In my FM21 save I’ve taken on the job of managing Lancaster City who were new to the leagues following the first season on the save which I holidayed.
Since taking then over we have finished 11th, 6th losing in the playoff semi final and last season we won the league on the last day.
Promotion was well earned, at one point we looked like we could win easy, then we lost the lead and I thought we couldn’t do it, but then Boston who looked like would win it dropped points in the last 2 games and we took advantage.
Now we have a big job on our hands to try and improve the team to fight off relegation, I’m not sure if the standard in the Conference National is that much better than the Conference North but I’m expecting a tough season.
Looking at the squad, most of the team are under contract for this season and either have Conference National ability or potential to be but most with potential are probably not good enough now as their current ability is too low.
On this save to make it harder I’m relying on my staff to find suitable players which is mostly the scouts of which my chief scout handles assignments or I ask my director of football for recommendations, this stops me from just going out and looking at team squads for young players released from big clubs as it makes it too easy at lower levels.
My scouts do find released players but so far not many good ones and not from the biggest clubs and not the usual players I could find that have lots of potential.
Ahead of the season the board set out it’s new club vision and they have taken out make the most of set pieces which is good as I didn’t like that one and they have added play defensive football, play direct football and play counter-attacking football all of which suit how we have been playing, although last year we played more positively but I think for our first season it’ll be more defensive to try and stay up.
They also want us to fight bravely against relegation this year and then continue to remain in the Conference National which it ok with me, although I’m hoping to get promoted out of the league within 5 seasons.
The board have also scrapped plans to build a new stadium which is good as I didn’t see the point doing it this soon, especially as the plans would have built one not big enough for the football league.
In the last couple of seasons my scouts/DoF usually find me a fair few players whose contracts at big clubs are ending and this year is no different except they couldn’t find that many but we did bring in 4 players, a 18 year old right back from Wolves, a 18 year old left back from Leeds, a 18 year central midfielder from Man Utd and the best of the lot a 18 year old defender from Everton with League 1 potential.
It’s a good start as all 4 can go straight into the first 11 but I still need more, I’ve also got a couple of players who are wanted and won’t sign new contracts so might need replaced.
Shortly after the transfer window opened up we had our recruitment meeting, it’s a feature I quite like but so far not many players have joined the club as a result of it but I can see it being fruitful once we move up the leagues and better players want to come.
This season my staff suggest that we need a new striker, inside forward, Mezzala and a central midfielder which I agree with, our striker has been good the last 2 year’s but I don’t think is good enough at this level, our inside forward is good but we lack cover and our midfield is also good but again lacks good cover.
The players recommended to me weren’t that great, I did offer trials to a few of them but most I’ve already looked at and deemed them not good enough for us.
Throughout the friendly games in which we played well winning 3 and drawing 1, I continued to trial and sign players and managed to bring in another 4 players, a 18 year old defensive midfielder released by Everton, a 18 year old centre back released by Man City, a 18 year old midfielder/winger from Liverpool and a 19 year old centre back released by Barnsley.
Those 2 centre backs meant I now had too many so I released 2 that were on month to month contracts and were only back ups last year.
It seems that we have managed to improve the defense and central midfield positions but we could still do with a better keeper, more cover on the wings and a good striker.
Before the season started I had a look at the season preview and surprisingly we are not predicted to finish bottom, the odds have us at a respectable 50/1 and predicted to finish 18. Usually these odds aren’t accurate but I’ll happily take an 18th placed finish.
Just before the first game I managed to add a striker to the squad on loan from Fleetwood, he has league one potential but only Conference North/South ability but he’s still better on paper than all my other strikers.
I almost signed a good left winger and a right back with League 2 ability but both had better offers after we had agreed contracts and we missed out on them.
Our first game of the season in the new league was at home to Cheltenham who have been a league team a few seasons ago but were relegated in the second season and have been in the playoffs the last couple of years so are probably one of the best in the league and are one of the favourites to win the league so I wasn’t expecting much.
The game showed me how much better some of the teams might be in this league as they dominated us all game, they had 20 shots to our 2, 6 on target to our 0, and xG of 2.35 to our 0.06 and they had 59% possession.
However as this is FM, their domination meant nothing as they had a man sent off in the 64th minute and they missed a penalty in the 93rd minute as the game somehow ended 0-0. We nearly snatched the win but had a goal disallowed for a very marginal offside.
We got lucky and if we play like that going forward we could end up going straight back down, I’m hoping Cheltenham are just a much better team than the rest and we can play better against other teams.
We were much better in our second game as we got a massive 4-0 away from home to Dagenham and Redbridge which was as big a win as we got all last season. Our xG was only 0.92 while they had more shots on target and an xG of 0.83 so the scoreline flattered us.
The next game we got another draw, this time 2-2 and we conceded very late but we bounced back with another big 4-1 win, so far a good start.
After 2 big wins and 2 draws we got results that I was expecting in this league as we lost the last 2 games of August both 1-0, so 6 games in and we are already showing inconsistencies but we are 10th which is a better start that I thought we would get.
September started off with a bit more consistency but not with win but 3 draws where we only scored 1 goal then we ended the month with a 2-0 loss and a 2-1 win.
The win we got was another one we didn’t deserve as we had 2 shots all game and scored from them with an xG of 0.40 and we were down to 10 men shortly after taking the lead whereas Scunthorpe had 25 shots, 15 on target and an xG of 1.95 and 66% possession, I will take results like that every week but it’s only a matter of time before we get a good stuffing.
After that win I decided to try a more attacking possession tactic to see if we could create more chances as we can’t just go on defending and getting lucky however we lost the first 3 league games of November 3-1, 2-1, 2-1. We did create more chances and looked better in attack but defensively we were awful, particularly in the first game as the other team only had 3 shots on target out of 6 total shots, we had 15 shots, 6 on target and an xG of 2.30 to their 0.59. The other 2 games we were also the better side based on game stats but still lost.
We did then get a win in the FA Cup fourth qualifying round using the same tactic but that was against a Conference North side.
The next league game I went back to the more defensive counter-attacking tactic away to top of the table Chesterfield and we got battered in the first half and were 1-0 down, after getting angry at half time we played much better and equalised and could have scored more but it ended 1-1.
It seems like we can play rubbish defensive football and scrape lucky results we don’t deserve or play better football and lose games that we deserve to win.
In the last game of October away to playoff side Halifax we played the more defensive tactic and it worked great in the first half as we went 1-0 up and were the better side. Then in the second half the team collapsed defensively and we conceded 4 goals from long balls over the top to lose 4-1. Although the score was 4-1 we had more shots, more on target and more then double their xG but our strikers kept missing good chances while our defense and keeper conceded poor goals.
That last loss also puts us into the relegation zone for the first time this season, I need to do something to get some wins.
We had an FA Cup first round game next away to League 2 Salford, it’s the first time in the FA Cup proper but the result didn’t really matter so I decided to have a deeper look into my tactics and went to the forums.
Looking at the SI tactics forums and in particular looking at pairings and roles I made some tweaks to my current defensive counter-attacking tactic to see if I could balance it better.
I changed my centre backs from central defenders to no-nonsense defenders as we play direct so it should help get the ball forward, also centre backs try to retain possession but could give it away which they have been doing.
I then changed my left full back on defend duty to a wing back on support duty so that they will pair better with my inside forward on attack duty.
On the right I changed by full back from defend duty to attack duty to pair better with my support winger and provide overlaps.
In central midfield I was playing a defensive deep-laying playmaker on defend duty, a central midfielder on attack and a mezzala on support but I’ve changed them to a defensive midfielder on defend and 2 central midfielders, 1 on attack and the other on support.
Up front I’ve got a poacher or advanced forward depending on who plays, I don’t think it matters too much which one as they are both attacking duties.
I was hoping this would help keep the defensive counter-attacking style but be more balanced in attack and defense and it seemed to work.
I’ve also had a look at player traits, I don’t usually take an interest in them in previous versions, not sure how much they have mattered but I read on the forums that they can affect a tactic so looking at one of my right wingers he has a run through the middle trait not suited for a wide role and another has a comes deep for the ball also not suitable for winger role so I might need to look into these if they matter and make sure in particular my more defensive players don’t have attacking traits which may contradict the role I want them to play.
Salford are mid table in the league above and are a much better side so when the game ended 0-0 we got a good result but better than the result, we played well in both attack and defense as we limited their chances as they created no clear cut chances and had an xG of 0.56 while we had 1 clear cut and an xG of 1.17, most other stats were about the same so we matched a better team and should have scored at least once.
Lets see if that performance can continue into our next league game at home to Stockport who are 21st 1 point ahead of us.
Against Stockport we played worse than we did against Salford hardly creating anything only having 3 shots and 1 on target while they had 17 and 4 on target but we got a good 1-1 draw. I thought we would have played better given our performance against a better team in the game before.
In the FA Cup first round replay against Salford we played a bit better, not as good as in the first game but we kept it at 0-0 and took them to a penalty shootout which they then won, not a bad performance overall though especially as our part time players were knackered by the end and we had 2 players come off with injuries.
With the player being tired after the extra time, when the next game came they were still tired so I needed to rotate and it was the worst game we could have as we were away to 1st placed Bromley which would be hard enough with a fully fit best 11 so it wasn’t surprising we lost 3-2, we were 3 down and nearly came back into it so it wasn’t a bad performance but it’s yet another defeat.
We then ended November with a 3-0 and 2-0 loss to get a new club record of 10 league games without a win, it’s worse than that though as it’s 1 win in the last 17 and in 22nd place we are 5 adrift of safety going into a busy December where we have 6 league games.
I’m at a bit of a loss in how to turn this around, I’m a FM veteran but everything I’ve tried so far can’t get me a win, it’s not even like we are playing that bad, we just can’t score, the last game the opposition only had 2 shots and scored them both including a penalty, the game before that they got 3 from 6 shots and an xG of 0.70 while we had an xG of 1.09 and scored 0 of our 5 on target.
We ended our losing run in the first December game at home to relegated Carlisle but we extended our winless run as we got a 1-1 draw in another game where we were the better team but wasted too many chances.
Finally in the next game we get a deserved win as we beat one of the teams doing worse than us Eastley who are currently bottom, I thought it was going to be more points dropped as we took the lead then wasted loads of chances and they equalised but a late penalty won us the game.
We then got the early assessment of the next youth intake, last season we got nothing decent but year there is one positive as it says at least one of the centre backs looks promising and one good centre back from Lancaster has caught the eye, I assume it’s the same one so hopefully we get a good centre back in April. Other than that there doesn’t seem like there much else coming through.
Away from the poor league form we had the FA Trophy 3rd round against a lower league team so I rotated the squad and played back up players and we drew 0-0 at home and the the same players won 2-1 away in the replay after extra time, I’m pleased the reserves played as none will be fit for the next league game.
December then ended with another loss and a draw, a better month as we got a league win but we have ended the year in 22nd place, after 25 games we have 21 points after 4 wins, 9 draws and 12 defeats and are 5 points off safety.
We need to start winning soon otherwise it’s going to be hard to survive relegation.
The first game of the New Year was at home to 8th placed Yeovil and the game was going like so many before as we were clearly the best team but they took the lead in the 70th minute, I immediately changed to an attacking mentality, berated the team and made 3 subs.
Going into the last minute I was getting the water bottle ready to throw at them for losing another game we deserve to win but my substitute striker got a 90th minute equaliser which relaxed me a bit but then from kick they had a shot saved and we counter-attacked and scored a 91st minute winner to get off to a great start to the new year.
Then after the reserves got a 0-0 FA Trophy draw my best 11 got back to back league wins beating Dagenham and Redbridge 3-1. It was also a game in hand we had over some teams above us so it moved us up to 21st 1 point now behind safety and we have another game in hand over them.
We then got a third win an a row in the league beating 2nd place Ebbsfleet with my on loan striker getting his second hattrick in a row.
I’m not sure what’s changed, our formation is the same although I did change my central mid support to a deep-laying mid support but otherwise the rest of the tactic is the same and only the last win had a new player in it, the only thing really is that we have started getting the goals our performances deserve.
The wins have also taken us out of the relegation places by 1 point, we need to keep gaining points now while our form is good.
After 3 good wins we lost in the FA Trophy replay but I rested players for it as I need league points more than a cup run.
Hoping the wins would continue we extended our unbeaten run to 8 by not winning games as we got 4 draws in a row but those draws has helped push us 4 points ahead of a relegation place but it could have been better as we threw away a 2 goal lead against the team above us, and a 1 goal lead against a mid table team all with late goals when we should have won.
After the 4 consecutive draws our form went a bit mixed but for us it was good as we ended February with a win and a loss and then after starting March with another loss we then won 2 and drew 1 so after 38 games we were now up to 18th and starting to get a buffer from the relegation places as we are 8 points ahead of 21st.
I’m still not entirely sure on why our form has improved so much after the New Year perhaps it’s just taken time to gain better tactical familiarity after I tweaked the tactic and roles a bit but whatever it is, with 8 games still to play we are looking in a better place to survive relegation that we were at the end of December.
March then ended with 2 losses which cut our safety buffer to 4 points showing how quickly things can change but it’s in our hands especially as 4 of our 6 remaining games are against 23rd, 16th, 17th and 24th so 4 6 pointers that any points could decide if we stay up.
The game away to second bottom was disappointing as we took the lead then threw it away late on to draw 1-1 but then in the next game we were at home to 6th placed Bromley, I thought about resting players for the next bottom of the table clash but went with my best 11 and although we went a goal behind after only 30 seconds we came back and ended up winning 6-1.
The win was our biggest of the season and all 6 goals came from my on loan striker from only 6 shots on target. I think that’s the first time in over 20 years playing Football Manager games that I’ve had a player score 6 in a league game, usually only in friendlies or cup games against much lower league teams.
The draw and win have put us back to 8 points from relegation, I think I’m comfortable now saying we will stay up as there’s only 12 points to play for and there’s 5 teams struggling for the last 3 relegation places so I doubt they will win all their games while we lose all ours and we play a few of the teams below so draws against them could be enough.
We then got the youth players and based on the initial assessment I was hoping for a decent centre back but while the best player we got was a centre back he only has 2.5 star potential so for the second year in a row I’ve not offered a contract to any of the youth intake.
A loss and 2 draws followed which was enough to survive the drop with 1 game left to play, strangely after scoring 6 in 1 game we haven’t scored a goal in the last 3.
The last game of the season was at home to bottom club and relegated Eastleigh which we won comfortably 2-0 to end the season with a win.
In all after 46 games we won 12, drew 17 and lost 17, scoring 60 and conceding 61 to finish 17th on 53 points which ended up being a good season.
I honestly thought we could have got relegated when we were 5 points from safety at the end of December but we managed a new year revival.
I’ll now need to see who performed well to keep and who I need to replace, I know I need a new striker as our 28 goal striker is on loan, it would be good to get him back if we can and if we want to do better next year we probably need to replace most of the squad if my staff can find better.
I’ll be back with another update after next season where hopefully it won’t be a battle to survive again.
– Sparko Marco