Football Manager – Trying to Take The Dolly Blues up the Leagues – Season 3

Last season, my second managing Lancaster City we managed to secure ourselves a playoff place finishing 6th but unfortunately lost in the semi final to Kettering so we have another year at the bottom in the Conference North.

The first thing I needed to do this season is get some of my better players signed on for another year, mainly I needed my striker who got 29 goals in 37 games and my inside left forward who came in late on and scored 7 in 15, those 2 got most of the goals last year.

I also want to keep my deep-laying playmaker who got 11 assists but he wants too big a contract and loads of promises so I can’t afford it, hopefully he will stay on a month to month contract.

Other than those, a lot of my younger players I signed last summer were given 2 year contracts so will be staying at least this year.

I’m hoping my scouts will now find me some better players, I’m happy keeping most of the squad I had last year as they done well but I’ll happily replace people if I can get better as better players can hopefully get us promoted.

Our club vision for this year hasn’t changed much, the board still want us to make the most of set pieces which last season we didn’t do great at getting only 3 from corners, 0 from direct free kicks but we did get the most from indirect free kicks with 7.

We also have a top half finish to aim for again and to repair the club’s finances which won’t happen, we already have one of the lowest wage bills in the league, have no money to sign anyone and none of our players are wanted or worth much so there’s not much I can do to improve the bank balance unless we go on a good cup run and get a big club.

By the time the transfer window opened my scouts had been finding me lots of players out of contract at bigger clubs, having given them all a trial I managed to agree to 7 joining at the start of the window.

I brought in a 18 year old Spanish winger from Birmingham, a 18 year old keeper from Newcastle, 2 18 year old midfielders from Derby, an 18 year old midfielder from Forest, an 18 year old centre back from Everton and a 17 year old midfielder from Everton.

All 7 are current Conference North ability with League 2 potential which is better than most of the player I have, not all are starters but they do add better cover.

Shortly after the transfer window opened we had our recruitment meeting and my staff found an 18 year old right winger so I brought him in as well as a breakthrough prospect. Other than him most others recommended were players I’ve already scouted/trialled and dismissed.

Pre-season went well as we won 3 and drew 1 of our friendly games, scoring 8 and only conceding 1. Our scouts also continued to recommend players and after even more trials we brought in another 5 players, a 22 year old French left back released from Middlesbrough, a 20 year old right back released from Newcastle, a 20 year defensive midfielder also released by Middlesbrough, an 18 year old striker release by Huddersfield and a 19 year old target man from West Brom.

Overall ahead of our first league game we have definitely improved the quality in our squad and our best 11 is much better than last year, I’m quietly confident that we can push for a playoff place again this year, maybe even better if we get some luck with injuries.

Looking at the season preview screen it shows we are actually 7/2 second favourites behind York who were relegated from the league above last year which shows we have a good squad on paper.

The season got off to a good start winning our first game 1-0 though I didn’t think we played that good and our performance wasn’t great in the next game either as we drew 1-1.

After that we had a thumping 4-0 win away to Altrincham who were relegation from the league above and are also one of the favourites this year.

That big win was followed by another small 1-0 win and then a 0-0 draw as we struggled to score in both games, our 27 goal striker from last year ended the season poorly and has started the same way only getting 1 so far.

The next game I dropped our star striker and brought in the target man we got and it looked to have back fired as we hardly had a shot in the first half then went a goal down shortly after half time. We then got a 65th min pen to put us back in the game and as we were then on top I took off my defensive midfielder for another striker and we went on to score 3 more and my target man got a goal, an assist and man of the match.

At the end of August with 6 games played we have won 4 and drew 2 to give us a great start and putting us 2nd in the league.

We started September with a poor draw away to Hitchin, a team that’s started bad, we took the lead after only 2 minutes and dominated the game but after having a goal disallowed they equalized though a penalty that didn’t look like a pen, then they missed another pen that didn’t look like a pen, both times commentary said it was harsh. I then had a player injured and a man sent off so in the end was grateful for a draw but we should have won.

We got a win in the next game with a good 3-1 win as last year’s goal top scorer got 2 to triple his goal tally for the season.

Then we got a lucky draw away to Gainsborough, after taking the lead in the 4th minute they scored two quick goals in the 24th and 29th minutes, after that they sat back and defended while I kept going more attacking and we eventually equalized in the 92nd minute, we also had a goal disallowed not much before that.

Going into our 10th game of the season I was informed that if we didn’t get beat we would break our longest unbeaten run which put pressure on me as we drew 0-0 but wanting the 10th game unbeaten I went more defensive late on to get the draw rather than push for a win.

10 games in, 5 wins, 5 draws has put us into 5th place, we should be higher but 3 draws in the last 4 games has seen us drop down a bit and we are 3 points behind top.

After 10 unbeaten games in the league we had our first cup games as we played Biggleswade at home in the FA Cup second qualifying round, we beat them at this stage last year and being a bit cocky expecting a win I played my reserve teams and we got away with a 0-0 draw.

The replay at their ground was 3 days later and I decided to stick with the team that laboured to a draw previously as I will be prioritising the league, this time they had no problems as they easily won 4-0 which is what they should have done in the first game.

September then ended with another league win and we opened up October with an FA cup 3rd qualifying round win as the reserves beat another non league team.

Back to the league and we beat Kidderminster 2-1 which was more comfortable than I expected, when I checked their squad it showed they they released their star striker who got the league player of year and top scorer the last 2 seasons and they haven’t replaced him.

We then had the FA Cup 4th qualifying round where we could get into the FA Cup proper with a win, we were at home to fellow Conference North team Boston but I decided to stick with the reserves again and the game ended in a 0-0 draw. A few days later the same 11 played in the replay and we suffered our first defeat of the season in all competitions as they scored a wonder goal to win 1-0.

That defeat didn’t affect our league form as we ended October with a win and a draw. We were still unbeaten in the league after 14 games with 8 wins and 6 draws, we are the only team who have not yet lost but are only 3rd in the league as we are drawing too many games.

November was our best ever month in terms of results, we played 3 league games and an FA Trophy second round game winning them all, the first time we’ve won all games in a month.

The winning run didn’t continue into December though but the undefeated league run did as we drew our first game of the month 0-0 and followed that up by a good 1-0 win against league favourites York after getting a deserved late winner.

After that game we got the early assessment of the youth team intake and it doesn’t look good, the only green positive comment is that we are getting a lot of wingers, the rest are yellow comments and are all negative saying either we’ve got no one coming in certain positions or that the ones we are getting are not the best or won’t make the grade etc so I won’t be expecting anything special come April.

Next up we have the FA Trophy third round only a few days before the next league game, as we are doing so well in the league I don’t want to risk our first 11 so the reserves continued in the cup and they lost 2-0, we at least went one stage better than last year so that’s a positive.

We’ve now got 4 games over the Xmas and New Year coming up, going into that period we are top of the league having played 19, won 12 and drawing 7, our goals scored could be better but we are 3rd highest with 31 but defensively we are the best in the league only conceding 10, the same as second placed York.

The 3 games at the end of December were all wins meaning in the last 2 month’s we have won 8 and drew 1 in the league which has started giving us a lead at the top as after 22 games we have 52 points and are 5 clear of second.

Our last game of the Xmas and New Year period is New Years Day at home to Brackley which a win would end a great holiday period of all wins.

The perfect Xmas and New Year didn’t happen as Brackley took a 19th minute lead then sat back and defended it, the second half no matter what I tried I didn’t have 1 highlight to show a chance on goal, it happens sometimes in FM but given our form I would have expected at least one good chance.

The defeat luckily didn’t change much at the top as we’ve only lost 1 of our 5 point advantage as second only drew their game, I’m more gutted that our unbeaten run has ended and hope that it doesn’t start a poor run.

Starting January with a defeat wasn’t ideal and the next game we struggled to a 1-1 draw at home to second bottom, I was starting to wonder if it was the start of a bad run but we then managed to grind out two 1-0 wins before a very good performance got us a 3-1 win.

We then ended January with a poor 0-0 draw to 3rd bottom, we struggle to break teams down near the bottom as they play really defensive, in this game Leamington played 3 centre backs, then 2 defensive midfielders and wingbacks, then 3 central midfielders and 1 up top in a 3-4-3-1 with basically 9 outfield players in their own half.

We ended January still top by 6 points after 29 games, there’s still a lot of games left to play but we should definitely get a playoff place at worse this year as we are 20 points ahead of 8th.

At this point up to now I’ve been playing the save during the Beta period and I haven’t encountered any major bugs so I will continue the save. There’s been no patch notes so I don’t know what, if much is different going forward but I have heard that the game during Beta was supposedly too easy due to a bug, however I’m hoping that hasn’t been the case with me as I heard the bug was related to high lines, high pressing, attacking tactics whereas we’ve been playing a deeper counter attack style.

I’ll soon find out, if we start struggling and losing games then our good season might be due to a bug making it easy but if we continue playing and well and winning then we know that we deserve to be at the top.

The first game in February after the full release of the game went similar to a lot of games this year as we grinded out another 1-0 win but then followed that up with a poor 0-0 draw, I couldn’t see any difference in game play from the games played in the Beta.

Next up was our biggest game so far as we were away to second placed York with 6 points between us and it turned into our worst defeat of the season as we conceded 4 and lost 4-2, we’ve been good defensively all season but we were a shambles at the back, we had only conceded 15 in 30 games before this one.

I’ll put it down to a bad game rather than changes in the match engine from Beta.

The next game we were away to 8th placed Guiseley and in the first half we were awful and I was starting to wonder if something had changed, we got away with it being 0-0 at half time after they missed a penalty and we hardly created a shot. At half time I threw a water bottle for I think only the second time and it seemed to work as my striker got a second half hattrick and we won 3-0, York also only drew which put us up to 5 ahead of them.

After that win we ended February with 2 games against the 22nd and 21st placed teams so based on form we should pick up another 6 points.

In the first game which was at home we dominated the game but it took until the 92nd minute to finally break them down and get the goal we deserved, however we didn’t get the win we deserved as they then scored in the 93rd minute to snatch a draw.

The next game was away and this time we took an early lead scoring after only 2 minutes and then went on to dominate another game and should have scored more. Then in the 93rd minute they scored a goal after not looking like scoring all game and we drew 1-1 again.

2 games against 2 poor teams where we dominated every stat yet conceded last minute equalisers, the squad felt my wrath after both games. York lost when we drew the first game so we gained a point on them but they won when we drew the second so they gained 2 points on us.

We’ve now drawn 12 games which is the same as all last season, it’s still 7 off our total in our first season but it’s looking like we will get more than last year but having only lost 2, with 12 games to play we only have 3 points less than last year’s total so we should be beating our highest previous points totals.

March started off with our 3rd loss of the season this time at home to 3rd placed Boston who dominated us from start to finish, that’s 2 defeats now since the game went live and 1 in Beta and our performances haven’t been good either, I was starting to think they have changed something in the match engine which has made our tactics or players worse, it could also be confirmation bias and our team is generally just having a bad patch.

After the loss we bounced back with a 1-0 win over the team in 19th, it was another game we should have scored more and I was expecting a late equaliser but we managed to see it through and then after that we got a much better 2-0 win over another struggling team down in 17th.

Those wins along with York dropping points put us 8 ahead of York now, unfortunately they have dropped to 4th and after Boston beat us they have kept winning and they are in 2nd, 4 points behind us.

In 3rd is now Gainsborough who are 5 points behind us and we play them next at home, we can’t afford to lose as it’s getting too close at the top.

The good news is we didn’t get beat, but neither did we win as it was another 0-0 draw, we had a 1.57 xG so should have scored but kept missing easy chances. Boston won their game as did York so we are only 2 ahead of second and there’s only 6 points separating the top 4 with 8 games still to play.

The month ended with the Easter period where the last game of March was Good Friday, then the first game of April being Easter Monday.

By the end of Good Friday we had lost our top place as Boston went a point ahead although it wasn’t anything to do with our performance as our game was postponed due to a waterlogged pitch so their win took them above us and we have a game in hand.

It’s the first time all season they have been top and the first time we’ve not been top since the start of December, I’ve got a feeling that unless we win all our remaining games or get lucky we could miss out on winning the league.

By the end of Easter Monday the title and automatic promotion was out of our hands as we could only draw away to 7th placed Brackley 1-1 even though we had 17 shots, 9 on target and an xG of 2.20 while Boston beat 23rd placed team 1-0 so we are now 3 points behind, we do have a game in hand but they have a slightly better goal difference so we need them to slip up and we need to take advantage if they do.

Our game in hand was next and after having an xG of 1.74, hitting the woodwork 3 times, having 2 clear cut chances and a goal disallowed the game ended 0-0.

We are 10 points ahead of 3rd but after being top for so long it’s looking more and more likely we will end as runners up and the lottery of the playoffs.

The post Beta form has ruined our season and having looked at the players it seems my star striker has been struggling to score too, he might need dropped as he went on a poor run at the end of last year too as we lost in the playoffs.

A third draw in a row in April has pretty much ended our title challenge as Boston again won their 9th game in a row, 4 games to go and we are 4 points behind, while 4 points isn’t a lot we can’t get a win and they aren’t dropping points.

At this point we got the youth intake and just like our post Beta form it’s a load of rubbish, I was expecting it though as the early assessment wasn’t good, none of them were worthy of a contract.

Our run of draws ended as we finally got a win while Boston dropped points with a draw to 3rd placed York away, I thought they won as when my game finished they were 2 up but York got 2 stoppage time goals.

We both have on paper 3 easy games against bottom half teams left, we have a slim chance if we win 3 and they drop points in at least one.

Our next game was our best for a long time, in the previous game I dropped my star striker and his replacement done nothing so I brought the star back in and he scored 4 goals, we only had 4 shots on target and he scored with them all as we won 4-1.

To make the win better Boston actually lost 1-0 at home which put us back top by 1 point, our big win also gave us a 1 better goal difference, 2 games and it’s in our own hands again, we need to match or better Boston and we both have 2 away games.

Second to last game and we got another good win beating Darlington 3-0 away while Boston also got an away win which has taken the season down to the last game of the season.

Ahead of the last game of the season I had a team meeting and told the players not to worry about promotion, we weren’t expected to go up even though I wanted it now, the team talk made the players happy.

In the games, Boston took at early lead in their game while we struggled through the first half, at half time we were second if the results stayed the same so I thrashed my arms and demanded more.

5 minutes into the second half my keeper hit it long, my striker brought it down perfectly and curled it into the top corner from about 25 yards out.

In the other game Boston then conceded 2 in 5 minutes and while we won 1-0, they lost 2-1 so we won the league and got promoted.

In the end, after 46 games we won 27, drew 16 and lost 3, we were 6 points clear at one point but struggled and ending up stumbling over the line in the last couple of games.

A fantastic achievement, I thought it might have taken at least 5 seasons for promotion but we’ve done it in 3.

I’m pleased my star striker came back into the goals the last few games otherwise we wouldn’t have won, he scored a hattrick in late Feb then didn’t score for 11 games, I dropped him for a game, brought him back and he got 7 in the last 3.

Overall he got 25 this year but I’m not sure if he’s good enough to step up, I don’t think I can afford for a big drought like that to survive.

I’ll have to assess my squad, I’ve got a few who are already Conference National ability but several who will never be good enough.

It’s now going to be a big pre-season trying to improve the squad to stay up next year, hopefully my scouts can find some nice players for me.

I’ll be back with an update after our first Conference National season.

– Sparko Marco

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