Straight into season 4 of the challenge we go! It’s a long episode this one I won’t lie, but there is so much to go through so I hope you enjoy! Last time I spoke of my frustration at missing out on a European spot at the last possible moment as Newtown won the JD Welsh Cup to take away the final Europa League place from within our grasp. This meant the huge financial difficulties facing us at Llanelli Town would continue and they were unable to support me through additional coaching courses for the foreseeable future. Therefore I had decided to apply for other jobs with the hope of securing a club that would not only be a step up in reputation, but also financially secure enough to support me in making my way up the qualification ladder and allowing me to progress with this save.
I applied for numerous jobs in the Irish Premier Division, Northern Irish Premiership, Vanarama National League, and even a couple of low reputation EFL League Two teams. No surprise that I wasn’t even shortlisted for interview for any of them. So it looked for all the world that I would be staying with Llanelli Town for at least a few more months, until Kilmarnock came calling for the manager of Bala Town and all of a sudden there was a vacancy within the same league that I felt was perfect for me. I submitted the application, got the interview and got the job! So after a fantastic 2.5 years with Llanelli Town it was time to move on.
Now as you can see with the offer of a £170,000 transfer budget, we were certainly going to a more financially secure club in comparison to the situation at Llanelli Town, but with that came increased expectation. However I was confident in my ability to achieve the objectives set for me, that was until I saw the squad…
June & July 2023 (Pre-Season & Europe)
There were a couple of stand out players defensively, but there wasn’t any attacking players in the whole squad… NONE. My only striker was a 1.5 SILVER star rated 16 year old from the youth team. The title winning squad from last season had been decimated by either the end of loan spells or players retiring. We needed to get reinforcements in quickly! Thankfully before I arrived the team had made it through the first and second preliminary rounds of the champions league which meant I had already met the board objective of reaching the first qualifying round of the Champions League.
Astonishingly I checked the line ups to see how they played without any recognised attacking players in the squad and I could hardly believe my eyes when I saw they had a RB from the youth team and a fringe CB playing as the 2 strikers… no wonder they kept clean sheets! Fortunately the teams in the preliminary rounds were minnows, even compared to us. Unfortunately I was now up against Slovenian team Maribor in the first qualifying round over two legs, a team who consistently win their league and have played in the group stages of the champions league on many occasions. This was a completely different level of opponent and yet this was the only team I could name against them:
We did manage to get some signings in before the game but as the squad had already been registered for the match these were the only players eligible to play. It was a shambles and I just wanted to get the games over and done with so I could crack on with getting some reinforcements in. Fortunately we didn’t completely embarrass ourselves and in the first leg we even got an away goal courtesy of the young man McAllister up top, but at the end of it we were outclassed and outplayed, aggregate loss of 6-1.
It wasn’t the end of our European run however as we dropped into the second qualifying round of the Europa League, and with 6 days to get reinforcements in before we needed to register our squad for the two legs I felt confident we could make a better account of ourselves. Here are the transfers we managed to get in before the deadline:
Admittedly I went and raided my old club pretty heavily, but these were players I trusted and I could get in quickly without needing to wait for my scout to find players. Dempsey Matthews, Dale Taylor, Harrison Nee, Dafydd Davies, Alex Babos & Charlie Ridge were all strikers which immediately gave me some options and depth in that area. Josh Hosie (RB), Kris Owens (LB) & Will Couch (CM) also added some much needed competition to the squad. The signings were thrown straight into action against Albanian Superleague side KS Skenderbeu Korce in the Europa League 2nd Qualifying Round First Leg.
A brilliant performance but we just couldn’t turn the dominance into goals, until the 87th minute when Kris Owens scored a vital winning goal. I was concerned that a 1-0 lead may not be enough to take to Albania and hold on, but only time will tell. I also made another 4 signings before the end of July, Robbie Patten (CM), Dan Jarvis (CM), Joe Wright (CB) & Max Taylor (CB) gave me some more options to choose from in the defensive and midfield areas.
To be honest looking back, the squad I had at Llanelli was better than the squad I inherited here, they had lost pretty much all of their key players from the title winning squad of last season and we were pretty much starting at zero again. The only major positive was the financial situation here allowed me to build a very good squad from scratch, however I was getting concerned at how we were going to start the season with the lack of team cohesion and familiarity with tactics that comes with bringing in so many new players.
Outside of the European run we were also squeezing in all of the pre-season friendlies left right and centre, again as always I am not really concerned about the results, it’s all about fitness and team cohesion, which this year was more important than ever. But here’s a screenshot just to show you the results from our friendlies in July 2023.
We kicked off August with another signing, Pablo Martinez (CB), again adding competition to the squad and bringing the number of signings up to 14 so far this season! When I talk about needing reinforcements I really do mean we started from scratch, aside from 3 or 4 players. We also had the 2nd Leg of the Europa League to contend with, could we hold on for the 1-0 aggregate win?
We did a little bit better than just hold on! 3 goals in 6 second-half minutes gave us a great 4-0 aggregate win and we were into the 3rd qualifying round of the Europa League. We were drawn against Hungarian outfit Mezokovesdi SE, which I felt was a winnable tie despite them being 2.5 star reputation club compared to the 1 star we are as our squad was pretty evenly matched ability wise. However the first leg didn’t really go to plan…
It was a weird game of few chances, but I still felt we did enough to edge it and I was so disappointed to concede the away goal. Having said that we still had the away tie, and if you look at the previous round we performed far better in the away leg than we did at home. So I still had hopes we could make it through.
Unfortunately it wasn’t to be. I’m still scratching my head at how we ended up on the losing end of this one to be honest! 3 goals in the first 9 minutes and then nothing for the rest of the match, yet we had an expected goal ratio of 1.98, which anyone who plays Football Manager will know is very high to only end up with 1 goal. We pushed everything at them in the second half to just get that 2nd away goal which would take us through, but even after finishing the game with 5 strikers on the pitch we just couldn’t find a way to put the ball in the back of the net and our European run was over.
As well as the European games we also had the domestic competitions to juggle. Honestly the amount of games at the moment is crazy, I will post a screenshot at the end which shows you the full schedule of games from June to August, it’s ridiculous for a semi-professional club! Particularly when we were still trying to get players through the door to make the squad competitive. I said I was concerned about how we would start the domestic season with all the new players we had, and I was right to be…
A horrendous performance away against Penybont led to a 2-1 loss. Not the way we wanted to start the season at our new club! We looked like a bunch of players who had never played together before, probably because we were. We then faced our old bogey team from Llanelli Town days, Barry Town, in the Nathaniel MG Cup second round. As you can see it did not end well… again. I might sound like a bit of a broken record when it comes to games against Barry but we dominated again and somehow they took us all the way to penalties and it went their way.
The board were understandably not happy with going out at this early stage to a team of Barry’s stature and we needed to get back to winning ways as soon as possible. Unfortunately TNS were up next, which was a game we really didn’t need when we’re a new group of players searching for form, and although we made a good account of ourselves, it was not enough and we lost 1-0. Making it three losses in a row in all competitions.
Fortunately games were coming thick and fast at the moment so all we could do was go again, but you can imagine my horror when I saw that bloody Barry were up next! But we finally did it… we finally beat them. Coming from a goal behind to win 2-1 away was a great feeling to finally get one over our bogey team, but more importantly to get our first league win of the season. This meant that at the end of August the league table looked like this:
Not a great start to the season, but I was confident that as soon as the squad clicked we would be back amongst the top 3. We also made another 2 great signings to finish off August, former Birmingham & Cardiff striker Isaac Vassell joined us, as well as West Brom left back Conor Townsend, bringing the total number of players signed this season to 16! Honestly it’s been a crazy few months at our new club, as promised below is a screenshot of all our fixtures that have taken place during pre-season and August 2023. Like I said, for a semi-professional club that only trains once a week, this was ridiculous!
Fair to say the amount of fixtures, coupled with staff changes and the amount of players we have signed has been less than ideal. However we had a good run in the Champions League and Europa League for a club of our size and have made some fantastic signings, so I’m optimistic for the future.
In other news the main reason I left Llanelli Town was to try and find a club who would support me with my coaching badges so we could really start to progress to higher reputation clubs on this save, and Bala supported me immediately when I requested to go onto the National A Licence course which was great news and made me feel justified in the decision I made.
In the next episode we will be going through the months of September, October & November 2023. Can we get the squad to click and start putting together a run of results to get us up the table? If we don’t then the expectations at a club like Bala are high and they will not mess around in giving me the axe, football is a results business after all. Find out how we get on in the next episode which will drop Thursday 21st January 2021.
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While you’re here if you want to follow more challenges go over to Scott’s (the co-author of this site) challenge where he is on a journey to rebuild Bolton Wanderers and take them on a Europa League run! Link: https://dpfmblog.com/2020/12/21/bolton-back-to-europa-s1e1/
Thank you for reading, keep safe and see you again soon!