Starting from Scratch – Part 7

Twitterless Matthew Cooper is here with the penultimate update of his first season as Altrincham manager. He’s built this from nothing but are they closing in on promotion? Or will Rotherham ruin it? Catch up with part 6 here.

Hello, welcome back. It’s the business end of the season and we’re on course for a back to back promotion, so long as we can navigate the final 14 games of the season. To recap, my playmaker Zerrouki was ruled out for the rest of the season with a broken pelvis and my star midfielder Jermaine Wright has just been sold for £1.2m to balance the books. I had settled on another Algerian as a replacement, however I changed my mind at the last minute and made an approach for this guy instead:

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He’s had two seasons of excellent match ratings in the league above us so he just seems like a safer bet than my previous choice, though he’s much pricier at £475k. I could have had them both, but I’d then have 3 non-EU midfielders and I didn’t want to be effectively forced to play all three for most games to avoid work permit issues. There’s still a space for another midfielder, and my eye is caught by a familiar face

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It’s Sir Alex’s son, Darren. He was a pretty average player but made a decent manager in real life, however he can do a job for us in Division 3 and won’t break the bank at a little under £50k. I put in a bid and hope he’s willing to take a step down 2 divisions for more game time. There will still be over £500k left after these purchases so we’ve got room to manoeuvrer if another injury disaster befalls us. I’ve also approached a young Barnsley midfielder on loan just for some cover.

We’re away to Man City for the FA cup 5th round, and we’re predictably outclassed. The scoreline is extremely flattering, as they had two goals disallowed before their third finally stuck. I’m pleased nonetheless with our run this year and now we can concentrate on getting over the line in the league. A full round of fixtures are played along with our cup game, so we’re knocked down to third but with a game in hand.

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N’Diaye and Ferguson agree terms and are welcomed into the squad, however it’s a less happy day for his dad as Man Utd are dumped out of the league cup at the Semis to leave Villa v Blackburn in the final of the competition that no-one cares about.

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I sodding hate Rotherham.

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On the plus side, N’Diaye has a great first game for us and we seem to be just as fluent as we were before. Our game in hand is up next against 3rd from bottom Notts Country, Gattuso is suspended so Ferguson makes his first start.

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What was I saying about fluency? I may have spoken to soon as we do just about enough to scrape a win against a pretty poor side, but at this stage the result is all that matters and we’re back up to second, restoring our 4 point cushion to the playoff spots.

The cup run is starting to take its toll, and there are some pretty tired legs in the side as we travel to Macclesfield for the next game. I’d love to rotate but we simply don’t have enough strength in depth and I field the same 11 from the last game, intending to swap out a couple of fading players in the last half hour or so. Their keeper is annoyingly in Teflon mode, stopping everything we throw at him, but we take the lead with Ferguson’s first goal for the club. They equalise through a corner and then a rare Hammond error sees him punch it to their forward for a tap-in. It’s starting to feel as if the wheels are coming off, but we find another gear and Williamson comes to the rescue, scoring two and creating another to put us out of sight. I would have been pissed off to lose this one, considering the chances ratio

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It’s three months in a row!

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Oh…shite. I wasn’t prepared for this

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I scramble to find a replacement, Exeter’s Cyrus appearing to be the best option, so I hastily put in a £200k bid.

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Watford also come in for Strong after I make him available to bump up his price , the cheeky gits, so I tell them where to shove their £1m bid and refuse Man City too, hoping the tribunal ups the price slightly in light of his £1.3m value.

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Eugh, nope. Man City get a bargain and I’m left without a competent wing back until Cyrus signs. It’s a case of fortunate timing though as the next game is against perennial punching bags Doncaster Rovers. I bring in Lou Kidd for the departed Strong and swap in Gattuso for the suspended Browning. It’s not exactly a dream start as Allardyce is sent off after 2 minutes, but Doncaster are so utterly dreadful that it doesn’t affect us at all. We race into a 2-0 lead by half-time and add a third towards the end for the most routine of routine wins

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Allardyce picks up a three match ban for violent conduct, but Tokely is a good enough replacement so whatever. Annoyingly the Cyrus transfer is no closer to completion by our next game, away to the Orient. I needn’t have worried though as Kidd has another mystifyingly solid game and we run out easy 3-0 winners, dominating to such an extent that even Heidenstrom has a quiet game

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I’m beginning to re-think if a replacement wingback is even needed now. I decide to withdraw the bid and leave it until the summer, hoping that Hansen is wrong again and we are able to win something with Kidd(s). Our win puts us back into first place and the gap extends to 9 points with 9 games left to play. Meanwhile, Donny go down 6-1 to Cambridge to bring up a century of goals conceded in some style

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Arsenal recall Gislason for some reason, which is annoying but we should be okay with what we’ve got for the rest of the season so I don’t intend to bring in any more cover

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A home game against 22nd placed Shrewsbury is next up, and Allardyce’s 3 game suspension starts. Tokely takes his place and performs admirably, as both strikers get a goal along with Ferguson’s 3rd goal in 6 games. I wasn’t sure it would work out but he’s turning out to be a very handy player for us – I’m not sure there’s going to be a place in the midfield for Zerrouki to return to when he’s back to fitness at this rate, as N’Diaye has been a revelation in the playmaker role and aside from sentiment I can’t really make a case for replacing him.

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I was hoping to finish off the season in this update, but a quick glance at the word count confirms that’s clearly not going to happen. I’ll stop it here to leave the final 8 games for next week. Before I wrap it up, here’s the tables:

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10 points now between us and 4th place, it’s going to have to be a pretty drastic loss of form to deny us automatic promotion now. That’s also the gap at the bottom, as Scarborough’s win in the most recent round of fixtures has put them above Shrewsbury and further towards safety. Donny are pretty doomed at this stage – conceding goals at almost twice the rate of everyone else has a tendency to do that to you.

So, the final update of the season is going to be next week. Join me to see how the season finishes and who gets their hands on the various cups amongst other stuff. See you then.

Starting from Scratch – Part 6

Matthew Cooper has done a rather good job with Altrincham so far. Having started with no players, they’ve finally started to gel and were closing on the playoffs last time we spoke. How will they get on this week? Catch up with part 5 here.

Welcome to part 6 of the promotion from non-league series, though with the snail’s pace speed at which I narrate through the updates I’m sure it must feel like part 60 by now. Anyway, we’re off to Colchester first off and it’s a cracker

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We lost last time out at Cambridge, and there’s a familiar feeling as Colchester put themselves 2-0 in the lead. Crucially though, Williamson pulls 1 back on the stroke of half-time to give us some belief for the next 45 mins. Williamson equalises just after the hour mark and then on 72 minutes we go ahead through Tokely, who I had introduced for the misfiring Allardyce 3 minutes earlier. Even as I’m celebrating though, they go to the other end and immediately equalise. Super sub Tokely decides the match in the last minute though, firing home from a Jermaine Wright through-ball and the win is ours, get in!

Results elsewhere go our way and we find ourselves in the automatic promotion places for the first time since before the opening day (where we were 1st by means of Alphabetical order).

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Our 4th-round tie against Nottingham Forest is next and I’m kind of pleased, as Bound’s 2 match suspension starts and Zerrouki’s on his last banned game, so it’s handily timed to minimise the impact on our league matches. I feel a severe beating is on the cards, but I didn’t expect to reach round 4 anyway so I don’t care too much. Well, it doesn’t turn out like that.

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We get off to the perfect start as Allardyce stabs home in the second minute, and we actually go two up shortly after the break through Browning. Unfortunately, famously AWOL striker Van Hooijdonk scores a quick double to peg us back, but in truth it’s pretty comfortable as we hold out for a replay. Can we do the unthinkable in the home tie? Probably not, but I’m proud of the lads anyway. There aren’t really any easy teams left in the competition at this stage, and we’re drawn away at first division Man City for the 5th round, provided we come through the replay.

A few days later and we’re down at Cardiff’s Ninian Park. Zerrouki’s available again after suspension and my cup-tied defender Gislason comes in for the pretty unreliable Luis. Our opposition are having a wee bit of a defensive injury crisis, with one of their strikers filling in at the back.

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This doesn’t mean an automatic 3 points however, and this proves to be the case as we endure a miserable day in Wales. Their makeshift defender presents us with chance after chance but the strikers don’t have their shooting boots on and we fail to capitalise. They score against the run of play after half an hour, and score again with 20 minutes remaining. It’s a setback, but provided we bounce back in our next game I’m not too concerned.

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The board still have faith in me and what’s more, our cup exploits have made us a small profit again this month. It’s not much, but any surplus is good news when your balance is as low as ours is.

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For the second month running, I get the manager of the month, as does Sir Alex in the premier league (you’ll be shocked to learn that they’re running away with the title yet again).

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The cup replay comes around, and Bound/Zerrouki are both available this time so we’re in a stronger position than the first game. A near-capacity crowd cram in to Moss Lane to see us once again stick two fingers up to the league placings and grind out a pretty routine win against Forest. Gattuso has the ball in the net early on, but it’s ruled out for offside. Our goal is in no danger though and it’s no surprise when we take the lead through Zerrouki on 69 mins. We boss possession and easily see out the rest of the game, putting us through to face Man City in the 5th round. It’s not even the shock result of the day, as Scarborough get their second win of the season to cause even more worry of dropping out of the league at Doncaster.

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I hadn’t noticed until now but Wrexham are still in the competition, which would have been a pretty good opportunity to make the Quarter Finals, but at least the trip to Man City will boost the coffers from the gate receipts.

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We’re at home next in what could be one of the defining matches of the season as table-topping York come to visit. Allardyce has looked a bit off-form in the last couple of games so I swap him out for Tokely, keeping an otherwise unchanged side from the giant killers earlier in the week. The move pays off in a somewhat nervy game as Tokely pounces on a rebound to give us a half-time lead. Strikers usually grab the headlines but we’re just as indebted, if not more so, to Hammond as he makes two crucial stops in the final 15 minutes to preserve our lead. We’ve come through one of the biggest tests of the remaining season with maximum points, so things are looking good

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The win has put us back into the top three, and owing to our cup run we still have a game in hand, which may end up being crucial in the grand scheme of things. It’s an incredibly tight top half of the division this year, only 5 points separates 1st from 7th so one or two big results are probably going to make all the difference

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We’re dealt a significant blow though a couple of days later as injury news filters through from training – Zerrouki is going to miss the rest of the season

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If Wright goes on deadline day, which I expect him to, that means I’ll need to get at least 1 more midfielder in, and preferably 2. In fact ideally he’ll go before then, so there’s time for the cash to filter through the accounts and save us from bargain basement signings only. I’ll grab a loan deal for now if I can, but I’ll need to scout potential replacements to ensure we have the best possible chance of finishing the season strongly.

Literally the same day though, our prayers are sort of answered as Palace, Sheff Utd and Hearts all make bids for Wright. I’ll hate to let him go but in truth, we need the money to get a quality replacement for Zerrouki. As he’s going to go anyway, I make Wright available in case his true value is significantly higher than the offered £1.2m – sadly he’s only worth £1.3m so we’re unlikely to get much more at a tribunal. I decide to reluctantly accept the offers when prompted, and immediately get to work looking for midfielders to bring in.

Zerrouki’s Compatriot El Ouzani looks like a good fit. He’s a below average dribbler but he’s fast, an excellent tackler and an even better passer – and crucially has a high heading stat too. As like for like replacements go, we’re probably not going to do much better.

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It’s an emotionally charged midweek fixture in what is almost certainly Wright’s last game for us, at home to Lincoln. I consider giving him the captain’s armband as a mark of respect, however all sentiments aside this is our game in hand and we can’t afford to slip up so I stick with Palmer. Our wingback Strong creates and scores the only goal of the game after 8 minutes, the rest of the match being us trying and failing to add to it as we completely outclass Lincoln. Wright stays behind long after full time to applaud the fans, and there’s more than a couple of tears shed amongst the Altrincham faithful.

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That victory has moved us to the top of the pile, and 4 points clear of fourth place. It’s going to be a challenge to hold on with our midfield stripped out but I’d rather be in this position than chasing the promotion places and needing other results to go our way.

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Bloody hell, I’d been wrapped up in our own results and took my eye off the bottom of the table for a while. When I look, the gap between 23rd and 24th has become a chasm. It looks like Scarborough have finally got their act together and barring a monumental shift in fortunes it’ll be Donny that crash out of the league this season.

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Post-match, the inevitable happens and we say our tearful goodbyes as Wright goes to the big smoke to earn his fortune. You’ll always be welcome back Wrighty, you’ll forever be in our hearts (and my shortlist).

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That seems to be a fitting place to end it for this week. With 14 games remaining, come back next week to see if we can cope with the replacement of our two star midfielders and

Starting from Scratch – Part 5

Tuesday is Matthew Cooper day. He started with no players and now his Altrincham side are starting to gel. Can they make a charge for the playoffs with a cup run to boot? Catch up with part 4 here.

Hi, welcome to part 5 of our lower-league adventure. After a rocky start, we’ve hit a purple patch in the league and are on the verge of breaking into the play-off spots. I really believe that form and momentum play a big part in this game – once the team gel and get a few positive results, things just seem to go your way – for a while anyway. When will the bubble burst? Not for a while yet, hopefully.

We’re off to Welling Utd first up for the replay of the FA cup 2nd round game after we fail to dispatch them in the home game.

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We get the routine win that we should have got last time, Gattuso and Hunter bizarrely scoring in the same minute in the first half. We now face premier league Sunderland for the third round, where we’ll most likely get mullered.

Next up, a challenging game away at play-off rivals Darlington. Our midweek antics have left a few players pretty tired, so captain Palmer makes way for Duncan and Wright swaps the bench with Browning. Darlo were actually our very first league opponents (which, with us being exactly halfway through the season, makes a lot of sense now I think about it…) and they completely dominated us in that game. This will be a nice yardstick for where we are now from that terrible beginning.

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They are in control for the first 20 minutes, but goals win games and we score against the run of play through Zerrouki after half an hour. From then on we’re the better side and we double the advantage when Allardyce prods in a rebound on 66 minutes. The run continues with a pleasing mirror-image of the reverse fixture and I’m very pleased with how things are working out at the moment.

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Yes, yes it was. Thank you for noticing. Hammond then overdoes it at the charity wank-a-thon and puts our next result in jeopardy, as his understudy is some kid that’s never played a game. We’ll be fine as long as the opposition doesn’t put any attempts on target.

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It’s against Brentford, the first team we ever beat, so that gives us a fair chance at least. Palmer and Wright are recalled and I cross my fingers as the kick-off is taken.

The first part of the plan is executed to perfection, as at half-time they have had precisely 0 attempts on goal of any kind, and as a bonus we’ve taken the lead through Williamson. We then get a soft penalty which Williamson blasts over the bar, the tit. Zerrouki makes it 2 around the hour mark, and that proves to be just enough as they pull one back with their only shot all game. Come back soon Hammond, we bloody need you.

5

Argh, what is with this strained wrist epidemic? I put the family filter on the club Wi-Fi and block the babestation channel at the training ground’s lounge as a precaution.

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Hammond and Strong make a quick recovery and are fighting fit for our next game, at home to Gillingham who did us 1-0 in the last minute the last time we met. They currently sit 4th in the table so a good result here is highly desirable.

In contrast to the first meeting in which not a great deal happened, this was a frantic game with plenty of chances. We lead through Williamson after only 2 minutes, but are quickly pegged back. Williamson is in red-hot form though and grabs a second after half an hour, rounding the keeper and sliding it into the net to give us a 2-1 half time lead. Soon after the restart, Andrews trips someone in the box and it’s all square again. We’re not to be denied though and my man-crush Wright gets the decisive goal from a corner, allowing us to come out on top in a a 5 goal thriller.

The board are understandably thrilled at the recent turn of events but the financial situation is getting serious. We bleed another 70k this month and we’re going to need to sell soon to get out of the red.

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This is nice though.

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It’s time for our scheduled arse-wupping as Sunderland come to town for the FA cup third round.

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Alright, this is getting a bit ridiculous now. Sunderland turn out in a stylish vomit-coloured kit that was briefly in vogue in the late nineties, but they have an off day and fail to assert their dominance at any point in the game. Williamson bundles in early in the second half and we hold on for a famous victory. They were the better side, but if you don’t score you don’t win and we’re somehow through to the fourth round. Annoyingly the attendance is a bit over 12,000, so those extra seats are actually of some use. I can picture the smug nods from the board members already. I’ve evidently embarrassed the premier league fraternity, and retribution is swift:

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As you can see, he’s been playing his socks off for us so this is a cruel blow. I have cover and another loanee to throw into the side but I’m once again reminded of the folly of relying on loan signings in this game when they can be recalled, seemingly on a whim, at the drop of a hat.

We’re drawn away at Nottingham Forest for the fourth round, which should be a walk in the park after our famous victory over the Mackems. Just kidding, we’ll get the overdue hiding that we should have received in the third round. I forgot to take a screenshot, but Sunderland’s humiliation is clearly the final straw for their board and two days later Peter Reid walks out of the Stadium of Light with his belongings in a cardboard box

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Old man Wilkins gets yet another injury and is laid up for a month. At this point I’m not sure if he really is injured, or if he’s faking it just to have someone to talk to. I make a mental note to sign him up for the meals on wheels service in the near future.

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Wright’s heroics have put him on the radar of a bunch of clubs, so I can’t see him staying much longer. On the plus side, his value has soared so it will take care of all of our money troubles. I am touched that despite all the interest, he’s still happy to be with us.

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It’s a crunch match next against 4th-placed Exeter, and things are bobbing serenely along towards a 0-0 draw with us in total control. We’re a different animal now though, and games that we would drawn for sure earlier in the season are turned into scrappy wins. Allardyce races through and calmly finishes in the 87th minute to give us the 3 points that our performance merited. Incidently, notice on the lower screenshot that Exeter took off one player on 55 minutes but brought two on? This seems to be an occasional occurrence in cm97/98, the AI somehow sneaks an extra player onto the pitch without the ref noticing. It doesn’t actually seem to help them though, so it’s hardly game-breaking.

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Our form is beyond belief – I honestly can’t remember anything like this in all the games I’ve played, so I’m pretty chuffed that it’s happened in this particular save. Take a look at the form table, which only tells some of the story as we’ve won every recent cup game as well

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We travel to mid-table Cambridge for the final match of this update, and it’s fair to say that we get off to a difficult start, as we concede in the 2nd and 3rd minutes. We briefly threaten to rally when Allardyce halves the arrears just after the restart, but it’s not our day and they restore the 2 goal cushion with half an hour left. So, the first loss in bloody ages but in a way I’m relieved,as I was beginning to think I might have somehow broken the game or something.

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Despite the result we’re still very handily placed in 5th with 18 games left to play. We’re only a point off the automatic promotion places, so if we can keep winning we may very well end up there by the end of the season.

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Down at the bottom, Doncaster still bring up the rear with a truly frightening number of goals conceded. Amazingly despite letting in so many they’re still only 3 points adrift so it’s not over by any means.

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See you next week, when we’ll try to wash the bitter taste of defeat from our mouths.

Starting from Scratch – Part 4

Here’s Matthew with the latest from Altrincham. For a club that started with no players, they’re making a good go of making a team. Catch up with part 3 here.

Hello once again, welcome to part 4 of premature ageing simulator 97/98. We concluded last time with a string of decent results, but a potentially damaging injury to main man Jermaine Wright, our midfield dynamo. You may recall I put in an approach for a replacement, however the negotiations went pretty poorly

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I politely, but firmly, tell him to sling his hook and move instead for my number 2 target. He actually has more promising stats than Turner but he’s unfortunately out for 2 weeks injured which in some ways hinders his primary purpose of filling in for Wright. He’ll be fit for the last two weeks of Wright’s lay-off though so it’s not a total loss. Until then, I fear old man Wilkins may have to be roused from his rocking chair and plopped onto the bench.

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We’re at Mansfield for our next fixture and I spare Wilkins the indignity of changing out of his pajamas as my underperforming wingback West takes the bench. Allardyce is rested for my backup striker Williamson and Browning takes the field in place of Wright. We kick off and….what the hell is happening?

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A few weeks ago we couldn’t win our way out of a paper bag and now I’ve just witnessed one of the most dominant first-half performances in my entire CM career. Both goals are taken by Williamson and we look unstoppable. Naturally, my team desperately contrive to cock it up as captain Palmer elbows someone in the face and gets shown red. Despite his best efforts at sabotage though, we easily see the game out and chalk up yet another win.

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My mobile buzzes on the way home, it’s a text from the board:

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Oh you are, are you? Well that’s alright then, your satisfaction means everything to me. Whatever, at least I’m not in immediate danger of the sack anyway. McCarthy hobbles in to sign terms with us and then immediately gets better, good lad.

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We’re at home to Torquay next, who are languishing in 15th place. An easy 3 points, right?

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Nah. It’s a very flat performance and we’re lucky to draw to be honest. Post-match I notice that Williamson has caught the eye of Bristol Rovers, but with £67k left in the coffers I’d welcome an approach at this point. My other striker McGarrigle knackers himself in training and is ruled out for 6 weeks, but as he sits on the treatment table moaning I sternly tell him that it could have been worse:

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The deadest of dead rubbers is next as our pointless second game of the windscreen shield takes us to Macclesfield. I couldn’t give a flying toss about the result, but we win anyway

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On the bright side, we’ll at least finish first in one table this season, eh?

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We’re drawn against Hull, who are second in the division above us, for the second round, so at least we won’t have to suffer through this competition much longer. Old man Wilkins does his back in stretching for the remote, what is he like:

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The FA cup is up next, and we travel to Leyton Orient with a bit of a defensive crisis. Both loanees are ineligible and Palmer starts his two-match suspension so I have to put Duncan straight back in at 70% fitness alongside Hart, a very average squad player. Oh, and our right wingback is also cup-tied to add insult to injury.

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We have yet another game in our packed schedule to look forward to after a no-score draw with a very familiar man of the match. Williamson gets injured to cap off a miserable day. Oh wait, it hasn’t quite finished yet

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Sigh. He was performing well for us and my existing wing-back is, to put it mildly, shite. I’ll have to go looking for a replacement for my replacement. It’s pretty slim pickings by this point in the season, as anyone half-decent has been signed already. I finally settle on this best of the rest selection – as mediocre as he appears, he’d have to be pretty damn bad to end up being a worse option than what I have already

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We’re essentially handed a free pass to the third round if we can overcome Leyton Orient, as we’re drawn to play against one of two non-league sides

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We’re at home to Notts County next, and it’s fair to say that with injuries, suspensions and under 21 call-ups, my squad is somewhat below optimum staffing levels. It’s funny how circumstances can sometimes combine into a perfect storm of awfulness in this game.

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It’s a struggle to actually name three subs and I have to use central defender Luis as an emergency striker but on the plus side, Notts County are 21st and have 1 win in their past 10 games. I sense a draw is on the cards.

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Yep. Allardyce puts us in front midway through the first half but we can’t hold on and Notts get a deserved equaliser 15 minutes before the end. I can’t say I’m too disappointed, considering the number of players I had out. Immediately after the game I get some good news for a change

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It’s a much more familiar line-up for our next game against Scarborough. Captain Palmer returns from suspension, Tokely is back from international duty and our new right wingback takes the field. Wright makes the bench as he’s still not fully fit yet. Well, you can see why they’re 23rd in the table. Browning puts us ahead after only 2 minutes, and Allardyce doubles the lead soon after. It should have been 6 or 7, but we have to settle for 2 as Scarborough can’t muster even a single shot on target.

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The strangest things impress the board sometimes

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The replay against Leyton Orient is next up, and the prospect of posting a cricket score against our hapless non-league opposition in the next round galvanises the team into an impressive showing. Tokely pounces on a defensive error just after half-time to put us in front before we do our usual parlour trick and concede an equaliser out of nothing. Extra time looms so I throw Wrighty on, and barely 5 minutes after his introduction he powers home a rebound to nudge us back in front. I love that guy.

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The procession of crap teams in the fixture list continues as Wrexham are next to visit our Moss Lane fortress. We’re all over them from the get-go but can’t find a way past Dearden in their net. I enact another inspired substitution as I throw Williamson on for the ineffective Tokely around the hour mark and he scores with his first effort. Strong puts in a man of the match performance and our other wingback has settled in quickly. I’m beginning to suspect that the wingbacks are actually crucial to your team’s fortunes in a 5-3-2, as when our wingbacks were dreadful, our performances and results followed suit. Now that they’re playing well, we look like a quality side.

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Next up is our trip to Hull for the windscreen paperweight trophy second round. Their higher division placing shows immediately as they absolutely batter us, and we’re lucky to escape with a 3-0 deficit to be honest. Only goalkeeper Hammond’s heroics prevent further damage as his counterpart, the delightfully named John Cheesewright, is a virtual spectator. Ah well, at least we’re out of that sodding competition.

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The FA cup second round game against Welling Utd is upon us now, and I’m expecting a comfortable victory by a 3 or 4 goal margin. I rest Palmer and Zerrouki as they’re showing signs of fatigue, but I don’t expect that to matter against such lowly opposition.

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Well, that was humbling. We barely threaten their goal despite their keeper’s MotM award, and they force a replay. At least the gate receipts will help our dwindling bank balance. A rather unappetising game at home to premiership team Sunderland awaits us if we can win the replay.

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I’m finally getting the recognition I deserve, and we even scrape a profit this month! I can’t believe the turnaround from the second update which saw us go at least 10 games without a win.

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Next we travel to Chesterfield, who languish in the lower half of the table. We absolutely blitz them, racing into a 4-0 lead until our customary slacking off sees them pull 2 goals back. Even so, it’s the most comfortable victory we’ve had in quite a while.

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Well, it’s time to draw this update to a close and as usual we’ll look at the standings.

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In case you’re curious, it’s still Doncaster that occupy the solitary relegation place, though they’re only 3 points adrift. You know your team is absolutely dire when you can’t even keep up with division 3 whipping boys Scarborough:

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Exactly half the season has now elapsed and our excellent run of results has amazingly put us just outside the play-offs in 8th. I really couldn’t have foreseen this during our run of 5 or 6 straight draws early in the season but things seem to have just clicked with the team and we’re on an undeniably upward trajectory. Come back next week to see if we can keep it up and maybe start to look at securing at least a play-off place in the second

Starting from Scratch – Part 3

Matthew is back with his cobbled together Altrincham team. Wins were hard to come by in part 2 but what lies ahead? Catch up with part 2 here.

Hello again, and welcome back. We ended part 2, like part 1, with a scrappy victory that suggested things might be heading in the right direction. It didn’t really work out that way last time, but I really feel like we’ve turned a corner with bearded lunatic Gattuso pulling the strings in midfield and I’m confident that this update won’t be quite so disheartening.

First up and yay, it’s a windscreen shield game…said no-one, ever. We’re at home to Scunthorpe, and although I couldn’t care less about the competition itself, it would be nice to get a positive result and try to build some momentum. I decide to bring Zerrouki back into the team as he hasn’t done a lot wrong, and Bradley Cooper might be famous but he’s also a little bit crap, averaging around 6.5 from 7 games. Well, we make a blistering start as Zerrouki celebrates his recall with a goal and Jermaine Wright adds another, giving us a 2-0 half-time lead. We take our foot off the pedal in the second half but Hammond repels everything Scunthorpe throw at him to keep a clean sheet. It’s a great result but I wish it was in the league.

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We go to bottom club Doncaster next, and for the first time in a while I go into this expecting a win. We are on the front foot right from the first minute, and deservedly lead when defensive kingpin Duncan powers home a header from a corner on 38 minutes. Jermaine gets his second in two games just before half-time, and we’re cruising. Right after the kick-off of the second half, Hammond displays a touching show of sportsmanship by needlessly fouling their winger in the box and then letting in a 30-yard effort a few minutes later. Zerrouki puts us back in front, only for Tomlinson (yes, Graeme bloody Tomlinson, bane of many a lower league manager) to level things up. I’m about to blow a gasket but then, Doncaster’s Gooding decides to return Hammond’s act of kindness by chipping the ball past his own keeper. Who says that good deeds aren’t rewarded? It’s a messy game but a win’s a win!

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This had evidently pleased the powers that be, as I’ve been upgraded from less than satisfied to….satisfied. Cheers for the support lads. The financial situation is a little worrying but I’ve made all my purchases for now and no doubt some bigger teams will come in for my best-performing players before long to balance the books.

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I’m eager to keep our good form going, and the fixture list is happy to oblige with a home game against 22nd-placed Macclesfield. The game is fairly even for most of the first half, but we start to get on top and chance after chance seems to hit the post or get deflected wide. We apply even more pressure in the second half, and finally make the breakthrough on 75 mins as Allardyce stabs home in a goalmouth scramble. We see the game out and amazingly, that’s 3 league victories in a row!

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Our recent results have propelled us up to 13th place, and things are starting to look a little brighter, thankfully

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The FA Cup 1st round draw pairs us with Leyton Orient away. Unlike the other competitions we’re in, I actually like the FA cup and I want to do well in it. It’s not an ideal tie but it could have been worse, they are in our division at least.

A few days later we find ourselves at Shrewsbury, who are a few places below us in the table so present a chance to keep our run going. Unfortunately, it’s another frustrating draw despite our obvious superiority. It could have been even worse but they have a goal chalked off on 80 minutes for offside, to my relief.

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Next up are future cup opponents Leyton Orient at home. Blog favourite Bjorn Heidenstrom is still with them, and getting ridiculous average ratings as usual. Things start off poorly as we concede against the run of play, but Tokely is beginning to find his feet with us and scores a quickfire double to put us 2-1 up by half-time. West limps off on 58 minutes, which poses a bit of a problem – in that we don’t actually have a replacement for him. Wright is converted to an emergency wing back for the rest of the game, and Orient predictably equalise a few minutes later. Another game, another draw…

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After the game West is ruled out for a couple of weeks, so I move quickly to secure a replacement, making a loan approach for this lad

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From my experience of 5-3-2, the best wingbacks are those listed as both defenders and midfielders (i.e. Defender/Midfielder Right), but defensive midfielders can still do an able job if they have decent values in the kind of skills you’d expect them to need (dribbling, passing, pace, tackling, positioning etc). I also move to sign another wingback on a free, he was being watched by Bournemouth which is virtually a guarantee of quality. Whilst I’m at it, I make an approach for a left-sided wing back also as I’ve been pretty underwhelmed with my current choices.

Tragedy then strikes the world of celebrity as Bradley Cooper slips on a piece of red carpet and knackers his leg. Hollywood’s loss isn’t necessarily mine too though, as he’s been consistently crap for me so far. Get well soon Brad.

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The replacements for West don’t have time to join us before the next game, and the timing couldn’t be better to be missing a wingback as we’re away to top of the table Peterborough. They boast not only serial fouler and general pain in the arse Jack Lester up front, but also the fox in the box, on loan from Everton:

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To contain them, I do what any sane manager would do: I put old man Wilkins, the 36 year old midfielder in a poor run of form, in at wing back and tell him to give it his best. It somehow goes better than expected and we escape with a point. Tokely gets yet another goal to make it 4 from his last 3 games, however Wilkins repays my faith in him by giving away a penalty and they draw level. They batter us for the rest of the game but the defence holds firm and we finish with a gratifying draw.

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Tokely’s recent hot streak has somehow skyrocketed his value to nearly £1m, when the vultures swoop for him (as they inevitably will) we’ll be rolling in it

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We qualify for the next stage of the Windscreen shield without even playing the second game, to my annoyance. I can only hope we make a swift exit soon, my squad are knackered enough as it is.

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The right wingback on a free chooses Bournemouth over us, the git, but we get the loanee and the left wingback in at least. Thank you for your service Mr Wilkins, you can go back to sleep now.

Funnily enough the very next game is at home to windscreen losers Scunthorpe. I hadn’t noticed from being focused on the bottom half of the table up to now, but Scunthorpe are actually 3rd in the table and on a good run. We are nothing if not consistent, and play out yet another draw in a 0-0 snooze fest. Duncan is crocked just after half time, but central defence is the one area we actually have ample cover for so I’m not too concerned.

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Jermaine Wright joins Duncan on the treatment table soon after, being ruled out for at least a month. He’s been fantastic for us so it’s a real blow. To make matters worse, I notice that Sheff Utd have their eye on him so he’ll probably be snapped up in the near future. Bradley and old man Wilkins aren’t exactly what I call viable replacements, so I move for yet another free midfielder to provide cover

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5th-placed Swansea are the latest visitors to Moss Lane, and we get a thoroughly undeserved 3 points. We go ahead with barely 9 minutes played from an Alladyce wonder goal (“It came out of nothing!”) and the next 80 mins was Swansea huffing and puffing but ultimately failing to blow our house down. After all the late equalisers we suffered through earlier in the season, we are due a little bit of luck so I accept the points gleefully

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We’re now up to the dizzy heights of 11th, and I start to wonder if we can maybe break into the playoffs before long

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Regardless, we leave this update in a much, much better position than when we started and things are going pretty well. Come back next week to see things inevitably go to the

Starting from Scratch – Part 2

Matthew Cooper is back with the second part of his Altrincham save. Starting with no players is a difficult task but Matthew made a reasonable start, which you can catch up with in part 1 here.

Hi and thanks for tuning in again. We left the previous update with the unmistakable scent of optimism in the air, as our hastily assembled band of footballing misfits got their first win of the season at only the second time of asking. Can we carry on in this vein? We’re about to find out. Matthew Bound was crocked in the last game, and he’s not expected back for a month. It’s a blow as he had played a blinder in the first 3 games, but it could be worse and I have 2 loanees to cover the gap for now.

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The loan players are unfortunately unavailable for the second leg of the league cup though, so Bradley gets another game at right back. Other than that it’s an unchanged side, and as long as we don’t get any further injuries I couldn’t care less about the scoreline, as long as we don’t go through to the second round!

We go in at half time 2-1 down, my wingback Innes heading in from a corner to level things up before they get another goal at the end of the half. Disaster then strikes as
Palmer brings their striker down as the last man and the ref directs him off the pitch. So not an injury but he’ll be unavailable for a game in the near future all the same, the great big tit.

It ends 2-1, not much happening after Palmer is sent off. I note with irritation that the attendance is a shade under 10,000, making the stadium expansion as completely pointless as it first appeared. Still, at least that cup’s over with for another season. Just the windscreen shield left in the “waste of time” competition bracket now.

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Next up is a trip to Gillingham. Big man Ade Akinbiyi leads the line for them, and has grabbed 2 goals in the last 3 appearances so we’ll have to keep him quiet if we’re to get anything from this game.

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What did I just bloody say? We are coasting our way to a creditable draw when the lads switch off in the last minute and let their danger man pounce on a rebound from a header. I’m furious with them but also a bit pleased that we were at least competing with Gillingham throughout the game, though they were the better side. The loss leaves us 19th, but with 3 league games played so far the table is a bit meaningless at this stage. We need to get some more points on the board soon though, as losing soon becomes a habit with a newly-assembled team like this.

Our opportunity comes quickly, as a midweek fixture at home to Cambridge is next on the cards. Ostensibly in a show of unity, though in truth due to a lack of options, I name an unchanged team to go out against a side that made it into the play-offs last season. We get off to the best possible start, young McGarrigle sliding it past the keeper with barely 2 minutes on the clock. The scoreline stays at 1-0 up to half time, but familiar lower-league forward Tom Youngs equalises soon after the restart. The game shifts in their favour after this and there’s a familiar sinking feeling as they take the lead with 20 minutes to go. To the lads’ credit though they don’t give up and Palmer makes up for his sending off in the cup by prodding home at the death to nick a point, get in you beauty! A bumper crowd of 883 spectators turn up to witness the spectacle, thank god for those 5,000 extra seats, eh board? You bunch of arses.

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We receive a big boost 2 days later, as midfielder Jermaine Wright finally comes to his senses and stops asking for wages on par with Alan Shearer, lowering his demands from £50k per week to a slightly more manageable £700. I’m hoping a couple of others follow suit, and I can bring in some quality players to strengthen the team. In case you’re wondering, Mr Shearer made a £13.75m move to Man Utd (who else?) last season and currently has 6 goals in 5 games. The traditional Man Utd dominance of the first few seasons looks likely to continue for a while yet.

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The next game is a trip to Exeter, where we grind out a 0-0 draw. Not much of any note happened during the game, though we were comfortably the better side which pleases me. If only we can get hold of a dangerous forward we can put teams like this to the sword.

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The end of the month rolls round and I get my usual board review. They’re less than satisfied apparently, though I don’t know what they expected when they spent a potential promotion warchest on 5,000 unused seats. Besides which the results have been pretty good, considering the circumstances. Ungrateful swines.

Things get even better on the personnel front during the week as lower-league legend and ex-Man Utd trainee Andrew Duncan reduces his wages demands like Jermaine, accepting £300 per week to join my motley crew. The big club release clause virtually guarantees he won’t still be here come the end of the season, but hopefully he’ll bring in a decent fee and allow us to buy some proven quality.

Our next game sees us host Colchester, who are yet to win a game this season. Things are pretty cagey in the first half, which remains goalless. Predictably we fall behind on 63 minutes, but midfield maestro Zerrouki comes to the fore 2 minutes later with an equaliser that writes him into my good books – an entry which is hastily scribbled out again another 2 minutes later as he heads into his own net from a corner. Things look to be petering out towards a disappointing defeat, and the misery is compounded when striker McGarrigle picks up a knock. I take him off as a precaution, only for his replacement Williamson to pop up with the last kick of the game to rescue a precious point.

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An away game against long ball specialists Lincoln seems like a daunting prospect, as they are 6th in the table and are yet to lose yet this season. But this team are full of surprises so I’m not ready to write them off just yet. Things initially look bright as their left back is shown red for a professional foul, but Lincoln are still superior even with 10 men, rather embarrassingly. They edge in front 5 minutes before half time and I can’t see a way back for us. But we are a different prospect in the second half, Allardyce levels things up soon after the restart and we push for a winner. Captain fantastic (well, he’s the captain at least) Wilkins limps off in the 80th minute, but we play it out for yet another draw. After the game it’s confirmed that he’ll miss the next two weeks, so we’ll need to shuffle things around in the short term.

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Besides, a development then occurs which makes Wilkins’ injury even less problematic. Who’s that putting pen to paper?

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It’s only current Milan manager and certified crazy man Gattuso! He’s 19 and untested in the game so far, but I’ve seen him develop into a solid player in previous saves and besides, it’s bloody Gattuso! I couldn’t turn this opportunity down. Ross Tokely, who may be a familiar name to those who habitually manage in the lower leagues, also joins the payroll to give me some more firepower up front.

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Cardiff are next up to visit our vast sea of empty seats (sorry I keep banging on about it, but it’s wound me right up!) and I’m praying that we find a way to break this run of 4 straight draws.

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Nope. It’s now 5 from 5 as we dominate the game but fail to make it count. We’re not losing at least but we have to start putting more points on the board to pull away from the solitary relegation place. Gattuso and Tokely both get a run-out in the last 25 minutes and have decent debuts, once they’re up to speed I think they will make a real difference.

We have to travel to third-placed York for our next game, and playmaker Zirrouki is knackered from our relentless fixture list. I’ve decided to shake it up a bit and give him a rest, trying the Italian nutcase in the centre of the field instead. Zirrouki makes the bench so I can throw him on if the experiment is a disaster. We lose in the most infuriating way possible, leading from the 20th minute only to let the lead, and then the game, slip in the last 10 mins. On the plus side Gattuso played a blinder so I’m sticking with him for the next game.

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We turn up at lowly 17th-placed Rotherham absolutely desperate for points to break this malaise. I keep faith with Gattuso and name an unchanged side, except for the left wing back Innes dropping for Kidd, on account of him being shockingly bad. My two wing backs are averaging less than 6.5 each, so it’s clear which area I need to improve next. Anyway, we get off to a bright start and take the lead when Rotherham’s captain Knill helpfully puts the ball in his own net after half an hour. Allardyce puts us further in front midway through the second half – the first time we’ve been more than 1 goal to the good all season! They pull one back right at the end but it’s too late, and we pick up our first win in 8 games. The palpable sense of relief is overwhelming. Amusingly we won 2-1 despite only having 1 shot on target all match, which makes it somehow even more satisfying.

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The win moves us up to a still decidedly unimpressive 18th place, but it keeps our heads above the waterline and increases the gap to Donny at the foot of the table to 7 points.

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All in all a pretty dreary update results-wise, but a long-awaited win and some much-needed reinforcements to the squad at least provide some grounds for optimism going into the next set of fixtures. Join me next time as I try to better my record of 1 win per update.

Starting from Scratch – Part 1

A new guest blogger! Matthew Cooper doesn’t have Twitter but he tracked us down to tell his story. He’s taken on the always tricky challenge of being the first club to get promoted to the football league. With no players, can a club be built from scratch?

Hello, and welcome to my very first blog series for Championship Manager. For this save, I am going to be taking control of the first non-league team to be promoted to division 3 at the conclusion of the initial season and (hopefully) transforming them, over time, into a team capable of challenging for honours in the premier league. I’ve always been fascinated by these teams – given just a few weeks to cobble together an entire squad and usually (when AI-controlled, anyway) scrapping it out at the foot of the table in a desperate fight to stay up. Things won’t be that dire in this save I hope, but it will definitely take time to turn my ragtag bunch of lower division misfits into one of England’s top sides.

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