#FM15 #FordFocus : Twelfth Night

Guildford City have twelve games left to secure promotion out of the Combined Counties League. We currently sit nine points clear, so I would be quite surprised if we failed to see this out considering we have won our last eight matches, but hey, weirder things have happened. I’ve ended up at Guildford City as they are former giants of the amateur game but never quite made it into the football league and I plan to get them there before moving on to bigger things myself. That’s the plan anyway!

Looking at the twelve games ahead I would like us to have this wrapped up soonish as the last two games are Badshot Lea and Horley. We also have two tough games back to back coming up with Windsor then Epsom and Ewell. First up today were Molesey. Before the game I saw our youth intake and released all but one of them. I cannot see the point in keeping players that are not going to make it, and I don’t have the coaching resource to make them decent players.

I named my first choice side – Browney; Big D, Nicky, Crispy; Wardy, Blakey, Whytey; Joshy; Daisy, Ossie and Reecey. The last man on the team sheet fired us ahead, again after 11 minutes. Joshy played it in behind and the lad ran on and scored brilliantly. We dominated the first 45 but couldn’t find another goal. Second half, we dropped our levels and ended up gifting them a penalty after 56 minutes. Browney saved us again however, and it stayed 1-0. They went down to ten, then equalised minutes later, shocking! Straight from kick off we won a penalty, the game had gone crazy. Whytey missed! It ended 1-1 and our win of eight wins in a row stopped there. This was one of our poorer performances for a while and not a great start to the run of games I was to write about.

The youth intake was, as I expected, terrible so I didn’t sign any of them. I didn’t see the point in having players around that were never going to make it, the club’s finances are already challenging. We were off to Cove next, strong winds and a whole 16 tickets sold apparently.

Blakey powered us ahead after twenty eight, a belting free kick going straight down the middle and through the ‘keeper. Cove battled though and levelled before the half time and then took the lead. I am not sure what has happened to us overnight, but we played better than this yesterday! A gentle reminder of what was expected of them did make some kind of difference, we got level straight away when Ossie rounded the ‘keeper. It looked like being another frustrating draw, then Wardy squeezed in a beauty from a tight angle, 3-2! We had done well to get back into it, and the real turning point had been subbing Joshy off and bringing on Mitch. We had won seven games without Joshy, so I think we might go back to that again. With Horley losing, Ashford popped back up into second, but we now had a twelve point lead with a game in hand. Ten games to go!

The next two games were going to be crucial. First, Windsor at the Spectrum and then a trip to Epsom & Ewell. Windsor were 4th and we were going into the game without Big D who picked up a bruised shin against Cove. That’s what happens when you go on a marauding run from centre back lad. I don’t mind Windsor, it was where the legendary Woking manager, Geoff Chapple, started his managerial career. Soft spot for them or not, I was happy to see Reecey get on the end of Mitch’s cross after 5 minutes to put us ahead. Wardy fluked a beauty ten minutes later to put us two up before Browney made a wonder save to keep the sheet clean for the time being. Ossie put us three nil up shortly before half time, yet another well worked short corner. Mitch had to come off at half time so I gave a rare run out to Turns, the forgotten man. I regretted praising them at half time, not something I really do, as Windsor pulled one back early on. It got nervy, eight minutes to go they scored a second! We sorted ourselves out though and Joshy tapped in a fine cross from Turns to make it 4-2 and secure the points.

I reckoned if we got beat Epsom & Ewell then we had to be home and dry. There would be eight games to go and we would have at least a 12 point lead with a game in hand. We were going to have to do it without Daisy, torn hamstring so out for three months, and Mitch, groin strain five weeks. In came Joshy and Eddie. Epsom & Ewell were 7th but it was going to be a tough game, make no mistake. I was right as we went one down after ten minutes, free header from a corner. That was doubled just five minutes later, we were in a right hole! Reecey got us one back straight away and we managed to survive to half time at it being only 2-1. There was a standard kicking for the boys in the changing room and I brought on Henners for Whytey. Straight from kick off he set Reecey away down the left and his far post cross was headed home by Eddie, 2-2! We fell asleep again though, and allowed them to get their noses back in front. Their ‘keeper started to look Premier League quality, stopping everything. We kept going, overloading them and eventually Ossie managed to nick the equaliser with five to go. Straight from kick off we went again, Eddie fed Joshy and GOAL! From 2-0 and 3-2 down we were now winning 4-3!! We were able to shut up shop effectively and it felt like a title winning performance. The game appeared to be our game in hand meaning we were now 15 points clear with just 8 games to go, therefore 26 points remaining.

We entertained in form Hanworth Villa next, we had smashed them 5-2 earlier in the season. They did have the league’s second top scorer, however, in Will Richards so we needed to have an element of awareness. Blakey put a free kick into their top corner after just 39 seconds to give us a dream start. Our second goal was Barca-esque in it’s execution. Eddie dropped into a pocket of space like an F9 should, turned and then played the perfect through ball into Ossie who didn’t have to break stride as he thumped home his 29th of the season. In the second half our well rehearsed short corner routine bore further fruit. Joshy to Reecey who pulled it back to Whytey and he made it 3-0. I switched the tactic to close the game out and we came away with a very pleasing clean sheet. Seven points needed for the title!

Players were starting to get worried about contracts for next season, so I had a quick flick through with a view to offering almost all of them a new deal providing their expectations were realistic. I am writing this bit before I started because the theory is that as we are not actually promoted yet they might ask for less money than if we had been promoted. Let’s see if that works. First example, goalkeeper Browney. Currently on a part-time deal of £35 per week. I managed to get him on a two year extension for the same cash, pleasing. Big D accepted £10 a week less. Nicky went from £100 to £90 a week, Crispy needed a small £5 pay rise to sign but he is only on £30 a week now. Ossie needed his money doubled, but then the lad will have scored 30+ by the end of the season. Doubling his money was still only £50 a week. Reecey looked like he was going to be difficult, he wanted to jump from £40 to £120 so I will go back to him another time. All in all, I felt my theory had worked – I think I remembered to get most of them on two-year-deals and I even remembered to make the promotion wage rises non-existent or minimal.

We travelled to Hartney Wintney next. We went out unchanged, these boys had beaten us at home earlier in the season. The first half was awful, we dominated but couldn’t create a single clear cut chance. The standard kicking at half time paid off yet again as Eddie raced to the byline, crossed and Reecey powered his header home. Eddie then laid number two on a plate for Whytey, the lad could not miss. Reecey had a tap in at the far post for his second and our third and there were still twenty minutes left. To save energy and hopefully get another clean sheet I switched to contain. It worked perfectly, back to back 3-0 wins and something like 20 matches unbeaten. With six to play we were still 15 points clear, the next match could be the match that claims the title.

That game was to be at home to Farnham Town, who had won only once in their last nine games. If we won and Ashford failed to, we would be champions of the Combined Counties. As Bumble says on the cricket, “start the car, lad!”

We had a bit of an injury crisis in midfield with Wardy, Henners and Daisy all being out injured. After some thought I decided to play Milts in there. The engine was definitely running when Ossie fed Eddie for the opening goal. Ossie doubled it on half an hour, poaching from close range. The wonderfully named Russell Russell picked up a second yellow leaving Farnham with ten for the last part of the game and Ossie punished them with his second, his 30th goal of the season. Reecey then made it 4-0, Milts made it five but Ashford were winning so we were going to have to wait another week. That didn’t stop Reecey getting his second and our sixth though! Then, to top it off Ashford conceded in the last minute and we were champions! What a way to win it, smashing the opposition 6-0 and then hearing of a late equaliser in the other match. Seventeen points clear with five games to go, a marvellous achievement.

There are five games to go in the Premier League. Chelsea still lead, five points ahead of Arsenal with United and City taking up the final two Champions League places. Villa look doomed, still well adrift at the bottom but anyone from Stoke in ninth and on 42 points could be sucked into the relegation battle with Southampton (very surprisingly) and Hull in the final two relegation places and on 35 points. Realistically it will be those two or any one of West Brom, Leicester, Everton or QPR.

In the Champions League Manchester City and Liverpool have both won their quarter final first legs against Shaktar and, incredibly, Juventus respectively. Arsenal and Chelsea drew 2-2 at the Emirates, so it looks like three out of four semi final places will be occupied by English clubs and Barcelona just there to make up the numbers.

In the Championship Reading are already up, Fulham look good for second place and teams down to 11th place still harbour play off dreams. Teams not in the play off hunt include Wolves, Brentford, Derby, Middlesboro, Leeds and Forest. Oh, and Bournemouth who have qualified for next season’s Europa League by beating Manchester United in the League Cup Final, on penalties. Incredible. The FA Cup Final will be between Newcastle and Leicester or Everton.

Now, I don’t see the point in taking you through the final five games of the season – nothing left to play for and I won’t be doing any experimenting as I don’t have any players to try out! I will do a proper end of season round-up after the games, explain a little more about the club philosophy, the scouting, the tactical approach and the training as some people have been asking about it.

It’s been a great first season at City and I am hoping, with pretty much the same players, I can replicate it again next season.

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)

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