I’m now into season 5 with Lancaster, after taking over them when they were newly promoted into the Conference North it took 3 years to get promoted into the Conference National league and last year we survived relegation with 1 game to spare.
The main reason we survived was due to an on loan striker getting 28 goals so I’ll need to either replace him or bring him back and looking at the rest of the teams performances last season, other than the centre backs and keeper not many players stood out so I will happily replace most of my squad.
I’m relying on my staff to find players on this career save as in the past it’s been too easy to get good players to move up the leagues so I’m trying to make it a bit harder so I’m hoping they will find me some good improvements.
Already my director of football has recommended several young players whose contracts are up at the end of the season and after trials I have agreed for 6 players to join on free transfers from big clubs.
I’ve got a 17 year old defender, a 17 year old midfielder and a 18 year old winger all from Liverpool, a 17 year old midfielder from Villa, a 17 year old defender from Man Utd and a 18 year old left back from Man City.
It’s a good start, but there’s still a long way to go til the season starts so hopefully my staff will identify a lot more players that will improve the squad.
Along with the 6 players from bigger clubs, after the transfer window opened we also managed to bring in a 23 year old defensive midfielder on a free transfer that had been released from Huddersfield a year earlier and we extended our good strikers loan for another season.
We then had the recruitment meeting which I wasn’t expecting much based on previous years experience and the places identified are an Inside forward, centre back, right back and striker which I agree with except centre back as we have plenty good ones but I’ve been trying to improve some of those other positions for years with not much success.
For once I think the recruitment meeting might have found a good player recommending a 18 year old striker about to be released from Man Utd so I’ve signed him as a good striker to rotate with my loan striker but otherwise there wasn’t any one else interesting.
Ahead of the friendlies we got the season expectations from the board and either they are ambitious or didn’t pay attention to last season as they expect a mid table finish when we only just survived last year, it could be possible as we’ve improved the squad but I’d have been happier if the aim was survival again.
Our friendly games went ok as we won 4, drew 1 and lost 1 and during them we had a bit more transfer activity in and out, we or should I say my board, sold 2 central defenders with potential, they weren’t my first choice but they were my next best so I asked my director of football to recommend loan players and I brought in 2 centre backs on loan to add cover.
When the first league game came around the starting 11 had 4 new players from last year which improves the team but I still want a better left winger/inside forward and a better right back but I think I’m stuck with what I had last year as my staff aren’t finding good replacements.
Before we played the first league game I had a look at the season preview and the odds have us at 20/1 and predicted to finish 16th which I would be happy with but the board will probably want higher for a mid table finish.
We got off to a good start in the league as we beat league favourites Chesterfield 1-0 at home and followed that up beating one of the relegation favourites Maidstone 2-1 away then got a 0-0 home draw to second favourites York.
A good start, especially good results against two of the best teams but last season we won 2 and drew 2 at the start before going on a run of 2 wins in 21 so I’m not getting my hopes up for a good season just yet.
The good start ended as soon as it begun as we lost our 5th game of the season then won only 1 of the next 6 games losing 2 and drawing 3 so when Spetember ended we were 12th in the league having played 11, winning 4, drawing 3 and losing 3 which isn’t too bad but we’ve dropped too many points similar to last season when we were clearly the better team.
The bad form continued into October as we lost the first 2 games making it 4 losses in a row and 6 without a win, the last lost was an awful 3-0 defeat where the team played that bad they pissed me off and got berated several times though touchline shouts, they got a water bottle thrown at half time and told they weren’t good enough when the game ended.
The players were then unhappy with me and some demanded a meeting about my management but after I kicked a chair and demanded that they get on with it they backed down and reacted well to it.
I may have gone overboard a bit but the team is a lot better than the results and performances and they need to up their game before we end up fighting for survival again.
My angry chair kicking meeting must have done the trick as the next game the players were fantastic. At home to Woking who were just below us we scored after just 29 seconds (which is a new club fastest goal) and went on to win 4-1 which ended our poor run and is our biggest win of the season and the first time we have scored more than 2 in a game this year.
We followed that game up with an FA Cup 4th qualify round win at home to Leamington 2-1, I rested my first 11 to gamble as they are in the league below as they scored after 5 minutes then defended well, I ended up playing like a 2-0-2-3-3 all out attack including a big centre half lumped up top with half an hour to go and we scored in the 77th and 91st minutes to win the game.
Then back to the league and we got 4 goals again beating second bottom of the league Boston away 4-2 before a good 2-2 draw with Boreham Wood to end October a lot better than we started it.
4 games ago the players weren’t happy and the dynamics screen showed a very poor club atmosphere while 3 wins and a draw later it’s now showing very good, I’m not sure if it’s the team meeting we had or the 3 consecutive wins but it seems to have changed very quickly.
November started off with a fantastic 3-1 home win against top of the table Dagenham and Redbridge, they had more chances and possession but we played the perfect counter attacking football getting 3 goals on the break from only 5 shots all game.
We then had a FA Cup 1st round game away to Conference South side Chippenham and like in the previous round I rotated my team as while a cup run is good it’s not a priority but it turned out to be an easy game as we won 3-1 to take us into the second round for the first time at the club.
So after beating the top team in the league we then lost 3 in a row to mid table teams, we only scored 1 and barely created anything in the games, we looked a different side to the team that was winning games and scoring not so long ago and have gone from just below the playoff places to just above the relegation places and the club atmosphere has gone back to very poor.
We had a other team meeting and this time I told them that they are much better than their recent performances and they need to do better which pleased everyone and the club atmosphere is now average.
I’m definitely seeing more of a correlation between how the team plays and morale and dynamics than in FM19, I didn’t play FM20 enough to notice but it seems it’s important in FM21 as getting the atmosphere back positive got us out of the losing streak.
We first ended November with a 0-0 draw at home to Southend in the FA Cup second round albeit with my reserves again but we followed that up with a good 3-0 league win at the start of December and then came from 2 down to draw the next league game 2-2.
We then had the FA Cup replay and as the draw for the next round had the winner playing at home to Premiership side Brighton I played my best team to try and get a big FA Cup game and we easily won 3-0, we will get beat by Brighton but hopefully make a bit of money from it.
After that game we got the initial assessment of the youth team and again it’s not great, there looks to be a highly rated left wing back but that’s all, I won’t get my hopes up as last year we were due to good centre back but when he came he wasn’t that good.
We went from one cup game to the next as we had an FA Cup Trophy game away to a non, non league team and I rotated my reserves in and we managed to come from behind with a couple of late goals to win 3-2.
It was then time for the busy Xmas and New Year period and we ended up having 2 of our 4 games left in December postponed which meant that our players stayed fit for the 2 games we did have so we won them both ending December unbeaten in all competitions.
At the turn of the year we have played 24 games, won 10, drawn 6 and lost 6 which has put us safely in a mid table 12th place, we are 14 points ahead of relegation and only 4 behind playoffs so our season could go either way.
I’m still trying to understand this version of FM, there seems to be some mechanic I’m not aware of because last season we were awful up to the end of the year then started the new year brilliantly without really doing much whereas this season the opposite has happened as we won all but 1 in December and never lost but then without much changing we have lost our first 4 games of the New Year.
1 loss was to Brighton in the cup which was to be expected but 2 were league games and the other the FA Trophy 4th round. We played well in all games but everything went against us including conceding a penalty in each game, we seem to concede a lot of those and get very few ourselves.
We still have 5 games to play in a long January so it better not be a month without a win.
We stopped the run of losses in the 5th game of January but only with a draw, we should have won as we were 2-0 up at half time but we conceded a 5th penalty for 5 games in a row to get them back into the game, we then missed a lot of clear chances before they equalised in the 91st minute, they then took the lead through an own goal in the 93rd minute before we got another in the 95th to get a 3-3 draw.
We then got a tight and probably lucky 1-0 win away to Oxford City to end the winless run.
Afterwards I had a news article saying Championship side Brentford were interested in my right back who at 20 still only has Conference North ability but Championship potential, however he plays rubbish, I only play him as I’ve not much better and with hope he improves towards his potential but so far this season in 25 games he has 2 assists and an average rating of 6.50 which isn’t great.
I have rejected a £37.5k offer already for him so for a laugh I offered him out for £500k even though he is only worth £9.25k and surprisingly we got 2 offers for £500k from Birmingham and Charlton, my board accepted them but so would I have as he isn’t worth anything near that.
I’ll only get to keep 20% of it for transfers/wages but it might give me a bit of a boost if my staff find the right players, I’ve got a back up right back to play but if the sale goes through I’ll have to find a replacement.
After the sale went through I looked to signed a replacement and my director of football found a 22 year old on a free transfer that has current ability for our league and has interest from League 2 and 1 clubs so I signed him, he only wanted £180 a week too which is cheap.
After ending our winless run we lost again, this time away to first place 2-1 which wasn’t too bad but then we had the bottom team and 3rd from bottom both at home and won them both while also resting my better players as I gambled that my squad players could still beat the worst teams in the league which luckily they did.
We ended January in 9th place and we were back to 4 points behind the play offs which is good as the poor run at the start of the month had us 8 points off the playoffs so it’s nice to get back to where we were at the start of the month.
After ending January on a high, February started another poor run as we lost the first game 3-0, won the next game 2-1 but then went on another winless run drawing 1 and losing the last 2 games of the month, then drawing the first 3 games of March before another 3-0 loss.
In the middle of March after 39 games we hit 53 points to match last season’s point total with 7 games left to play.
We are mid table in 12th place and can still mathematically go down as we are only 12 ahead of relegation but realistically we should be safe as there’s lots of clubs that would need to win while we lose.
We are also only 6 points behind the playoffs but only the last playoff place is in reach as we are 18 behind 6th so there’s probably about 6 teams that could get the last playoff place but with our current form we are only heading down the table, not up.
One 3-0 loss was followed by another 3-0 loss and then another draw to end March without a win.
April started better as we got a 1-0 win to Aldershot who are just above us in the league but we then threw away a lead to lose 3-2 away to second placed Southend.
We then got the next youth intake and no one is good again, I will however offer contracts to whoever my head of youth recommends to fill out my youth team after I released a lot in the summer but I doubt any will get into the team.
We had 3 games left to play with a slim chance of making the playoffs but even with winning the first of those, combined with other wins we couldn’t do it, we then lost and drew our last 2 games.
Overall after 46 games we finished a respectable 11th on 62 points with 16 wins, 14 draws and 16 losses which is a good season and we got our mid table aim but I’m disappointed as we had a good first half of the season and in January were only 4 points outside the playoffs but an awful end of the season saw us fall away and in the end we were 11 off the playoffs and only got 9 points more than last year.
At least we improved slightly on last year as we haven’t been in a relegation battle and it seems like we had a much better year seeing as we only survived last year with a game to spare but we haven’t really done that much better as 9 points more isn’t a lot, we only lost 1 less game than last year, we scored 4 less goals and conceded 1 more
We need some better players, the right back I got in January played rubbish, my left inside forward hasn’t been replaced since the first season and is in decline, my on loan striker I was going to try and sign but his second half of the season form was rubbish and he hardly scored and other than my right winger, my midfielders didn’t contribute many goals or assists.
I could probably find the right players I need if I was allowing myself to search for players but as I’ve decided to rely on staff I need to again hope they find improvements.
I’ll be back with an update after next season, depending on how or if my squad improves I’d like to aim for the playoffs.
– Sparko Marco