Starting from Scratch – Part 15

Twitterless Matthew is here with the penultimate episode of season two. His Altrincham side started last season without a single player but a promotion later, they’re mounting a charge to Division 1. Oh and I’m going to assume the genering greeting is intentional from Matthew rather than an error. Catch up with part 14 here.

<Generic Greeting, Season 2 Episode 7>. Let’s get on with it!

1

This isn’t a great start to the update, he’s our most reliable midfielder behind N’Diaye so will be sorely missed for the next 3 or 4 games.

2

When it rains it pours. He’s only backup though so we’ll cope

3

Aw c’mon! If someone gets the flu next I’m going to scream. Not great timing either as our next match is in the cup against premiership outfit Newcastle. I put out a patched up team and hope for the best, it might be painful though as I’m without a left wingback so Browning’s having to start there

4

It’s fair to say that it goes about as well as expected. Only Roberts does himself proud, though Browning does alright to say he’s in the wrong position. 5th round is still a decent achievement and we’ll aim to go one better next year.

5

Oh pipe down, look at my injury list you morons. I’m so sorry that we got tonked in the 5th round, which I’ve guided us to for the second season running, you deserve so much better. Why don’t you build some more seats to cheer yourselves up? Besides which, we’re record breakers

6

Anyway it’s time to shift our focus back to the league. Who’s next up….oh, what?

7

Oh for God’s sake, this is getting ridiculous now. Ferguson is back at least, but I might play with one up front until Tomlinson comes back because we’re out of options up front. Oh wait, Ferguson is bloody suspended so he’s unavailable anyway. Shoot me.

What a perfect time to be visiting the Zoo…err, the Den. Our supporters have been complaining about the lack of phlegm in their hair recently so it’s a great time to go and stock up. I decide against going with 1 up front and give McGarrigle a recall

8

We’re quite understandably second best and the scoreline is probably a bit flattering to us really. Let’s just move on, quickly.

9

Of course. Things are going swimmingly right now. This cheers me up a bit though

10

Colwyn Bay come in for Matthew Bound, who I’m happy enough to offload so I accept their offer

11

The loss has allowed Brighton to catch us and we’re second on goal difference. We have the chance to grab first again though with our game in hand, at home to Wigan. Tommo, Ferguson and Hughes are all back so thankfully we can dump the dregs of the team and put out a somewhat stronger side.

12

That’s more like it, back to winning ways thanks to the familiar scorers Allardyce and Ferguson. Taggart picked up some sort of knock but it’s not serious, hopefully he’ll be fit for the next game. After the match we bid farewell to Bound and pocket £250k

13

3 days later we’re back in action at home to Plymouth, and it’s just one of those games

14

We go behind in literally the first minute, and then batter them for 90 minutes without scoring. This happens at least 5 times per season (well, not the scoring in the first minute, you know what I mean) but it’s not going to define the season so let’s move on.

This isn’t too helpful though

15

His understudy Heinrich is also out so we don’t have any cover. I think it’s going to be Browning filling the gap again as we don’t really have another option. Allardyce is also suspended for 2 games to piss on my chips further. At least we’re playing the division’s bottom club, Bristol City:

16

Well, that was bloody close. We manage to survive the first minute without conceding this time – but we concede in the second, what the hell are my team doing at the start of the game? We quickly take control of the game but can’t find a way past their keeper, who’s having the game of his life. After the break our fortunes change and Tommo stabs one in, before Zerrouki blasts in a rebound and N’Diaye heads in a corner. They pull one back in the last 10 minutes and have 2 chances to level it up, but some excellent last-ditch defending allows us to hold on for the win.

There’s a potential Hollywood against-the-odds blockbuster (or at least a BBC 1 hour-long drama) in the making as 3rd division Wrexham are 90 minutes away from the FA Cup final

17

Heinrich makes a recovery but he’s lacking match fitness for our next game against 19th placed Swindon. I hand him a start but will have to sub him later on, hopefully we’ll be comfortably ahead by that point.

18

Ugh, it’s another match where we lay siege to their goal but fail to score. This is the final straw and I’ve made my mind up to sign a third striker that can hit a cow’s arse with a banjo. No wonder no-one’s interested in taking McGarrigle off my hands, he’s sodding hopeless. I make a £1.1m bid for England U21 and Boro striker Campbell, though he’ll probably be tempted to go with Wimbledon and play in the Premiership so I look for a backup target.

19

Tony Bird is twice the price but he’s been banging them in for Swansea over 3 seasons and crucially isn’t wanted by anyone else, so I put a bid in for him as well.

20

At least Allardyce is available again as we travel to Luton for the next game. They are a couple of places outside the playoff places and probably looking to put a run together to break into the top 6, so this might be a tricky one.

21

It’s actually a bit more comfortable than it looks. We go two up by half time as we run Luton ragged. It really should be 5 or 6 and then of course they go up the other end and score with their first effort on target in the second half. We’re holding on for the last 20 minutes but the defence holds firm and we take the win. I’m impressed with Luton’s old man Wilkins, as player manager he’s been selecting himself for every game at the sprightly age of 43.

Bird gets back to me first, and I doubt Campbell will choose us anyway so I rubber stamp the deal, which is a new club record

22

Jason Harris had all the qualities to be a top drawer striker but it just hasn’t happened, so I transfer list him and look to offload asap although his contract is up in the summer so I’ll dump him for free if I must. Campbell opts for Man City to my relief.

Southend in 8th place are our next opponents, and I give Bird his first start at Tomlinson’s expense – he’s missed so many chances recently I’ve lost count. The entire squad is injury free and fully fit so I pick my strongest team and cross my fingers.

23

Is it a Bird? Is it a pla…oh nevermind, it was actually a Bird. He starts paying back his record transfer fee straight away as his diving header puts us one up by half time. We can’t add to it however and we’re indebted to Roberts for keeping them goalless, as he makes 3 or 4 saves to maintain his clean sheet.

There’s now 7 games left in the season, so I’ll save the rest of them for next week. The table makes for good reading right now:

24

11 points clear with only 21 to play for, we should get over the line sooner rather than later. In the division below, Colwyn Bay are still in the mix but they’ve dropped out of the playoffs at this crucial juncture:

25

They’re only a point behind though so they have every chance of getting there by the end.
The arse end of the table has tightened up somewhat, if you’ll pardon the expression

26

Oh Darlo, you did the hard work and hauled yourself off the bottom earlier this season after being 6 points adrift, but now you’re right back where you don’t want to be. Like Colwyn Bay though there’s only a point (well ok 2, their goal difference isn’t the best) to make up and they’ll be alright.

Come back next time to see how the end of the season unfolds and hopefully see our promotion to Division 1 confirmed. We’ll also follow the division below to see who drops out of the football league. Goodbye!

Starting from Scratch – Part 14

Twitterless Tuesday is upon us as Matthew Cooper resumes the hotseat at Altrincham. Can he turn a good season into a great one? Catch up with part 13 here.

Hello, last time was a bit of a rocky road with a bit of a losing/drawing streak eating into our lead at the top. The goals dried up and the goalkeeping situation was concerning, so let’s get to it and try to change our fortunes.

By chance, I noticed that several clubs had bid for the positively singular John Barnes. I don’t really need him but I couldn’t help myself so I threw my hat into the ring.

1

7 grand? Nah. I can’t really justify that on a player who’s not going to be in the team every week , besides which his desired contract would take him into his 39th year so I bid him good luck and end negotiations there.

The opening game is our FA Cup 3rd round at home to Huddersfield, in the division above. We’re not exactly flying high right now so I’m not too confident things will go our way today.

2

Well that shows what I know. We didn’t just win, we completely obliterated them and were well worth the margin of victory. Gattuso has an effort ruled out so it could have got even worse for them. Most pleasingly, Roberts repelled every effort when they broke and looks back to his old self. Allardyce’s finishing highlights just how much we missed him during his suspension.

Only 2 days later we’re back in action again, away at Wycombe. They’re down near the bottom but the squad is collectively shagged out from the cup game. I switch things round as much as I dare but there’s only so much I can do and it’s a very tired team I put out.

3

We’ve got enough in the tank though and it’s comfortable in the end. Roberts has another solid game and Allardyce gets MotM as we look to have gotten over the recent hump.

We get a comparatively luxurious span of 5 days to prepare for our next match, away at another struggling team – the mugs who sold us their keeper, Torquay. Ferguson’s back from suspension to further freshen up the team and I’m feeling confident.

4

Not amazing by any means but we won and that’ll ding dang do for me. Allardyce makes it 3 out of 3 but Tomlinson draws a blank again. It’s disappointing compared to his stupendous early form but I have faith he’ll come good again. And then get sold to bloody Bolton, who are collecting our players to build some sort of human effigy or something – whatever they’re doing, they’re not bloody playing them so they must have some ulterior motive.

The following Monday we’re at home to Portsmouth in our game in hand owing to our cup run. Browning’s the latest player to join the cool kids behind the bike sheds with a suspension so Zerrouki’s back in.

5

It’s a workmanlike performance for our latest win, with a host of chances but only Ferguson can put one away. Ferguson really has been a solid purchase since he came in and he’s good enough for at least one more division, unlike Gattuso and Zerrouki who I expect to have to jettison if we escape the league this season.

I’d expected to face first division WBA for the 5th round, but Oxford in the basement league pulled off a shock in the replay and have got through to face us. This is a great opportunity to at least match last season’s cup progress so I’m looking forward to the game.

6

The third struggling team in a row meet us for the weekend game, as we’re at home to Grimsby. N’diaye needs a rest so Zerrouki swaps him for his bench spot but it’s pretty much the same team otherwise.

7

Argh, the annoying thing about teams near the bottom is that their keepers are invariably in brilliant form so chance after chance is repelled and sometimes they keep it up for 90 minutes. Tomlinson misses 4 clear-cut chances so I try Harris for the last 20 minutes but we can’t find a way through. Zerrouki hobbled off after a quarter of an hour so he might be out for a while.

It’s not as bad as first feared and he’ll only be out for a couple of weeks. Browning’s suspension has just ended so it’s no biggie.

I did a double take as this transfer flashed up, I bet this poor lad didn’t have a childhood free from name-calling in the playground. I checked and he’s not a regen, this is a real person

8

The cup game is upon us already so Browning comes straight back into the side for injured Zerrouki and everyone else has a clean bill of health so I put out a full-strength side to blow Oxford away

9

It doesn’t quite work out that way but we’re good enough and go through to the 5th round. Tomlinson gets the monkey off his back and a chance finally goes in, but he picks up a worrying injury late on so I face an anxious wait to see how bad it is.

At least we’re not going to be facing Darren’s dad in the next round

10

Ah, big hairy bollocks

11

He’ll be missed, Harris isn’t the reliable goalscorer I’d envisioned. Still, as long as Allardyce keeps firing we’ll be alright. Sod off Bolton, let us keep one!

The fifth round looks pretty interesting

12

Zerrouki’s back from injury but Browning does his leg in and is laid up for a week, our midfield injuries situation is like musical bloody chairs.

After the excitement of the cup it’s back to usual business with a league game – but it’s a big one. We’re at home to 3rd placed Chesterfield who are still 5 points behind, a defeat would be potentially pretty damaging

13

N’Diaye volleys home on 6 minutes but it’s ruled out by a linesman’s flag. We’re well on top but Harris is getting the majority of the chances and putting them any which way but the net. I considering hauling him off for the last 20 minutes for McGarrigle but then out of nothing, he hits a 30 yard scorcher into the top corner. I guess you’re forgiven, Jason.

Well it’s about bloody time!

14

England’s next World Cup qualifying group has a very Eastern Bloc feel to it. It looks navigable but then again, they always do don’t they? It’s the finals we cock up rather than the qualifiers.

15

We’re only given 3 days to rest before we find ourselves rocking up to Carlisle to play yet another game in hand due to our cup exploits. Palmer picked up a knock in the last game and is unavailable for now, so I hand David May the captain’s armband. Since he joined us he’s hardly put a foot wrong

16

Palmer will turn 32 next month so I expect May will take over the captaincy full-time at the end of the season. Bound is recalled in the defence but N’Diaye’s fitness is holding up well for once so starts his second match this week

17

We hammer them for the entirety of the first half but can’t score (I feel like I’ve written that in nearly every match this season). Allardyce makes the breakthrough shortly into the second half, but it looks like the curse of the crappy team is going to strike again as they get a completely undeserved equaliser on around the 70th minute. N’Diaye rescues us though, blasting it past the keeper after a defensive error and justice is done.

There’s no upset this time and it’s confirmed that we’re at home to Newcastle in the 5th round. I briefly get excited at the prospect of Alan Shearer visiting Moss Lane before remembering that he moved to Man Utd in preseason. In some kind of striker job swap they do have Andy Cole though, so David May will have an old pal to chat with throughout the game at least.

We go to Reading for the last game of the update, with captain Palmer restored and Zerrouki replacing Gattuso

18

It’s a bit of a fortunate win as we’re on the back foot for most of the game. Harris comes good with half an hour left and we hold on despite heavy pressure. Our last six wins have been by a single goal, I’d like us to be more prolific but at least we’re getting the results.

It’s time to wind it down so let’s just check the table:

19

Those 1-0 wins have widened the gap between us and second place to 6 points, and we’re now 10 points clear of the play off places. It’s looking very good for another promotion but there’s still work to be done.

20

Colwyn Bay have slipped a little since we last looked in but they’re holding on to the last play off place. Scarborough are a further two places down but remain in the hunt.

21

It’s getting very interesting at the bottom as Darlington have made up the six point gap and are out of the drop zone on goal difference. Only 3 points separates the bottom 9 teams so it’s a lottery as to who’s going down right now.

Please join me again next week to see if we can maintain the lead and get closer to a second successive promotion.

Starting from Scratch – Part 13

Here’s Matthew to ease you into Tuesday. He still doesn’t have Twitter but he’s doing a splendid job with Altrincham on CM9798, as he’ll explain below. Catch up with part 12 here.

I’m running out of ways to start these updates, but hello anyway. We finished last time with a disheartening home defeat to a close rival so we need to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and return to winning ways. Let’s get to it.

England decide upon their new manager it amazingly it’s not me. Not even a mention in the gossip page of the Star, hmph. It’s Real’s manager Heynckes, who leaves them in a very disappointing 6th place in La Liga. Considering they finished first and then second in the preceding seasons, it seems a strange time to poach him but I’m sure they know what they’re doing…

1

We’re continuing our exciting Windscreen Trophy campaign next, away at Blackpool for the second round. Roberts is cup-tied so old wet spaghetti hands Hammond starts, but at least cm97/98 freak specimen Jim Quinn is injured for them. Zerrouki replaces the unfit N’Diaye and Gatusso is still crocked.

2

Well, my fears between the posts prove to be well founded as Hammond fails to make a save in the first half, letting two goals in and ending with a rating of 4. To be fair we’re awful all over the pitch and he at least picks it up in the second half, making 3 good stops. I couldn’t have too many complaints if Blackpool finished up 5-0 winners, but ah well at least we’re out of this sodding competition again. This proves to be the final straw for Duncan and he wants out

3

Matthew Bound was immense for us last year but his performances massively dipped when we stepped up to Division 2 – if/when Duncan goes I’ll be bringing in a like for like replacement and not relying on the existing squad. After agreeing to Duncan’s request, I transfer list Bound for good measure as I can’t see a future for him here.

Brighton are our opponents in the FA Cup next, and we’re eager to not make it 3 defeats on the bounce. Roberts is back in goal and N’Diaye is fit enough to start as playmaker again.

4

We save our best form for this cup and we get the result that the 12,000 home fans wanted, courtesy of our strike partnership. Tomlinson had been suffering a drought recently, coming dangerously close to averaging a paltry goal per game, but he’s back on target here along with Allardyce. He goes and spoils it by getting himself sent off towards the end but whatever, we’re through.

We are drawn to play Division 1 side Huddersfield in the next round, but crucially it’s at home so we’ve got a fair chance of getting past them. The offers finally come in for Duncan

5

My old pal Gislason, who spent a while on loan to us last season, is available for £400k so I put an offer in – whether he’ll be happy to move here permanently is iffy but it’s worth a go. I also accept a part-exchange offer from Middlesborough which includes ex-Man Utd stalwart David May, but I think it’s very doubtful we’ll get that over the line. Gislason gets back to us promptly to tell us he’s not interested despite our mutual history. Heart of stone that lad.

In case you’re wondering how I determine which players to make a move for, I generally start with seeing who’s available at home and interested from abroad, and see if anyone catches my eye. If there’s no obvious hits, I then pull up the skills screen to filter my choices down. In this case it’s a defender I’m after, so I go for attributes that most suit this position like so

6

It’s important not to set the skills too high or you won’t get anyone – nobody that wants to play for us will be perfect at this stage. This isn’t a guarantee that your signing won’t flop, but it gives you more of a chance of finding a gem. Using this method, I’ve identified a young defender at struggling Bristol City who seems like a good fit.

7

He’s wanted by other clubs, but no-one from a higher division than us so we’ve got every chance of landing him. I put in a £1.4m bid and cross my fingers.

Duncan’s farewell game is away to Blackpool, who just did us in the Windscreen Shield. I hope things will be better this time around as N’Diaye is pulling the strings rather than Zerrouki and Hammond is nowhere near the matchday squad.

8

Blackpool seem to know how to play against us for some reason, and they’re deserving 1-0 winners courtesy of a late goal by Jim sodding Quinn. N’Diaye has a poor game and the rest of the midfield aren’t much better. The forwards can’t be blamed as they had basically no service all game and it’s a very disappointing performance all around.

In better news, we quickly backtrack on the Plummer deal

9

Why, do you ask? Well, because of this:

10

Against the odds, Duncan opts for Boro and May accepts a no-strings attached £7k a week to drop down a further division, despite being on a relegation and non-promotion clause in Division 1. He only asks us for a management job offer clause, so I think he’s planning to make us his final club. Regardless, it’s a massive coup and we’ve turned another outgoing transfer to our advantage.

He goes straight into the eleven for our home game against Preston, and there’s one more enforced change as Tomlinson’s one match suspension takes effect so Harris gets another chance to impress.

11

It’s a depressingly familiar story as we spurn a whole host of chances and end up drawing with a team that scores their only on-target attempt of the game. This highlights what I think is a flaw in this game – if you’re playing well, you understandably limit your opponent’s chances game after game, and as the keeper isn’t worked he usually gets a default rating of 5. The game sees this as a bad performance so your keeper’s form declines and then you suffer when the other teams get a couple of chances and put them away because your keeper is meant to be crap according to the recent stats.

Our lead at the top has been cut down a single point which is beginning to worry me somewhat. I decide to swap back to Hammond as his form is listed as good compared to Roberts’ poor, and I hope the latter keeper’s form improves with a rest. We’re given another home fixture, this time against struggling Watford, and a win is desperately required to halt the current downturn we’re experiencing. Tommo is back but Allardyce is now suspended so Harris gets another start in an otherwise unchanged outfield team.

12

Well that was a mistake. Hammond has 1 frigging save to make and of course cocks it up. Tommo misses a penalty and we only manage a single goal despite several on target as our woes up front continue. Hammond is transfer listed after the match in a fit of pique as I finally lose my rag with him, and I’m determined to stick with Roberts from now on or maybe even sign yet another keeper.

It might be a bit doom and gloom right now but hey, at least we’ve broken a club record

13

Congrats Dazza, your dad would be proud. This update is getting kind of long (even by my verbose standards) but I’m determined to try to end on a high note so I’m playing one more match this week. It’s away at Burnley and we have to stop dropping points, please lads!

14

Well, thank Christ for that. We’re much better than the scoreline suggests and only goalkeeper Kelly’s superhuman display keeps the goal count down. Roberts pulls off a couple of saves to restore a shred of faith in him and we get our first win in four games. So where does that leave us?

15

Still top, but only by 2 points. We’re 5 points clear of the playoff places which is a bit better but we need to consistently get results or we probably won’t remain in this position much longer.

16

It gets better and better for new boys Colwyn Bay, as they’re firmly in the middle of the play-offs and Scarborough are still up there as well. Maybe they’ll meet each other at the end of the season, who knows?

17

At the bottom, the gap remains the same at 6 points so there’s still plenty of time for Darlo to escape, and if they make up the difference there are a few teams on equal points who could be dragged into the mire.

Starting from Scratch – Part 12

Twitterless Matthew is here to brighten your Tuesday. Altrincham are now an established football league side, so much so they are buying players from Borussia Dortmund. Catch up with part 11 here.

We’re into the fourth update of season 2 and it’s a case of so far, so good. We’re flying high in the league and shortly due to kick off our FA Cup campaign. Two of our strikeforce from last season have left us for Bolton, however the new recruit Tomlinson marked his debut with a hat trick so the omens are good up front.

Ferguson has been a bad lad and starts a 3 match suspension for accrued disciplinary points. In addition, N’Diaye is knackered yet again as we face Bradford City at home. N’Diaye is at 82% fitness but Zerrouki is only 6% better off so I decide to stick with it and sub them later on if necessary.

1

Tomlinson continues his dream start with another 2 goals either side of the half, and Browning makes it 3 with 25 mins left to play. Watson pulls one back for them in the last few minutes but we’re fully in control and close out a very comfortable win.

Old man Wilkins decides he wants to move, and I’m not going to stand in his way. Good luck finding a club that want a 37 year old who’s out for 3 months with a damaged spine though.

2

The midfield are well rested for the trip to York, who came up with us last season but haven’t shared the same sort of success as they’re currently 20th. It’s another assured performance and we run out easy 2-0 winners, though I am still concerned with Roberts. His form has dropped from superb to average and he actually went into half time with a rating of 4. I’ll give it another few games before jumping into action on that front though.

3

The fixture list is pretty relentless at the moment, and we’re back in action the following Wednesday as we travel to midtable Wigan. There are no fresh injury concerns so I keep the same 11 that started at York.

4

It’s a hard-fought game, and a glaring example of a game of two halves. We start dreadfully and are under the cosh for the entire first half, going in with a fully deserved 2-0 deficit. This isn’t the fault of Roberts though, as he’s made a couple of smart saves to limit the damage, it was simply the relentless attacks that had been the problem. We’re completely different after the break though, and Browning gives us hope 3 minutes in. It’s then the Graeme Tomlinson show as he grabs a brace to turn the game around and further endear himself to the Altrincham support. Wigan have a couple of chances to level it up after that, but Roberts does commendably and keeps them out. Duncan is sent off in the 86th minute for a professional foul but it’s too late and we take maximum points home. I don’t know what Bound did for those final 4 minutes but it can’t have been good – I’ve never actually seen a 3 rating before.

N’Diaye simply can’t handle 2 matches a week in that central role it seems, and he’s benched for the home game against 4th-placed Brighton due to fatigue. Zerrouki takes his position and Ferguson returns from suspension in place of Gattuso.

5

We find ourselves behind after a fairly even first half, with Roberts having another good game for us. The game turns when Brighton go a man down however and Tomlinson levels it up a few minutes later to improve his ridiculous record to 8 goals in his first 5 appearances for us. We push for a winner but can’t find a way past Ormerod and have to settle for a point.

There’s trouble brewing with Duncan as he’s finally decided that he’s too good for us. I’ll have to look for another centre back after our next game as I don’t think he’ll be with us much longer.

Our second Windscreen Shield game is at Scunthorpe, who we also shared a group with last year. Roberts is a cup-tied so Hammond gets another chance to impress and N’Diaye is rested in anticipation of a game that actually matters.

6

It’s an understatement to say that Hammond doesn’t take his chance to regain the number 1 spot as he lets in Scunthorpe’s only chance of the first half and goes in with a rating of 4. We rally for the second half though and Tomlinson scores yet again before Harris opens his account for us in an impressive 20 minute cameo. As embarrassing as it would have been, a defeat would have knocked us out of this Micky Mouse trophy but it wasn’t to be and we’ll have to suffer through at least one more round.

We’re not back to the league yet though as the next game is the opening round of the FA Cup against Bristol City at home. They’re second from bottom in Division 2 and their keeper is out with fractured ribs, leaving an autogen in goal. Tomlinson may well improve his goalscoring record even further in the next 90 minutes. Hunter is struggling with his fitness level which draws attention to the fact that I only have one right wingback – I’ll remedy that after the match.

7

It’s a frustrating first half as my team fail to realise the ease at which they could score with an autogen in goal if only they actually tested him. I’m shouting “JUST GET ONE ON TARGET YOU TURDS” futilely at the screen as chance after chance is deflected wide or flies over the bar, but Tomlinson finally gets his act together in the second half and bags yet another brace. It’s now 11 from 7 and I suspect he may catch the eye of one of the bigger boys soon, as he has a big club release clause sadly.

I can’t find a suitable right wingback on a free so I move instead for this German regen, who looks pretty average but will do fine at filling in for Hunter in the odd game and won’t break the bank at £42k

8

The hairy-faced madman is out for a couple of months, which is a shame but he’s become a bit-part player recently so it’s not a huge spanner in the works

9

Heinrich is happy to sign so we finally have cover for Hunter

10

The defence takes a hit for our next match, which is away at Stockport. Duncan is suspended following his sending off at Wigan and Taggart is away with NI so we’re two players down. Stockport are one place above the bottom though with a solitary win in their last 15 matches and they’re also facing an injury/suspension crisis of their own so I’m hoping the damage is minimal. Young John Butler makes his first appearance at the back and new signing Heinrich takes to the bench.

11

It’s a very routine win, and we do the damage early before sitting back and riding it out. Butler tries a little bit too hard on his debut, picking up a booking and later injuring Stockport’s Parker with an over-zealous lunge, but all in all it’s a good performance from the lads.

England, Wales and Scotland have qualified for this Summer’s European finals, all as best runners up, but this evidently is not good enough for the FA who expect first place or NOTHING

12

The final game of this update is (sort of) a top of the table clash between us and Peterborough, who are currently third. Duncan is back from suspension and Taggart from international duty so it’s a much more familiar defence.

13

We end up on the wrong end of the result in a game of few chances. They get a quick couple of goals after the break and although Browning pulls one back with 15 minutes to go, I never really feel like we’re going to level it up and so it proves. So our first loss in quite a while puts a dent in what’s otherwise a really good set of results in this update.

14

Ah, stop rubbing it in! They really know how to kick a man when he’s down, jeez…

Anyway a quick look at the tables, as is customary:

15

The loss lets Peterborough make up some ground but we’re still 6 points clear at the top as we approach the midway point in the season – a pretty damn fine place to be.

As for Colwyn Bay, They’re still enjoying their first league season sitting in tenth place and, like last time, just a point off the play off places. Promotion of these non-league sides usually happens 2 or 3 seasons in, but it’s pretty rare to achieve it in the maiden campaign. Scarborough have gone from strength to strength and are knocking on the door of automatic promotion places, which is quite a turnaround from their last two consecutive 23rd placings.

16

The race to avoid the drop into obscurity is very, very close this year and Darlington are currently at the bottom of the pile. No doubt more twists and turns are on their way as only a point or less separates each team all the way up to 14th, so a win or two can massively change a team’s fortunes.

17

Starting from Scratch – Part 11

Twitterless Matthew Cooper has worked wonders with Altrincham. Promotion at the first attempt has been followed up with a solid summer. Can he build on the initial success? Catch up with part 10 here.

Hello, hello. We’ve made a good start in Division 2, but it’s too early to tell if a second (technically third, with the initial promotion from non-league) promotion is on the cards just yet. Let’s see if we can keep that momentum from last time going.

We pay the price for finishing with 9 men against Reading as both Hughes and Taggart are suspended, but it’s pretty fortuitous timing as we face bottom club Bristol City at home. They come to our stadium off the back of 9 straight defeats and I’m eager to put that figure into double digits. N’Diaye is too tired to start from the last match so Zerrouki steps in, and there’s a start for newly-signed keeper Roberts. Moyes, my replacement wingback, makes his debut despite apparently being in horrendous form.

1

It’s a very pleasing performance, as Zerrouki nets twice in the first ten minutes and we boss the game. They hit us on the counter a few times but Roberts proves to be the safe pair of hands we’ve been missing lately and we keep a clean sheet. After the game, things get even better as we’re drawn to play today’s hapless opponents again in the first round of the FA Cup

2

Luton are the next team to visit Moss Lane, and they are a bit of a bogey team for me in general. I don’t know why but they just seem to be one of those teams that always get one over on me, regardless of who I’m managing. I have a full squad to choose from as my pair of suspended players are once again available, and N’Diaye is fully rested.

3

The hoodoo is lifted as we prevail after a difficult period in the middle of the game. We go in front after 3 minutes, Allardyce running behind and coolly finishing. They equalise soon after, but we look to have wrested back the lead on 20 minutes only for it to be ruled offside. They literally score 1 minute later and a 2-1 lead has become a 2-1 deficit. I feel the curse of Luton is set to continue, but we keep hammering away and N’Diaye heads us level, before wingback hunter scores a rebound to edge us in front. The score remains the same as we get a fully deserved 3 points. A fairly indifferent performance by both Roberts and our new striker Harris are a slight blot on the copybook, but the victory is more important.

Not content with bagging Williamson earlier in the season, Bolton come back for his strike partner Tokely and lodge a £3.2m bid. Wimbledon also are in the hunt for him but offer a paltry £2.7m, which I plan to refuse. To replace him I’m going to need a proven goalscorer – step forward Mr Tomlinson:

4

He got 19 goals last season, which on the face of it doesn’t sound too impressive but when you factor in that he was playing in relegated Doncaster’s joke of a team, it’s bordering on miraculous. I launch a £825k bid to rescue him from his non-league limbo. I make Tokely available and set his true asking price, which is £3.9m. If Wimbledon get away with their lowball bid at the tribunal I will not be happy.

N’Diaye is fatigued again for the next game, away at 22nd placed Swindon, but I start him anyway with a view to subbing him later on. Tokely is unavailable for what is likely to be his last game as an Altrincham player, as he’s away with the Scotland U21 squad so Harris gets his first start.

5

It’s a disappointing game for Harris as he spurns 3 clear-cut chances in the first half. Allardyce can still be relied upon however, and he puts us in front soon after the restart. I’ll be much happier when Tomlinson is on board as if we keep missing so many scoring chances we’re going to be punished before long.

The transfer drags on and Tokely gets one last chance to say farewell to our supporters, away at Southend. He’s at 76% fitness after his U21 efforts but why should I give a shit? He’s leaving tomorrow anyway so I may as well work him to the bone.

6

It’s not exactly a fairytale end to his time here as he fails to get on the scoresheet but we win nevertheless, thanks to the charity of Southend defender Mark Jones who heads a corner into his own net midway through the second half. Roberts earns his corn with a string of fine saves and I shudder to think what the scoreline would have been if Hammond was still between the sticks.

I’d almost forgotten old man Wilkins was still with us, but he reminds me with yet another back injury

7

Don’t feel sorry for him, it’s his own fault for not doing the decent thing and retiring last season. His contract is coming to an end so he’s out on his arse whatever happens at the end of the season. Tokely chooses to follow Williamson to the Wanderers and the tribunal knocks the sale price up a few notches

8

Tomlinson signs on the same day so we’re back to a full strength forward line at least

9

This seems like a good time to review some of the players that got away, and how they’re doing at their new clubs. Striker Regis Williamson, who went for £3.6m to Bolton at the start of the season, has had limited chances to impress and has scored 1 from 3 appearances. Fan (well, my) favourite Jermaine Wright has been similarly restricted by Palace and has played only 5 times since he moved midway through last season. Left wingback Steve Strong has played 13 times for Man City so far but is failing to impress, averaging around 6 and a half. Probably the most successful export we have is Paul Hart, a central defender who was way down the pecking order here but is a regular for Swindon this season, averaging just under 7 in a struggling team which is decent enough.

Only 3 fixtures take place the following Wednesday, one of which is our away game at Plymouth. Tomlinson’s form is listed as a hyphen, which doesn’t bode well but he needs game time to turn that around so he starts in place of the departed Tokely. Taggart returns following his International commitments and Bound makes way.

10

Despite his form he makes a dream debut, scoring a hat trick and assisting both the other goals in a 5-3 win. There is cause for concern however, as Plymouth score from all 3 of their attempts on target in a real Jekyll and Hyde performance from Roberts considering his heroics at Southend. The match turns out to be our game in hand and the 3 points take us up to joint 1st place with Peterborough, with an equal amount of games played.

11

As I should be wrapping things up for this update, let’s have a quick look at how Colwyn Bay are getting on. Last time we checked they were precariously placed a couple of points above the bottom but evidently something has clicked with them and they’re now in the lofty position of 10th, a point off the playoff places

12

Bournemouth now have the dubious honour of bringing up the rear in Division 3, as Scarborough have finally got their act together after 2 seasons of scraping by and sit in the final playoff place

13

They’ve shed a couple of loan signings and brought in some more on permanent deals, which may have helped with stability and contributed towards more positive results

14

Anywho, that will do it for this update. Come back next week to see if we can hold on to our top spot and if Roberts proves to be a decent keeper or not – we may be dipping into the transfer market.

Starting from Scratch – Part 10

Twitterless Matthew is back with season 2 of his Altrincham save. Having started with nothing they’re doing pretty well for themselves. Catch up with part 9 here.

Hi and welcome back to part 2 of Altrincham’s second season in the league. I put a bid in for a promising striker last week, and he’s happy enough to sign terms. He’s managed to injure himself since I bid for him but never mind, he’ll be available soon enough

1

My new recruit up front, Bobby Raven, looks pretty rough around the edges but he’s only 16 so there’s still plenty of time for him to come good. I list him for loan, maybe debutants Colwyn Bay will take him on.

We’re at home to fellow promoted team Torquay for the first game of this update, and N’Diaye is knackered again so I bench him,Zerrouki taking his place in the middle of the park. The playmaker role seems to be more demanding than other positions, as Zerrouki was frequently more tired than the other midfielders when he played there too. It’s a pretty disjointed performance and we’re lucky to go into half time all square. We are let off on 24 mins as they have a goal chalked off, but they have the ball in the net again a few minutes later and this one counts. We equalise almost immediately as half time looms. I bring N’Diaye on for the second half as Zerrouki is having a poor game. We just about edge the second half but can’t find a winner and it finishes with honours even.

2

Taggart gets a call up for the Norn Iron team which reminds me to recruit another defender. This lad is a steal at 60k so I move in to sign him up

3

We’re away at Grimsby for the next match, and they’re in a poor run of form. We take full advantage and start brightly, N’Diaye and Tokely putting us 2 up within 20 minutes. N’Diaye gets a second 5 minutes before half time, and a fairly uneventful second half means it finishes at 3-0, though 4 or 5 wouldn’t have flattered us too much.

4

Butler’s deal is finalised, and he only asks for a one year contract which suits us fine

5

Our next game leaves us with a bit of a problem up front, as Tokely is annoyingly unavailable due to his involvement in Scotland’s U21 match. New signing Harris is still out for a couple of weeks, so I’m forced to field the unfancied McGarrigle up front. He had a brief run in the side last season, but 2 goals in 13 didn’t really justify his place in the team and he’s been frozen out since, he is in fact transfer listed but without any interest so far.

Fair play to the lad though, he takes his chance and gets our second after Allardyce had put us in front a few minutes earlier. It’s another comfortable victory, the only blemish being an injury to Zerrouki which doesn’t look serious but will probably keep him out of the next match

6

It’s confirmed after the match that he’ll be out for a week with a bruised head so we travel to Chesterfield without him in the squad. Gerry Taggart is the latest player to be unavailable due to international commitments, so Bound gets a recall and Tokely returns up front. It’s a hugely frustrating game as we take a 2 goal lead but miss a whole host of chances to add to it. We’re punished as Chesterfield take advantage of Hammond’s patchy form and score 2 in the second half to add to their goal at the end of the first to nick it 3-2. I’m amused to see a 35 year old Winterburn has swapped Highbury for…Chesterfield’s pokey little stadium, whatever it’s called

7

It looks like Taggart was needed by his country at least, as the Iron get one over England in Euro qualifying

8

Next up, Hammond faces his old club as Reading are the visitors for our latest home fixture. There’s pretty much a full squad to select from so there are recalls for Taggart and Zerrouki as we look to immediately bounce back from that undeserved loss in the last match.

9

It’s hardly a vintage performance but we just about get the job done. We go in front thanks to Ferguson but finish with 9 men as Taggart brings down Lovell as the last man soon after half time and Hughes picks up his second booking in the last 5 minutes. We manage to hold on though and get back to winning ways, the suspensions are going to be a pain in the arse though.

Hammond has been shaky in the last few games and I’m starting to worry that he’s past his peak. He’s only 31 but keepers seem to age prematurely in this game and I think it’s time to give him some competition. Rivals Torquay are surprisingly willing to let their keeper go despite him averaging over 8 per game so I put in a bid

10

My fears for Hammond deepen in the next game, as he lets in Millwall’s first 2 attempts on goal to give us a mountain to climb. We give it everything to get back into the match and a goal on the 30 minute mark is ruled out to my extreme annoyance. We keep plugging away though and get rewarded with another goal before half time as Allardyce’s long-range effort is spilled and a brief game of penalty area pinball ensues before Tokely slams it in. It’s looking like another defeat is on the cards but a last-minute corner gives us one final chance. Browning nods it in to rescue a point – so we predictably witness quite a few of our shiny new(ish) seats ripped out and hurled at our supporters by the animals that follow Millwall. Some things never change.

11

The Windscreen Shield group stages kick off next, and we’re at home to Hartlepool for our first match. They evidently want to exit the competition just as badly as we do, and Their defender Lee handles in the box after 2 minutes, granting us a penalty which Allardyce converts. It’s then a familiar story as the keeper and our crap finishing combine to see chance after chance go begging. They even have a second man sent off, before scoring with their only attempt all game to draw level. If another example was required of the need to replace Hammond at the moment, it’s this match here.

12

13

Roberts puts pen to paper 2 days later to ease our goalkeeping fears, and Hammond is relegated to training only until he can demonstrate that he’s able to stop at least 1 attempt per game. It’s still rather mystifying that Torquay were happy to sell him to their rivals for such a reasonable price.

14

We’ll finish up with a look at the table, where our strong start has put us in third place

15

As promised we’ll also look in on new boys Colwyn Bay, to see how they’re finding life in Division 3 after promotion last season. Well, they’re just about doing enough but they’re not comfortable by any means. They currently sit two places and two points clear of the bottom

16

A quick look at their squad offers a clue as to their inconsistent results

17

What on earth? How many loan players do you need for Christ’s sake? At least they took my advice and invested in some permanent signings, but that’s the craziest amount of loanees I’ve ever seen. I wouldn’t be comfortable betting on them to survive right now but we’ll have to wait and see.

Starting from Scratch – Part 9

Matthew Cooper is back for a second season with Altrincham. After strolling to Third Division success, can they build on that with a summer of wheeling and dealing? Catch up with part 8 here.

Hi and welcome back. We start this update fresh from our title-winning triumph in Division 3, so we’re looking to prepare for life in Division 2 and hopefully keep the momentum going. It seems we’re going to need yet another left wingback however, as Lou Kidd appears to be on the move

1

He chooses Leicester and we lose him for £325k. I immediately move for a replacement and spot this potential bargain for the princely sum of £8k

2

Somewhat inevitably I win the MotM for May, to make it 5 out of the last 6.

3

We get Lee Hughes in, but he insists on a big club release clause so we’ll probably end up moving for yet another wingback before long

4

I was going to say that I didn’t really foresee any further moves in the Summer, however Williamson’s value has shot up without me noticing and he’s attracted a bit of interest. I’ll probably have to get a replacement for him in that case.

5

Well, that was quick

6

As he’s probably going to go anyway, I decide to take advantage of contract situations to sweeten the deal

7

The official end to the season rolls along, and I think it was in the first update that I said that I doubted I would see my name in there. This turns out to be an incorrect prediction as I win Division 3 manager of the year, hurray! Ian Wright is the Football Writer’s player of the year and the top scorer in the premiership at the ripe age of 35. If he retires I’m all over his regen.

9

I start the new season by offloading squad player Paul Hart to Swindon for £210k. One of the three clubs in for Williamson suddenly pull out of the running

10

Why would you bid for a player you can’t afford? Anyway he agrees terms with Bolton and we get our free player so all in all it’s a pretty good deal

11

I check Arsenal’s squad page and Wrighty has decided to give it another year, unfortunately for us. I do however notice Le Sulk, who wants away for more minutes on the pitch:

12

We can easily afford the fee from the Williamson sale so I make a bid. I have a few other targets in case he says non but I’ll see how this pans out first.

13

Ah, balls. That’s probably scuppered any chance that the deal will go ahead then. Rather amazingly though he agrees to talk to us, however he’s asking for 6 grand a week and big club, relegation and non-promotion clauses. I offer him the bare minimum as I’m not too excited for the deal any more. He predictably chooses the Owls and I move for my second target, the Nevster

14

In the meantime I offload another no-hoper as Dean West moves to Bournemouth for £160k. Erik says no, or whatever the Norwegian equivalent is, so I’m back to square one. I re-think my strategy – Tokely and Allardyce are a much better front two than most we’re going to come up against this year, so I decide to give youth another chance and make a move for a schoolboy, the mysteriously named Bobby Raven

15

There’s more squad trimming as Innes and McCarthy move on for £250k and £170k respectively. That’s going to be it as far as recruitment goes, as I’d rather kick on with what we have and move to solve any problems we run into as they occur. Well ok, two more personnel changes. A-lister Cooper moves on to the bright lights of…Southend. I also sign up a kid as cover for Hughes on the left.

16

We start the campaign away at Watford. It’s a pretty low-key affair, on another day we might have sneaked a goal but it peters out to a pretty fair 0-0 draw. N’Diaye serves his one match ban so will be available for the next game.

17

This next development isn’t really a surprise at all. He was pretty poor in the few games I tried him for so he got hardly any game time. I let him go on a free as no-one is ever going to buy him and I can’t stand the ugly red name spoiling my squad screen

18

The League Cup draw isn’t kind and we’re at St Andrews to face first division Birmingham. I swap N’Diaye for Zerrouki but keep the rest of the team the same. It’s a very even game and we’re unlucky to finish up on the losing side. Then again, it’s the League Cup so the sooner we’re out of it the better. We just need to not better their result in the return leg and it’s out of our hair for another season

19

A home game against Burnley is next, and a week-long injury for Bound draws my attention to the fact that I only have 4 central defenders for 3 places – I’ll have to at least sign a promising youngster after the match. Taggart starts for Bound and Zerrouki makes the bench as I need to play him fairly regularly to prevent him going the way of Luis and losing his work permit. It’s a very assured performance as Tokely and Allardyce open their accounts for the season and help us to an easy 2-0 victory

20

I check in on this year’s non-league promoted club Colwyn Bay and as usual their squad is rather loanee heavy. I bet picking the team sheet for the cup game was a bit of a puzzler with all those ineligible players

21

They better get a move on with permanent signings or they’re going to be in all kinds of trouble when the loanees are recalled at random and they’re left with greyed-out autogens for players.

I rest N’Diaye for the second leg tie against Birmingham, as he’s a bit tired and besides, I don’t actually want to win the game. Bound makes the bench after recovering from his dead leg. The lads do me proud and we go down 1-0 to exit the competition as quickly as we can. Taggart gets the MotM and is proving to be a decent acquisition for a freebie

22

23

Well get used to it, you knobs. Also how can you be very disappointed? they’re pushing for promotion to the sodding Premiership! I know we’ve made a name as giant killers but you can’t EXPECT it to happen every time, that’s just unfair. I hate the board sometimes.

We’re away to Portsmouth next, and it’s just one of those games. We really should win it handily but the strikers have a shockingly poor day and spurn a raft of chances. They get 2 scrappy goals against the run of play for a travesty of a win, though credit to them for taking their chances. Perhaps spending some of the £6 million in the bank on a striker wouldn’t be the worst idea in the world

24

After the game I take a look and settle on Orient’s Jason Harris. He has never been given a fair chance at his current club but his stats suggest he could become something special. If we can turn his form around I could see him being a 1 in 2 kind of goalscorer. He’s available for merely £150k so I make the bid.

25

We’re back at home next and I’m hoping for a swift reaction against Wycombe. Bound has been hit and miss so far this season so I give Taggart another shot at staking a regular place. I also put Zerrouki into the midfield as Gatusso is going through an indifferent patch of form. The lads respond brilliantly and put them thoroughly to the sword.

26

They give us a helping hand early on with a sending off for deliberate handball but we’re already on top and ahead via Tokely by that point anyway. They level things up from a corner and then get a penalty awarded. They are determined to piss the game away though and McCarthy puts the spot kick wide, then a mere two minutes later we’re back in front through new wingback Hughes. Allardyce puts us further in front and then Tokely hits a 30 yard screamer to cap off an excellent day. We really needed that after such a deflating loss last game so I’m very pleased with the team after that.

That’s a good place to leave it for now. Come back next time to see how we get on in our new Division after a fairly decent start. We’ll also be keeping an eye on Colwyn Bay as well. Bye for now!