Hello folks, and welcome to the now daily update of #TheJenaJourney – my #FM15 challenge to race Paul of FM Central to the Bundesliga. He is Magdeburg in his own save, I am manager of FC Carl Zeiss Jena and I am aiming to get my side into the top tier of German football quicker than him.
We finished off last night with a gutting loss at Hertha Berlin, 3-2, and I started the save today with a horrible 13-day-wait for the next fixture, a home league game against Sandhausen. We have just three league games before the winter break, two totally winable being Sandhausen and Wehen. The other game is a biggie, FSV Frankfurt, who hammered us 6-1 first game of the season, but are now second bottom – so in many ways you could argue all three are there for the taking. We also have the next round of the German Cup, a tricky game against Bundesliga Stuttgart.
By the time the Sandhausen game rocked around we were in third place, Fortuna had won their game in hand and now had a three point lead over us. Hertha were hot on our tails, one point behind with a game in hand. I don’t often mention financials in my writing, but as a club we are not well off – we lost £400k last season and we are projected to be £100k in debt by the end of this season. Well, that was until the cup-tie got moved to TV, meaning we would get a windfall of £575k. Amazing news, and coupled with what looks like a potential decent league finish I think we might be turning a financial corner.
I had the most bizarre player conversation of my #FM15 career to date – Nana Welbeck asked me why he hasn’t been playing first-team football. The real reason is, he is not registered as he joined on a free outside of a registration window. Is that an option to say? Of course not, and I risked player wrath by saying he just needed to be patient. Fortunately he accepted that and it did not kick off.
We lined up against Sandhausen with our strongest side, despite Stuttgart coming to the Ernst-Abbe in four days time. Mainz drawing the day before meant there was a chance for both us and Fortuna to close the gap. The least likely of goal-scoreres put us ahead after twenty minutes, left back Morgan Fox heading home after Conde’s shot was half cleared. It was a scrappy first half and I switched to the counter tactic with ten minutes to go to protect what we had. I decided to keep it like that for the first ten of the second half before switching back to the attacking style in the hope of countering any blast straight after half time. We flicked between the two as not a lot happened in the second period, and we kept a clean sheet. It was far from our most exciting performance, but another three points that puts us further away from the media prediction of relegation! It actually meant we were a mere three points off the top now. Fortunately, the two knocks picked up by Lux and Schmidt were not serious enough to be mentioned after the game and they would be fit for the cup game. The only casualty was Luirink, who had to sit out due to a one match ban for the number of yellow cards collected.
The German Cup was next, Stuttgart were coming to town. I was going head-to-head with the Tinkerman, Claudio Ranieri himself. This was cool, even if I wasn’t expecting much from it. Sure, we had already beaten Bundesliga side St Pauli, but they had been bottom without a win in ages. Stuttgart were 7th, a totally different kettle of fish. Schryba was in for Luirink, and other than that it was our strongest side again. I considered starting with a slightly more conservative approach, but I soon talked myself out of that. We had got this far at Jena being gung-ho and long may it continue!
Conde may not have produced as much as he did last season, yet, but now was a good time to score your first of the seaosn. He tucked away the opener in the tenth minute, following a wonderful move. He then had another chance which forced a fine save from their ‘keeper. The resulting corner led to Tino having a shot headed off the line – we needed to make this pressure count! Chance after chance came and went and then it was two! Of all people to expect to play a clever reverse pass, it was not our big centre back Basil Camara. He cleverly found Tino and he slotted home, come on! I switched to counter to ride it out til half time, and it worked – we went in two goals ahead. As in the last match, I decided to stay counter focused for the first ten/fifteen of the second half. It worked, and the switch back to attacking didn’t damage us and we were able to enter the last ten minutes two goals ahead and able to sit back. Berbig then made two saves that made a mockery of Ranieiri’s pre-match “weak link” jibe and we were looking good. We were looking even better when the third went in. One brings two and all that, and Fox clearly has a taste for goals as he got his second in a week! They finally got one, Werner heading at the far post. That was their last chance, and we progressed effortlessly into the Quarter Finals! You couldn’t make this stuff up.
The collateral damage of the cup win was Erhart spraining his ankle, meaning he was out for the next six weeks. In effect, that would probably only be two weeks with the winter break coming up. The boost to our finances however, wow. £600k+ for winning the match plus £500k+ for being televised. We are now longer in financial difficulty. I would love a home draw in the next round! Well, we didn’t get a home draw. We got Sandhausen, who we had just beaten in the league. Jesus, we might get to the semi-finals!
A couple of changes were needed for the fixture against FSV Frankfurt. I really wanted to beat them as they had killed my idea of playing lots of youth teamers this season, hammering us 6-1 on the opening day. Luirink was back in, Geisler was banned so in came Pezzin and Koc was in for the injured Erhart. I decided not to rest any other weary legs as I felt three changes was enough. I just hoped the high of such a cup win could spur us on, and not make this came the day after the night before.
Well, if Anil Koc scores goals like that every week he will make it hard for Erhart to get back in the side. He scored a wonder volley after twenty five minutes to put us ahead. Sustersic scored early in the second half and we looked good. On the hour Lux demonstrated the side of his game that has just flourished this season, and to be fair since the latest patch. He picked the ball up deep, like a good F9 should, then waited and waited for the run from Conde and played the perfect through ball which was finished by the winger. 3-0. So often in the past Lux would have taken the shot himself, it is great to see him playing like this after so long. Straight from the kick off he got one himself, 4-0! As much as I wanted to keep pushing for more goals, I wanted a clean sheet so we switched to closing it out and it was a great 4-0 revenge win. Happy days. Fortuna lost, which meant we moved level on points with them – Mainz got a late winner to remain three points clear of us at the top. Were we going to end 2016 in a promotion race?
The final match of 2016 was a trip to second bottom Wehen. My only change was to bring back Geisler for Pezzin. The younger man is probably the better player, but I am struggling to bring myself to start phasing Geisler out. He is 33 now, but still playing as well, if not better, than when I came to the club. We got off to a great start, Lux winning and scoring a penalty in the second minute. They were then down to ten men, following the worst tackle I have seen on FM15 so far. Their right back completely cleaned out Koc, and even on a computer it looked like a leg breaker. He was straight off! We seemed to lose focus after that, and let them back in it just before half time. Tino smashed one into the post early in the second half and then they gifted Koc our second, a terrible back pass. We didn’t play too well really, but we held on for all three points which was the main thing. The other weekend fixtures meant we ended 2016 in joint third place, but as you can see all three sides are level on 36 points – exciting or what?
I felt it was an appropriate time to have a look at last season’s table. 67 points was enough to win the title last year, 65 came second and 62 came third. 6 or 7 defeats seemed to be about the maximum we could afford if we wanted to be in the reckoning, and at the half way point in the season we have 36 points (above the curve for promotion) and have lost three games. The season before, 64 points and 6 defeats won it, 63 points and 9 defeats came second – so I was confident that if we could lose a maximum of three games in the next 15 we could get our third straight promotion. Bonkers, absolutely bonkers. I also reflected on the fact that my goalkeeper, defensive midfielder, central winger and false nine had all started my first ever game in charge of Jena in the 4th tier. Crazy stuff.
So, I will be back tomorrow with the first round of games following the winter break – the first competitive fixture is the German Cup Quarter Final against Sandhausen so it’s a big one to kick off with.
See you then.
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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