I’m now into my 7th season managing Lancaster trying to take them from the Conference North to the top while only using my scouts and Director of Football to find and recommend players as it’s too easy using the search feature and looking for players myself.
It took 3 seasons to get promoted from the Conference North and last season we lost the playoff final on penalties in our 3rd season in the Conference National.
Going into our 4th season in this league I’m aiming to go one further this year and get promoted.
To do that I need to keep the players that got us so close last year, a few are wanted by bigger clubs and I can’t afford to lose them, especially my striker that got 38 goals in 44 games.
I then need to add better players so that we have a stronger squad as last year we had some injury and fatigue issues late in the season.
I’ve asked my DoF for transfer reccomendations as I do at the start of each season and again he has found some youth players out of contract at big clubs and I’ve arranged to bring in 5 players.
We have a 18 year old Brazilian right back coming from Sheffield United, a 18 year old left back from Man Utd, a 18 year old midfielder from Man City, a 18 year old right winger from Leicester and a 18 year old midfielder from Liverpool.
My DoF also found a 15 year old defensive midfielder that had never been at any club, not sure how he appeared in the game if not as a newgen at a club, maybe newgens appear randomly at no club too, wherever he came from he looks to have some potential so I gave him a contract.
I’ve also brought back a keeper I had on loan last year for another season, he was only back up last year and maybe again this year but he’s a good back up and may even be a first team starter this year.
I might bring back the loan striker I’ve had now for the last 3 years although he didn’t get many starts last year due to my other striker being too good but he is still a good back up if I can’t find a permanent back up/squad player.
Not long after the transfer window opened we had the what is usually a pointless recruitment meeting and this year it might be better than others as they have recommended some players worth scouting or bringing in on trial so I’ll see if any turn out to be good enough to sign though I’m not expecting much based on previous years experience.
We did manage to bring in some more players, not sure if they were identified by the recruitment meeting but they did appear in my scout report meeting, we brought in a 19 year old attacking midfielder and a 18 year old defender both released by Liverpool.
I also picked up an interesting central defender on a free transfer, he’s better than we have and still only 21 but hasn’t played a professional game yet, he has however been bought by Brentford and Birmingham in the past for £475k and £425k.
Signing that defender has made another defender unhappy, however that defender was my second best and already unhappy as he wants a new contract which I can’t afford to give him, I’ll look to sell him as he’s now no longer first choice and I don’t want to keep an unhappy player.
I also got a 22 year striker on a non-contract who looks like he could be a good back up to my star striker, he won’t play much so I didn’t want to give him a proper contract unless he plays well and earns one.
I do however have an issue with the midfielder we got from Liverpool as for some reason, although he signed on a free transfer after being released he joined and was listed for loan, then a few days later he complained that I haven’t kept my promise to loan him out! Must be a bug and the promise has carried over from when he was at Liverpool. I’ve only really signed him as a youth player to potentially sell him on later as I don’t play an attacking midfielder so I’ll just try and find him a loan move.
We also sold a few players, the main ones being our first choice deep-laying playmaker last year, he has Championship potential but at 19 he won’t get much better playing at this level, I have brought in a better player already but I would have kept him as backup but the board accepted bids of £250k for him. The board also accepted a £500k offer for my first choice left back from Brentford, I’ve got a good back up to replace him so I don’t mind. I also sold a goal keeper that’s never played for me, a midfielder that was good a few years ago but is no longer in the first team and a right winger that’s not played for a couple of years which brought in another £20k.
As the first league game approached we were looking better than last year, we won 3 and lost 1 friendly but deserved to win the game we lost and we looked good playing a more attacking formation. However we also looked good in the friendlies last year too playing attacking football but quickly changed back to counter-attack in the league as that worked better.
I’ll start this year off with an attacking tactic too and see if we can do better this year as we drew too many games last season playing defensive counter-attacking.
Our first game of the season was at home to Carlisle, they are predicted to finish to finish 8th and 10/1 for promotion while we are predicted 11th and 14/1 for promotion.
Our attacking formation worked really well going forward as we had 18 shots, 12 on target and an xG of 2.12 and scored 3 goals while also having 57% possession which is a vast improvement on games last year, however we conceded 2, both of which came from my players giving the ball away, a danger of playing a passing game with low level players.
Playing this way may result in scoring more goals but we would be vulnerable at the back, it also goes against the defensive, counter-attacking style the club vision want us to play but personally if we can win playing attacking football I would prefer that, I’ll stick with it for now and see how it goes.
We were much better defensively in the next games as we won the next 2 both 1-0 and then won the our 4th in a row, this time 2-1, we looked good and deserved each win. The only negative is in the last game we lost our new right winger to injury for 4 months, he stared off well too getting 2 goals. Last year’s winger will come back into the team but he was poor last season only getting 6 goals and 6 assists in 36 games.
Our 5th game of the season was a big one, not in terms of the league although it would be nice to win our first 5 but including last season we are unbeaten in 30 games which matches the current leagues best unbeaten run, we can get a new record if we don’t lose the next game at home to bottom club Hartlepool.
Like our previous games this one was comfortable too as we won 2-1, they missed a penalty but we had enough chances to score more so deserved the win.
After winning our first 5 and getting a new unbeaten league record of 31 games without a loss, we extended that throughout August winning the next 3 to go the full month without dropping any points, 8 wins in 8 also put us 10 points clear of 2nd.
Our attacking possession tactic is working better than I expected as we’ve scored 19 while defensively we could have done better conceding 8 which isn’t too bad.
After a good August, September started off with a SPFL Trust Trophy third round game, this is a Scottish Cup which has teams from the rest of the UK in it, not sure why we are in it this season as I didn’t get any messages until the third round draw was made.
I’m not sure if it’s a cup we have a possibility of winning it, the Scottish lower league clubs might be a similar standard but Scottish Premiership reserve teams are in it and could be too strong so could some of the other nation clubs like Cork City of Ireland who we play in the third round.
I decided to play the reserves in the cup game, while it would be nice to win it and we may not get another chance to do so, getting promotion has to take priority. Despite playing the reserves, Cork weren’t a good team and we got a comfortable 1-0 win.
Our first league game of September looked to be our first loss of the season as we struggled away to mid table Hendon as they took an early lead, we had a goal ruled out for another incorrect offside as the player offside wasn’t interfering with play (I hope that’s a bug they will fix) and they done well to defend it but we eventually broke them down and got a 90th minute equaliser to keep our unbeaten run going though it does end our winning streak.
After dropping our first points of the season we lost our first game of the season losing 3-1 away to Fylde. They scored first, we had a goal disallowed, they scored again, we pulled one back then almost straight away they got and scored a penalty before we had another goal disallowed, from the moment they scored in the 7th minute I could tell it was one of those games that no matter what we would lose.
That loss ends our 37 game unbeaten run, hopefully the points dropped in the last two games is a blip and not the start of a poor run.
Our blip should have ended in the next game at Home to Oldham, after going a goal down we came back into it and got 3 goals, we were comfortable going into stoppage time at the end of the game as Oldham didn’t threaten in the second half until stoppage time when they scored in the 92nd and 93rd minutes to draw 3-3.
We ended what I hope was a blip winning 2-1 away to Scunthorpe but I thought we were going to throw away another 2 goal lead when whey scored late on with their only real attempt of the second half but luckily we managed the game out without them creating anything else.
Next up was that Scottish SPFL Cup game and we had Rangers reserves in the 4th round, I played my reserves too. They took the lead, we got 2 then missed a handful of clear chances before they got a late goal to take it to pens. We both missed our first pens but they missed their 5th and we scored ours to go through to the next round.
We then had a league game which we won before playing in the FA Cup 4th qualifying round against a poor Conference South team so I put my reserves in again and they laboured to a 1-1 draw and then they struggled again in the replay which was also 1-1 but we got lucky and won the penalty shootout.
We then had a lucky 2-2 draw away to Dagenham and Redbridge as we threw away a lead then needed a 93rd minute equaliser.
At this point we are doing ok but we are not winning as easy as we were at the start of the season, teams are now defending deep against us and we are struggling to break them down and defensively we seem to make mistakes every game costing us goals.
Also my board isn’t happy that we are not playing defensive, direct, counter-attacking football according to the club vision.
In the next game at home to 6th placed Accrington I went with last season’s counter-attacking tactic and we got a 2-1 win but it wasn’t comfortable and we only had 39% possession, we won but it wasn’t pretty.
I wonder how much club vision really matters, I’ve been happy playing defensive the last several seasons but I feel like the team we have proved at the start of the season they can win easily playing better football, though if we do go up we would maybe have to go back to defensive next season to survive relegation.
I played the next game with the counter-attacking tactic too against the team in 23rd and we got our best win all month winning comfortably 3-0, that could have happened whatever tactic I played but it was nice to end October with a good win.
October had me thinking about my tactics, probably more than I needed to, on one hand I like the more attacking possession football but we conceded too many goals, usually from mistakes and the board are disappointed in the club vision, but on the other had, playing defensive counter-attacking football isn’t as nice to look at, gets less goals but pleases the board.
I decided I would try mixing it up game to game, for home games where it might be an easy game I’ll play possession, while away or against good teams play counter-attacking.
For the most part I did remember to do as above though some games I forgot and played what I previously had but it seemed to work well overall.
In the league we had 1 draw and 4 wins, we had a big 4-0 home win against a poor team playing possession and a 2-0 home win against second place afterwards where I forgot to change to counter-attack, while I played counter-attacking away to a poor team as I had to play reserve players due to fitness and we won 1-0, away to a mid table team winning 2-1 and an away 2-2 draw against another mid table team.
In the cups we had some good and bad results, firstly in the Scottish SPFL Cup quarter final we got a good 1-0 win against Aberdeen Reserves as my reserves played a perfect counter-attacking game but in the FA Cup first round we could only get a 1-1 draw at home to Dagenham and Redbridge and we lost the replay 1-0.
The cups don’t really matter this season, although I am into the semi final of the SPFL Cup against a Scottish league one team, but in the league which is all I care about we are looking good for winning it, although we have played an extra game over most teams we are 18 points clear of second after 23 games as it seems like we are too good for the rest this season.
We opened up December with another league win but we did get lucky, playing away to 6th placed Carlisle we took the lead in the 18th minute then held onto it to win 1-0 but I did think we had threw it away as Carlisle had 2 goals rules out for offside in second half stoppage time.
We then got the initial assessment of the youth intake which seems pointless at this level as we never get anyone good but I’m hoping for something better this year as we have increased our junior coaching to average academy coaching, increased our youth recruitment to adequate and our youth facilities are now basic which while not great are better than we’ve previously had.
The assessment looks ok, we have more positives than negatives mainly being about the full backs and centre backs and says we should be optimistic, I’m not as I’ve had expectations previously that we would get someone good and when they came they weren’t good so I’ll reserve judgement for April when they come through.
After the Carlisle game the reserves beat Accrington in the FA Trophy before we then lost our second game of the season away to Dulwich Hamlet. We then had our boxing day game postponed which was good as we had a game what would have been only 2 days after, with having the game postponed our team was fit and we ended the calendar year with another win.
The New Year then started off with back to back wins and when I checked the table we already have 22 wins which is only 1 less than we got all last season. We also have 70 points already and are now 23 points clear of second place, I might now play my best 11 in the cup games as I could afford to drop league points.
Last season we lost 4 all year but drew 19, this year we have half the number of losses but have managed to turn a lot of those draws into wins as we’ve only drew 4 games, we didn’t improve the team that much so I think it’s probably the attacking possession formation against the poorer teams that’s helped turn draws into wins.
After planning on playing my best 11 in the cups I had to play my reserves in the FA Trophy 4th round against Conference South Gloucester due to injury and fitness and they only managed a 0-0 draw but my best 11 I could put out won the replay 2-0.
Putting more priority into the cup game meant most of my best 11 weren’t fit enough for the next league game away to second placed Bromley and we threw away a 2-1 lead to lose 3-2, we are still 20 points ahead of them so it doesn’t matter too much.
After the loss we had a run of 3 league games to end January and start February where we got 2 more wins and a draw before having a mix of cup and league games throughout the rest of Feb
In the cups we got revenge on Bromley for beating us in the league as we beat them 4-0 in the FA Trophy 5th round and we beat Arbroath 2-1 after extra time in the SPFL Trust Trophy semi final and the last cup game of the month was a 1-1 draw with Chester in the FA Trophy quarter final.
In between those cup games we struggled to 3 league draws as my reserves mostly played the league games and had problems scoring goals, we missed our 29 goal striker. The dropped points didn’t make much difference in the league, they just lowered our lead to 18 points.
March started with the FA Trophy quarter final replay at home to Chester, we were lucky to get a replay as we equalised in the 92nd minute in the first game. In the replay after taking the lead in the first half, we conceded in the second and it stayed 1-1 and went to penalties where after they missed their first one, we scored all 5 of ours to go into the semi finals.
Back to the league and we lost our 4th game of the season to equal last year’s total losses with 10 games still to play after playing the reserves again away to Oldham. We have a SPFL Trust Trophy final against Livingston next which I want to win, prioritising cup games recently has seen our league form drop to 14th overall, it’s a good job we have that big lead over 2nd.
The final started and it was all Livingston as they created a lot of chances without scoring while we didn’t have our first shot until the 32nd minute which we scored from, we then had our second shot in the 41st minute which we also scored from and went into half time 2 up from only 2 shots.
The second half was much better defensively as Livingston didn’t create much, neither did we as we only had 2 shots off target but in the end it was a comfortable 2-0 win.
That win gives us the SPFL Trust Trophy, the club’s first ever trophy and it’s the first time I’ve won a trophy based in a country I’m not managing a club in as it’s a Scottish Cup.
It seems strange that a Conference National team could win a cup like that but looking at past winners, Chesterfield won it a couple of seasons ago and they are in the same division as us so we are not the first.
It nice to pick up my first cup trophy at the club after 2451 days not including a league win, hopefully we can win the FA Trophy too.
Then we lost our 5th game of the season, we’ve played too many games lately with the 2 cup runs and most of my team is tired, showing fatigue or injured. This loss came away to second placed York, I had to fill the bench with youth players as I couldn’t risk putting unfit players on the bench.
The loss cut our lead to 14 points but we do have 2 games in hand so I’m not worried yet about the league but I would be happier if we could pick up a couple more wins just in case we blow it.
We then had another cup game, this one the first leg of the FA Trophy and I took a bit of a gamble by playing my reserves as we were at home to Hereford who are 19th in the league so if I can win the games against them using my reserves then my best 11 might get some league wins.
The first half went well as we scored 2 while limiting them to 1 shot off target, the second half started great as we got a 3rd goal early on before they rallied back getting 2 goals from nowhere, we did then get a 4th but they scored a 3rd and what should have been a good lead going into the second leg turned into only a 1 goal advantage.
After a 2-2 league draw took us to 6 league games without a win we done much better in the away leg of the FA Trophy winning 2-0 to take us into our second cup final of the season.
We now have 8 uninterrupted league games before the cup final, it should give us a chance to go back to playing the strongest team we can in the league and hopefully finish off the season strong.
The first of our last 8 games ended March with a very good 4-1 win to end our winless run and hopefully start a good finish to the season.
Afterwards we got our youth intake and it looks like we might have a decent player come through, a Angolan/English right full back that has 4.5 star potential and we have a few that have 3 star potential that can add to the youth squad.
2 more wins later against the bottom club and the club in 18th sealed the title with 5 games remaining. We could have won a lot sooner had we not started prioritising the cups but the league title has been coming all season as we’ve been top since week 4 and no other team has challenged.
After clinching the title and promotion to the football league, the board want to discuss going professional, of course I want that as we need to be full time but I don’t think we would have a choice regardless as we would have to be professional for league two.
A draw and 4 more wins ended the season in a high, it was nice getting back to winning ways once we could put out a strong team each game and had longer rest periods between them.
We ended the season having played 46, won 31, drew 10, lost 5, getting 103 points which is the highest in the league since the save began.
We actually lost 1 more than last year but we got a club record highest number of wins and lowest number of draws which is what we wanted at the start of the season as we hoped a more attacking tactic could turn draws into wins which it did.
Interestingly, as no other team really challenged, the 88 points we got last year finishing 3rd would have won this season as second place only got 84.
Our star striker Rob Brain who I’ve recently found out is a face in the game player as he is an SI Dev (random generated newgen I think), picked up the leagues player of the season for a second year running as he got 34 goals in 35 games, not as many as the 38 goals last season but due to rotation for the cups he played 10 games less.
He actually missed out on top scorer this year by 1 goal which he would have got had he not been dropped so often for cup games.
Our last game of the season is now the FA Trophy final and we play against Newport who finished 7th in league and who we have beat and drew against in the league.
The final turned into a walk in the park after only 15 minutes as Newport had a man sent off and then it was attack v defense the rest of the game and we broke through their defense in the 56th minute and then we doubled our lead with a 85th minute free kick to win 2-0 and end a treble winning season of the league and 2 cups.
The best thing about winning the cups is that unless we get relegated back down to this level, then this season could be the last time we play in them.
So this season is now over and it’s been our best so far, it’s taken 4 seasons to get out of the Conference National league and 7 seasons to make it to the football league.
Now we can go full time I’m not sure if it will get easier or harder in the football league, usually it would get easier as I would be able to find and sign a much higher quality of players but as I’m relying on staff to find and reccomend players it might not be as easy as it could be.
Next season I’ll also have to have a think about tactics, I’ll probably go back to mainly the defensive counter-attacking tactic, depending on who we can sign we might not have the quality to attack teams.
I could do with bringing in a lot of players, we do have several that should be able to step up, especially my striker but those players are also wanted by bigger clubs so it could be an interesting transfer window.
On a personal note, I started the season as a club favourite personnel, after the first cup win I became an Icon and after the league and second cup I’m now a club Legend.
I’ll be back with an update after our first proper football league season.
– Sparko Marco