Welcome back folks, and welcome back to my FM15 Clapton Corner save. I have decided to change the design of the blog to hopefully make it a little easier to navigate, let me know if you like it. It has been a while since I have been anywhere near this, having thrown my toys out of the pram before Christmas as we had lost a couple of games. For those of you joining me for the first time, this part of my blog is about the challenge I set myself, taking Clapton FC (one of the oldest “amateur” clubs in England and former winners of the FA Amateur Cup) to the Football League, in an ideal situation, playing a brand of football that is supposed to be impossible in the lower leagues – @merryguido’s Strikerless.
We got promoted from the Essex Senior League in the first season and finished runners up in the FA Vase. Season Two to date has been really good, we top the Isthmian D1N and we got to the FA Cup First Round proper, where we lost in a replay to Portsmouth. However, the start of January 2016 has not been that great, since I tinkered with the tactic slightly (foolishly trying to make it a little more defensively solid) we have lost two of the first three games since New Year. At the end of the last blog I did promise not to go back to the original tactic, but having slept on it for a fortnight I have decided to go back to what I know and trust.
Now, the updates should become weekly following this – I am quite busy at the moment with www.realtimeoviedo.wordpress.com as well as being asked to write for www.footballmanagercentral.com so I will try and crack out at least a month at a time with each Clapton helping. If you want more, let me know.
What’s coming up for Clapton FC between now and the end of February? You can see from the fixtures below that we have eight games in theory, quite a lot to get through so I might end up breaking Jan/Feb up into two updates, let’s see how we do!
Re-familiarising myself with the squad I recalled that central defender Clarke had pulled a hammy in the last game and will be out for a month. Along with skipper Axten being suspended it meant I was looking light in the heart of my defence for the home fixture against Aylesbury at the weekend.
Aylesbury were down in eleventh place, so I was hoping that some new energy put into this save would see us pick up all three points and open the gap up to six points at the top. The squad looked fairly fresh, and with reverting back to the original Strikerless set-up I was confident that we would put on a good show at The Old Spotted Dog. Young Hass gave us a great start, 1-0 up from a corner in the first ten minutes. Greeny doubled the lead after 25, a proper strikerless goal full of movement, sharp passing and a cross to the near post. Gilly made it 3 just before half time, yet another brilliant move working the ball through the midfield, people dropping into space to receive the ball and Gilly arriving Lineker-esque at the far post to slide in and score. The second half saw the pace drop and Aylesbury scored in the 70th, poor defending from a corner. But Gilly got his second and his 24th of the season by tapping in from a goalkeeping error in the last minute. Ok, we shipped one straight after that and it ended 4-2 but we’re back baby, we’re back!
We were off to Aveley next, who can clearly score goals but look a bit leaky at the back! The Axeman was back after suspension so I put him back in to partner young Hass and centre back, Nimmo dropping to the bench. Other than that I was set on the same eleven, some of the attacking play against Aylesbury was top drawer. Although I was preaching that we were back after Aylesbury I knew this game would tell me a lot about where we are at as a team. We didn’t start well, we missed a couple of good chances early on then Heathy got chipped from thirty yards having rushed out of his area to sweep up a through ball. It woke us up though, Moloney firing us level from the edge of the area almost immediately. The Axeman put us 2-1 up, stealing in at the near post from a Greeny free kick and we got the break still ahead, just. Ten minutes to go and Gilly picked up on a bad back pass to make it 3-1 before heading home an Osbourne cross for his second and our fourth. Oh yes, Clapton are back on the promotion charge! With Thurrock not having a game, we opened the gap at the top up to nine points and the significance of the win could well be massive.
We had a week to recharge our batteries before the visit of 6th placed Dereham. Hennessy resumed full training in the week so I was considering putting him on the bench. Thurrock got a last minute winner against Potters Bar so it was a six-point lead going into the game. We needed Heathy to be at his best in the first five minutes, he made a terrific save 1v1 but could do nothing as they went ahead after eight, a shot from close range. We were terrible all half, and they had many chances to go further ahead but failed to even hit the target. Then, in first half injury time, we clicked and a great move presented Greeny with a one-yard tap-in, which he took. 1-1 at the break. We struggled to get going again in the second half and then Heathy came and flapped at a cross, missed it, and we were 2-1 down. I switched to an overload in the hope of saving the game. It backfired and we were quickly 3-1 down, really poor defending. It was not a good day at The Dog; one I need to move on from quickly! The team got an almighty kicking in the changing room; Thurrock had won so the gap was back to a mere three points.
The last match in January was a trip to relegation threatened Wingate & Finchley. I decided against making lots of changes, preferring to see if the post-match telling off against Dereham would have an impact. I did, however, drop young Hass who really struggled last time out. Nimmo was in for him. Twelve minutes in Gilly set up Ossy for 1-0. The Axeman quickly doubled the lead, could this be a confidence boosting hammering? It looked that way when Gilly slipped in at the far post for three. Wave after wave of attack from our right wing, Coops had his crossing boots on, delivering another beauty that ended up as an OG. 4-0 at half time. I was able to give Barney a run out following injury in the second half, it was good to see him available again as he is a cracking option in the attacking midfield. He was straight into it, hitting the post after seventy minutes. He then finished with real aplomb after eighty, top corner from a tight angle. We weren’t great in the second period, but it was efficient. Job done, an easy three points picked up, even with them nicking an injury-time consolation.
So, at the end of January we held a three-point lead over Thurrock. It’s only us two in the title race now I think, looking at how far behind the others are. I hate being over confident, but I would be amazed if we failed to get promoted this season, sure we have lost a few games recently but we are still capable of smashing anyone. There are fifteen games left, which I have decided whilst writing this update that I will break into five game slots regardless of the month, so there will be three more updates this season (unless we end up in some kind of promotion play-off issue).
A little gentle, ease us back into Clapton start to 2015 in the real world – I hope you enjoyed it.
See you very soon.
Follow me on Twitter: @comeontheoviedo
Author of the “Johnny Cooper, Championship Manager” series – available on Amazon
Read the first chapter of “Johnny Cooper, Championship Manager: The Second Season Syndrome” at www.chrisdarwen.com