Upsetting the odds… we have been since day one of this journey, can we do it yet again and secure Championship football for next season when we were expected to battle against being sucked into a relegation fight?
Only 14 games in the final 4 months stood in the way of us going from an unemployed nobody to a Championship manager within 5 seasons. Additionally we were also in with a chance of winning a league title for the first time since our season two JD Cymru South triumph. Alright, enough tension-building, let’s get into it!
February started off with some great news around my contract. I had signed a one year deal that was due to expire in the summer but the board offered me an extension for an extra year that I signed immediately. I think at this point I would just accept any contract put in front of me by this club, that’s how grateful I am they decided to give me the opportunity to manage professionally in League One!
Ok so here we are. The start of 14 matches that could end with outcomes that I could only dream of when I took the job! I wouldn’t let the lads see how excited I was inside, it was business as usual as far as everyone else was concerned. Speaking of business, let’s get down to it…
An unbeaten month yes but any dropped points at this stage of the season were cause for concern. A great away win at 3rd place Colchester (1-0) kicked off February and gave me hope we could get 4 wins in the month as the other teams we faced were all in the bottom half of the table.
We secured a comfortable 2-0 win away at bottom side Oxford before being held to 1-1 draws at home to Charlton and then away at relegation candidates Swindon. The performances in both were enough to win the games, but something didn’t feel right. I could feel that the boys were starting to let the pressure get to them.
I pondered giving them an extra day off training but thought that may arouse suspicion and make them wonder why I was changing my approach. I decided I wouldn’t blink first and kept everything the same as we had done all season to get us into this position in the first place.
At the end of the month with 10 games to go the table looked like this:
2 points clear at the top and 8 points clear in the automatic promotion places. Plenty of football left to be played and trust me, things can turn around in a flash in this league. Everyone has 30 points to play for and I know they will all be doing everything they can to get one over the “league leaders”. The targets on our back and we have to cope with it…
4 games in March and we should have a much clearer picture of the league heading into the final months of the season after this group of fixtures.
Mixed bag of results overall. My boys went 2-0 up inside 10 minutes away at play-off chasing Burton before being pegged back to 2-2. A comfortable 2-0 win against mid-table Accrington followed before what would surely be a nailed on victory at home to second bottom Gillingham?
Yeah I thought so too, but this is the issue when teams are scrapping and fighting for relegation, anything can happen. In a game where I had 21 shots to their 6 they somehow came out on top (1-2). At this point I was getting nervous, up next was an away trip to play-off chasing Hull who were in good form, I could really see that a defeat here may lead to a complete unravelling of our promotion hopes.
I decided to address the elephant in the room during the team talk, I hadn’t spoken about the table or promotion or anything to the boys… until now. I told them that a victory here could give us some breathing space at the top of the league, they responded brilliantly, all fired up and the performance reflected that. 4-0 win in a game we controlled from minute one. That meant with 6 games to go the table looked like this…
Not yet… stop celebrating! YES YOU READING THIS RIGHT NOW! STOP.
5 points clear at the top, 8 points clear in the automatic promotion places and a game in hand. It was all up to us that’s for sure – into the final month we go. Well there’s one game in May but it’s pretty much the final month!
April & May 2025
5 games in April, 1 in May then that was it. Season done. The only question that would remain was if we had done enough to be crowned champions, gained automatic promotion, or would we need to settle for the play-off lottery? Or MAYBE we wouldn’t even make it into the play offs… nothing was confirmed yet and it really was all up for grabs.
Let’s start with the first 4 games of April. A great win against relegation threatened Wimbledon (4-2), to be honest it was games against the bottom sides that concerned me more than games against the top sides at the moment as down there they’re fighting for their lives!
Then after that it was three frustrating draws in a row. The one away at Fratton Park against Portsmouth (0-0) was actually a good result as they were chasing the automatic promotion places. We were cruising to a 1-0 win against Salford as well until a hectic final 5 minutes – they made it 1-1 in the 87th minute before we got what I thought was a deserved winner in the 89th minute courtesy of on loan striker Paul Devlin, only for Salford to score again in the 91st minute to salvage a draw! (2-2).
A poor game against Luton followed, In a game of few chances a 1-1 result was fair… but it didn’t matter. YES NOW! CELEBRATE NOW!
We may have crawled over the line but it was confirmed after the Luton game… WE WILL BE IN THE CHAMPIONSHIP NEXT SEASON!!!
I honestly cannot believe that 5 years ago we were blessed to have any offer and next season we would be mixing it against the likes of West Ham & Aston Villa. One division away from the promise land of the Premier League! SOMEBODY PINCH ME. Actually don’t – social distancing and all that…
We just needed one more win to be crowned as champions. Up next was a game against Wycombe, but if we lost and Ipswich won the final game of the season would be a title decider against Ipswich!
Fortunately I think the FM gods had decided I had been through enough drama over the past 5 seasons and allowed me to win the game against Wycombe comfortably (4-1) so the boys could celebrate the unlikeliest of league title wins! Good thing we did as well as we lost the final game against Ipswich (1-2), although that might have been from the celebrations the lads had been having following the Wycombe game… but in all honesty who the hell cares?
CAMPIONE CAMPIONE OLE OLE OLE!!!
Ipswich make it up in the automatic promotion places following their final day win over Wigan and in all honesty I am delighted for them. They pretty much led the league all season until the final couple of months when we overtook them and if they had missed out on automatic promotion I would have been pretty gutted for them.
For those of you thinking Wigan were unlucky don’t worry – they won the play offs and will join us and Ipswich in the Championship next season!
We even had a lovely message from Lincoln legend and current Premier League side Middlesbrough manager Danny Cowley following the title victory! Only blushing a little bit… HE KNOWS MY NAME!
The league clearly agreed as we were awarded Manager of the Year in our first season in professional football.
For those of you interested this is just a little section to give you some insight into how the season was broken down with the data and behind the scenes stuff.
Yes you’re reading that right. Our backup right back Aaron Lewis had 19 goal contributions from 40 appearances… and 17 of those were from the bench! He did score about 6 penalties but they all count… I would agree with the majority of this XI but would replace Morgan Rogers with Paul Devlin and probably would replace Kian Pennant with Daniel Butterworth or Josh Eppiah.
Big increase in competition prize money from winning the league this season, which also led to an increase in our overall club reputation. I was surprised Quillan Vaughan wasn’t the most popular in terms of shirt sales but the fans seemed to favour the permanent players rather than those just here for the season on loan.
We also had 4 players make it into the League One Team of the Season! I think Aaron Lewis has been hard done by here, how can you have 19 goal contributions from right back as well as one of the best defensive records in the league and not make it in? Scandalous. Being the team player he is I don’t think he would have minded one bit about awards as long as he knew he was invaluable in getting the team promoted.
Next time we will be going through a pre-season like no other ahead of our first season at Championship level! It’s a busy transfer window as you would expect and we kick off the month of August 2025 with no less than 9 matches… a baptism of fire no doubt.
Find out how we get on in the next episode which will drop on Thursday 11th February 2021.
Don’t forget you can subscribe below to have updates sent directly to your email so you know as soon as an episode is released! As always if you have any thoughts, tips or feedback leave them in the comments below or get in touch with us through our contact page or social media (Twitter @DP_FM_) – we’d love to hear from you! If you’re enjoying then make sure you like this post and share with others from the FM Community.
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/2021/02/07/bolton-back-to-europa-s4e1-early-inconsistences/
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