As we entered 2015 we sat top of the table but we knew there was a very long way to go in this very tight league campaign. The next two months were going to be vital, eight games where we could start to break away from the peloton or find ourselves very much part of the gang.
First up were Bedfont Sports, visitors at our interesting little ground, The Spectrum. It had been two weeks since our last game, but that wasn’t long enough for Joshy to recover from a groin strain. By the time the match came around most of the division had played an extra game and we were, incredibly, still top with a game in hand. I genuinely cannot recall a tighter division in my FM experience – 21 games played and 17 points separate top from bottom. To put this into context, the Championship (which many call a tight division) has 31 points between top and bottom. Daisy dropped back into the enganche role and Mitch started on the right of the front three. This was a chance to get us at least four points clear at the top.
Mitch put us ahead after 22 minutes, somewhat fortunate as it was clearly a mistimed cross that flew in. It wasn’t the best half of football we had played, so I was pretty forthright in the dressing room during the break. Fired up and motivated, they played much better second half, Ossie playing in Daisy for 2-0. We allowed them a lifeline with 20 left, five players in our box unable to deal with their one and he got on the end of the cross. 2-1. Reecey and Ossie combined for our third, the former crossing to the latter who tapped home. It was a solid start to 2015, and the win put Bedfont bottom for the first time this season. Teams beneath us won, so it was still a one point lead for us at the top.
The next week saw us travel to Krooner Park and Camberley Town, who were in 3rd. I used to play Sunday football at Krooner Park, a decent surface but on one hell of a slope. We went out with the same team that won against Bedfont. A win for Camberley would be the double over us and push them ahead of us in the table, so I was delighted when Wardy slammed the opening goal home after 12 minutes. This rocked The Krooners and they gave away a needless penalty in the next attack, Wardie hit it low and hard to the ‘keepers left for 2-0. We were dealt a blow just before the break, the influential Blakey being carried off injured. We started the second half well, a short corner leading to Crispy heading home the third. I switched to “to contain” but we kept attacking, and Mitch fired home a beautiful goal, getting the ball on the half-turn and rifling it into the bottom corner. They got one back right from kick off, but I wasn’t worried. Neither should I have been, we held on with ease. We had just come to one of the toughest grounds to play at in the league and won 4-1, the belief was growing. The win put us four points clear with a game in hand.
Raynes Park were coming the other way down the A3 next. Sitting in 18th they had relegation to worry about whilst I was hoping to keep pulling away from the likes of Chertsey. Having spent some time in Chertsey, you really want to pull away from it. Joshy was back on the bench, Blakey recovered in time and Eddie was fit again so it was one of those rare days with 5 subs. Again, I made no changes to the side.
We were ahead within 90 seconds, Ossie releasing Reecey who finished cleverly. It was 2-0 after half an hour, Blakey swinging in a free kick and Captain Crisp heading past the despairing dive of their ‘keeper, who had earlier made the best save of the season to deny Ossie. Ossie did get one though, Reecey playing him in, spinning away from his marker and then doing the ‘keeper completely with a lovely chip into the wrong corner. We came in 3-0 to the good, another three points looking highly likely. Before the game I had been thinking Ossie had been going through a lean spell (it could have been that I was wrong, I’d had a day off from playing the game) but if he had been, he was certainly out of it again running on to Big D’s long ball through and netting his 20th of the season. This lad is a midfielder by trade that I started to train as a striker in case of emergencies, he hasn’t done half bad. They got one back soon after, but I still wasn’t too concerned. We switched to “contain” and saw the game out easily. Chertsey lost and Ashford drew, so with a game in hand our lead was now seven points.
We were off to another ground I knew well, Frimley Green Road. I recall having a half decent debut for The Carpenters Arms there back in about 2001. Ah, happy days. Once again we had an injury free week so I was able to name the same eleven yet again, Joshy was having to wait.
Ten minutes in the short corner routine worked again, Crispy netting at the far post. 60 seconds later Blakey curled a free kick top corner for 2-0! Ossie nearly got us a third before half time, but his shot hit the post. Early in the second half they scored a fine goal to get themselves back in the game. We held on, but it was holding on and they got one hell of a beating in the dressing room after the game.
We moved into February and the board informed me they were “pleased.” That’s right, pleased. Top of the table, spending less than half of the wage budget they gave me and they are pleased. The club is losing money hand over fist currently, I dread to think how big the number in red would be if I wasn’t such a spend-thrift, yet I can barely get them to crack a smile. Anyway, Spelthorne next at The Spectrum. Funnily enough, an unchanged side. Before the game though, some English transfer window news!
Championship Manager legend Michael Duff has been released by Burnley and the same fate has been dealt to Flamini at Arsenal. Carrick has also been released by United, surprising that. They did replace him with Moutinho from Monaco though, never forget Louis knows. With Liverpool sliding down the table somewhat rapidly Brenden had an idea to change their form. Maicon from Roma, yes that transfer committee sat down and came up with that solution. The wisdom of crowds hey? With ‘Arry at Newcastle, those well known big spenders, he was bound to have some fun in this window. Actually, not so much – just one signing for a mere £2.5m, a signing that was very much more Mike Ashley than Harry Redknapp. Anyway, I’ll let you know the league table etc at the end of the month, but there has been some more managerial movement. Villa fired Sherwood, no replacement at the time of writing. Southampton sacked Koeman, but clearly were not put off Dutchmen as Ronald de Boer was enticed from Ajax as his replacement. Spurs went all Spurs, having decided that the Poch was the man to get them Champions League football then fired him the minute they thought he might not deliver. The man to replace him? Roberto Mancini, who clearly felt the job security in North London was higher than in Milan.
Back to the Spelthorne game. Unchanged side, as you have probably come to expect. It feels like we score a lot in that 9-12 minute range, I might check the team report. Daisy put us ahead following a goal mouth scramble, eleven minutes on the ticker. He had to go off injured shortly afterwards, so Joshy was on. They had a goal disallowed, offside, then hit the post. They were making way too much of a game of what should have a been a routine victory. A gentle nudge in the right direction at half time made a difference and we woke up, Ossie latching on to Mitch’s through ball and dinking it over the ‘keeper for 2-0. In injury time Whytey gifted them a consolation with a shocker of a back pass, and I was really annoyed not to have got a clean sheet. I reminded them that they had fallen way short of the expectations I had, and it got a very mixed response. Still, Ashford and Horley cancelled themselves out, Chertsey had dropped to 5th and we 9 points clear with a game in hand. If we keep this up I will miss my usual last day of the season drama!
We had a week to prepare for a top of the table clash, second placed Ashford, who had beaten us 1-0 back in September. Again, no injury worries meant I planned to name the same team for what felt like the 20th time in a row. They are a good side, and they took the lead early on. We have spirit as well as quality though, and Reecey got us level from a well worked corner. It was 1-1 at half time, but we weren’t playing that well. I let them know. They get minimal praise from me. They love it though, and went 2-1 up almost immediately, Ossie drilling low into the corner. Straight after the goal Blakey smashed a free kick into the bar. With ten left I switched it out to contain, a win here would be massive. The boys did it with minimal fuss, a brilliant win especially as we had gone a goal down. Still nine points clear!
The penultimate game in February was at the Spectrum, against Chertsey. I don’t know why I dislike them so much, but I do. Another tenth minute goal, Blakey volleying a cross into the box and Ossie out jumping his man to head into the near post and over the line. Great goal, really quickly executed. He trumped it though, bursting past one, then another, rounding the ‘keeper and finishing. I hadn’t seen a goal like it on FM, it reminded me of Onesimo at Mansfield in Johnny Cooper, sensational goal. The Duke made it 3-0, I don’t think they were going to come back from this one! Early in the second half Blakey set up Crispy for another headed goal, 4-0. Two minutes to go, Ossie got the perfect hat-trick, drilling the ball home with his left foot. It was a top, top win .
Finally in February, bottom club Knaphill. I decided to bring Joshy back in, dropping Mitch and pushing Daisy back up front. It was a good mood as he Daisy put us ahead after 6 minutes. Blakey hit another free kick against the bar and Big D tapped home the rebound, this was going to be easy! The Blake/Crispy Pringle combination worked again late in the second half, Blakey crossing in the free kick, Crispy heading it home for 3-0. They got a stunning late consolation, but it was another three points to round off a great start to 2015 for the club.
We have won all eight matches, not conceding more than one goal in any of them. We sit nine points clear as the league finally starts to open up, behind us are Horley who themselves have a five point cushion. With 12 games to go, and with our current form, we have got to be odds on for promotion.
Back to the English football round-up. The “world’s best assistant manager” Carlos Quieroz has been given the poisoned chalice at Aston Villa and Everton have rolled back the years to bring back Moyes, sacking Martinez. Quieroz has a tough gig, Villa are six points adrift of second bottom Hull (Keane has made zero difference there) and eleven points from safety. At the top Chelsea still lead the way, three points clear of Manchester City. Liverpool, having dropped from second to seventh are now back up in fourth. With Arsenal third and United fifth, Stoke and West Ham have seen their Champions League dreams take a nose dive. Most likely to get promoted from the Championship are Reading, who are eight points clear of Ipswich at the top. The managerial changes at the other end have worked as Derby, Wolves and Leeds have pulled clear of danger leaving Blackpool, Rotherham and Brighton in trouble and Brentford peering over their shoulders. This has led to Hughton and Warburton being sacked in the last few days.
I’ll be back very soon with at least six or so of the remaining twelve league games. I have a feeling there will not be a thrilling climax to the season, but you never know, we might (unlike Rotherham) bottle it.
Go on Guildford!
(if you enjoy my writing, why not spend £1.99 of your hard-earned cash on my first book, “Johnny Cooper, Championship Manager” here: http://buff.ly/1G0WNV9 or my second one, “Johnny Cooper, Championship Manager – The Second Season Syndrome” here: http://buff.ly/1NXwJ4r)