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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

 

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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?

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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?

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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:

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For fucks sake

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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.

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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.

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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.

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We’re closer to second than seventh…

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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.

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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.

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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!!!

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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!

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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…

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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…

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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…

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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

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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

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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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

(Future) Premier League Stars – Part 1

Today we welcome our latest guest blogger Ross to the CM9798.co.uk family. I’ve set Ross the challenge of building a team of players who would go on to play in the Premier League but hadn’t as of 97/98. Let’s see how he gets on…

My first of hopefully many contributions to Mr Black’s web page started off life as something that, to be fair, would have been a bit straight forward. Start as Spurs and make them champions.

It needed some spice added to it. So, upon finding this pic:

1 RVN

It created a proverbial light bulb above our heads. Do a save where I can only sign future Premier League stars. So, I couldn’t sign John Curtis, Tommy Svindal Larsen nor Graeme Tomlinson. My aim – to sign Henry for Spurs. Still at Monaco and as we all know became a legend at Arsenal.

First things first, what do I have to deal with squad wise…

2 Squad

Klinsmann and Ferdinand will lead an ageing forward line. I’m also playing 3 at the back so that will be my first port of call. To tighten up a defence that will lose Campbell as I will sell him once he is fit. Yes it’s personal.

3 Dyer

I pick up young Dyer for £1mill, wanted Richard Wright but Ipswich seemed ken to hold on to him. End of season I’ll go back in for him. I worry Walkers blonde curtains will cause to much mayhem soon.

Richard Rufus comes in from Charlton for £4mill and knowing my strikers are almost getting free bus passes I use Andriy Shevchenko’s poor run at Chelsea to my advantage. Common fact about CM9798 is that his name was spelt incorrectly. But at £1.6 mill I’m laughing.

The books need to be balanced and Sol is fit.

4 Sol

Kerching! Lazio were the money team around this time, Sven had just taken over and they were picking players left right and centre. With these funds I bring in Robert Page of Watford, future Everton reject Bakayoko (legend on this game) and Ruud Van Nistlerooy. As you will have seen is not the goal hanging poacher but an attacking midfielder who favours the left. One of the many reasons I love this game was these sorts of quirks.

We start well enough. We play villa in the first few games if the season, with Bosnich seeming very angry with my team. He takes out Nicola Berti but only gets a yellow. Then gets so irate he scores an own goal.

5 villa

Lad needs to has 4 X. Good to see Dyer scoring and Jurgen getting off the mark early doors.

Chelsea come to White Hart Lane for our first game at home. I rev the boys up reminding it’s been since the Lineker days that we beat them.

6 Chelsea

Sparky gets his fuse lit and sees red. I’m a celeb star Dennis Wise even graces the pitch with his presence. We miss a load of chances. But I know we played well. And that gives me confidence.

The ‘pointless cup’ as Dave calls it comes around and to be honest he is right. No European pot at the end of this rainnow, and in this first season I’ve learned Man United normally romp away with everything.

7 Gills

Two reds and Gary injured again with a broken leg, after coming back from the same injury. But the league and FA Cup are my aims. We bounce back by beating Southampton away.

8 Soton

I add this, because Southampton normally ruin me. Hirst turns into Pele and Ostenstad plays like Maradona. If your wondering were Le Tiss is, well he finally got his dream bigger club move too… Sheffield Wednesday. I’ll just leave that there.

More book balancing happens, Jose ‘2 ft tall’ Dominguez and Ruel Fox leave us.

9 QPR

Decent prices, plus Armstrong, Sinton, Ginola and Anderton are up for grabs.

We find ourselves in 2nd but behind the juggernaut that is Fergie’s Man United.
The first Norf Laandan derby comes around. Again I tell the boys to ignore the table and just make the fans happy.

10 Arsenal

A proud moment for me, I celebrate by running to our fans and beating my chest, while ssshhing the Arsenal fans. We dominate again but a Klinsmann goal is all we can do.

With that mob put aside we now focus on trying to catch Man United.

The first time the top 2 meet is at our patch.

11 Man Utd

Heart in mouth time when Grodas, in for the injured Walker, brings Cole down in the box. The lane held its breath as Scholes blasts it over the bar. Again, Dyer pops up from left wing back with a winner. We close the gap. And with another win away to Blackburn we end November in good shape.

12 Prem

Yes 7 points behind, but we want Champions League football to attract the best that would join the Premier League. Other than Henry, I would like Crespo, Desailly, Stam, Wright and maybe Davids. Not a shabby 5 a side actually!

The bottom of the league looks like this

13 Prem Bottom

West Ham in all sorts of trouble, but at least 4 points ahead of the drop zone.

Join me next to see if I can actually sign anyone. And more excitingly Anderton has to choose between Derby and Coventry. How odd.

Return of the King: Part 4 – Domestic Cup Drama

Matt Wills is back in action, trying to re-live Man Utd’s glorious 1993/94 season but in 1997/98. Confused? Here’s part 1 to explain what’s going on, or if you need to see the previous edition, here’s part 3

I left you in Part 3 having taken Utd through the Champions League Group stage, to the top of the Premiership and with the domestic cups getting going. We head into Xmas on a roll, but will it last?

Mid-December ’97 and the Class of 94 are at the summit of the Premier League, through to the knockout rounds of the Champions League and ready to take on the domestic cups in our quest to go one better than the Utd team of 93/94 and win the domestic treble – with the team of 93/94, albeit a little bit older and a little bit slower!

There’s a gap in fixtures while the international friendlies are played. England beat Sweden away 2-0. Scholes, Dublin, Ince, Beckham, Neville and Pallister all feature, with Wright and Scholes scoring for England. France beat Norway by the same score line. Cantona doesn’t get on the score sheet, but does collect a yellow card.

Back at the United camp after the break, some players are not happy with the current regime…

scholes req

That’s turned down, and so is this…

butt req

The last Saturday game of 97 takes Utd to White Hart Lane. Hughes is injured while training with Wales, so Paul Scholes deputises for the Welshman to keep him happy. To keep the Welsh quota up, I bring in Clayton Blackmore on the right wing for a run out and give a recall to Paul Parker at right back.

An early Scholes goal is cancelled out by Nicola Berti. We have 13 shots on goal, but only 2 on target – worrying.

On to Boxing Day and a visit to Old Trafford of old rivals Liverpool whose recent run have seen them climb the table. McClair comes in for want-away Scholes and Kanchelskis comes back to the right wing having recovered from his hip injury. The first half is a cagey affair, but after the break, we turn the pressure into goals, with McClair getting his first of the season, followed by Ince against his old/future club. Bruce makes the game safe in the 81st minute, so I use the cushion to bring on Sealey, Gillespie and Dublin for the last 10 minutes. Paul Parker gets an 8, happy days.

The Third Round of the FA Cup starts, with Utd away to Hartlepool, who are midtable in Division 3. After the Liverpool win, I’m feeling confident with the squad so make a host of changes. Neville, Butt, Beckham and Scholes all start, with Walsh, O’Kane, Casper, Whitworth, Wellens, Wellens, McKee and Ferguson joining them. Wellens gets an early goal, but a 2nd alludes us. Hartlepool equalise in the second half and I start to question my selection policy. Going out of the cup here would be disaster. Thankfully, Colin McKee rescues me on 71 minutes and we’re into the hat for the 4th Round Draw.

hart 1 - 2 mufc

What did I tell you in Part 3? It was almost inevitable…

FA 4th

4 Days later and it’s the Quarter Final of the League Cup and we’re at Hillsborough to play Sheffield Wednesday. In the build up to the game, the press are trotting out the standard cliché’s ‘in a replay of the 1991 League Cup Final, Utd will be looking for revenge against The Owls…’. This gets me thinking, why not let the players from the 1991 final get some revenge? I pull out my Rothmans and check some facts.

Utd were defeated by Div 1 Sheff Wed, led by Ron Atkinson, 1-0 to a John Sheridan goal. The only thing I really remember from that game is Les Sealey ripping open his knee after diving low for a ball with a Wednesday player. Checking the squad from the day, Utd lined up as below…

lineup

Webb and Donaghy aren’t in my squad, having both left the club by the 93/94 season, and Alex is picking up his unemployment benefit. Webb is still in the game, on a free transfer having been released by Grimsby, but I’m not tempted to sign him up, as I have no space in the squad and I don’t want people missing out on their post. Donaghy is nowhere to be found. Looking at the Wednesday squad, I can’t see any survivors from that game, but note that they have the son of Showaddywaddy guitarist Trevor Oakes, Scott, in their ranks – true fact.

I decide to start with Mike Phelan on the right wing in place of Webb. On the bench I put Lee Martin and Ryan Giggs. Now with 3 subs, I opt for Gary Walsh just in-case Sealey rips his knee up again. Hold onto your hats, this cup-tie turns out to be a cracker!

Andy Hinchcliffe puts the host ahead in the 11th minute, but a minute later, McClair is through on goal and gets taken out by the advancing Kevin Pressman. I leap from my seat in the dugout and shout at the ref to send him off. The ref points at the spot and after talking to Pressman, produces no card. I almost explode. Up steps Bruce and Pressman saves it! There’s no justice.

13 minutes later, Wednesday advance and Les Sealey brings down Andy Booth. The ref points to the spot and talks to Sealey. I fear the worst and tell Gary Walsh to warm up. The ref looks over at me and then puts his black book back in his pocket – no cards. My relief is short lived as Booth shows Bruce what to do from the spot and we’re 2-0 down. I’m beginning to think my romantic nostalgia is a bit misplaced!

Phelan makes a clumsy challenge on the edge of the box, but Wednesday waste the freekick and then Pallister does likewise. This time yellows are shown. Having seen enough, I don’t wait until half time and bring Giggs on for Phelan. I can’t afford to lose a player or another goal. The words I say at half time are not appropriate for this blog, but crockery was broken.

My words ringing in their ears, the tide is turned, first by Giggs, and then by Hughes. We’re level in the space of 2 second half minutes. After this it’s end to end action, but neither team can get the third. Sealey keeps us in it and at the other end, Pressman literally fills the goal. Then on 87 minutes, Sharpe rises highest to a Giggs corner and heads past Pressman, we’ve done it, what a comeback! We’re into the two-legged semi final and we draw Liverpool out of the hat. It’s a Tyne-Wear derby in the other semi.

sheff wed 2 - 3 mufc

With that being probably my favourite, and most intense game of the save, we go back to the league and play Everton ‘in a repeat of the 1995 FA Cup Final’…. I revert to the classic line up and an entertaining first half ends 2-2, with Pallister getting the winner in the second half. We follow this up with a 0-0 draw with Crystal Palace ‘in a repeat of the 1990 FA Cup Final’ (I must stop this!), a result which the board describe as ‘Abysmal’ but at least Eric comes through unscathed.

Next, it’s back to the FA Cup and a 4th Round date with Oldham Athletic and a repeat of the 1994 FA Cup Semi-final. I can see it now, Hughes volley in the last minute to take it to a replay, which Utd win 4-1, with Robbo getting his last Utd goal by dicking in a cross from Sharpe.

I get my Rothman’s out again and look up the squad for the 1994 semi-final (In fact I had to pause the highlights on Youtube this time). I believe Cantona was suspended for this game but was surprised to see Dublin starting upfront, McClair in midfield and Butt on the bench. Andy Ritchie was the only survivor from the 94 semi-final in the Oldham squad that I could see. Utd avoid giving me the Sheff Wednesday palpitations, and in a repeat of the ’94 semi-final replay, beat Oldham 4-1 with goals from Sharpe, McClair (2) and Dublin. I bring on Robson for the final 20 minutes, hoping he might chin one in, but to no avail. McCarthy gets their goal and Andy Ritchie comes on but fails to make any impact. We’re through to the 5th round where we’ll play the winner of Bury vs Crewe.

mufc 4 - 1 oldham

In the final game of this Part we play Chelsea (in a repeat of the 94 FA Cup Final – seriously, stop it now!). Hughes and Kanchelskis both score twice and get a 10 rating in a 4-0 win (Just like the cup final), which takes us 8 points clear of Arsenal at the top of the Premiership. United’s fine form also sees me named Manager of the Month for December and January, but the club is still losing money, strangely – I think the board had to give big contracts to some of the returning stars.

The recent cup games have kept me on the edge of my seat for this part of the blog and I’m now fully immersed in my objective of winning the treble with the class of 93/94. I’m even enjoying not having to look at the transfer market! The whole squad have played at least one game now this season, with their ratings below, but not everyone is happy, not even Lee Martin.

mufc squad

In next part we take on Liverpool in the League Cup Semi-final and find out if it’s Bury or Crewe in the FA Cup, hope you’re enjoying it as much as I am, and will join me again.

I’ve given Matt the rest of the year off but Return of the King will be back in the New Year. You can follow Matt on Twitter @Matt_C_Wills