Welcome ladies and gents to the Season Finale! Last time out we finished the episode occupying the final play-off place with 10 games to go. Promotion to the promise land of the Premier League is a real possibility and would complete one of the most ridiculous meteoric rises in history as we would have gone from being a 26 year old nobody looking to get into football to a Premier League manager within 6 seasons of taking our first ever job… right, calm, we have achieved nothing yet and in 10 games in this league you can go from promotion hopefuls to mid-table nobodies in no time at all.
As well as continuing our push for promotion we were also still going strong in the FA Cup following the giant killings of Sheffield Utd and Manchester City last time out! Imagine that? Premier League promotion and collecting the FA Cup as our first piece of silverware in England… now I really am talking absolute nonsense. But admit it, you’re intrigued right?
Come on then – March, April & May 2026… let’s be havin’ you!
March was going to be a crucial month in our season. We had a favourable FA Cup draw which meant our 5th round tie was against League One Walsall, providing we could make it through then we would have the Quarter Final in the same month!
On top of that we were also going to be playing 3 teams who are above us in the league, and considering we’re 6th at the moment, you can guarantee they were going to be incredibly tough matches. They would also be pivotal in deciding whether automatic promotion was a real option or whether we would need to continue our fight for the play off places. Let’s get into it…
Also I’ve changed the layout so you can see the result and the goalscorers (stole this Idea from Scott’s posts I won’t lie!) – let me know what you think.
I can’t even begin to get across how frustrating this month was. We started with a comfortable 1-0 win over Walsall in the FA Cup 5th Round. I fully rotated the starting XI but they produced a very good performance and apart from one or two nervy moments we always looked in control.
Up next was a crucial game against 2nd place Aston Villa who were only 7 points ahead of us. It was a close fought game until we took the lead in the 83rd minute through that man Kenedy, we had the ball in their corner in the 93rd minute and looked destined to secure the crucial 1-0 win, that was until the ball broke loose, they picked it up and broke in devastating fashion to secure a share of the points (1-1). Honestly I was gutted, we were seconds away from really turning automatic promotion into something which was very achievable and we threw it away… not for the first time this month as you will see.
The Reading result was a fair reflection of the match but I was disappointed we didn’t take full advantage on home soil, 1 point is better than none I guess (1-1). However the game against West Ham had me pulling my hair out! Obviously they’re top of the league and it was away from home at the London Stadium so most people will be thinking a draw is a good result? Let me show (and tell) you why it wasn’t…
West Ham had started the game by peppering my goal, but 11 minutes in Felipe Anderson goes in two-footed on one of my players and is sent off to have an early shower. It then became a case of attack vs defence, however West Ham have fantastic individual players and it was one of those individuals, Callum Moore, who picked up the ball inside his own half and dribbled around 4 of my players before chipping my keeper from about 20 yards out. Ridiculous goal – easily one of the best goals I’ve ever seen on the game and I just assumed it was going to be one of those games.
My team kept going but just could not create any clear cut chances until with 5 minutes to go that man Lewis-Potter get’s an equaliser which sparked me into a little Harry Kane fist pump whilst sat in my office. Then would you believe it that man Lewis-Potter goes on a mazy run in the dying minutes and puts in an unbelievable cross for Kwame Poku to nod in at the back post and make it 2-1 in stoppage time! Surely that would be the winner? By the time we finished celebrating there were only 40 seconds left in added time – however as you can see that was enough time for my defence to completely switch off and allow West Ham to create one final chance straight from kick off, which with there quality they duly dispatched to take a share of the points (2-2).
For the second time in 3 matches we had conceded a 94th minute equaliser to the 2 teams who were occupying 1st and 2nd in the league… honestly I might start wearing a heart rate monitor when playing this game just to see what levels I get too! I was FUMING with the team for allowing 6 points to turn into 2 in exactly the same manner only 10 days apart.
Anyway we had another important match to contend with away from league football as we took a trip to Molineux for the FA Cup Quarter Final against Wolves. This time I could have no complaints about the outcome as they played us off the park and honestly it was embarrassing that it even went to extra-time before they scored the decisive goal (2-3). Still though I was so proud of the run we went on beating Premier League sides Sheffield United & Pep Guardiola’s Man City along the way, as well as almost taking Wolves to penalties! Shoutout Lewis-Potter with another 2 goals, what a signing he has been!!
We finished the month with a game against Bristol City that honestly might be the most boring match of Football Manager I have ever endured. A combined 5 shots between the 2 teams yet it still managed to finish 1-1. I think the team were just drained by all the drama this month, they looked like a bunch of players who didn’t want to be out there which is not what I need when we’re so close to the end of the season!
After the month that could have been so much more the table looked like this:
We’ve held onto our 6th place for now but Birmingham are closing in. It all could have been so different! If we had got those extra 6 points from beating Aston Villa, West Ham & Bristol City we would be on 79 points and really eyeing up a late automatic promotion push. The fine margins in football mean we’re not even thinking about promotion and instead just want to keep our play-off place as we head into April.
I know after the last episode you probably don’t want to read about another transfer for a little while but in March my scouts drew my attention to Caden Clark, a 22 year old USA international who was a free agent after leaving the MLS. I couldn’t say no to this one, 3.5 star rated with potential of 4 star, who can play CAM/LW/RW/ST, and he only wanted £14k wages with a £23m release clause…bargain of the season and could still play a huge role in our promotion push!
April & May 2026
Our last 6 games looked promising on paper as all the teams we face are below us in the league and not only that but they’re teams that don’t really have much to play for (aside from one or two). However as we all know, the game is not played on paper!
It’s probably best I take you through the final 6 weeks of the season in stages, so bare with me, you won’t believe the drama. Can we secure a play off place or are we just not quite ready yet? Just to confirm this is the full list of teams left to play:
Millwall, Blackburn, Ipswich and Preston had nothing really to play for so I wasn’t too concerned about them. However Cardiff & Huddersfield were fighting against relegation and as we all know, when a team is facing relegation they can produce the most unlikeliest of results, and that worries me. Let’s start with the first two games of the month….
Ok good start. I said when I signed him that Caden Clark might be crucial to our play-off hopes and he proved me right here against Millwall with a decisive 78th minute winner to give us all the points (1-0). We then swept aside Blackburn with a comfortable 2-0 victory courtesy of goals in either half from Kwame Poku & Jacob Brown.
That meant with 4 games to go the table looked like this and you can see the other fixtures teams around us face.
We were still in 6th and only 1 point behind Reading and 2 points behind Derby above us. Birmingham were only 4 points behind us so I wanted to win every remaining game to not only guarantee a finish in the play-offs but also finish as high as possible so we would get an ‘easier’ route to the final. However that did not go to plan…
Heartbreak. We absolutely battered Ipswich but just couldn’t find a way through (0-0), even worse than that was the sprained knee ligaments star man Lewis-Potter suffered which would keep him out of all our remaining games and play-offs if we were to make it. Without his spark in the attacking areas we just didn’t have the quality to finish the chances we were making.
However the worst was yet to come as we faced Cardiff who at the time were occupying the final relegation place. They had to fight for their lives and boy did they do that! They sat back and absorbed all the pressure we threw at them and were clinical on the counter attack, scoring 3 goals from 5 shots on target (1-3). I can’t say we deserved more because we didn’t, there’s no point creating chance after chance if you’re not going to even test the keeper! The boys got what they deserved. I feared for the worst in the league and the table shows I was right to…
We fell out of the play offs and were now 1 point behind Birmingham & Derby with 2 games to play. The last remaining games against Preston & Huddersfield should have been easy wins, particularly Preston as they had nothing to play for anymore, however Huddersfield were yet to confirm safety and I was expecting another difficult game against them as long as relegation was still a possibility in their future. Before we get into the last 2 games of the season we had more injury misery…
So that is our star winger and star midfielder out injured for the rest of our games and potentially play-offs if we can make it. 2 games to find out if we do, let’s start with Preston:
Ok that’s one! A comfortable victory in all honesty although a late consolation from Preston made it look closer than it was (2-1). Was that enough to put destiny back into our own hands for the final play-off place heading into the final game of the season?
Unfortunately not, It would come down to the final day. We were playing Huddersfield (20th) who as you can see are firm candidates for relegation heading into the final day, Derby were playing Cardiff (22nd) who needed to win as well which provided me with some hope, and finally Birmingham were playing Brighton (2nd) who needed the victory to confirm automatic promotion ahead of Aston Villa.
What a day it promised to be, so many twists and turns along the way – to know what was at stake for us let’s start with the other teams results. Derby got a very lucky 1-0 win away at Cardiff on the final day, they seemed to set up the same way they did against us but they just weren’t as clinical as they were against us.
That meant that Derby were out of our reach now so we had to hope Birmingham dropped points against Brighton that would allow us an opportunity to take the final play off place…
AND THEY DID!! Brighton got what looks like a very undeserved draw against Birmingham but we don’t care. This meant that all we needed to do was win against relegation threatened Huddersfield and we would be in the play-offs! Could we do it?
Oh no no no no no no. NO!!!! Heartbroken, completely devastated to lose out like this. Things started off so well as we raced into a 2-0 lead and were absolutely cruising, but then it happened, Huddersfield must have got the message of results elsewhere and they knew they HAD to win to avoid relegation and with their first 2 attacks of the game the scores were tied at 2-2 only 5 minutes after we had gone 2-0 up.
I pushed everyone forward in the hope of trying to get a winner, results had changed and Huddersfield now only needed a draw to avoid relegation. They were sat back in the deepest defensive line I had ever seen on FM and we just couldn’t break them down. Then our hopes were completely taken away as a long ball out of their defence stuck with their striker Alexandre Lacazette (in his final game before retirement), he held it up brilliantly and found a great ball into willing runner Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu and with all of my team up the pitch trying to find the winner he had the simplest task of smashing the ball into the back of the net 1 on 1 with my keeper (2-3).
Huddersfield players went wild knowing they had guaranteed survival and another season in the Championship. My players fell to the floor for the for exactly the same reason, amazing to see how the exact same outcome (staying in the division) can mean jubilation for one and heartbreak for the other.
Ultimately we lost out because of some stupid results from March onwards. I look back in the final few months and think of those 94th minute goals conceded to Aston Villa & West Ham, I think about the careless draws to Bristol City & Ipswich and of course to the unforgivable losses to Cardiff & Huddersfield. If we had just done the job in those handful of games mentioned there we would have gone up automatically let alone the play-offs. Ultimately though the table never lies and this is how it finished:
So close and yet so far. Don’t get me wrong the play-offs were never expected from the board but it was my personal target when I took over and to come so close and then throw it away like that hurts. I actually felt deflated after it! However thinking about it I don’t think we would have won the play-offs and quite frankly the team is not good enough yet to handle the Premier League so another season at this level is probably exactly what we need. Although I think we can all agree we know what the aim is for next season! Well the board just want another top half finish but at least their mindset has changed slightly with me at the helm in terms of looking at promotion in the coming seasons:
For those of you wondering it was a Second-City derby in the final of the play-offs as Aston Villa faced Birmingham, the team who had just beaten us to the final play off place. Would you believe it…
Birmingham go up on penalties! Just to add more salt into the wounds… no like I said before we’re not ready yet so another season down here will do for now. Congratulations to Birmingham and I hope they make a good account of the quality at this level in the Premier League next season!
End of Season Review
Here’s a little section for those interested that covers a small part of our end of season review. I didn’t screenshot every section just ones that I thought were particularly interesting:
I think if you look at the results from end of February onwards you can see how we managed to throw it away. Far too many draws in March and then those losses against Cardiff and Huddersfield just ruined everything. I think potentially all the changes that we were forced into in January didn’t help us but oh well – we go again!
The Rotherham game was actually before I took over but the match to remember was certainly one of my favourites. 4 goals from Kenedy and 3 in the last 6 minutes! However it was his goal earlier in the game that caught the most attention as our goal of the season.
Next time we will be going through our first full pre-season with Stoke. Will having that extra time with the players be the difference in making us promotion candidates next time around? Or will another squad overhaul cause more uncertainty and leave us with a team of players who simply cannot play together? Find out next time.
Make sure you check back in to find out how we get on in the next episode which will drop on Sunday 28th 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/2021/02/07/bolton-back-to-europa-s4e1-early-inconsistences/
Thank you for reading and supporting us. As always please keep safe during these difficult times and we’ll see you again soon!