The day has come to get the season underway after a promising end to what was a difficult start to pre-season and a few new faces in the door, the optimism was running high as we hope for a fast start and to get some valuable early points on the door. Looking at other teams in League 2, there are some dangerous teams in Salford City who have a good squad and a good budget, Newport County showed real improvement in the 2019/2020 season and have their talisman Padraig Amond to rely on and I look to keep an eye on Exeter City who are usually dancing around the play offs but don’t quite the job done when it comes down to it…or could this be their year?
For myself and my Bolton Wanderers team, the aim is automatic promotion but in all honesty despite our lack of funds we should be winning this league. I like to be realistic with my aims and I believe this is what I’m capable of with this squad…as the saying goes “You’ve made your bed, now lay in it”. This cannot backfire or we could be retiring early into this series – remember in this save I will only manage Bolton Wanderers no matter what offers we get, anything less than the target of Europa League is considered a failed challenge! But this is the kind of pressure that I love and strive under.
In September there is a few things going on, the transfer window was still open, we had games in three different competitions over the course of the month and we had to look to settle in form wise.
The first two matches were in cups, the Carabao Cup which the board had set a target of reaching the second round and getting Morecambe in the draw I was confident of progressing, which we did with a comfortable 2-0 win. The Papa John’s Trophy I didn’t want to focus on, its a winnable trophy if you give it attention but its not feasible in terms of prize money, I rotated vs. League one’s Crewe and lost 2-1 although the performance wasn’t bad at all.
Finally, it was time to start the league against Forest Green Rovers who are becoming an established team in League 2, we came through with a good victory at 3-1 with the wing play tactic benefitting us going forward.
A switch back to the Carabao Cup up against Middlesbrough, I changed back to 4-1-4-1 DM for this game as we were facing pace and trickery in Marcus Tavernier, Britt Assombalonga and Chupa Akpom who all started. Assombalonga scored after 3 minutes and it could have been more as they finished the half with 12 shots to my poor showing of 2. I changed to the 4-3-3 and we looked a lot better but it wasn’t enough. Safe to say the 4-1-4-1 DM has been put in the bin and deleted from my tactics – poor decision making from me, I know better to stick to my tactical beliefs but I got some stage freight vs. Championship opposition.
Last two games of the month were against Colchester Utd and Newport County, two of the better teams in the division. A 2-0 win vs. Colchester in a competitive end to end match was pleasing but against Newport County our wastefulness cost us after that man Amond gave Newport the lead before half time. I wasn’t too disheartened as no club goes unbeaten in this league but a few tactical instruction amendments may be needed if the form remains inconsistent as September turned out to be.
Additionally, on the transfer front Ben Cottrell was loaned for the season from parent club Arsenal, Cottrell has great versatility out wide and in centre midfield accompanied by a 3.5 star rating at this level. I then loaned young left winger Isaiah Jones from Middlesbrough, initially to the end of January 2021 as Mr. Lloyd Isgrove got another injury for 2 months, somehow dislocating his own shoulder making a standing tackle in the Colchester match…I was bemused by this, I shouldn’t but I had to laugh…if I didn’t then we’d know what the opposite of laugh is. That would wrap our business for this window.
In October, I was really looking to press on and get results, the teams we were scheduled to play were favourable and ideally I wanted a clean sweep over the month, ambitious of me to say the least I know. There was a Papa John’s trophy group game vs. Newcastle U23s but again I didn’t see this as a priority and the game would be used to rest the majority of my usual starting XI.
A satisfying win over newly promoted Harrogate Town as we’d expect, I then rotated my side for Newcastle U23s, we were 1-0 up until the 92nd minute before conceding and we went on lose 4-3 on pens. Grimsby Town have come flying out the blocks in the league under the legendary Ian Holloway’s management, contrary to their form that we have all seen in real life but this game is about experiencing the unknown which is why we all love it. Playing a 4-3-3 as well, this was going to be a game where being clinical was key. It was 1-1 at HT, second half I felt we were the better side but again we concede late in the 87th minute. Another loss in the league 3 wins and 2 losses was not the start I wanted at all.
The next match vs. Oldham, my side went 1-0 down just before half time and we were not looking good. After giving them the hairdryer treatment at half time, the boys looked more promising. After shouts of encouragement to get the team going an equaliser came in the 87th minute and a winner following in the 92nd minute. A great turnaround but we made hard work of it.
Tactically something wasn’t right, first was the exposure at the back our line was too high so I dropped the engagement lines back to standard. As we are set with wing play our width was set at extremely wide, it was leaving gaps inside so I dropped it to just ‘wide’ and took off the instructions of playing down the left and right as it was predictable. Out of possession I then set the team to show the opposition inside, in a bid for teams to run into our 3-man midfield or failing that, our centre backs. This was backed with a week of tactical training.
The team started rocking the rest of the month, 2-1 win vs. Barrow who were no pushovers to their credit before 4 goal hauls vs. Cambridge Utd (4-0) and Bradford City (4-1). We finished off the month by sneaking past Leyton Orient with a 1-0 win. The last four games showed the changes to the tactical instructions is what we needed and with the pace out wide, we were exploiting teams in behind and feeding our attackers.
The table began to take shape, our win run really propelled us to the top as teams below us drop points vs. each other early in the season but what turned out to be a rocky start turned into a good start, it was now about maintaining our good form without dropping too many points.
Up next we will be covering the months of November and December with a few big games in there, plus the fixture rate picks up in December as always. Rotation was going to key to ensure the team was still good enough to pick up the points that I crave! Episode 4 will be dropping on the 2nd January at 17:00 so keep your eyes peeled here and on our twitter page – @DP_FMblog for updates!
Also make sure you go and check out Louis’ Inexperienced, Unemployed & Unskilled challenge which is going on as well all on this very site, trust me I’ve already got my popcorn out for that one! Take care guys and I’ll see you for episode 4