Football Manager – Trying to Take The Dolly Blues up the Leagues – Season 9

Now into season 9 with Lancaster City we have made it to League One after securing back to back promotions.

I thought it would have taken longer to get out of League Two but the step up wasn’t that big and most of our team had League Two ability. We also had a good striker that finished league top scorer and we were very good defensively which helped us to a 4th place and went on to win the play-offs.

The step up in real life from the Conference National to League Two isn’t that big either as teams coming up often do well but the step up to League One can often be harder and teams often come straight back down or struggle which could be the case for us.

Looking at the team, my striker has League One potential and could still be good, I have a couple of centre backs, and 1 midfielder that have League One potential, all the rest are League Two ability or potential at the most.

Of the loan players we had last year, there’s a centre back with Championship potential I’d like to keep or sign, a defensive midfielder, right winger, left winger and left back all with League One potential that would be good to bring back too.

Overall, most of my permanent players aren’t good enough for League One so I’m hoping my staff can find some good players.

Usually at the start of the season I’ve got several players coming in from big clubs who my Director of Football has found and I can sign for free as they are coming out of contract, this year however most of them reccomended to me aren’t good enough.

I have got a 18 year old right back coming from Liverpool, a 18 year old striker from Tottenham and a 18 year old striker from Brighton coming in, all are League One potential but currently only Conference National ability so not ready for the first team.

The club vision for this season is unsurprisingly to fight bravely against relegation while playing defensive, direct, counter-attacking football which is how we played last season.

In addition to the players mentioned above, before the friendly games came around we brought in some more players, a couple of whom were interested by Championship clubs.

We signed the 20 year old defender we had on loan from Man Utd for £0 who is League One ability with Championship potential and also a 19 year defensive midfielder from Everton for £0 who also has League One ability with Championship potential. Both of those had been set for release but I had to give big contracts to them and promises to improve coaches and midfielders which I plan to do.

I then agreed to bring in both right wingers I had on loan last year when their contracts ended, one a 20 year old from Middlesbrough, the other a 21 year old from Crystal Palace. I also got a 20 year old left winger from Everton. All 3 are League One potential so don’t quite have the ability for the league but they are better than we currently have.

We still need a lot more, especially a keeper as we don’t have any decent keepers as we’ve used a loan keeper the last 2 seasons that not good enough for League One.

Our friendly games went well as we won 3 and drew 1 while bringing in more players, I trialled lots of players my scouts found and brought in another centre back, this one being a 23 year old Venezuelan international that although has only played on loan at Conference and league two level currently has League One ability and becomes my second best defender.

I also got a 26 year old left back with League One ability that has been playing a lot of League One football and a young 18 year old goal keeper released from Man Utd that will act as back up.

My director of football also recommended some decent loan players so I’ve brought in a 6ft 5in target man as back up to my star striker from the last few seasons who is actually second favourite to be top scorer. I managed to get a goal keeper on loan too that while only has League Two ability is still better than anyone else I have and I’ve got a promising centre back on loan that can play anywhere across the back and a left inside forward that will add more squad depth.

I was getting a bit worried about a lack of quality in the team but going into the first game of the season away to Rotherham who got promoted last year with us I think I’ve got a squad that should be able to survive relegation, especially if we can defend as well as we did last season.

Looking at the pre-season odds and we are 33/1 for promotion which seems low until I see that were predicted to finish 20th which I’d be happy with.

Our first game looked liked it was going to be a perfect 1-0 win as we defended well, took the lead in the 29th minute but we conceded just before full time to draw, a decent start to the season though.

We followed our 1-1 draw with a 0-0 draw and then we knocked out Huddersfield in the Carabao Cup 1st round after a penalty shootout.

After progressing in the cup we got our first league win beating Wycombe 2-1 which isn’t a bad start to the season.

A first league win was quickly followed by a first league loss as Walsall beat us at home 2-1. Before this game we had played teams projected to be around the bottom of the league but Walsall are second favourites so it’s not surprising they beat us, however I don’t think they deserved it as they only had 2 shots on target and they equalised through a penalty. We had 6 shots on target with 13 overall and had a better xG, the only stat they had better than us was possession but that’s expected with how we play.

Although Walsall beat us, our performance against one of the best teams in the league was at least promising and if we play like that we could win more than we lose.

We bounced back from the loss by beating Rotherham in the Carabao Cup 2-1, I put my reserves out again same as the first round and we went behind after 9 minutes and didn’t have a shot in the first half. The second half was much the same until I went all out attack and we equalised in the 80th minute then scored a winner in the 93rd.

Our first 11 then got a good league win beating Crawley 3-0 but we then struggled for a few games. First the reserves lost in the Papa John’s 2-1 away to Lincoln and then the best 11 lost consecutive away games 1-0 to Bristol Rovers and Sunderland.

The teams we had lost to were the top teams in the league so it’s to be expected. We had another of the early top teams Cambridge next and it looked like we were going to struggle again as they dominated most of the game but we defended well limiting most of their shots to long shots. We then got an 82nd minute goal from a long throw and hit them on the counter to score again in the 92nd minute to pull off a good win.

Next up we have a big game at home to Premiership side Everton in the Carabao Cup 3rd round. I put my reserves out again and we lost as expected but it wasn’t a hammering, we only lost 3-1. They were 1 up at half time and we managed to equalise, we also had the same number of shots on target (8) and the same number of clear cut chances (1) but in the end they were too good for us.

We then ended Spetember with a 2-2 draw away to Swindon, I had resigned myself to a loss then they took a 2-0 lead in the 87th minute after I had put 3 up top but we scored in the 88th and 91st minutes to somehow draw a game we deserved to lose as we never looked like scoring until we got 2 late goals from nowhere.

A mixed first couple of months in League One and I can already see the step up is bigger than the step up into League Two. After 9 games we are in 13th with 9 played, 3 won, 3 drawn and 3 lost which is a decent start.

October started and we lost again in our 10th game of the season away to Plymouth and I was starting to think we could struggle this season.

However our reserves got a win in the Papa John’s which then led to our best 11 getting 3 wins on the bounce not conceding in any of them. 2 score draws then ended the month and we were looking much better heading towards the play-off places.

November started with 2 more league draws before we lost on pens to Everton U23s in the Papa John’s to finish second in our group to go into the first knock out round.

Back to the league we got 2 more wins with an FA Cup first round win sandwiched in between before we ended the month with a big 3-0 loss away to current run away league leaders Coventry who are 10 clear of second.

Despite our 5th loss of the season we are in the play off places as we are 5th after 20 games as we’ve won 8 and drew 7. I cant say we are particularly good but defensively we’ve only conceded 19 and a lot of the wins have been from snatching a goal and defending the lead.

Unlike last season where our star striker was getting us the points as our only main goal scorer, this year he has been poor only getting 4 goals and our goals have been spread out with no one in particular getting a lot, we’ve scored 26 league goals and our joint top scorers is my striker and a winger with 4.

December started with 2 cup games, first we had Coventry who just beat us 3-0 in the FA Cup second round and it looked like we were getting revenge until they scored a 88th minute goal to make the game 2-2 and take it to a replay at their ground.

The FA Cup was followed by the Papa John’s second round where we beat Rotherham 2-0 with the reserve team to progress.

Our first league game of December was away to second place Wigan and we pulled off another great defensive display and nicked an 87th minute winner after a loan striker I brought on scored with his first touch and we won 1-0.

Afterwards we had the youth intake initial assessment and again it doesn’t look good, we have a lot of full backs and wingers coming through and at least one full back has promise but overall there’s more negatives than positives.

We had the FA Cup replay against Coventry next and so far I’ve been playing my reserves in cup games as I’m not too bothered but if we get through we have Leeds away in the 3rd round which would be a good money maker so I put my strongest team out. We played ok but Coventry were the better team and although we took them to extra time their strength showed as they scored the only goal of the game in the 114th minute.

The remaining games of the year were all league games, with 5 in total we won the first 2 but the game before Xmas we could only manage a 2-2 draw at home to the bottom club. We bounced back with another win in Boxing Day but we ended the year with a 2-1 defeat away to Walsall.

So far so good however as we enter the New Year in 2nd place only 3 points behind Coventry although we have played an extra game. After 26 games we have won 12, drew 8 and lost 6, the league is tight though as we are only 6 points ahead of 9th so a bad run can quickly change things.

The New Year started as the last one ended poorly with another loss and a draw, both games were against lower mid table teams and both games we outplayed them, in the loss they had an xG of 0.54 while we had 2.19 so it could have been 2-0 to us but that’s the score they won with.

After the poor league games we had Leeds u23s in the Papa John’s third round who beat Man Utd u23s 7-2 in the previous round so I expected the worst but they weren’t that good as we got a 1-1 draw which was a fair result. The game went to pens and it was an epic penalty shootout as after the first 5 it was 4-4 and went to sudden death. After we both missed our 7th pen we scored 13 in a row and each time they scored until they missed their 13th and we won the shootout 18-17.

We ended January with a better league game as we won our first league game of the New Year with a good 3-1 win over Plymouth, our star striker from previous years got all 3 which was good as he’s not been getting many this year and had just came back from a several week injury.

When the January transfer window closed we had had a fairly quiet transfer window for players coming in as we only added 3 players, 2 were back up loans with a central defender and midfielder coming in and the other an experienced deep-laying playmaker better than I have.

Outgoings were a bit busier as I sold an unhappy centre back for £100k and 5 players who would be out of contract at the end of the year that are no longer in the first team. Those 5 were a right back, a striker and 3 central midfielders who brought in £90k between them.

The league wins continued in February, we have a lot of games this month as we catch up on postponed games. We won the first 2 and drew the third before had the Papa John’s quarter final against Burnley u23s.

In the last round we knocked Leeds u23s out on pens and this game headed the same way as we drew 1-1 and went to pens but unlike the last game this time we lost the shootout 7-6.

The loss didn’t affect the team, mainly as it was our reserve players playing in the cup so our best team stayed fit and had a rest so we bounced back winning the next 2 league games.

At the start of Feb we were actually just outside the playoffs places due to having 3 or 4 games in hand but now we’ve caught up and the wins have taken us up to second and we still have a game in hand over top.

We’ve still got 2 more games to play in February but before them we made a marquee signing. After missing out earlier in the season signing the legendary Eden Hazard as he couldn’t get a work permit, my scouts have now found available the once £72m record signing for Arsenal, Nicolas Pepe. He had just been released in January by German club Wolfsburg and although past his best at 34 his stats look good enough for this level and he only wanted £1k a week wages.

I thought we could have work permit issues again but he shows as having English as a secondary nationality so he must have picked that up in the 6 seasons at Arsenal before he moved onto Lazio and then Wolfsburg.

Our next game was the game in hand we have over top who is now Wigan, not sure what happened to Coventry who were running away with it at one point but are now down to 3rd.

The game was away to 18th placed Cambridge and by half time they were 1 up as we hadn’t turned up but a half time of pointing figures telling my team they were rubbish seemed to work as we we scored twice in the 56th and 59th minutes to take the lead which we managed out to a 2-1 win which put us top of table for the first time this season.

Our new signing Pepe didn’t score but played well and played a world class through ball for our striker to score the equaliser and had a good game so he could play a big part hopefully in what could be a promotion run.

I never expected us to be anywhere near promotion in our first League One season, especially after already having back to back promotions but it’s been similar to last year as our counter-attacking defensive football has seen us have so far the second best defense in the league which means we don’t lose too make games.

I’m still expecting a poor run to scupper promotion as we still have 11 games to play but we have a nice 11 point gap to 7th so a play-off place at worst is looking possible.

We ended February with a lucky draw as we got a 94th minute equaliser away to mid table Blackpool to make it 2-2. I thought we were going to lose top spot one game after getting it as we looked to be losing but even if we lost the two teams below us that could have gone top lost their games so a draw has ended up being a good point gained.

March was a good month as we started it with 3 league wins, Pepe has been a really good signing getting a couple of goals and assists, and it’s benefited my star striker as he has now started scoring more goals with Pepe setting him up and now has 12 in 31 games, not as good as previous years but he’s scoring now when it counts in the promotion push.

Mid March we got the new youth intake as we had predicted we would get a good full back, and while our best player is a right full back, he’s not very good at 2.5 star potential and the rest are under 2 star so another year with no one promising.

We only have 1 youth player around the first team, with a right back from a few seasons ago looking promising but 1 player in 9 seasons isn’t very good.

Our 4th game in March was another win as we beat Doncaster 3-0 with our star striker getting a hattrick with 2 more assists from Pepe. He’s now scored 11 in his last 11 games having only scored 4 in the previous 21.

That win was a game in hand we had as it was postponed earlier in the month and put us 7 clear at the top with 6 games to play.

We then rounded off the month with another win which secured at least a play-off place though I doubt we’ll need it as it would take something drastic happening now to stop us getting automatic promotion.

After the good run we’ve been on I expected it to continue into April and the last 5 games but FM had other ideas as we lost at home to a team near the bottom of the table. We had a 2 week break since the last game so our best 11 was fully fit so a win should have been a formality based on previous games but although we had 9 shots on target compared to other teams 4 we lost 2-1. They took the lead against the run of play, we then attacked as much as we could and finally got the goal we deserved in the 92nd minute to get what I thought would be a draw but straight from kick off they attacked and my defender scored a 92nd minute own goal to lose us the game.

Both teams below won their games so have cut the gap to 4 points with 3 to play, we still have to play both Wigan and Coventry who are 2nd and 3rd, both games are at home so if we win those we’ll win the league, lose and it could go either way.

Our next game was the first big game as we had 3rd placed Coventry at home and unlike the last home game where we lost but should have won, this time we lost and deserved to lose as everyone of my players decided to play shite.

That’s 6 points lost in the last 2 games and our 7 point lead cut to 1 as Wigan also won their game both teams are only 1 behind.

I think I spoke to soon earlier saying something drastic would need to happen as I was over confident that we would beat the rubbish team at home and maintain the 7 point gap and we have been looking too good for everyone over since the New Year until now when we needed the wins.

It’s still in our hands but after losing 2 home games, we have 2 away games before playing Wigan at home in the last game of the season, I’m not feeling as confident of promotion now but the away games are against 18th and 20th so if we can win one or both then it could come down to the last game.

We got a very tight 1-0 win in our next game away to 18th Sheffield Wednesday which eases some pressure to get back to winning ways, better still Wigan lost their game. Although Coventry won theirs to stay 1 point behind Wigan are now 4 behind which means we only need to match their result in the next game to secure top 2 while a loss still keeps it in our hands as they can’t go above us before we play each other.

The next game away to 20th Burton went similar to the last game as it was a tight affair as we struggled to break them down, it took at 92nd minute goal after we went all out attack to finally win the game. I would have took a draw but Coventry were winning their game so a draw would have put us second so I went for the win to keep us top and a chance to win the league.

Despite Wigan also winning their game, their previous loss putting them 4 behind means with 1 game to go we have secured our third consecutive promotion and now need to match Coventry in the last game to win the league.

The last game of the season didn’t go great as Wigan went 2 up not long into the second half but Pepe scored a wonderful free kick, our first direct free kick goal of the season and then he played a wonderful long range pass in the 91st minute to put our sub striker through on goal and he finished it to earn a 2-2 draw.

Conventry ended up losing their game away to 15th so in the end our result didn’t matter and we won the league title.

I didn’t expect us to get promoted last year from League Two never mind getting promoted straight away again and winning league.

I’ve read online people saying it’s too easy this year and I doubted them as it took us 7 years to get into the football league but now after 3 consecutive promotions maybe it is a bit easier once you get into the football league.

Most people online however say it’s easy due to people playing attacking gengenpressing and a 4-2-3-1 formation which the AI can’t play against, however I’ve been playing a 4-3-3 defensive counter-attacking tactic and is worked wonderfully.

Looking at the league stats, they show how defensive we do play as we’ve only conceded 29, the lowest in the league, we’ve had the lowest possession with an average of only 41%, we’re mid table for goals scored with 69, we’re 21st for crosses completed % and 24th for crosses completed, we’ve scored hardly any goals from set pieces, we’re 24th for passes completion, 21st for shots, 17th for shots on target, 21st for shots per game, 22nd for dribbles, 7 worst team for shots against.

All those stats would show a poor team, however we limit most shots to long range so opposition xG is usually low and although we don’t shoot often we have a 47% shots on target ratio which is 3% less than the best team and we have the highest conversion rate with 15.94%.

We’ve also won the second most headers and the highest percent won (56%), and we have the second most shots blocked, clearances and interceptions.

On the seasonal performance analyst report, it shows that defensively our defensive efficiency was busy but impenetrable as we face more shots than average but we concede fewer than expected while our attacking efficiency is passive but clinical as we shoot less than average but score more than expected.

I think the stats show perfectly how we have managed to defend well, get the ball back and counter attack to score goals and win games. We might not have been the best team to watch but we have been efficient in how we’ve played and often once we’ve taken the lead we’ve got a result.

So after 46 games, we have won 25, drew 12 and lost 9 to win the league with 87 points which is actually been the second lowest points total for a winner since the save began so we’ve maybe also been lucky that no club ran away with it.

I’ve said the last couple of seasons that I thought we could struggle in the next league and then overachieved but the step up to the Championship looks to have come too soon. I’ve had players over the years with League One potential and ability so getting to this stage we’ve had a core number of players able to perform but the current squad has no championship ability players and maybe only 5 at most with Championship potential.

I’ve also noticed that the players my Director of Football has found being released from big clubs are no longer of a good enough standard for me to sign so it might be harder to get the free players to improve the squad and with only £250k to spend I do genually believe the Championship will be a struggle next year.

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

– Sparko Marco

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