The Stockport Diaries: Part IV

Matt Porter is our guest blogger this week, managing Stockport in Division 1. Can he maintain their positive start?

Part 4: September (Part A)

1

First day of September, no transfer window in 1997 which is not necessarily the best for me given my want-away stars, however I indulge myself with another striker, not that I need one, but it is too good to miss.

Norwich at home to start the month, will the curse come true? Charana is injured so Wright keeps his place alongside the returning Armstrong, and despite his man of the match award against Bury Martin McIntosh is replaced by Sean Connelly who has been excellent this season.

2

Half time and it’s a comfortable game so far, 1-0 up thanks to a Cavaco tap in and it should be more…. The crowd are chanting ‘Porter, sign him up….’ I bloody would if I could!

Full time, and that was really really easy, what manager of the month curse?! 3-0 just after the hour mark and I could even withdraw a few key players towards the end and rest them. I haven’t played this game in well over a decade, but I swear it was harder last time. What’s that? Pride before a what now?

3

We are top of the league say we are top of the league…

4

Games still fly around and I have Forest away next, a few knackered players so Jim Gannon and Sean Connolly again (seriously, how unfit is this lad) sit out. I don’t trust DaCosta so Smith comes into midfield and I drop Dinning back to right wing back.

5

Worst half of football so far this season. 3-1 down and we’re luck its only that. Why hasn’t Pierre thrown his toys out of the pram and gone on strike yet?! And less said about Andrei Silenzi the better, apart from the fact he’s the eternally obscure nswer to the quiz question ‘who was the first Italian to play in the Premier League.’ Still, they’re tearing me a new one, but we pulled a goal back so the next goal will be key…

6

Better second half but we just couldn’t get a goal, and even when we did in the 89th minute it as disallowed. Its not the defeat but the way we react…. I remind the boys that we have had a great start and to move on from it, we’re still top of the league!

7

Well this is a bizarre decision, having just beaten top of the league, what more could he do?

8

A midweek home game with relegation threatened Crewe should be a good opportunity to get back to winning ways, big test of character though. Aside from Charana I can put a full strength side out, and I will. I’m strangely nervous before this one, can’t get rid of the nagging doubt that my bubble has burst, I should be more confident than this. In other news, I am very relieved that despite them being on the transfer list, Jim Gannon and Micky Flynn haven’t attracted any offers.

9

Turns out my fears are unfounded, an utterly dominant performance in which for some reason my bang average left back Colin Woodthorpe suddenly becomes a strong attacking option, scoring and hitting the woodwork twice. Forest is just a blip, and a total sell out of Edgeley Park, is it too early to start dreaming of the Premier League?

10

I tempted fate…. Sheffield United are in for Jim Gannon and there are some bids for Flynn too. I can turn them down, but with Gannon the price for a 29 year old is very decent indeed so I reluctantly accept.

11

Before Sheffield United can sort terms out though, I have Stoke away. I can field a rare unchanged side, although bring Graeme Tomlinson onto the bench. I’m just glad it isn’t a wet Tuesday night in Stoke, rather a bright Saturday afternoon.

It’s a pretty poor first half but we go in undeservedly behind, compounded by the fact I forgot to screenshot the beginning of the match. Nick Wright has a bit of a ‘mare, Carl Muggleton saving well from him twice before he is stretchered 8 minutes from the break, and there is still time for Muggleton to deny his replacement, debutant Graeme Tomlinson. Don’t panic lads, more of the same….

Can we kick on? Can we hell. Carl Muggleton is awesome, and even though we do equalise we have a poor second half and despite taking Cavaco off to try and shore up the midfield we soon concede and it could be more at either end. On the plus side Tomlinson and Armstrong link up well, the competition for the striker berths is ferocious, but we seem to be a bit leaky at the back away from home at the moment. Still, no panic yet…

12

There’ll be more from Matt in the coming weeks. In the meantime, follow Matt on Twitter @PorterMatt

The CM9798 Cup starts this Sunday!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Stockport Diaries: Part III

Part 3: August (part B)

August is ludicrously busy with 8 games in the month, so with the last 4 coming in 11 days starting with Tranmere in the cup and a healthy lead from the first leg I choose to rest a few players and bring in some youth, Ian Gray looks decent in goal, Nelson Da Costa at right wing back, and new signings Smith and Wright get a go, Keegan tactics carry on.

1

Well you certainly get your money’s worth watching Stockport. An absolutely ridiculous first half somewhat assisted by neither goalkeeper actually saving ANYTHING meant that we go in all square at 3-3. Second half a bit dull in comparison, only 3 goals and a sending off for Tranmere. A big plus was Nick Wright’s man of the match performance, on the other hand I don’t think Neil Edwards will be quaking in his gloves. Onward to three league games in a week, and they have the nerve to complain about fixture congestion in the Premier League!

2

And the reward is a big draw, but of course 2 extra games, why did they think it a good idea to have 2 leg ties so early on?

3

Huddersfield away next, a comfortable win such as the one in pre-season would be very welcome, however a few players are knackered, should have rested more against Tranmere, so a bit of a rejigged team.

4

I can’t really leave Nick Wright out, but the front two have been excellent all season so I’m going to give him a go behind them.

A really dull first half, we have the better of it, but the words ‘cow’s arse’ and ‘banjo’ spring to mind.

In the crowd Stan the unlucky but fanatical Stockport fan has his Bovril at his seat at half time, and endures a pretty boring first 14 minutes of the second half before feeling nature taking its course and decides to pop down to relieve himself, after all, bugger all has happened for almost an hour, so he won’t miss much.

5

As soon as poor old Stan retakes his seat, normal service for this match resumes and we all go back to snoozing. Still, Stan goes home semi-happy with 3 points at least, a man of the match performance from Alun Armstrong in an otherwise pretty boring match. The travelling support got their money’s worth at Tranmere so they’ll have to endure the odd game like this, keep the results coming and we might do a little more than stay up though so they won’t mind too much!

Games are coming thick and fast as they do in this division, but everyone has recovered so we revert to the ‘full strength’ side, Cavaco returns for Wright who was a bit rubbish behind the front 2, but his time will come. Charlton will be a stiff test, but then again every game is.

6

Another pretty terrible first half, but Alun Armstrong is a class apart and thanks to Luis Cavaco’s 4th assist in 4 and a half games we have our noses in front. The second half is far more entertaining and it is all 1 way traffic, it looks like It might be one of those games, Mike Salmon leaping all over the place to deny my strikers, but Jim Gannon pops up late on to make the game safe. Disappointing crowd of less than 9000, I assume that the people of Stockport have all taken their kids off for the last week of the summer holiday, either that or Corrie was particularly gripping this evening, this being the era of Les Battersby after all…. Maybe he could do the half time draw for us next week.

7

Just another 42 games to keep this up:

8

We’re top of the league Luis, top of the bloody league, just sign up dammit! Out of contract at the end of the season too, but I’m going down the Arsenal/Sanchez route, gambling on him doing the job for us rather than cashing in. Who knows, he might change his mind, I reckon a trip to the Stockport Hat Museum will swing it.

9

Manchester derby against Bury this Saturday, and half my squad are knackered. Having said that, Bury have a tiny squad, are bottom of the league and have an injury crisis with only 1 fit striker, so knowing this game we will get battered. Heidenstrom, Gannon, Armstrong and Connelly have to drop out, I am trying to sign a couple of reinforcements but no news on those yet, so its Smith, Da Costa, Wright and McIntosh in. Da Costa is a bit of a worry really, but I don’t have many other options at right wing back with the other fitness issues, and given the form of the team I am loathed to change the system.

10

Well that went well, considering the changes forced upon us the replacements did well. Anything Bury did came through Gordon Armstrong on their left, Da Costa struggled, his time may have come and gone. The squad depth up front is far better though, with both reserve strikers scoring. Routine wins are becoming the norm at the moment, if this lasts I’ll be a very happy County manager…. 3 points clear!

11

The injury Charana sustained in the game isn’t too bad, although the cover up front means I don’t worry too much.

12

Isn’t this traditionally a kiss of death? I am ever the optimist….. but we shall see in the next instalment, another very busy month to come.

13

You can follow Matt on Twitter @PorterMatt

The Stockport Diaries: Part II

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.

1

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.

2

3

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.

4

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.

5

That Keane and Bull strike force worry me a bit….

6

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.

7

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.

8

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.

9

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.

10

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.

11

You can follow Matt on Twitter @PorterMatt

Are you ready for the CM9798 Cup?

The Stockport Diaries: Part I

Matt Porter is our guest blogger this week, bringing you a blow by blow account of Stockport County’s 1997/98 season. Can they get to grips with Division 1?

Part 1: July 1997

1997. I am still 2 years away from my GCSEs and the majority of my focus is on football, be it playing or watching, or latterly managing through the superb Championship Manager series. Who to manage though? I am a Bolton fan, however it seems wrong to take the job of a man who has just got them promoted back to the Premier League, so I look to another area of Greater Manchester.

Stockport County are flying high, they have just had arguably their most successful season under Dave Jones, promoted to the second tier for the first time in 60 years and also making it to the semi final of the Coca Cola Cup, narrowly losing out to Premier League Middlesborough. Jones however ditched the club in the summer and went off to replace Graeme Souness at Southampton, presumably with the explicit instructions to not sign anyone’s cousin without seeing them play first, so the hotseat is vacant. (for those too young to remember, google Ali Dia, it isn’t fake news, he really was that gullible)

16th July 1997 rolls around and the relative unknown that is Matt Porter takes over at Stockport. Thankfully this is before the introduction of fan opinion, as I’m not sure I’m quite a big enough name in the footballing world to take over a second tier club, but I’ll keep that to myself, off to meet the squad. I am dismayed to learn that the traitor Dave Jones has taken two of our best players from last year in the form of our future international goalkeeper Paul Jones and our definitely not future international right back Lee Todd. As I look through the market value of my players 3 stand out as being potential targets for bigger clubs (Flynn, Cavaco, Armstrong), and with less than a quarter of a million in the bank and a tiny stadium I wonder whether we can hold our own in a division full of big names, and keep hold of our stars.

1

I want to get a bit of match practice in before the big kick off, so I book a couple of friendlies in, Cork City and Huddersfield, first one for confidence (I hope), second one for realism. I seem to have a decent set of defenders here and a couple of stars going forward but precious little in midfield, so I opt for a 5-3-2 attacking formation. It may be a bit gung-ho for a relegation favourite, but nothing ventured nothing gained, and County fans should be happy, they almost ended up with Gary Megson before I swooped in, I have to be more entertaining than him.

2

A team, hurrah! I have some doubts about this, especially my rather weak central midfield, but overall I’m pretty pleased, I think we will compete. We will play pretty directly, can’t really play a passing game with no discernible midfielders, but I have 3 excellent centre backs plus Martin McIntosh in reserve, so I’ll play to my strengths. Luis Cavaco is more of a winger, but I’m confident he can wreak havoc playing just behind the front two, with the ageing Andy Mutch to call upon from the bench later in the day.

Before we play any games though, it is time to go shopping. Midfielders are top of my list, and ideally a backup striker too. I bid 50k for Bjorn Heidenstrom, the scouts think he’s pretty good and Leyton Orient have inexplicably transfer listed him. The other 4 bids (only 5 allowed at once for some reason) are freebies: Mike Cheetham (no, me neither, journeyman midfielder), and Trevor Steven of ‘how did he get so many England caps’ fame. He’s 33, but nothing wrong with a bit of experience in the ranks. My final 2 bids are for young strikers, Graeme Tomlinson and Nick Wright, just released by Man United and Derby respectively.

3

Well that’s Tomlinson out of the picture then. He’s never played a first team game and yet he wants that much? Jog on pal, our financial position is ‘precarious’ I’ll have you know.

4

Time for the first game at Edgeley Park against Cork City, and my potential signings seems to still be on their summer break as they are all still to get back to me, so it is an original 16. There is a definite buzz around the town and the queue from the chippy stretches for miles, they have nowhere near enough staff. They’ve been caught out, as have I, by the size of the crowd. Almost eight thousand people for a Friday night friendly against Cork City, I am overwhelmed by the support in my first game in charge, we must give the people what they want, entertaining football!

5

6

Well that wasn’t as comfortable as the score line suggests. The first 20 minutes we were all over them, an Alun Armstrong hat trick will no doubt impress the visiting scouts and hopefully add to his value, but after that we took our foot off the gas. To allow such an inferior opponent 52% possession and 16 shots (albeit only 3 on target) is ominous, but nothing ventured nothing gained, I am determined to play Kevin Keegan style football not George Graham, and maybe if one of my centre backs hadn’t got himself sent off for a professional foul straight from the kick off of the second half it wouldn’t have been so imbalanced. Still, with 8 goals and 34 shots in the game and a thumping win the crowd should go home happy, get buying those season tickets!

No more games in July, but still time to make some moves on the transfer front. Heidenstrom accepts my offer and signs up, as does freebie striker Nick Wright, however I have a plethora of free agents turn me down, despite me offering what they were asking for, and unfathomably Lee Norfolk buggers off to Cardiff of division 3 for less money than I was offering. This recruitment lark could be worse than I thought. On the last day of the month Tommy Smith signs up, another from Man United’s academy not to make the grade, but will do a job in centre midfield for me, which is just as well give Tom Bennett has picked up a knock and will miss the opening matches. I’m ready for the season now, bring it on!

The CM9798 Cup starts Sunday! Read the Preview