Matt is our guest blogger this week – you can catch up with part one of the Stockport Diaries here
Part 2: August 1997 (part A)
August kicks off with my second and final friendly, again at home on a Friday night to Huddersfield. This should be more of a test and I make just 2 changes, veteran keeper Eric Nixon coming in for Neil Edwards who has picked up a knock, and Heidenstrom in for the injured Bennett. Once again the town is buzzing and over 10,000 come to a friendly, very impressive for ‘little Stockport’ as the press annoyingly brand us.
Huddersfield line up the same as us, but playing a more passing style. I am confident that our pacy frontline will do some damage though with Armstrong (pace 18) and Charana (pace 19) comfortably having the legs on their defence.
The first half is cagey, and for cagey read boring. Not a lot happens until around the 40 minute mark where we suddenly come alive and have 6 shots in 6 minutes, but veteran keeper Steve Francis is equal to them all, with Charana particularly guilty of missing. I am not too displeased, my blood pressure not up to what it would be if this match actually mattered, so I keep things the same for the second half, and within 7 minutes of the restart we are 2 goals up, both from threaded passes setting away the fast strikers, and once Armstrong has shown him how it’s done, Charana follows suit. The rest of the game is pretty much a non-event, but I’m pleased with my defence as Nixon doesn’t have a shot to save.
A bit of a worry financially is that we have almost filled Edgeley to capacity for a friendly, so we are going to lose out on a lot of potential gate receipts, but it’s too late for that now, it’s time for the new season, and I stroll out of my office cautiously optimistic for the coming weeks.
We have a full week off before the start to the season, but the vultures are already circling, and I won’t stand in his way if we get the right money for him. If a player doesn’t want to be here then off they go.
Thanks to season ticket sales I have a little bit of money, so sign Kevin James from Falkirk for 250k as a pre-emptive replacement for Flynn who’s head has been turned by Crystal Palace and Sheffield United.
Matchday comes around against Wolves and thankfully I have had no bids for any of my want away stars, but Jim Gannon has added himself to the list of ‘wants to move to a bigger club’. Jim, this is your level, in fact this is probably above your level, so stop whining and play. He hasn’t handed a transfer request in yet so maybe my pep talk worked, I might need to be a bit more positive in future though, don’t want to demotivate the lad. Still, it worked for Cloughie so why not for me?
Wolves away, the first of 3 away league games in a row, thanks fixture computer, with a 2 leg League cup tie against Tranmere mixed in. There is a dangerous mix of youth (16 year old Robbie Keane) and experience (32 year old Steve Bull) in the Wolves squad, but I am going to continue my Keegan-esque style and not be cowed. There is only one change to the team that beat Huddersfield as a fit again Neil Edwards replaces Nixon. New signings James and Smith are still not match fit, and long term absentee Brett Angell won’t be available for a couple of months.
That Keane and Bull strike force worry me a bit….
Well the first 28 minutes are not what I expect, we are first to every ball, absolutely dominate the game and are good value for our 1-0 lead that Charana has given us, indeed it should be more but Hans Segers is rolling back the years and stopping everything.
It is of course then inevitable that Steve Bull should be presented with a chance, and even more inevitable that he puts it away. We are rocking for five minutes, I shout to Luis Cavaco to drop back and help in midfield, but we are still indebted to Edwards for making a couple of great saves to keep us level. I contemplate changes but decide to hold my nerve, and a few minutes later the storm passes and we wrestle back control, Armstrong again running through and popping it away with aplomb. Half time and we deservedly lead, am I going to sit back and try and hold on? No chance.
Well that’s annoying. Wolves brought on Keith Curle and played ultra-defensive for the second half despite being 2-1 down at home, and played on the counter attack, and it bloody worked. A quick long ball caught us out and Steve Corica left Edwards with no chance. Then on 86 minutes exactly the same thing happened as we pushed forward, but as I threw my jacket down in disgust at the daylight robbery and sheer injustice, the linesman flagged very late and it was disallowed. 2-2 it finished away from home at Wolves thanks to an exceptional stop in injury time by Edwards, I’ll take that, although I may rethink my strategy when I’m winning away.
Games come thick and fast so early, Tranmere in the cup next but I’m not resting players, we were semi-finalists last year after all. Just one change as McIntosh comes in for a knackered Sean Connelly.
Well that was comfortable. Both of us in the same division but there seemed a gulf in class. Two each for Heidenstrom and Armstrong, and maybe I will rest a few for the second leg. I still can’t get my head around why Leyton Orient wanted to get rid of Heidenstrom, their loss is my gain. 12 goals in 3 home games are keeping the crowds happy, only a few hundred off a full house, they’ll be chanting my name before long…. I just hope it isn’t followed by ‘is a wanker…..’, early signs are good.
My mood is soured somewhat when straight after the game Gannon comes back and requests a transfer. I stare him cold heartedly and say ‘fine’, but my heart is weeping, this team is going to be unrecognisable by Christmas. Curse you Murdoch and your billions, poor little Stockport can’t compete with that.
Oxford away next, and given they are a smaller team there is no way I am changing tactic from the Keegan way, even if it is on the road. Connelly returns in place of McIntosh, and new signing Smith gets a place on the bench. Record signing Kevin James is still not fit. Oxford are 442 merchants, with an unusual tactic of throwing Darren Purse up front for the beginning, I think this may be somewhat of a long ball fest.
A quiet first half with just a goal from Alun ‘with a u’ Armstrong. I’m away from home, 1 goal up, Micky Flynn implores me to play more defensively in the second half but I ignore the treacherous letch and carry on gung ho.
Take that Flynn! Within a minute of the restart we are 2-0 up, and despite being denied a clear penalty we get 2 more and manage to miss one, but no matter we win comfortably. If only these want away players would have faith who knows where we’d be? At least Kiko Charana doesn’t want to leave. Stockport evidently reminds him of his home in Madeira, and he’s on fire at the moment. Now let’s see if we can get to the next game without a transfer request.
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