Here we go! After 4 seasons working my way from an unemployed, unskilled and unqualified nobody to now being given the opportunity to mix it in Sky Bet League One… I just can’t wait to get started! This episode will take you through our transfers, pre-season and first month of the league season (August 2024).
Just for context, the first thing I did, which is what I do at every club, is sort out the staff. Unfortunately I completely forgot to screenshot what it was like when I joined and after I had recruited, so I promise I will do that at future clubs during this journey. Rest assured we went from having one of the worst backroom squads in the league to having the best in all departments except for sports science. So now I could completely trust all areas of my backroom team, and my scouts in particular…
Anyway, come on then professional football, let’s see what you’ve got!
I joined Lincoln on the 10th June 2024 and I wasted little time in getting my first transfer target scouted and signed up. Darren Saunders was an 18 year old regen who was already 5 star rated when I joined Bala Town in the Welsh JD Cymru Premier, as well as a Wales U21 International.
Obviously I had the knowledge that he had understandably decided not to sign a professional contract with Bala as he wanted to go to a more prestigious club, so I figured although he would drop a couple a couple of stars coming to League One he would still be a great first team player with significant potential. My scout confirmed as much, 3 star rated at this level with the potential to reach 5 star. I wasted no time and approached him directly, agreed a deal for £2k per week, and that was it – possibly the bargain of the transfer window was wrapped up 12 days after I joined the club, before we had even got into the official window itself!
I tell you what it was very strange to be offering £2k a week to a player, in Wales the most I had ever been able to offer a player was £400 per week, with the majority of my players either playing for free or for around £150-200 per week. I guess this is just one of the changes I will need to get used to when stepping up the divisions.
We’ll start with the outgoings first, and to be honest it was a really disappointing start to the window. When I had the offer from Lincoln I went and looked at their squad and there were 3 really top players for this league in there that I wanted to build my team around. First was the captain Adam Jackson, then the vice-captain Lewis Montsma and finally was our key player Manuel Hidalgo… as you can see 10 days in to the transfer window and all 3 were sold.
They received bids from much higher reputation clubs and despite my best efforts to convince them to stay, without much standing in the dressing room yet I was unable to, and I have a rule that no player is irreplaceable so if you want to go then you can go, as long as the price is fair. To be honest to get nearly £1.5m (with add ons) between just those 3 players as a League One club was quite good business. We also sold 3 unwanted players in Jarvis Edobor, Cameron Evans & Ramarni Medford-Smith for a combined £200k.
So overall we had a good window in terms of money coming in, even if the quality going out was going to be hard to replace.
Despite having a budget of £1.8m to begin with, plus the £1.2m coming in from the outgoings, so £3m budget overall, I just wasn’t used to spending money due to the lack of need to when in Wales as the majority of players at semi-professional level move around for free or are free agents. So as you can see I didn’t exactly splash out, I stuck to what I knew and trusted my scouts (one of the biggest reasons I sort out staff straight away at any new club).
Towards the end of June the first player one of my new scouts recommended was Miguel Azeez (CM/CAM/CDM) as his contract was coming to an end with Arsenal. I couldn’t believe it but we managed to get him for £1k per week! Great bit of business. Daniel Butterworth (ST/LW/AM/RW) followed next from Blackburn after one of my most trusted scouts gave him a 99 score on his scout report, so I got the deal done.
3 free agents came in next after being released from premier league sides, Morgan Rogers (ST/LW/AM/RW – Man City), Alex Kirk (CB – Arsenal) and Kian Pennant (LW/ST – Leicester) are all rated 3 star at this level with the potential to get to 4/4.5 so I was delighted to get those in the door with other clubs sniffing around. My next 2 signings were probably my personal favourites, we went to Northern Ireland to get regens Liam Moroney & Oliver McAllister. Both central midfielders, McAllister is one who will sit deep and dictate the tempo, but Moroney is really one to keep an eye out for as the save progresses, he has all the attributes to completely mix his game from being the one who runs the game to the midfield general in the flick of a switch, really excited to see how he will progress.
My last 4 signings of the summer included Steven Baxter, another 5 star rated regen I had at Bala Town, for the eye watering fee of £1.4k! He dropped to 2.5 star at this level but still had plenty of potential and for that price I couldn’t help myself. 29 year old RB Fankaty Dabo added some much needed experience to this youthful looking squad, and he was actually named my captain for the season ahead. Normally I don’t like making new players captain, but his leadership qualities were far above anyone else in the squad so I made the decision.
Another former premier league youngster joined us after being released, Malachi Walcott (CB – Tottenham) was a signing I was delighted to make, it’s not often you find a centre back with 17 pace & acceleration! His pace would allow us to play the higher defensive line I like to play where possible. The finally, after securing Liverpool as a parent club, I managed to sign a player who was without a doubt our best individual player, 18 year old regen Qullian Vaughan (RW/ST), rated 4 star at this level was signed on a season long loan deal and we didn’t have to contribute anything towards the wages.
Overall I have to say I am very impressed with the squad we put together for a combined cost of £135k, which meant we barely touched the transfer budget and had helped significantly in securing the clubs financial situation for that season.
Pre-Season & Tactics
After securing the signing of Azeez I had visions of him playing as the number 10 in a new look formation for me (in terms of this managerial career). I had originally planned to develop with a 4-2-3-1 formation and see how we got on, however I had also started preparing a 4-3-2-1 formation playing with all 3 of the midfielders in the middle of the park to add a few more numbers in there to suit our playing style. The 2 formations are shown below, along with the instructions which were the same for both, however for now we would be trying to develop the 4-2-3-1 formation first.
If you’ve been following the journey you will know by now that I don’t care about pre-season results at all, I never see all losses as too much to worry about and equally all wins anything to be excited about. I don’t know why but in my experience they have never been a way of measuring how your team will perform tactically or how successful you will be when you get into the season. To me they are and always will be just matches for the players to get used to playing together and to build match fitness. However I still put the results in as I know people like to know how we got on, and as you can see it was a clean sweep of victories against teams we should be beating so no dramas.
Right here we are then, our first month of professional football matches! But before we get into the games there was some other good news in August, we completed the coaching course we had started at Bala Town and had managed to bag our Continental B Licence! But better than that was the news from the board who immediately sent me on another course to gain my Continental A Licence which would take 12 months providing we passed first time. If we achieve that then there is only the Continental Pro Licence to gain and then we are the most qualified we can be!
Anyway back to the football. The board wanted me to finish mid-table (between 12th-16th) and the media had us down for a 16th place finish. However after reviewing Lincoln’s final positions on the game in previous seasons (10th, 17th, 15th, 19th) as well as taking into account the quality of the other teams in the division, I set myself a personal target of a top 10 finish. I didn’t think we had the quality to do it in comparison to other squads but I wanted to set myself a challenging yet realistic goal, so top 10 finish is the aim!
Right enough messing about let’s get down to business. 4 years of slogging it out in the semi professional leagues dreaming of this moment! 5 league games and a Carabao Cup First Round game to contend with in the month of August… Let’s go!!
We had a dream first game of the season against promotion tipped Sunderland at home (1-0). Playing with the 4-2-3-1 formation we had total control of the game and new signing & club captain Fankaty Dabo got the only goal in the 10th minute after he made an overlapping run down the right hand side to arrive late and smash the ball in to the back of the net. However a disappointing trip to Newport followed where quite frankly we were very lucky to escape with a share of the points against the relegation candidates (0-0).
We then had a Carabao Cup tie against Fleetwood who were a division below us. I did rotate the team completely but the performance we produced was first class, except for putting the ball in the back of the net! They somehow managed to inflict a 2-0 loss on us and as you can imagine the board were not impressed, fortunately they were not expecting much in the cup competitions this season so it didn’t impact our managerial rating too much, but personally I was disappointed.
I know it was early doors but I had already seen enough to decide that having an out-and-out number 10 just wasn’t working. We were being overrun in midfield and were just too easy to get at. So I decided to go to the backup tactic and give the 4-3-2-1 formation a chance for the remaining 3 games in the month, and the first team to try it out against was Coventry.
They had a better team on paper than us, but we completely dominated the game and restricted them to just 2 shots, I know it sounds cliche but the new formation just felt much more natural for my team. They were moving the ball much better and creating far more chances, as well as feeling much more solid when we lost the ball, a very good 1-0 win and a first goal from star man Quillian Vaughan on his debut only 3 days after signing was hopefully a sign of things to come!
Next up was an away game against Sheffield Wednesday, they had been tipped to be promoted automatically this season and had some unbelievable regens in their squad, but had not had a great start to the season so I was hopeful we could take a point back to Lincoln with us…As you can see we did much more than that! An early goal from Vaughan set us on our way in an entertaining game which featured big chances for both sides, before two goals in the final 7 minutes put some gloss on the scoreline for us (3-0). It was the perfect away performance in my opinion and believe it or not it was another fantastic display against play-off hopefuls Wigan Athletic that followed, however we were no where near as clinical this time and were duly punished for it. Not sure how but a 2-1 loss was the final result.
That was the end of August and meant that from our first 5 league games a professional manager we had lost 1, drawn 1 and won 3! Excellent start to the season and much better than I could have hoped for. However as we all know League One is a marathon not a sprint and 5 games is nothing in the grand scheme of things, particularly when you consider our performances against Newport and Fleetwood, which shows when we’re not at the races we have the potential to produce extremely sub-par displays.
At the end of August the league table reflected our good start and had us sitting in 4th, but we’re only just getting started and with a gap of just 6 points separating top of the table Ipswich and 14th place Charlton I’m sure things would certainly move around significantly in the months ahead.
Next time we will be navigating our way through the months of September, October & November 2024. Games start coming thick and fast across 3 competitions in October & November and a potentially career ending injury to one of our star performers threatens to derail the team.
Can we keep up the good start we’ve had and nail down our playoff chances? Or do I struggle to cope with the step up in quality and leave the team in free fall heading into the final month of the year? Find out how we get on when the next episode drops on Tuesday 2nd February 2021.
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While you’re here on DP-FM 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!
To read from the start click here – https://dpfmblog.com/2020/12/21/bolton-back-to-europa-s1e1/
Or to follow from the current season click here – https://dpfmblog.com/2021/01/26/bolton-back-to-europa-s3e1-calmness-is-key/
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