Comebacks and Comedowns

It’s time for another nail biting season finale here in Scotland, where my Aberdeen side have had to run a group stage gauntlet only to be rewarded by being paired with Barcelona in the last 8. They beat us 3-1 in the Nou Camp, so we’ve got it all to do if we are going to retain our Champions League title. Elsewhere, we’re on for a domestic double and Erik Nevland is approaching a return. Let’s go!

First up is a cup quarter final with Hibernian, which turns out to be a lot easier than I thought.

hibs 1 - 3 aberdeen Cup QF

It puts us in the last 4 along with the Old Firm and either Stenhousemuir or Raith Rovers. I know who I want to draw…

SF Draw

Yay.

One of the many problems we’ve had this season is that we’ve accrued a lot of injuries. We’ve been very lucky in previous seasons so maybe it’s just catching up with us. However we go into the second leg of the Barcelona clash without Mulryne, Nevland, Emmers and Heidenstrom. Oh and Darren Eadie is ineligible. It never rains but it pours.

aberdeen squad vs Barcelona

All we have to do is win 2-0…

aberdeen 3 - 0 barca

That’ll do! One of the great comebacks sees us knock our Barceona for a second consecutive season. What’s next on this gauntlet?

CL SF Draw 99

Brilliant. There wasn’t really a good tie to get there.

It’s off to Raith Rovers in a bit of a come down from the Barcelona shenanigans, and a ridiculous afternoon sees us secure three points at the cost of our goalkeeper and centre half

Raith Chaos

We’ve got a week off before embarking on an insane run of games, starting with Celtic at home

schedule

We usually beat the Bhoys, even if the gap has narrowed this season. I tend to think that’s down to Nevland being out more than anything else.

Celtic beaten 2-1

Another win that comes at a cost. Bakayoko’s season is over ahead of the Man Utd clash

Baka done

It’s time to welcome Fergie back to Aberdeen again, only he robs us blind.

aberdeen 0 - 1 man utd

Without our main strikers we just can’t test Shay Given in the Man Utd goal and Roy Keane scores from a rebound on half time. It’s a sucker punch and I am livid.

Whilst I try and think of a way to overturn the deficit, we’ve got a chance to secure the Scottish title if we can win at Hearts

hearts 1 - 2 aberdeen

Good old Keith. A third consecutive title is secured.

league won 00

The last thing I need is more games so a draw with Raith in the cup semis is not my ideal result, though I am very grateful for a 90th minute equaliser than saves our blushes after a pretty awful display.

1-1 Raith SF

SF Results 00

Bit surprised to see Celtic finally topple Rangers but it’s better for us given our record against McGhee’s men. Our replay is scheduled just 2 days after the first clash and the squad is, as the medical men call it, on it’s arse.

before replay

Somehow we dig deep and get the job done with a ruthless first half. Another final secured.

SF Replay

Man Utd away is never easy and with a knackered squad needing to overturn a 1-0 deficit, it’s fair to say our grip on Europe’s Premier Club competition is slipping. Still, we can only try.

2nd leg defeat

Awful. We couldn’t even lay a finger on them. Back to the double qualifiers next season

The only thing left in the league is a trip to Rangers, where we manage to blow a 2-0 lead but still remain unbeaten. We’ve managed to go the whole season without losing to the Old Firm and suffering just on defeat…to Hearts.

2-2 rangers

What’s that coming over the hill?

Nevland returns

It’s Erik Nevland! His spine is back in one piece and he’s got a cup final to win. I bring him on for the last half an hour against Hibs and he makes his mark after just 4 minutes

nevland goal

Lovely Erik. We finish with 95 goals and points. Motherwell are the surprise relegation, though not surprising on this season’s form.

scots prem top final 00

The cup final with Celtic is poorly attended. Nevland scores twice but he’s offside on both occasions. That’ll be rustiness. Anyway, Mulryne secures the double with a late goal to round off an average season.

cup final 00

Our European conquerers go on to win the trophy, which is always somewhat of a second prize.

CL Final 00

We’ll just drop in south of the border before we head off to Euro 2000, and Man Utd are still dominant

Prem top 00

Good for them. Tottenham are promoted from Division 1 whilst winning the League Cup and FA Cup

chelsea 0 - 1 spurs

I bet he feels like a right…nevermind.

England head to Holland with the below squad. Scotland didn’t qualify.

England squad 00

Yes, that’s Stephen Clemence. And Kevin Pressman. Is Phil Neville a star player? They’re in a group with Croatia, Bosnia and Germany.

A draw with Bosnia, a 1-0 loss to Croatia leads into a clash with Germany. Gazza rights some wrongs

England 4 - 2 Germany

A familiar scoreline. Sadly though Croatia’s win over Bosnia eliminates England and it’s all for nothing.

There is some good news as Nevland gets his first International goal against Spain

Nev Norway

They’re out too though. It all boils down to an Italy/Holland final

Euro SF 00

Can Holland win on home soil!?

EUro 00 final

No. No romance here.

A quick look at some Aberdeen stats before we hand out some awards. Tomlinson and Bakayoko did a good job really, making up for Nevland’s  56 from last season

goals 00

Nevland’s rating looks amazing but he only played 8 games (and scored 13 goals)

average ratings 00

Tomlinson’s efforts are rewarded with the Football Writers title. Next stop England?

tomlinson award

I won the manager award and it’s about time one of the International managers got peddled. Not Hoddle though, I’ve done that.

english awards 00scots awards 00

So another season is behind us. I need to find a way to improve us to get our European title back and prove last season wasn’t a fluke. We’ve got £30m in the bank so money is not an issue. Please do join me next week where we’ll get on with season 4. Tatty bye.

 

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Return of the King: Part 6 – Kings and Clowns

Matt Wills is back with your usual Thursday-fill, but if you missed part 5 you can catch up here.

Welcome back for Part 6 of Return of the King where we’ve convinced Cantona to do a U-turn on retirement and bring back his 93/94 teammates for another crack at the English treble.

I left you at the end of Part 5 with the first part of the domestic treble completed with victory over Division 1 Sunderland. We’re now getting to the business end of the season and we’ll see if Eric and The Reds can keep the dream alive.

We finished March on a high by lifting the League Cup, but there was little time for celebration as we prepared ourselves for some important semi-finals in April.

First up was the away leg of our Champions League semi-final with Parma. We’d been using the European matches to give some game time to the non-regulars of the 93/94 season, but after edging past Monaco in the quarters, we’re suddenly 180 mins from a European Cup Final and a possible quadruple, so we’re starting to take things seriously now.

Silk and Steel (Cantona and Hughes) are absent for the first leg so I go for Little and Large (Scholes and Dublin) upfront, and use Roy Keane in defence in place of Bruce – it makes little odds though as we concede to Orlandini in the 7th minute. We make few chances and a second half goal from Orlandini again looks like putting the tie beyond us. There was no way past a defence containing Thuram and Buffon – we’ll need something special to make it to the final now.

6 1

We dust ourselves off and head to Sunderland for our FA Cup Semi-final showdown with Everton. There’s some revenge to be had for the 1995 final here but because of injuries to Gary Neville and Leee Sharpe, I can’t send out the same line up from that final, but Parker and Giggs come in to ensure we’ll be heading back to Wembley with a thumping 4-1 win where we’ll play Tottenham after they needed a replay to overcome Liverpool.

6 2

After what seems like an age, we resume league action and wins against Blackburn, with McClair getting all 4 goals, and West Ham are only tempered by a draw with Aston Villa. Our cup exploits in chasing the treble meant the Villa game was 2 days after the West Ham game and 2 days before our crunch game with Parma, so a decidedly second-string side do well to get a point.

6 3

We head into our biggest game of our season so far which a place in the Champions League final at stake, but we have two Orlandini goals to cancel out and the spectre of an even tougher assignment if we concede an away goal.

The good news is Cantona is back from injury, but Hughes is suspended, so 4 goal hero McClair goes upfront with the Frenchman, with as strong a line up as I can muster, a good start to this game is imperative.

Giggs gets us off to a flyer after 16 minutes, bundling in a rebound after Buffon had saved from a Cantona long range effort. 10 minutes later Old Trafford is rocking when Irwin doubles our lead and puts us level on aggregate. During the goalmouth scramble that led to Irwin’s goal, Buffon is injured and has to be taken off. Buffon was a colossus in the first leg and I’m secretly hopeful this will open the floodgates. He’s replaced by Luca Bucci who goes on to become the hero of the hour for Parma.

We batter the Parma goal, but Bucci preforms even better than Buffon, resisting all advances and the more we push forward looking for that 3rd goal, the more I’m aware what a breakaway away goal will do to us.

The end of normal time sees us level on aggregate and extra time looms. Cantona is knackered having only just come back from injury, so I send Scholes on in his stead but still the break through cannot be made. Kanchelskis comes on for Beckham for the 2nd half of extra time, but still Parma stand strong – penalties it is.

I opt for 5 players with good set piece skills, but I can do nothing about Bucci – he saves from Giggs, Irwin and Scholes and we go out 4-1 on penalties, so close yet so far.

6 4

To go from using the Champions League like Fergie used to use the League Cup to being a goal away from getting to the final is quite a turn around and I was secretly hoping to get through and play Barcelona and give the 91 Cup Winners Cup Final line up a run out – imagine Robson lifting Old Big Ears! Alas, it was not to be. Maybe I should have started Eric on the bench and brought him on for penalties…

In reality, Eric came to the decision to retire after Utd lost at the same stage to Borussia Dortmund, so I need to have a chat with the Frenchman and make sure he’s not more deflated than I am.

We dust ourselves down and get back to league action to round out the month. Wins and clean sheets against Southampton and Leeds mean we’ve done enough to clinch the title with 4 games to spare. I’m both delighted and slightly deflated all in one go. In truth, once we hit form, no team has looked like catching us in the league, so was going to be a case of when and not if, still it’s the 2nd part of our treble chase in the bag, but I still feel gutted about missing out on a European final with this team that I’ve come to cherish.

6 5

See you in Part 7 where we see if we can finish off the treble in the FA Cup final against Spurs and follow our Utd players starring in France 98.

You can follow Matt on Twitter @Matt_C_Wills

 

The Stockport Diaries – Part XII

It’s been a turbulent winter for Matt Porter’s Stockport side, but they are still in playoff contention as the calendar turns to March. Can they cement their place in the top 6…or go even better? Catch up with Part 11 here

It’s Spring in Stockport! Their team overachieving in the playoffs, house prices are going through the roof, the hat museum is going from strength to strength, blokes are sitting through 3 hours and 15 minutes of cringe worthy iceberg/biggest ship in the world related drama just to see Kate Winslet’s boobs for 30 seconds, life is good for the County faithful. I’m feeling the pressure though, my sky high expectations are in danger of being failed, I want promotion, I want the glory, I want an open topped bus tour in no doubt grey drizzle…. It was never about avoiding relegation. Now if my strikers could start scoring please that’d be great.

The speech wakes a few of my players up, I’m sure Remi Garde has a tear in is eye, I’m pretty sure Wenger never made such a rousing speech, probably just waffled on about ‘don’t worry mes enfants, whatever happens we can blame ze referee anyway’. Ian Gray looks surprised and drops his brew, which in itself isn’t a surprise. Turns out he didn’t realise we were near the playoffs, not the sharpest tool in the box, or the best handler in it either, hopefully we don’t have to call on him anytime soon.

Our first match is Tranmere, we’ve had some classic ding dongs against them in recent matches and we’ve generally come out on top, so more of the same would be very welcome. Only one change from the disappointment at Portsmouth, the fit again Cavaco comes in for the suspended Youngs. Goal scoring is still a major issue, but we have quality so surely they will come good soon?

1

7 minutes gone, Danny Coyne fouls Armstrong through on goal, gets sent off, penalty, excellent! Even better when it flies in, I’m half way down the touchline celebrating when I see the referee gesticulating for a retake. I go mad, fly off the handle, and inevitably the retake is blasted over the bar. Rest of the half goes exactly as you would expect, plenty of chances, no goals. Surely even we can’t cock this up, can we?

2

Well I know it was against ten men, but I was damn happy with that. Kiko Charana’s name is so chantable, and boy did Edgeley chant as he banged in a hat trick despite missing the penalty in the first half. Steve Simonsen had a great game and yet we win 3-0. Same again next week please boys!

3

Back up to third! We’re still chasing, but we’re still being chased. It’s gonna be a nervy last ten games, but a win against a rival was very well received.

4

We have a trip to another rival next, Ipswich away. Alan Partridge hates the place, and we could do with hitting the back of the net a few times today, but we are missing two stars in Flynny and Armstrong as they both start 2 match bans. Tomlinson impressed off the bench last time out so he gets a start with Youngs still banned, and Matty Bound has been Mr dependable this year and comes in and takes the armband.

5

Well I tempted fate. Mr Dependable scores an own goal to give Ipswich a 2-1 half time lead. Bloody wonderful. Still it’s been an open game, and we’re still in it. Come on boys we need a point here at least.

Forgot to screenshot half time, too preoccupied, but the second half is entertaining too, but as we close in on another defeat…. Shit! Did you see that?! He must have a foot like a traction engine!’ (When in Rome and all that), Tomlinson scores a screamer to send the commentator into meltdown and the away end delirious. We have had enough draws that feel like defeats but this one feels more like a win. Come on County! Our day can’t even be spoilt by Bjorn Heidenstrom insisting on playing a 4 hour documentary on the fjords of Norway on the coach on the way back to Stockport.

6

Automatic promotion is starting to look distant, but I still fancy the play offs, but there is work to be done.

7

An interesting name in the Champions League semi finals, oh how the mighty have fallen (if they were ever that mighty, which they really weren’t:

8

For fucks sake

9

Martin McIntosh comes in for the injured Kevin James with Flynn and Armstrong serving out their bans. Other than that I don’t have many options, but I think my defence should hold together. Its 2nd place Sheffield United up next at Edgeley and if we do win it’ll keep alive a faint hope of the automatic slots. I tell the players we have nothing to lose, and Ian Gray, who has got lost on the way to the players bar, pipes up, ‘but what if we lose boss?’ I send him for 3 laps of the pitch as punishment for such a comment, ignoring his protestations that he is dressed in a suit. Pillock.

10

Kiko Charana! Kiko Charana! Kiko Charana! One nil up and the opposition down to ten men, plus we hit the bar 3 times. Come on boys, make it count.

11

We hit the bar 8 times. 8 times! We all know what normally comes next don’t we, the inevitable….. but it doesn’t! 1-0 will do me, slightly worrying that we couldn’t finish the game, but that is a massive 3 points and really starts to cement our play off credentials. We have some celebratory drinks and I wake up with a hazy memory and a feeling of regret. For a minute I am horrified, I vaguely remember telling the Chairman we should definitely give Ian Gray a long term contract and a pay rise, but thankfully he didn’t listen to me.

12

We’re closer to second than seventh…

13

Things don’t get any easier as we have top of the league Middlesbrough away next, but at least we have Armstrong and Flynn back, plus a week to recover.

The transfer deadline passes with rubbish bids for Connolly and Bennett but I reject, and thankfully I keep hold of my stars. Flynn and Armstrong return for the unlucky McIntosh and Tomlinson, I have players in form though now so I hope we can carry on riding the wave. My ‘nothing to lose’ speech gets another airing, and thankfully I have left Gray in Stockport so it is understood by 100% of the recipients.

14

It’s a good first half performance, Boro create nothing and we have a few decent chances, but cannot put them away. I hope they don’t come back to bite us as has so often been the case.

15

That’s why they are top of the league, They batter us in the second half although we do create some chances. Edwards plays a blinder but then drops the ball and Chris Freestone’s feet and its game over. We have to improve our chance conversion rate if we’re going to succeed, but other than that our performances is good. Onwards!!!

16

Well another month is gone, and I’m pretty pleased. 2 wins, a draw and a defeat away at the runaway leaders. We are still in this and we’re well placed for the play offs. Sheffield United also lost so the slim chance of automatics is still there. See you in the pivotal month of April, I’m nervous already!

17

You can follow Matt on Twitter @PorterMatt

(Future) Premier League Stars – Part 2

Ross is back with the second part of the challenge. You can catch up with Part 1 here

Welcome back to the Spurs challenge where I can only sign future Premier League players.

When I left you last, we sat 2nd in the league behind the juggernaut that is Man United.
But what you really want to know is who did Anderton sign for…

1

I turned down a bid from Chelsea as it wasn’t anywhere near the money Derby offered. So, the Baseball Ground it is, a massive 14 points behind us and that’s called progress. I give up sometimes.

We have just beaten Man United 1-0, so we go into our next game full of confidence knowing a win will close the gap even more…

2

Never the biggest West Ham fan, and now I have even more of a reason. Rio Ferdinand put in the kind of performance that I’m sure bigger clubs will have taken notice of.

The lack of goals is worrying for my lot. But with restrictions on buying I’m going to wait and see who wants to join my squad at the end of the season.

3

Normal service resumed after we complete the double, I think Bosnich calmed himself for this game and thought letting us easily win might calm our fans down. Cheers Mark! John Scales is now my captain and leading by example. Goals from the former Wimbledon and Liverpool man can only help.

Sadly, the yo-yo affect happens again in our next game.

4

Exciting game this one. It happened on Boxing Day so what a late present for everyone… bar Spurs fans and me. But sadly, this starts a run of only one win in the next 6 games. The goals dry up, Scales can level things up in games (Dad jokes coming thick and fast now) and my strikers go shier than group of boys at a school dance.

The only break we get is a thumping win the 3rd round of the FA Cup

5

Doubles all round for two people who couldn’t hit a cows’ backside with a banjo in the other games.

I start to think that Bakayoko isn’t the legend people banged on about. He hasn’t done much for us yet. But with options limited he can stay… FOR NOW.

6

Remember this is a blog for everyone, but I’m still putting this in as it made me laugh. But hey things could be worse…

7

Wonder what the poor lad is going to do for that time? I hear Sky are looking for some player insight in their gantry. Though who wants to listen to him go on and on about how good the ‘class of 92’ was over and over again?

I sense this struggle will continue if I don’t change things and adopt a defensive approach against a tricky Coventry team

8

This was a hard watch. Coventry had 4 shot off target and nothing on target. I’m aiming to keep things tight after we go 1-0. That 25,000 will need waking up. But good to see Sir Les on the score sheet.

This doesn’t show the others how to do it though as another bore-fest happens at my next league games, a 0-0 against Southampton but another 1-0 win this time against Sheff Weds did have it’s moments.

9

Stefanovic, for no reason, decided to rearrange Shevchenko’s face and elbow him on 20 mins. Ten mins later Sheva scored and celebrated by holding his hands near his ears towards the Wednesday fans. Not a fan of that. With things in the balance Scales managed to keep a level head (last one I promise).

I use the FA Cup to try out a few players

10

Damn it. But Bakayoko scored so silver lining and all that. Leaving Walker on the bench proved, like his hair, curtains for us.

With that pun I leave you with the top of the table.

11

You can how much that new year form hurt us. Not really losing many but a few more draws into wins could do us. Top 2 mean Champions League football but Europe in any capacity is now my aim.

12

Not really the impact Derby would have wanted with their new man. Coventry are ten adrift with 11 to play. Which is odd with a legend like Dublin in their team. And West Ham are still close to the drop zone, HAHAHA. Till next time.

You can follow Ross on Twitter @Riddley82

Flat Erik

Welcome back. The way I structure the blog seasons, the middle of 3 parts often turns out to be the most crucial. Sure, part 3 is where are all the trophies are handed out, but you usually have a fair idea of how that’s going to go based on my shenanigans in part 2. In the previous update, Erik Nevland was ruled out for the season with a damaged spine, which my friend AL suggested was due to the stresses of carrying my team. HOW VERY WITTY. But probably true. We’ve held our own in the group of death, but we aren’t brushing opponents aside like we used to. We’ve also got the World Club Cup and European Super Cup to look forward to. My oh my. Let’s get to it.

One thing that hasn’t changed (despite a brief lapse in the cup) is that we still have Celtic’s number. Even without tormentor in chief Nevland, Bakayoko and Tomlinson step up to the plate, despite missing a penalty.

aberdeen 3 - 1 celtic

The Champions League group has really irked me, how is it fair to draw three giants of the game in one group? Bearing in mind we’re the current champions. My moaning actually puts off our team as we fall to our first defeat of the campaign

0-2 RM

It’s actually our first group stage loss in 11 games. It puts us under pressure to win at Dortmund, a draw might not be enough.

win at Dortmund

Phew.

CL Group final

So having ran the gauntlet to get this far, surely we’re due an easier quarter final?

CL QF Draw 00

Friggin hell. More on that later.

As a sort of warm-up for that, we have the World Club Cup…in Japan.

world club final

Tomlinson is always a man for an occasion and he seals another trophy. Good man.

In the European Super Cup though it’s a 2 legged tussle with Juventus. A 2-0 defeat at Pittodrie puts us up against it, and it’s little better on Italian soil. A defeat. That stings.

euro super cup loss

I’m starting to wonder how we ever managed to win the Champions League. Maybe Nevland is magic? Fortunately on a domestic front, we are near untouchable. A win at closest rivals Rangers opens the gap at the top to double figures

Rangers 1 - 2 Aberdeen

Even when it looks like we aren’t going to win, we save our best for last.

aberdeen 3 - 0 hibs

Having said that, we have lost once. At Hearts. It was just after the Real Madrid match and we all felt a bit sad. I probably should have mentioned it sooner before describing us as untouchable, but I’ll be damned if I’m deleting a superlative.

loss to hearts

Some transfers news for you, Partick Vieira is going on holiday!

vieira to tenerife

Wait, what? Signed you say. Takes all sorts. Meanwhile, Southampton want John Ritchie, which is fine as I never play him. However Darren Eadie fancies the move, and I really like Darren Eadie. He’ll provide competition for Mulryne, who is brilliant, but also doing this all on his own without any alternative

Ritchie Eadie

As Michael Owen turned us down I’ve decided to sign somebody who is young but can still improve us now. He looks bloody brilliant from his stats

Nalis

Papin? Not sure. Either way, he’s mine.

Nalis to Aberdeen

Oh and now Paul Ince is an opponent. I knew he wouldn’t last long at the Nou Camp

Ince to Rangers

It is rumoured that he was signed on the back of this great result, where new man Darren Eadie (in for the injured Mulryne) rams in the winner and becomes a hero. Lovely Darren.

Aberdeen 2 - 1 Rangers

Like I said, domestically: untouchable

Celtic 1 - 3 aberdeen

Motherwell 1 - 4 Aberdeenhibs 1 - 3 aberdeen

Only just. But that leads us nicely in to our trip to the Nou Camp, the scene of one of our most ridiculous results last season. But here, in front of 91,542 baying fans (presumably with at least some from Aberdeen) we are second best for the majority of the 90 minutes.

barca 3 - 1 aberdeen

Tomlinson’s goal gave us brief hope but we were dominated from start to finish. It’s going to take some doing to overturn that, but we managed to overturn 3-2 against Man Utd last season so we’ll have to believe we can do it again.

Still, we’re still in the Scottish Cup, something I haven’t managed to win yet, so there’s that.

Scottish Cup QF Draw

Celtic have already beaten Dundee Utd, so why it says they are playing nobody I’m not too sure. It’s best not to worry about it and just hope we draw Stenhousemuir (if we beat Hibs). Actually Barcelona are the meat in a Hibs sandwich, as that’s our next game.

All we have is our enormous league lead to boast about

scots prem march 00

18 points ahead with 27 available. I like our chances. Celtic have recovered a little bit but not enough. Motherwell look like they are goners

Meanwhile, south of the border, it’s looking quite familiar

eng prem march 00

We have 32 more goals than Man Utd and that’s without Nevland. I miss Nevland. He’s on course to recover in June, which helps nobody.

So that brings us to the end of another update. I’m a bit deflated by our lack of progress and I’m not sure I can blame the lack of Nevland for it all. I will, but maybe I shouldn’t. Join me again next time as we try and overcome the odds in the Champions League whilst sauntering to victory in the SPL. Toodles for now.

 

Return of the King: Part 5 – Dublin, Monaco, London

Matt Wills is back with the Man Utd squad of 93/94, you can catch up with the previous entry here

Happy New Year to all and welcome back. It’s 2018, but we’re talking about 1998 with a team from 1994 – it’ll make sense to those who have been following the blog so far!

Part 4 ended with the Class of 94 at the top of the league, through in Europe and following some domestic cup drama, about to take on their fiercest rivals Liverpool in the League Cup Semi Final, let’s crack on!

League Cup Semi Final day is upon us and we face a Liverpool side we disposed of 3-0 in the league at the end of 1997. We’re at Old Trafford for the first leg and looking for a good result to set us up in the tie.

To keep the treble dream alive, I go for a strong line up including Gary Neville, Beckham and Scholes, with Butt and Hughes on the bench. Liverpool opt for Jorgen Nielson in goal, Richard Rufus in defence and Owen and Riedle up front. An early Scholes header is cancelled out a minute later by a Leonhardsen piledriver. For the rest of the game, we batter Liverpool’s defence, but Nielson is a colossus in goal and it’s not until the 88th minute and a Beckham freekick that we finally take the lead and the advantage in the tie. 19 shots with 10 on target against Liverpool’s 6 – typically they scored with their only shot on target.

part 5 1

Sandwiched between the ties, we take on Bury away in the FA Cup 5th round. With Hughes serving a ban for yellow card accumulation, Big Dion starts up front with Cantona, scoring twice, and ‘Dublin the lead’, to add to goals from Kanchelskis and Ince, with the only blemish being Bury’s goal on 58 minutes. It’s Derby up next in the Quarter finals.

2

Back to the League Cup Semi-final showdown with Liverpool and we head to Anfield with a slender lead but with Liverpool having already bagged an away goal in the first leg. Beckham and Scholes come in and I put Robson and Kanchelskis on the bench. 3 first half goals from Giggs and Cantona twice see us cruising and on 63 minutes I bring on all 3 subs to see out the game. Strangely, Neil Ruddock gets Man of the Match. Still, we’re off to Wembley again and a date with Division 1 Sunderland in the final who beat Newcastle in the other semi-final.

3

We finally get back to League action and a visit from Coventry. I start Robson who gets injured in the 5th minute, followed 5 minutes later by Pallister – are the legs beginning to go for this team?

4

Cantona gets us going and Irwin doubles our lead before the interval. Sharpe rounds out the scoring in the second half before a late consolation by Moldovan for Coventry.

We’re sitting pretty at the top of the league, but I let complacency and arrogance get the better of me when basement club Leicester come to Old Trafford. I bring in Walsh, Blackmore, Gillespie and Thornley and lose 2-1. Not a good result.

I go back to a strong side when we play 3rd in the table Newcastle. An early own goal by Shay Given is cancelled out by a late Shearer goal. I’m happy with the draw, but not so happy to lose Cantona for a few weeks to a groin strain, especially with the Champions league restarting in March.

We’re up against Monaco in the Champions League Quarter finals and a plethora of young French talent. We manage to keep Legwinski, N’Doram, Ikpeba and Henry at bay and prevent the away goal, but it’s a game of few chances and a yellow card for Hughes puts him out of the return leg. There was no Cantona available due to injury, but was surprised to see his brother Joel, playing at right back. Not bad stats for Eric’s brother – available on a free at the start of the season too.

5

6

The games are coming thick and fast now and its Derby County in the FA Cup Quarter final next. Hughes and Cantona both return upfront and get the goals either side of half time. With 75 minutes gone, on come Gillespie and Blackmore, but Gillespie lasts 10 minutes before getting himself sent off, so we close out the game with 10 men. Pleasingly, Mike Phelan played the full 90 minutes and only picked up a yellow card.

A midweek trip to Barnsley produces a fine 4-1 win, although I have to play Parker in the centre of defence due to the absence of Pallister. Then it’s a bore draw with Sheff Wednesday, Pressman again saving a penalty, this time from Dion Dublin.

There’s no time to dwell on missed penalties though, as it’s back to midweek European action and the return leg against Monaco. With the tie finely poised at 0-0, I know an early away goal will set us up nicely in the tie. Thankfully Henry is suspended and Trezeguet is injured for the match, so I feel we gave a chance, even with Cantona, Ince and Giggs missing. The last thing we want to do is concede early or worse…

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We do worse, Bruce gets a straight red after only 8 minutes. Then it gets better when Sharpe scores 4 minutes later and we’re looking ok, despite being down to 10 men, and then it gets worse again when Hughes is sent off just after the half time break. I switch the formation to 4-3-1 and we see out the game. For all their talents and 2 man advantage, Monaco create little and not surprisingly, nor do we. I breathe a sigh of relief when the final whistle goes and we are in the semi-finals along with Real Madrid, Barcelona and Parma. I pray we get Parma as I think the Spanish teams will destroy us. We get Parma!

It’s the end of March and we’re off to Wembley and the League Cup Final with Sunderland and the chance to claim the first piece in the domestic treble puzzle. Utd lost to Aston Villa 3-1 in the 94 final – Schmeichel was suspended so Sealey deputised in goal and the treble dream ended there for Utd. I’m sure the ex-Man City personal in the Sunderland ranks, such as Reid, Coton and Quinn would love to repeat that score line.

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With a chance to put right what once went wrong (Copyright ‘Quantum Leap’), I look up the final squad from 94 and apart from Sealey for Schmeichel, it’s the Classic 11 with Walsh, Sharpe and McClair on the bench. We’re without the injured Cantona, so I put McClair upfront and bring Robson on to the cup final bench. I then have a dilemma in goal. Do we have a better chance of beating Sunderland with Schmeichel in goal or do I give Sealey a chance of redemption? Of course I do and tell the 40 year old keeper to get his gloves warmed up. The Big Dane doesn’t look impressed and I hurry out to inspect the Wembley turf.

As finals go, it’s all a bit one sided and lacks the drama of the Sheffield Wednesday tie. We pummel the Sunderland defence and finally break it on the stroke of half time with a Hughes header. Feeling confident, I send on Sharpe and Robson for Parker and Ince on 73 minutes and 2 minutes later Hughes gets his second and I can sense my first major trophy beckoning. Dani Dichio pulls one back in the 86th minute, but we hold on to avoid extra-time and Robson and Bruce climb the Wembley stairs and the League Cup is back at Old Trafford. Les Sealey looks delighted, the Sunderland manager less so – Cheer up Peter Reid.

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At the training ground the following week, I receive a phonecall from Alex Ferguson. ‘Well done lad, that was some thing putting Les in goal on Sunday. He looked made up, and nice to give Bryan a run out – I see you’ve learnt something from me. The jobs not done yet though, it’s squeaky bum time from here, I hope you’ve got the Imodium handy…’

A quick look at the table before we go. We’re looking good with 9 games to go in the league:

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But at the bottom, Southampton, Bolton and West Ham are starting to get cut adrift.

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Well, that’s part 1 of the treble done and a couple of gambles have paid off for me, but now we head into the business end of the season and ‘squeaky bum time’ and I’ve got a coupe of semi’s on. Join me in part 6 when we take on Parma in the Champions League and Everton in the FA Cup, amongst the small matter of pushing for the title – can tired legs do the quadruple?

You can follow Matt on Twitter @Matt_C_Wills

The Stockport Diaries – Part XI

Matt returns to the Stockport hotseat after a small break. As Stockport embark on February 1998, Matt has his work cut out to keep The Hatters in the promotion mix. You can catch up with the previous entry here.

Well it has been a while, so here’s a quick reminder, we are doing pretty damn well for such a small club, but did have a wobble in November and December, but got back on track in January. We’re out of the cups although did claim the scalp of Everton on the way, and now we have 15 games to consolidate our play off place and push for the automatics. I have also signed Remi Garde from Arsenal, and no I wasn’t playing drunk, I promise.

We have 4 games this month and all our opponents are in the bottom half, so surely this will give us a decent chance to continue our upward momentum. There is a big dilemma for our supporters as we play West Brom away on Valentine’s Day, well they do say Birmingham is the Venice of the Midlands so why not combine the football with a romantic meal there afterwards? There may be a few extra single men in Stockport by the end of the month…

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Oh unlucky ladies of Stockport, Birmingham will have to wait, the FA have rescheduled the West Brom match, probably because said ladies went down to Lancaster Gate and threatened them, anything to avoid a night in Birmingham.

Our last game seems ages ago, but we are on a good run so I see no reason to change things for the visit of Forest. I am a bit disconcerted to see Freddy Leon up front for them, I remember him vaguely being very good in the Premier League and they’ve paid £4.5 million for him, sums I can only dream of.

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Another boring first half but we are behind to pretty much the only thing that happens. At least it’s not Freddy Leon, but we are behind. How are this lot in the bottom half?

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Well that was rubbish. I changed formations, changed personnel, nothing. Yawn fest for everyone and no points, sod it I’m off for a beer, we don’t play for a fortnight now for no apparent reason. It’s so tight at the top!

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I still feel I need a striker, and I am going for a bit of a Hail Mary to start, it probably won’t happen but we’ll give it a go. My other target is a Champ Man legend apparently, I don’t remember him first time around, but I saw him mentioned on Twitter so looked him up and damn he’s good!

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Surely Arsenal won’t need Anelka anyway, he’ll never turn into anything. Gifton Noel-Williams on the other hand will win England a World Cup, I’m sure…

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Ah well maybe not…

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But for half the price I have the ‘legend’, now I’m sure I can turn him into a bang average striker…

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We finally have another game, 2 weeks later. I hate those weeks off, but at least I went to scout a few players (‘it’s the chairman luv, he insisted), rather than having to spend the day and that damn awful Swedish shop. They do have better hotdogs than Edgeley Park though, I will give them that.

Stoke at home now before a couple of away games to finish off the year. Youngs is on the bench and I drop Armstrong completely for Charana as his form and morale are rock bottom and let’s face it he’s been rubbish for ages. Connelly has picked up a training knock so in comes Tetradze, otherwise it’s as you were. We could really do with a result here, I just hope Carl Muggleton isn’t as inspired as the return fixture in their goal. It should be Jim Gannon’s return, but he is suspended so will watch from the stands.

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As you can tell from the late screenshot not much happens in the first 11 minutes, but then groans are audible around the ground as we concede to the forgettable Peter Thorne. Thankfully though their lead lasts about a minute before the fit again Kiko Charana equalises. To be honest we’ve not been good but at least we are level at half time.

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We got away with one there, no goals in the second half and although Charana hit the bar we were second best, but we out Stoked Stoke so I can’t complain. Where has our Keegan football gone?!

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I still harbour ambitions of a top 2 finish but time is running out!

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Good start to your Stockport career lad…. The latest was for kicking the ball away. I contemplate throwing my tea at him, but think better of it…

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West Brom away next, and I make 3 changes, Connelly is fit again and comes in, with Youngs and Carlita starting. West Brom is a pretty bleak place to come to in February, its bloody freezing and not exactly picturesque. We need a run at some point surely, I know I sound a bit desperate there and really ought to remind myself I was aiming to avoid relegation this season.

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I can’t even click off the match screen to screenshot before Flynn is booked, and to be fair it should be red, the ref completely bottled it. Hope it gets better! It doesn’t, when 30 seconds later Cavaco goes off with an injury that it turns out makes 4 minutes of injury time, ominous.

That’s as bad as the first half gets though as we wind back the clock to proper Keegan football, we are 2-0 up at half time, the first coming in the 2nd minute through Cavaco’s replacement, some things are meant to be…. We should be about 5 up, this is more like it!

Annoyingly I forgot to screenshot one of my best first half performances, but no matter, It continues and only a superb performance from Paul Crichton in the West Brom net stops us adding to the score, and Carlita is superb, running the show from midfield. Tony who? (The answer is Dinning in case you aren’t a Stockport diehard). Mission accomplished, I leave West Bromwich with a smile and not just because, you know, I’m leaving West Bromwich.

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That was our game in hand and whilst its looking hard to catch Boro in second, we can only keep winning and hope.

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Good news, Cavaco is only out for a week with a bruised head, the wuss, however Flynn and Armstrong will both miss 2 matches in a fortnight through suspension. Annoyingly I think Youngs will also miss at least one of those.

Last up this month is a trip down to Portsmouth, another glamour destination, and my team is the same as the one that started the second minute against West Brom.

Once again I forgot to screenshot before the game, but we absolutely batter them, however our finishing is woeful and we go undeservedly behind. Just before half time however we pull a goal back through Carlita, slotting home past Zeljko Kalac, the not especially impressive keeper who somehow will soon end up at AC Milan, give that agent a knighthood. Carry this on in the second half and surely we will come away with all 3 points.

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Well the second half was more even, but we do carve out more chances, in fact they only have 2, so of course inevitably they score both through the man with the lovely hair, Paul Walsh, and we lose 3-1. I am off to scream into a pillow. See you in March

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You can follow Matt on Twitter @PorterMatt