Football Manager – The Shire are in the Premiership.

Having taken over East Stirlingshire not that long ago we have won back to back to back promotions all the way up the leagues into the Scottish Premiership.

Every season I expected us to struggle but so far we’ve not had many problems.

I put it down to poor AI as we can bring in better players and utilise them better, plus the quality in Scotland isn’t great.

I’ve managed to bring in players with potential released from big clubs, plus experienced players that have helped us win games.

It could also be the formation as I’ve used the same 4-4-2 possession tactic that got me to the top with Albion Rovers while most other teams seem to play a 5-3-2 variation.

Anyhow, whatever the reasons are, we have easily got to the Premiership but it should, I hope, get a bit more challenging.

If you haven’t followed my previous updates then I’ll reiterate that I usually succeed at the top by filling my teams with foreign wonderkids that I find and can buy for cheap so this time I’m challenging myself to only play Scottish players, ideally I’d like to bring them through my youth team but more likely, once I’ve got some money, I’ll be pilfering other clubs promising players too.

Scotland have, over the save produced a lot of world class players so there will be players out there if I can find them and afford them or eventually produce them so the challenge isn’t impossible but it should take longer than it did at my previous club Albion.

This season’s aim is to avoid relegation but if previous seasons are anything to go by I wouldn’t be surprised if we can get the top half, other than about 4 or 5 teams there are still a fair few poor teams even in the top league.

To be able to achieve any thing though I will need to bring more players in, I need to replace or loan again the keeper I had on loan and I’ve got a few back up players that could be better, overall though I think the majority of my team are young enough and good enough to compete.

I’ll look at released players again and see who is willing to come, I’ve got my eye on several at the moment who wouldn’t talk to me previously but might now we are a premiership club.

Ahead of the season I got offered an interesting job, my old Albion Rovers club offered me to take over.

I was never going to accept but I had a look at them and they finished second last season after being top nearly all year, but they sold their best striker in January and didn’t replace him then threw away the lead they had.

The team is no where near the quality I left behind, they have sold all their best players and replaced them with older rubbish players, they have also spent a lot of money on rubbish players, never played them and later sold them on or released them for a loss of money. It’s another example of the poor AI in the game.

Ahead of the Betfred Cup games I brought in a few players but mostly back up players.

The team that started the first Cup game was almost the same team that ended the last season, the only changes were a new goalkeeper on loan replacing the loanee last year, my right winger I had on loan the last 2 year’s was released by their club so I signed him perminately and I got a new defender who was out of contract at my old club Carlisle.

Other the the GK and Defender, the rest were first team players last year and although they are probably not good enough for the top of the league I’m hoping they are good enough to keep me in the league.

The Betfred Cup games went well as we won all 4 cup games, plus we won 2 friendlies. This is the first time qualifying from the Betfred group which is nice but it won’t be a priority.

By the time the first league game came up we hadn’t added to our first team squad, just another couple of youth back up players.

It didn’t matter that we have basically the same team as last year as we won our first game 3-1 at home to Aberdeen to put us top of the league after 1 game, it’ll probably be the only time we are top but the performance against the team that finished 6th last year has given me encouragement that we can survive relegation.

If we do survive it’ll be impressive when we’ve spent no money on players since I took over and we currently have a wage budget spending £1.43m a year compared to the next lowest of £4.02m and the top clubs £45.92m.

We’ve also been given odds of 900/1 before the season started while fellow promoted side St Mirren are next lowest with 850/1 so the odds suggest our team isn’t good, although the odds are always miles off.

We followed our opening home win with an away win, this time beating Hearts 3-0 which I wasn’t expecting, Hearts have been an established premiership club never finishing lower than 10th, although that was the last 2 season’s where they ended in 10th out of 12 clubs.

After winning our first 2 league games we then beat Aberdeen again this time in the Betfred Cup 2nd round before we had a league game at home to my old club Albion Rovers.

Albion aren’t as good a team as they were when I left them as they have sold all the best players I had and replaced them with dross but they are still one of the best teams in the league so I’m expecting to lose.

I thought we took an early lead against Albion but it was ruled out for a push before they scored a worldie from the edge of the box into the top corner against the run of play.

They then doubled their lead after we gave the ball away in attack and they countered us, at half time we were 2-0 down but didn’t deserve to be.

Early in the second half they had a man sent off for 2 yellow cards but it didn’t help us they they went defensive and we couldn’t break them down, they then got a 3rd on another counter attack and the game ended 3-0.

3-0 flattered them, most of their chances were long range and they didn’t create any clear cut chances but a worldie and 2 counter attack goals plus our poor finishing cost us.

Still, it was to be expected and we will have plenty more defeats like this, especially against the top teams, we just need to win against the poorer teams to survive.

As the transfer window shut I managed to bring in only 1 more player, a centre back on loan from West Ham as back up, I tried finding others but struggled, anyone I could afford isn’t good enough and anyone I’ve found that is good cost too much, I only had a £250k transfer budget and only wanted to sign players that improve the team now which I couldn’t find.

The biggest spenders were my old Albion team spending £58m, although most are old between 29 and 32 and I’d never have signed any of them, they also sold the last remaining stars of my team and some promising young players making £83m on transfers, another window where the AI has made the team worse.

Our next game was another hard game as we had Celtic at home, the best team in the league. We took the lead after 13 minutes but they equalized 10 minutes later. In the second half they had a man sent off but that was the last highlight as they defended out a 1-1 draw, a good result.

That good draw was followed by a poor draw as we drew 1-1 with St Mirren who came up with us, we should have won and then we had our second defeat of the season away to St Johnstone.

One problem I’ve noticed this early on is that during the run of 4 without a win I’ve had a couple of key injuries and their replacements haven’t done much and also in the games I’m playing my best 11 and the bench is weak, I don’t have anyone who I think can come on and turn a game around.

I think that’s going to be a problem all season and maybe for a few seasons until I can start getting some money and start signing players.

After the league defeat we suffered a cup defeat losing 1-0 at home to Inverness Caledonian Thistle in the quarter final of the Betfred Cup, they are second in the league and playing well so it’s not surprising.

By the time October had ended, the 2 wins we got at the start of the season were still our only 2 wins and we have now gone 7 league games and a cup game without a win.

It’s not all bad though as we haven’t been getting out played, it’s just we don’t have the same quality of players as other teams do.

In 9 games we have won 2, drew 4 and lost 3, we’ve only conceded 12 but only scored 11 as only 1 of our strikers has managed to step up to this level and score goals, the other 2 are struggling.

We are currently 9th in the league with 10 points, 5 points ahead of 10th and the bottom 2 clubs, Hearts and St Mirren haven’t won a game yet. The bottom 3 have 5, 4 and 3 points so hopefully their form doesn’t pick up and ours does.

November started off how October ended as we drew and lost the first 2 games but our 3rd was away to Aberdeen who are 1 of only 2 teams we have beaten so far as we beat them 3-1 in our opening game. Like the first game we also got a win, our first win in 10 as we came from a goal down to win 2-1.

I was expecting the worst when we lost our best striker and second best defender to injury adding to our only good left winger on the injury table. I had to change formation to 5 across the midfield and 1 up front and it paid off.

We’re still 9th in the table but now 10 points off second bottom as the bottom 2 still haven’t won yet.

We’ve got Albion away next which we will probably lose but then we have both bottom clubs Hearts and St Mirren back to back at home, if we can win those it’ll put a nice gap between us.

Only problem is my best defender got sent off the last game so will miss the next game or more if it gets extended so we have no good centre backs for at least the next game if not more.

The Albion game went better than expected as we managed a 1-1 draw thanks to some awful finishing by Albion, we took the lead in the first half and they equalized in the second but they should have won.

Ahead of the back to back home games against the bottom 2, Hearts and St Mirren both got their first wins which might give them confidence.

We’ve also had a major boost as we actually have our best 11 injury free, a couple are not fully match fit but can be played hopefully in the 2 big games.

The Hearts game we won 1-0, we missed a penalty but scored late on to win and then we beat St Mirren 2-1, we took the lead, they equalized in the 86th minute but then we got a 90th minute winner.

Those 2 wins have given us a nice cushion between us, we are now in 7th place on 21 points after 15 games with 5 wins, 6 draws and 4 defeats. There are now 3 clubs adrift at the bottom with 1 win each, St Mirren have 6 points and Hearts and Aberdeen have 7 points. Those 3 are also the only teams we have beat so far this year so it’s good for us that they have been so poor.

We are 14 points off the relegation places with just under half the season played, not bad considering our squad isn’t great. We’re actually only 7 points behind second as Albion are running away at the top with 37 points and are unbeaten, Celtic second on 28, then there are only 5 points between 3rd and 9th.

After back to back wins against the teams worse than me it was back to normality as we got hammered 4-0 away to Celtic then drew 0-0 to Hibs.

Our next game at Home to St Johnstone came to quickly after the last game so most of my players weren’t fit, I won’t play players that have less than 90% but most had less than 80%. I ended up putting youth players in, I had a midfield with 2 16 year olds and a 17 year old and a few 18 and 19 year olds around the rest of the team too.

Also I needed to rest my unfit better players as we play the team in 6th 3 days later who are level on points with us and its a much more winnable game.

With a young team of fairly poor back ups I didn’t have much hope in getting a result against a team currently in 3th place and as I expected we lost 5-2. At this stage I need to prioritise which games I think I can get a result in, this was a game my first team would have probably lost too so hopefully a fit team next game will get a better result.

Against Kilmarnock who are only above us on goal difference we got a deserved 3-1 win, resting our players in the previous game meant we were the fitter team as they started players not fully fit. It was our first win against a team not struggling at the bottom.

Speaking of the bottom teams, Hearts have changed manager to the first big wonderkid I signed while Manager of Carlisle many, many years ago and they have won their first 2 games under him. St Mirren are now 7 points adrift at bottom.

We ended the calendar year with a draw and in 7th place, 20 games played we have won 6, drew 8 and lost 6 which is so far so good. It’s a bit worrying that out goal difference is -6 mainly due to us struggling to score, we’ve only got 25 goals.

I might look to spend some of the money I’ve got available in January if I can anyone that we can afford, we only have £300k to spend so it might not be possible.

January was a mix of results, we started with a 0-0 draw, then won in the Scottish Cup 4th round using our reserve players as I wasn’t fussed with it then lost 3 days later at home to Rangers and ended the month with another 0-0 draw.

Transfer wise we actually spent some money for the first time at the club buying a 16 year old right back for £40k who has lots of potential and already as good, if not better than I have and we signed a 17 year old left winger for £7.5k who has potential but not ready for the first team squad yet.

We also brought in a striker on loan from Bolton and a midfielder on a free transfer. I didn’t really want the midfielder but the board accepted a £1.4m offer for my best midfielder so I needed a replacement but in the end my player rejected their contract so I’m left with an extra midfielder I don’t need but will add some depth.

I did also sell a player for a deal worth upto £120k, he was a 20 year old striker with potential to only be a Championship player so I was happy to cash in on him and he more than covered what we spend on players.

February started off better with a 2-2 draw to top of the table Albion Rovers followed by a 2-0 win against bottom of the table St Mirren but after that we suffered 4 consecutive defeats.

With 5 games to go before the league splits we are 8th in the table on 32 points, we are 23 points off the bottom however other clubs have started winning so we are only 5 points off second bottom so we are not safe. We are also only 7 points off 6th place so could finish top half but based on our form it’s not likely, we just need to get enough points to avoid the relegation playoff.

At the start of March we got our youth players through and we had 1 goalkeeper that looks ok, the rest were poor so only the keeper got a contract.

Our form until the league split didn’t get any better, 1 win, 1 draw and 3 defeats meant that after 33 games we were 9th in the league with 8 wins, 12 draws and 13 defeats.

We can’t finish bottom as St Mirren have been confirmed as relegated but we are only 6 points ahead of the relegation playoff place with 5 games still to play. Hopefully as we are in the bottom half so only play the bottom half teams we might be able to pick up a win or 2.

Our final 5 games started off well as we had 2 home games, the first we beat bottom club St Mirren 3-2 and followed that up beating second bottom Kilmarnock 3-0.

After a 2-1 defeat away to Aberdeen our survival was confirmed as Kilmarnock only drew so with 2 games to play we were 8 points ahead of them.

The last 2 games ended in a 3-1 home defeat and a 4-2 away win meaning we ended the season in 9th place, after 38 games we have won 11, drew 12 and lost 15. We only scored 49 goals and conceded 58, we were the 3rd worst defense and one of the worst offense too so it’s no wonder we only got 9th, luckily there were a few teams worse than us.

Next year we need to bring in some better players if we want to improve, we can’t rely on other teams being worse, I’ve identified several good players but we have no money to sign them, I might have to sell some players if they can bring in a good amount, if not I’ll be stuck with cheap players again and it’ll be another year struggling.

It could be that we struggle financially until we can get into Europe and then once money comes in from European games then we can start buying good players.

Looking back at previous seasons, the last 2 years our 45 points total would have been enough to finish 6th and qualify for Europe so it’s definitely possible even with the team I’ve got now plus some slight improvements so we might get top half in the next few seasons.

Hopefully next year we can improve the squad and maybe finish higher up the table.

I’ll be back with an update after next season.

– Sparko Marco

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