23rd place, they shouldn’t pose us too much of a problem, but I still wasn’t keen to rest all four. In the end I switched Ebsworth out for Herron and kept my fingers crossed. If the game was won then I would take Batti off as early as possible.
Never, ever again think about what I will do if the game is won early. We were terrible, rotten, horrible to watch today. Worse than at Brentwood. We couldn’t pass, cross, finish for toffee. They got a well deserved winner with five minutes to go. I cannot even describe how poor we were. As you can see below, we had one shot on target and that was weak and feeble. The two games in hand have now gone, and we have a four point lead still at least. Things need to improve!
I had to switch off and walk away for a bit after that last game. Normally I can bang a month out no problems, but for the first time into this project I have started to lose a bit of love and interest.
(Ten days later) I’ve started a save with FC Carl Zeiss Jena in Germany which I have no intention of writing about, as well as lining up a pretty big Real Oviedo project that I will definitely be committing to getting online and the Clapton dream has taken a bit of a back seat. Having said that, just re-reading some of the stuff I have written has got me thinking about getting back into Clapton, committing an hour a day to playing and writing on the project. Having posted so much, and really caring about it at one point, it would be a shame to let it slip away after a couple of disappointing performances. One thing I am not going to do, though, is change the tactics back to what they were before the turn of the FM year – I am convinced that this must have just been a sticky patch, and we had such an amazing start to the season that it feels like the wheels have fallen off!
I’ll finish off the month in the next week or so, hope people are still enjoying the rambling….
Follow me on Twitter: @comeontheoviedo
FM15 Blog: www.comeontheoviedo.wordpress.com
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