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!

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You can follow Matt on Twitter @PorterMatt

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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…

1

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.

2

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?

3

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!

4

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!

5

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…

6

Ah well maybe not…

7

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

8

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.

9

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.

10

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?!

11

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

12

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…

13

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.

14

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.

15

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

16

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.

17

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

The Stockport Diaries – Part X

Matt Porter is back with the final update of the year, but can Stockport rediscover some form as they enter 1998? Catch up with Part 9 here

Well the Christmas period was pretty poor, following on again from a poor November, but there were some slight rays of sunshine through it, I feel we may turn a corner. Then again I am pretty confident every year that we will have a great summer, and I live in the north.

First up is Watford in the cup and I am going back to the tried and trusted Keegan way. I shouldn’t have betrayed my belief in attacking football, Terry Mac would not be impressed. A pretty much full strength side against the team from the league below in the hope we might actually start scoring, but I do want to give Carlo Nash a run out, and Sean Connelly comes back in. Matt Bound and Tony Dinning are injured and David Walton is cup tied.

1

Well the entertainment factor has certainly returned with this formation, half time is one all thanks to a Cavaco equaliser but it is a proper cup tie, which we ought to be winning but we still can’t hit the target with decent chances.

2

The second half isn’t particularly memorable, Nash makes a couple of good saves to keep us in it, both stemming from Kevin James’ errors so I can only assume the man of the match was given by a sponsor who decided to stay in the hospitality suite for the second half drinking champagne and listening to Elton John records. It isn’t terrible but it isn’t great, our wait for a win goes on and we have an extra game in the form of a cup replay. When they talk about the magic of the cup, that game is not it.

This is however:

3

A pretty uninspiring 4th round draw, should we get there:

4

Away at Crewe next, the glamour just keeps on ramping up, and I want to try and keep a reasonably settled side so only make 3 changes. Tetradze drops to the bench for Walton, Nash gives way to Edwards and Tomlinson got injured during the week so Charana gets a start. I could do with a result here, no win in 6. Its cold, its damp, it probably isn’t the best place for pretty football so we are going direct and we are going for the jugular, if my strikers could wear football boots instead of clown shoes it may help.

5

The entertainers are back! We have a massive 13 shots in the first half after going behind early on. Unfortunately my strikers display all the prowess of a stoned sloth, but Luis Cavaco shows them how its done with 2 well taken goals, and if it wasn’t for the superb (and underappreciated) Jason Kearton we would have more.

6

Fantastic game, fantastic result, I celebrate a little bit too much, but I don’t care, we’ve finally won a game! 22 shots, a striker who finally scores a goal, what’s not to love? We concede another towards the end but I don’t care, 4-2! I do notice that this win is the first game I haven’t played my two foreign signings, so let’s gloss over that fact, every manager is allowed to sign a crap player or 2.

7

Well we are miles off the top 2, but we did need that, and there’s plenty of time to chase them down, at least one of them will go on a bad run. Now we have the midweek cup replay and I could really do without that to be honest.

8

I still feel we are a bit stale, so I decide to make a bit of a surprise move in the transfer window, die hard Stockport fans look away now, but I decide to sell Tony Dinning. You may look aghast but bear with me, he started the season well but has been rubbish recently, he’s valued at about half a million and I get just shy of a million for him, it just makes sense! Now to find a replacement… (forward planning not massively apparent).

9

A few changes for the cup as there are some tired legs, it would be nice to have a cup run and we have 2 winnable home games which would take us to round 5, but I can’t have a knackered team for Saturday. It’s a juggling act, which ironically would be better than the pre match ‘entertainment’ served up which involves a local boy band (Take Hat, we’re the Hatters you see) murdering songs that are crap even when sung properly. At least the crowd are treated to some genuine comedy in the form of Ian Gray’s warm up routine, please don’t get injured Carlo.

10

I feel like a man who has just bought a DFS sofa for full price. How the hell did we lose that one? I mean seriously? We absolutely battered them, Chris Day played like a superhuman, we hit the post SIX times, they did absolutely naff all for the entire game except score. Then we get a penalty in the last minute, Andy Mutch puts it over the bar, and yet still has time to miss a one on one before the full time whistle. I hate this game sometimes, but ‘at least we can concentrate on the league’. Urgh, I hate saying that.

11

No time to delay, we need a boost, and where do second tier managers always go when they need a boost? Well, Angola naturally.

12

It’s a bit of a gamble but I need something different in midfield, and maybe this is what we need. I have an eye on a couple of other players too, and I know my last two foreign signings haven’t been very good, but I’m going for it.

A reasonably local derby next against Bury, and our efforts in midweek have caused some fitness issues so I have to rest a few players. Thankfully I can recall the fit again Matt Bound though, so it doesn’t weaken us too much. Carlita goes straight onto the bench, and I hope to give him a run out. Bury are still bottom but in recent weeks have improved massively, winning 5 out of 7 and drawing the other 2, so we will have to play well. I am pleased to see them making a fight of it, but hope we can be the blip in that run today. It seems a key game for both teams, there is tension in the air.

13

Another great first half, only tempered by a sloppy goal conceded and a couple of guilt edged chances missed meaning we only go in one goal in front. I try to keep things relaxed at half time and remind the boys how well we are playing. We also get a bit of a collector’s item for the last couple of months in the form of an Alun Armstrong goal, hopefully this will open the floodgates!

14

A comfortable win and I’ll take that, a good performance too, although we did take a foot off the gas towards the end which is concerning, but a win is a win so I’m not complaining, we need to keep this up, and we have a fortnight off now to recharge the batteries. No owl sanctuary this time, just a couple of days off training and then back hard at it for the next match on the last day of the month.

15

We are back within touching distance of the top 2, I’d have taken this at the beginning of the season:

16

I have felt for a while we are lacking a bit of experience in the midfield, and so I have gone for a bit of a left field signing. He is technically a defensive midfielder and so doesn’t really fit my system, but I think he’ll be very useful, and he’s got into the Arsenal team a couple of times this season so can’t be bad!

17

I do feel sorry for Kiko Charana, every time he gets a bit of a run of form he gets injured and now is no different, out for two weeks with a stubbed toe. He therefore misses out on our final game of the month, away at playoff hopefuls Sunderland. Apart from Charana, McIntosh and the suspended Andy Mutch I have a full strength squad to choose from, and so Charana aside this is probably my first choice eleven at the moment.

I am so glad to be back to football after a Saturday off, doing all those jobs I’ve been promising to do for months, finally taking the Christmas decorations down, painting the spare room, wishing I’d put a stronger team out for the Watford game so I didn’t have to do all this crap…

18

Some extremely dubious refereeing in the first half is the main talking point. There are no goals and few chances but Lee Clark gets sent off after 8 minutes for ‘hauling down Martin Lauchlan’, and given that Neil Edwards took the resulting free kick I am guessing it was near our box, so seems harsh to say the least. Tony Coton then ‘takes out Garde when through on goal’, which of course should be a red card and a penalty, but nothing doing, and then Coton rubs salt into the wounds by brilliantly denying Garde and Cavaco before half time. We have to be confident of beating ten men though.

19

Well that was frustrating. Alun Armstrong again showing he has completely lost his touch since the beginning of the season, I am tempted to drop him but replacements don’t seem too good either. We have a few chances, they muster up one, and bizarrely that gives our champagne swilling sponsors the idea that Neil Edwards should be man of the match. I would probably have taken a point beforehand but playing almost the whole game against ten men makes it seem like two points lost.

20

So we have managed to steady the ship after a couple of terrible months and I’ve also managed to get my spare room painted, but we are still not where we were earlier in the season. Hopefully we can keep building momentum and take that into the play offs if needs be or else sneak into those automatic spots. February could be key…

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Matt is having a well earned rest but will return with The Stockport Diaries in the New Year.

Follow Matt on Twitter @PorterMatt

The Stockport Diaries – Part IX

Matt Porter brings you Stockport’s 97/98 season from his view in the dugout. Catch up with part 8 here. I regret doing the titles in Roman numerals…

December 1997

Well November was decidedly wobbly with only one win from 5, and there is concern from the media that the wheels have fallen off. Mark Lawrenson makes a terrible pun about hats being blown away in autumn winds (we’re the Hatters you see), Robbie Savage acts like the wannabe cool kid at the school disco turned down by the fit lass, ‘I never fancied them anyway’, and Paul Merson? Well Paul Merson didn’t realise we were in this division.

Still we will battle on, and regain that confidence, we are still flying high and I don’t want us to be undone by our own success. We start the month with a pretty uninspiring FA cup draw, but with Watford a division below I would hope we could progress.

1

Saturday rolls around and we have a huge boost in the return of our club captain Micky Flynn. How long he will be around for I’m not sure, but right now his return is timely given our poor defensive form. I resist making many other changes, just Flynn for Bound and Kishishev for Woodthorpe. I hope we can return to winning ways, or at least keep it tight at the back now, and I’m glad Mike Salmon who was so good against us at Edgeley Park is only on the bench.

2

Its nil nil at half time but only thanks to Charton being truly hopeless in front of goal. I cannot leave it like this, so I ring the changes and change the system. Christmas tree formation, well it is December….

3

Well after 5 minutes of constant Charlton pressure I tweak and change to 4-4-2, and low and behold we play far better, we are comfortably the best team, but of course Charlton get one chance and of course Charlton fucking score. We hit the bar twice, are denied two clear penalties and I’m fuming. At least we showed some guts though, and Micky Flynn gets man of the match, but this bad run is in danger of turning into a proper slump.

Having to get back through London and the Blackwall tunnel on a Christmas shopping day does not lighten my mood, especially as the only VHS we have for the return journey is Neil Edwards’ copy of Get Shorty, bought for him by Carlo Nash. The boy will get a complex….

4

We’re slipping…

5

I get the side working on 4-4-2 through the week in preparation for the home game with Oxford. I think we are going a bit stale and it’s time for a change, we’ll go a little less direct as well and switch to a passing style. I bring Matt Bound back in alongside Flynn, and Woodthorpe returns as both McLauchlan and Kishishev are on international duty. Tom Bennett returns to the side in place of the third centre half, and I give Alun Armstrong the week off as he looks absolutely knackered recently, with Andy Mutch coming in. It’s a gamble and could be construed as panic, but at the end of the day its just 4-4-2 so not exactly controversial.

6

A far better first half for us but once again goalless, we have the better of the game but only one chance of note when Tomlinson forces their keeper into a great save. More of the same lads let’s get that Edgeley roar back.

When it’s not going your way it really isn’t going your way on here. We batter Oxford, by far the better side, and yet of all people Darren ‘clodhopper’ Purse executes a beautiful curling shot from 30 yards to beat us 1-0. Darren Purse. Darren Purse! I am still muttering it in disbelief when I get into bed that night, much to the consternation of my better half who thinks I may be considering a serious lifestyle change. Darren fucking Purse! No chance love, mind you I’d have said no chance he’d ever do what he did today on that pitch. She tells me I need to chill and stop moaning, its only a game after all. I end up sleeping in the spare room.

7

Well yes it was, thanks for that, I would have been out on the champagne if you hadn’t told me

8

Underachieving Norwich away next, it is hard to see where our next goal is coming from let alone win at the moment. Extra work on the training ground needed, plus a hope that the week off will see Alun Armstrong return refreshed.

Armstrong and Kishishev are the only changes, coming in for Mutch and Woodthorpe. I would take a point gladly if it was offered now, it’s a tricky place to visit.

Well I forgot to screenshot before the game, too preoccupied with a tough and motivational pre match team talk. Both teams seemed to sense this and were very obliging in doing absolutely nothing in the first half. Literally nothing. Pretty much fell asleep, just one off target shot between them, still as the away team I’m not too bothered by that. The only thing of note is Craig Bellamy being a prick in the centre of midfield for them. On second thoughts, why on earth would that be ‘of note’?

9

A slightly more lively second half thankfully, but Tomlinson spurns a couple of chances and that’s that, a nil nil draw. We still haven’t managed to score this month and our next game is Boxing Day, but in fairness we have been pretty solid at the back, conceding only 2 goals in 3 games. The Keegan-esque dream is out of the window, this is more like Tony Pulis but at least we have stopped the rot.

10

We really have faded badly and are looking over our shoulders, everyone has to have a bad patch though, I just hope this is ours and it is about done with.

11

Not a lot happens in the run up to Christmas, everyone is busy getting ready for the festive season. Ian Gray buys me a set of cut whisky glasses but drops them on his way into my office, ah well it’s the thought that counts. Christmas Day is spent working out how I can pull us out of our slump, and our home game with Huddersfield on Boxing Day soon comes around.

I give the out of form Tomlinson a rest for this game and bring in Nick Wright, otherwise it is the same team from the credible draw away at Norwich.

12

It’s a game of two halves, we are rubbish in the first half and are deservedly behind 1-0. Sod 4-4-2, I don’t like it, never have. I revert to the Keegan way and instantly play far better in the second half, drawing 1-1 and we should win. Lesson learned, we do not play 4-4-2. Merry Christmas!

13

Two points from 4 games is a pretty awful December, but we can take comfort in the face that we only lost by the odd goal in both defeats. We need to find a way to start scoring again and fast. FA cup first up in the new year and I will give a few fringe players a chance to impress. Something has to give!

14

Keep the faith…

You can follow Matt on Twitter @PorterMatt

The Stockport Diaries – Part VIII

Matt Porter is back to guide you through the happenings at Stockport County in November 1997. Are their early season exploits starting to catch up with the surprise promotion contenders? If you need to catch up with part 7 you can do so here

Great news to start the month, Luis Cavaco has signed a new 3 and a half year contract! I shake his hand firmly and tell him he’s made the right decision, and then offer him a celebratory whisky. He declines and asks for a mineral water, I tell him it was a test and he passed, but still have a whisky myself anyway. Sod the new order, this is Stockport, I bet Andy Mutch wouldn’t turn down a whisky.

It’s a far nicer schedule this month of a mere 5 games and all on a Saturday, so hopefully I can play a more settled team. I also have the bonus of 4 of them being at home, so it could be a really vital month to consolidate. Far too many changes to list so here is the team as they start, Jim Gannon is away on international duty but the rest of the absentees are knackered, especially Alun Armstrong.

1

2

Bradford’s Brazilian Edondo Edinho is the man to watch for them, but we could really do with bouncing back.

Not a huge amount to report in the first half, a few half chances but ultimately forgettable. The crowd are still in good voice and why shouldn’t they be? Relegation favourites we do not look like, although I am determined to keep a lid on expectation and carry on playing with freedom, the Keegan way.

One of those days unfortunately, opposition goalkeeper plays well (unusually not a veteran, old keepers seem to do the business against us), and we get hit on the counter late on. Frustrating, but the crowd greet the final whistle with support for the players and that’s all I can ask for.

3

In the meantime Jim Gannon is helping Eire to a surprise first leg win against England, possibly aided by the bizarre inclusion of Michael Duberry in the England side.

4

Well surprisingly we are still top as Sheffield United failed to win, and it seems at this early stage to be potentially 2 from 3 for the top spots, although we’re not even at half way so there is no room for complacency, especially after a run of 3 defeats in 5 home games.

5

Next up is the huge Manchester derby, before the Arab millions this was THE big game for City away at Edgeley (well, maybe). Only long term absentee Micky Flynn and the returning but not quite fit Tom Bennett are unavailable, otherwise everyone is 100% fit so it will be our first choice team out and battling.

6

An absolutely belting first half in front of a packed house, but for some reason our shooting boots desert us and we find ourselves one nil down, however we nick an equaliser just before half time with our 7th shot but our first on target from Graeme Tomlinson and the crowd go mad, Edgeley has never heard such a roar. Half time team talks are difficult in an unusual way here, we are so far ahead of expectation it is difficult to be too critical, but I keep my sky high expectations of the team and have a bit of a go about their wastefulness.

The second half is an absolute non-event, I mean literally nothing happens. The fans enjoy goading the opposition, which is quite easy for a club with such lofty thoughts of themselves but who boast a midfield pairing of Michael Brown and Neil Heaney. Neil Edwards has to bail us out a couple of times in the second half and gets a deserved man of the match award, I’m pretty happy with the point if truth be told especially given our recent home form.

7

We drop to 2nd, but I am still happy and am confident I can pull us out of our mini slump, and the board are delighted.

8

I have decided to dip into the transfer market for a defender, I am leaking goals which of course is in part to my gung-ho style of play, but I can’t help but feel I am a centre back short. Flynn, Bound and James have been superb but Sean Connelly has faded and would be better suited to wing back. I’ve had a look around and settle on two targets, Michael Walsh from Scunthorpe and David Walton at Shrewsbury. It turns out Walsh is out of my price range but I fancy Walton more anyway (I know I know, they all say that), and so I go for it.

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A late bloomer maybe, but I’m confident in my scouts, and so for the second time this season I break my transfer record.

Saturday has flown around once more, and once again I thank my lucky stars that I am a football manager as my missus goes off to Ikea for about the time a Tony Pulis side goes without scoring an away goal, I shudder to imagine the horror and am glad of our trip to Birmingham. Sorry love, I don’t fancy going around a furniture shop the size of Belgium with no bloody staff.

Kevin James and Jim Gannon are on international duty, James in an u21 friendly but Jim Gannon is in a massive game for Eire against England. Tony Dinning moves to right back with the fit again Tom Bennett coming into the side, and I drop my record signing David Walton straight in for Kevin James.

Well the first half was boring, nothing happened, I think it could have done with Blowers from Test Match Special talking about pigeons or buses passing by.

11

Well in all honesty I’ll take that, it was boring but they were far better than us and we are indebted to our superb goalkeeper Neil Edwards for keeping it at nil nil. Carlo looks glum, he will have a job claiming the jersey by the look of it.

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England are so lucky, and I feel very sorry for Shay Given missing the vital penalty. Jim Gannon shows he has some nerve though, scoring a penalty that if he had missed would have sent Eire out.

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Back on the domestic front we are doing pretty well it has to be said, but we are definitely wobbling at the moment. What is encouraging though is that we are taking points when we are playing terribly, a sure sign of a good side and I’m proud of the players.

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Well it is a massive blow but I feel we are going a bit stale at the moment so I’m going to take the gamble. Goodbye Jim, despite your somewhat hostile moments you’re a County guy and I’m sad to lose you, but 1.9 million for an average right back who is about to turn 30 is a good bit of business, so off he goes to Stoke.

Get in!

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I am not hanging around to replace our Jim, with the little known Bulgarian full back signing up for only 20k, however I’m looking for another player too, fingers crossed I get him, can’t leak to the media who though yet…

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A matter of hours later the main target signs up too, last seen at Roma and a seasoned international, I am hoping this is the coup we need…

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Saturday rolls around and its Port Vale at home, and hopefully a good chance to get back to winning ways. I belatedly realise my mistake in signing two players with names that are tricky to spell when writing a blog, but I throw Tetradze straight in for Bennett with Dinning reverting to midfield, and Kishishev is on the bench. Elsewhere there’s a recall for Kevin James in for the declining Sean Connelly. This feels a really key game and there’s anxiety around the ground, hopefully we can get off to a good start and release that tension.

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A few chances for each side in the first half and once again we are indebted to Edwards in the last couple of minutes of the half to keep it level. Just relax and play your natural game lads, don’t get tense.

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Well it isn’t a classic by any means, but a win is a win. The second half is a massive improvement and the player ratings shoot up, an impressive debut from Tetradze too in front of a packed house. We aren’t really back to our best, but it is a step in the right direction and the full house are sent home happy.

It’s the halfway point of the season and we are still in the automatic promotion places, phenomenal but it will count for nothing if we fade, I’m determined that won’t happen and I see plenty of faces in the dressing room with that same steely look in their eye.

20

We have yet another week off and so I go cap in hand to the chairman asking whether we can go on a mini training break to the sun and escape the miserable Greater Manchester weather. Unsurprisingly he refuses, despite my protestations that Middlesbrough are doing exactly that and we are their rivals. We have to settle for a somewhat second choice of his suggestion of a cracking owl sanctuary in Norden as a teambuilding day out, truly the finest in the Rochdale area but not quite what I had in mind. Still, we all have a good laugh when a tawny owl lands on Gordon Cowans’ nose, and somewhat disappointingly Ian Gray manages to drop the bag of bird feed no less than three times, how he has the gall to complain about not being in the team amazes me.

Refreshed and bonded we have our opening day opponents once more in the shape of Wolves to finish the month. Steve Bull is still the danger man along with Simon Osborne who appears to be a star in this reality. Somewhat unusually I name an unchanged 14, Micky Flynn is just not quite fit yet but should be back to boost the defence next match.

21

Get your head out of the owl sanctuary boys. That was comfortably the worst half of football of the season. I rip them to shreds at half time and throw Nick Wright on for Cavaco. System stays the same for first ten minutes and we’ll see if the rollicking does the trick. I am not happy.

Well if I wasn’t happy before I’m absolutely raging now. It all starts well, first five mins we pull a goal back and they aare reduced to ten men, then shortly after we equalise. There can only be one winner can’t there? We’re all over them, but then as soon as we equalise we go to sleep for no apparent reason, Wolves score and to be frank if it wasn’t for Edwards and Walton we would be trounced. Those two can go have Sunday dinner with their families, the rest are in for extra training. My laptop is dangerously close to going out of the window, this game infuriates me sometimes.

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Well the month ends with a delighted board but I am less so, we have dropped out of the automatic promotion slots, the return of the skipper from injury could not be more timely, assuming I keep hold of him as he’s still on the transfer list by request. December could be make or break….

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Matt will be back next week with part 9 and he can be followed on Twitter @PorterMatt

 

 

The Stockport Diaries Part VII

Matt’s reached October and Stockport are performing well above expectations. Can they keep it going as the dark nights draw in? Catch up with Part 6 here

It’s the 15th of October and game day today, the first of an eye watering 5 games remaining this month which climaxes with the cup clash against Plymouth. That is a long way off yet though as we look to continue our unlikely push for promotion to the Premier League away at Tranmere who are just one place behind me in third.

Although there are a few players around 90% fitness I can’t rotate too much as I am missing a fair few players with injury and also Martin McIntosh is suspended, so Jim Gannon comes in for the crocked Tommy Smith with Tony Dinning returning to the midfield in the only change. Neil Edwards isn’t quite fit enough to be considered for this one, but I will have an interesting selection dilemma next match in goal.

Our previous meeting was an interesting one, neutrals will be hoping for a repeat…

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Today’s team however:

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Another cracking first half! We are the better side and Tom Bennett deservedly puts us ahead, but then we go to sleep for a while and Lee Jones once again hits a brace against us and if it wasn’t for a superb Nash save would have had a hat trick. Going behind galvanises us however and Alun Armstrong equalises on the stroke of half time, I am amazed there is no interest in him from bigger teams really, and Danny Coyne does brilliantly to thwart us on 3 other occasions.

The second half is another thriller, and we come through it to win 3-2. Graeme Tomlinson puts us ahead early in the second half and we could have had a fourth but then Tranmere find another gear and put us under the cosh. There are a fair few heart in mouth moments and I finish the game with a flat back 5 protested by two defensive midfielders, but thanks to some stout defending and another great save from Nash we hold on.

2

We are top of the league, say we are top of the league! Sheffield United could only draw at home to Reading, so we are in poll position, no one predicted this. Over a third of the way through the season and it’s probably around now that Robbie Savage will say ‘I always fancied Stockport’ even though he was predicting we’d finish dead last just a couple of months ago.

3

No time to rest on our laurels as we face Reading next who frustrated Sheffield United midweek. I once again have a few players who are quite tired but I cannot afford to rest them as I just don’t have the depth, however Connelly and Lauchlan are knackered so in come Woodthorpe and McIntosh. I also have the big call to make in goal and just about on balance go with Neil Edwards who hasn’t done much wrong this season, harsh on Nash who has saved us 2 points in each of the last 2 games, but he’ll bounce back I’m sure. Ian Gray meantime has been loaned to the chippy across the road, his loan fee being a chippy tea for me and the opposing manager after the match. Great money saver and let’s face it he’s doing bugger all football wise.

Edgeley is bouncing with the chant of ‘we are top of the league’ echoing around as the players warm up, no sign of nerves though, just confidence throughout the side.

4

That was a really frustrating first half. We had a superb start with Tomlinson putting us 2-0 up inside 12 minutes and we were cruising, the fans were in great voice and Reading were doing nothing. The first set back came with Tom Bennett stretchered off after 18 minutes, a real blow for him as it’s only his third game back after serious injury and he’s been superb in all of them. Despite this though Reading do absolutely nothing and we are comfortable until a few minutes before half time Kevin James under no pressure plays an atrocious back pass and Reading home grown player (or at least I assume home grown from his name) Dimitriadis runs on and accepts the gift. This game should e over but instead Reading have the momentum, I remind the team they have been far better and to keep it up. I am slightly concerned at our inability to keep a clean sheet, 6 games without one now and Micky Flynn is still 6 weeks away from fitness.

5

Argh so frustrating! That was inevitable after Kevin James’ lapse…. We were poor in the second half but we did limit them chance wise, but having been denied by the bar Dimitriadis made no mistake and equalised. Our first chance came in the 89th minute thanks to a beautiful through ball from Matt Bound and sub Charana did everything right only to be denied by Mautone in the Reading goal with what was probably his first touch of the half. Frustrating but not the end of the world, however the leaky defence and the fact we are always exhausted in the second half of matches is starting to really bite. I may have to move into the transfer market. The man of the match also catches my eye as a Bolton fan, I reckon he’ll make a decent manager himself one day…

6

Tom Bennett is thankfully only out for a couple of weeks, and Cavaco and Heidenstrom are almost fit again. Sunderland rolls around quickly and most players are fit enough, Heidenstrom comes back maybe a little too quickly but I want to regain some momentum and Connelly comes in for Kevin James after his horror show.

7

Carlo Nash stands and applauds his rival for the number 1 shirt after that first half display, and well deserved it is for 2 outstanding saves which preserve a 2 goal lead we gain early on. I was glad to see Kevin Phillips only on the bench as he would surely have buried the chances. At the beginning of the season Sunderland would have been clear favourites for this game but not anymore, not at the Edgeley fortress. I realise saying this at half time may be a little bit premature, but I’m never one for planning half time team talks in advance and I couldn’t think what else to say, and it seems like a good motivational tool, although want away Jim Gannon seems to be deep in thought, maybe off to chat with their gaffer afterwards to get a move. Not on my watch Gannon, get out there for the second half.

8

For a while in the second half we are absolutely battered, they hit the bar, miss a couple of sitters, but somehow we hold on. I pull my wing backs to full backs and put a defensive midfielder on for a striker and then hold my breath. Sunderland can’t find a way through and FINALLY we have a clean sheet, and a very welcome 3 points.

9

10

That was the game in hand sorted so everyone on the same games played now, and the table looks very healthy, especially our goals for. I had temporarily forgotten, but goals scored and not goal difference split teams level on points, and we are 10 goals better off than everyone else, but more to the point we are on top of the pile. Take that Megson.

QPR away is the next match and bizarrely only my 3 centre halves are tired, which is annoying as I only have Kevin James in reserve. Sean Connelly is the most tired so he drops to the bench, and I’m all of a sudden in the market for an extra centre back. Better news though is my Portuguese maestro Luis Cavaco returning from injury and replaces the unfortunate Nick Wright.

QPR bizarrely line up with Kevin Gallen in midfield, but they have some serious firepower, I hope my tired back line can cope later on.

11

The first half finishes goalless but we are once more indebted to our diminutive goalkeeper after being under the cosh for the first half an hour, but we come back into the game towards half time so I’ll keep things the same.

On a side note, I have caught myself calling Neil Edwards short quite often, so I thought I’d get the tape measure out at half time, and I’m not wrong:

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A very even second half and an entertaining nil nil until the 83rd minute when Tomlinson goes clean through and is wiped out by the American goalkeeper Sommer who is duly sent off. The substitute goalkeeper Roberts can’t keep out the penalty, and then Nick Wright nicks a second right at the end. Another win, who cares how we get it, and the Stockport fans will go home happy, except for having to pay for a pee on Euston station on the way back, chargeable toilets haven’t made it up north yet…

13

Spare a thought for Bury at the bottom…

14

A break from the league to finish off the month, Plymouth in the League Cup. I am going to play a fairly strong team but I do need to rest some players, Gannon, Bound, Armstrong and Tomlinson drop out and in come Da Costa (yes really), Connelly (the eternal rotation), Mutch (because I’m the king of second chances) and Wright (because I’m the boss). I’m also going to give Carlo Nash a runout, in goal unsurprisingly (although I believe he was on the books of Man United as a child as a striker, worth knowing).

Well I forgot to screenshot the beginning of the game, and the first half was poor, and we are up against it, 2-0 down in an open game, but they are down to ten men so we have an outside chance of getting back into it.

15

Better second half but not good enough as we lose 2-1. The boos ring out for the first time in my reign, I’m not gonna lie I don’t like it, but I can’t disagree. That’ll be the last time I make so many changes, as Brian who spends his days changing tyres shouts at me on the way to the dressing room, ‘what the fuck was that Matt?’ At least there was more questioning than vilification at this stage, when they’re using my surname and using the ‘P’ as an excuse to spit then I’ll worry, but I have plenty of credit in the bank.

16

Well the end of the month comes and the board are still delighted with my performance, and reckon our financial position ‘could be better’, well it’s a damn sight better than it was when I arrived!

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The World According to Championship Manager 01/02 is available now!

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The Stockport Diaries Part VI

Matt’s back with his regular update from Stockport. It’s all going rather well so far, but what has episode 6 got in store? Catch up with episode 5 here

Well September went well, no curse of the manager of the month for the Edgeley boys, and to be honest we are in dreamland at the moment, can I keep the momentum going? First up is the second round of the Everton cup game, this could be my first big scalp. If you struggle to remember back to the first leg, we drew a cracking game 3-3.

The legends reappear for the second leg, and not just in the Stockport team. This is going to be a tough ask, but confidence is high.

1

Well the first half did not go according to plan, it went far better! Despite the early loss of Cavaco to injury, we absolutely batter Everton, pull a couple of classic Southall saves from the great man but beat him twice, 2-0 at half time, and yet I’m still nervous.

Well Neil Edwards may feel threatened by the presence of a new goalkeeper, (I mean he is about a foot shorter and there isn’t much doubt who is the more popular in the Stockport branch of Oceana), he doesn’t show it and plays superbly to take Stockport’s first big scalp of the season despite yet another sending off, come on County!

2

3

Plymouth in the next round, first leg at home, we are fast becoming the League Cup specialists, could we go further than last year’s semi-final? Probably not let’s face it, but who knows?!

Next up is a massive game away at top of the league Sheffield United. My eternal rotation of the 4 fit centre halves continues with Matty Bound dropping out this time, however a bigger problem is Heidenstrom getting a cold, he is back fit but only enough for the bench so Tommy Smith must step up. I have faith!

4

One of idols is playing for Sheffield United, and no I don’t mean Mark Patterson as a Bolton fan, but Paul McGrath, if you never saw him play just think of the best defender in the Premier League currently. OK, stop laughing, then think of the best in La Liga. Yeah, he was far far better than that, despite his dodgy knees, no exaggeration necessary.

Anyway, on with the game. A fantastic first half is sealed with a 2nd goal from the outstanding Andy Mutch who is making himself rather undroppable at the moment, and Kiko Charana is doing a decent job on his return from injury in the Cavaco role.

5

2-1 now and we are struggling, defensive mode coming in now

6

Good win in the end, we seem to be good at winning when not at our best, to be frank I’m amazed how well this is going!

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The table makes good reading right now….

8

One of the chasing pack is up next in the form of Middlesbrough, our conquerors in last year’s League Cup semi-final, it would mean the world to County fans to get at least a little bit of revenge. We could also really cement our place in the top 2 if we could get a result. The Boro team looks superb in an attacking sense on paper, full of big names who have achieved so much in the game or have bags of potential, and they have Mikkel Beck too. I am surprised then that it is their defensive record that has been their strength, its going to be a tricky game in which we will be without the suspended Sean Connelly, but we can welcome Heidenstrom back, and in the absence of Cavaco I go for Nick Wright to try and replace the Portuguese maestro, Charana having faded badly in the second half against Sheffield United.

9

We lose Heidenstrom to injury after just 3 minutes, but otherwise the half passes without much happening, although Alun Armstrong does clip the post on the stroke of half time. I can see why Boro haven’t conceded many, they play very very defensively.

5 minutes into the second half and Neil Edwards is ‘struggling’, which is somewhat inconvenient as in the days of only 3 subs I don’t put a keeper on the bench, which was always going to bite me at some point but at least he can continue for now.

Well I had decided to keep faith in Andy Mutch which may have been a mistake given that soon after Boro take the lead he gets himself sent off for a second yellow for kicking the ball away. Stupid stupid stupid! After that we are lucky it remains at 1-0 until the end, a disappointing day all round really, we will bounce back though, and Matty Bound continues to revel in the captaincy which is heartening. The fans continue to be right behind us, and why shouldn’t they be?

10

More bad news after the game in the form of injuries to Edwards and Heidenstrom for a week and 2 weeks respectively, time for Carlo Nash’s debut in the next game as his stats look better than Ian Gray, and Gray was useless in his last appearance.

We have some serious issues for our next game away at Swindon, I’m slightly confused as to why all my players are knackered, 5 players less than 90% fitness plus the 2 injuries. Only one answer to it, huge changes to the side, forgotten man Tom Bennett is finally fit and slots in for Tony Dinning who has to play at right back as Jim Gannon is on international duty. Tomlinson comes in for Mutch, and Smith, Lauchlan, Nash and Connelly also come in.

11

Half time comes and my very makeshift team is 2-1 up, an absolute ‘wonderstrike’ put Swindon ahead but a Nick Wright double puts us deservedly ahead.

A very satisfying second half in that we created loads of chances, but found Fraser Digby in imperious form and hit the bar twice, and we nearly conceded an equaliser but for a superb save from Nash before we hit a third in the last minute to cement the win.

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So the first half of October’s league games sees us still sitting pretty in second despite the defeat to Middlesbrough. The victory at Swindon is especially heartening with half a team missing, maybe we will be able to sustain this against all the odds. Incidentally, Eric Nixon is now Derby’s number one ahead of Mart Poom and Russell Hoult, and is averaging 8.00 after 4 games, shows what I know (and I’m a keeper too), but I still maintain 600k at his age was decent.

Bad news in the wider football world, ouch… closer to home Tommy Smith is out for a couple of weeks after sustaining an elbow injury against Swindon, terrible timing given Heidenstrom’s injury, but Tom Bennett did OK so it’s not the end of the world.

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And finally…. Dammit Jim will you please make your damn mind up! Go if you want, no player is bigger than the club (sobs quietly)…

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More next Tuesday!

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