Football Manager – Trying to Take The Dolly Blues up the Leagues – Season 11

Last season was Lancasters first in the Championship and after a good start our form fell away and while never close to relegation we were struggling from about November onwards but ended the season in 15th.

This year I would like to do better however for that to happen we really need to improve the squad as we have too many players not up to the standard for this league.

In January last year we did spend some money for the first time bringing in 3 defenders and a midfielder for £875k all of whom have potential for this level but not quite the ability, they will however still be first team players.

Our other best players were our striker who has been a star for us and top scorer in the last 5 seasons but only scored at the start and end of the season so was too inconsistent, I’d like a better striker if I can find one that we can afford and will join us. We also had 6 players on loan, 2 of which I would like to bring back as the left inside forward from Leeds got 7 goals and 10 assists and the playmaker midfielder got 8 goals and 6 assists so would be good to keep on, the other loan players could be replaced.

Our main priority has to be a goalkeeper though as our only good one was one of the loanees who while good, isn’t great so I might be able find better, if not maybe I’ll loan him back for a third season.

I do have 2 players who have already agreed to join when their contracts end as I agreed contracts with them last season. The first joins in June from Arsenal and is a 18 year old defensive midfielder with Championship potential but only Conference National ability so will only be back up while the other can’t join until January as he is a 17 year old Slovakian defender with League One ability that can improve a lot in the future and is only costing us £50k in compensation.

Our board have only given us a £2.97m transfer budget which isn’t much more than we ended last season with and a wage budget of £105k which is nearly £30k than we are currently spending, more when the loan players leave.

It’s not a lot to spend for this level and a lot of the players my scouts have been finding would cost a lot more than we have, I was hoping for a bigger increase so I could sign some of the players I’ve been eyeing up but unless we sell some players for big money I won’t be getting them and may need to settle for cheaper players with potential rather than current ability.

Although the board haven’t gave us much money for transfers, they have spent £3.2m to expand the stadium by 2,699 seats to a total of 7,916 which is good as after moving to the new stadium mid season we sold out every one of our 5,217 seats available in every home game. While the upgrade is being done we are moving back to Fleetwoods stadium where we played at when our stadium was being built and will be there for most of the season until mid March.

They are also spending £725k on upgrading our youth and training facilities, something I’ve been asking for all last season but the they kept refusing.

I also decided that while they were being generous improving facilities I’d ask for more and they also agreed to increase the junior coaching budget so our academy will have good coaching instead of average.

Our club vision gives me a bit of a dilemma too as just like previous years the board want us to play defensive, direct, counter-attacking football which while that has given us some success over the years, last season after it started well we struggled to win games and our best results at the end of the season was playing a more attacking possession tactic.

I was thinking about trying the possession tactic from the start this season and seeing how we do with that but that might piss off the board so I tried negotiating with the board about the club vision but there were no options to remove those required club culture objectives so I’m stuck with them.

I might just play possession and see if it really makes much difference, if we can win games then the board might still be happy even if we don’t play how they want us to.

As the first friendly came around we have been quite busy in transfer market bringing in 7 permanent players and renewing 5 loan players.

For the loan players I secured the left inside forward and central midfield playmaker early on as they were good players last year, then after failing to find a better keeper I reloaned the keeper I’ve had the last 2 season’s. I then decided to also loan the young defender and right winger/striker as they were good squad players.

The permanent signings have been a mix of free transfers and money signings including another record transfer. The biggest fee we’ve spent is for a Portuguese striker from Irish club Derry City as we matched his £575k release clause, he’s a very quick striker with premiership potential with good all round stats.

Also for money we signed a 17 year old right winger from Celtic for £35k who will probably be loaned out as he only has good championship potential and we signed a 18 year old Czechoslovakian left back for £50k compensation as he was out of contract who will be rotated with my other left backs.

The players signed for free were a back up 20 year old defensive midfielder released by Newcastle, a 18 year old youth defensive midfielder released by Arsenal, a 20 year old left back released by Everton and the best of them is a 19 year old Argentinan centre back released by Boca Juniors.

I have been trying to get a lot more but we keep missing out to bigger clubs and I though we had a really good Australian striker but even though my scout report said he would get a work permit he didn’t get one.

We’ve also shipped out a few players selling our 4th choice right back for £8k, Derry City used some of the money we give them to sign one of our young strikers for £250k and we sold our now 4th choice left back for £150k, I’m also trying to sell a few more fringe players.

We did also sell our rubbish back up striker which was a strange move as he was coming out of contract so I couldn’t get much but I ended up selling him to Leeds for £0 and 45% of next transfer fee. He would have been released if no one wanted him so I was happy to potentially get £45% of any future fee but it’s strange that Leeds wanted him as they are a Premiership team while he is 23, has Conference National ability and no further potential so I don’t know why they would want him.

I could still do with a permanent goal keeper, a right winger and 2 back up central midfielders that are better than my current back ups so hopefully by the time the first league game comes around we have improved the squad further.

Our friendly games went well, playing our possession tactic we won 4 out of 4, scored 8 and conceded 1, while we didn’t play any big teams we looked good.

I also managed to make some more signings bringing in 2 more central midfielders I wanted, one is a 24 year old released by Villa and the other a 22 year old I signed from Southampton for £90k.

We also brought in another left back, I already have 2 so didn’t really need another but this one is an 18 year old South African with Premiership potential and better ability than the others, also all 3 are attacking full backs and can play in the left wing position too so it gives more cover there too.

Another player we signed was a 19 year old striker releases from Man Utd who will has potential to be a Championship player but will probably just be an emergency back up as he’s not good enough yet.

I also tried signing the Australian striker that didn’t get a work permit earlier as I noticed that other English teams wanted him and figured the AI would want someone they couldn’t get a work permit for, I also decided I would sign him even if he couldn’t get a work permit and home to try again later as he could improve a lot and be worth a lot to sell if we couldn’t get a work permit.

As it happens we managed to get a work permit this time so that’s another striker signed and he can also play on the wing so it’s more cover up front.

I also sold more players as I offloaded a 33 year old midfielder for £200k, a 22 year old winger for £67k, a 24 year old left back for free and a 25 year old centre back for £275k all of whom are now no longer good enough and have been replaced with better.

I’ve also been trying to get rid of another right winger as although he has Championship ability he’s never fit and last season only managed 18 games getting 0 goals and 1 assist so I want rid. I’ve had plenty of bids and accepted offers between £150k and £250k but he keeps rejecting the teams even after I agree to give him a £11k payoff, hopefully he will eventually agree to leave.

Our first game of the season is away to Luton who finished 1 place above us last season and last year we lost at their ground so this game could be good to see if we have improved.

Looking at the season preview the media don’t think we will do much as they have us finishing bottom and we’ve been given odds of 350/1 for promotion which is exactly the same odds as we had last year. Even if the media don’t think we have improved I’m much happier with my squad than I was at the start of last season as we have more depth and a bit more quality, though I do expect another season where we could struggle again, it might take a few seasons at this level to start doing well.

Well we got a better result against them this year as we managed to get a 1-1 draw but I thought we could have won as we took the lead but they scored 3 minutes later after not looking like they would score previously and we then hit the woodwork twice late on so weren’t far off winning.

We followed the draw with two deserved 1-0 wins, first we beat Bristol City at home, they had also lost their opening game but then we beat Birmingham away who has won their first 2 games. What made these wins better was that we limited their chances and we could and maybe should have scored more as we created several good chances. All 3 goals this year have so far came from our new record signing striker which if he continues like this could prove to be a bargain.

After 3 good league games we had our first cup game as we were at home to League One Sunderland so same as last season I rested my best 11 and played the reserves as the cup doesn’t matter. We played well but couldn’t score so after a 0-0 it went to pens where we missed one and they missed two so we went through to the next round.

Our next league game threw up a problem as we played Crystal Palace at home but I hadn’t realised they were relegated last year so the keeper we have on loan from them isn’t allowed to play against them and I’ve realised that I only have one competent back up keeper and he only has Conference National ability and League One potential which means we could still do with another keeper but so far I’ve not been able to find a decent one that will join the club.

Having a poor keeper didn’t really make much difference as the rest of the team played poorly and Palace won 4-0, they’re clear favourites to win the league so it’s not surprising that they were much better than we are.

We then broke our transfer record again by signing a 18 year old Belarusian right winger for £925k who has premiership potential, it won’t be long until we get our first £1m+ transfer. We’re starting to bring in a few promising foreign players now that my scouts can look in Europe, I’d have more if we didn’t have issues getting work permits.

I also managed to sell the right winger I’ve been trying to sell all summer as he eventually agreed to go to Tranmere for £250k and he didn’t want a payoff this time either.

One defeat turned into another as we then ended August losing 2-0 away to Bournemouth but we were hindered after having a man sent off in the 6th minute. We also had another man sent off in the 92nd minute but that didn’t make a difference to the defeat.

It was then transfer deadline day and as we’ve been busy through the window the deadline day was relatively quiet as the only signing we made was a 33 year old goal keeper on loan from Man Utd. He’s not even a good keeper with only League One ability but he was the best I could get and will be a decent back up.

I didn’t sell anyone either but I did have to keep rejecting rubbish offers for my best centre back and captain but luckily the offers were that low my board didn’t accept them on my behalf, a big offer and they might have done.

Overall a decent transfer window bringing in 14 players for about £2.1m while selling 9 players for about £1.2m which isn’t bad, we’ve still got £1m to spend too although we’re at the top of our wage limit now.

September started with our reserve players losing away to premiership side Everton 2-0 in the Carabao Cup second round but even our reserve team was depleted as we had several players on international duty and injured so there were also a few u18 players involved and we never looked like getting anything from the game.

Back to the League though with a rested first team we picked up another 1-0 win. With our results you would think we were playing counter-attacking as we are not scoring many goals but we are actually playing attacking possession yet we are not scoring many like we did in pre-season or the games we won last year playing this way. It could be down to having no team cohesion with all the new signings so once they’ve played with each other more their performances could get better.

My board are also very disappointed that we are not playing direct football while only satisfied that we are playing defensive and counter-attacking so I’m wondering whether I should change back to counter-attacking or stick with what we are doing as we are getting some good wins.

My next game was at home to top of the table Stoke and we managed a 2-1 win with both goals on counter attacks but we gave them too many chances and we got a lucky win. The next game we weren’t so lucky as we lost 2-1 to struggling Middlesbrough who got only their second win of the season.

I’m going to try the counter-attacking tactic again as while we are having possession we are not creating a lot and we are giving away a lot of chances, we’ve conceded 11 in our first 9 games while only scoring 8 so although we have won 4 and lost 3 I haven’t been too impressed with how we are playing.

Changing to the counter-attacking tactic didn’t go well as we drew 0-0 against the bottom team, then lost 2-1 in the next 2 games, after our decent start we’ve only won 2 in the last 9 games, our striker has also not scored after getting a goal in each of the first 4 league games.

The next game I started meddling with the possession tactic but changed too much so decided to load back up an earlier version I had saved and played the next game with that which resulted in a 1-0 win against 5th placed Brentford. What I hadn’t realised though was the saved version I had was different to the version I played earlier in the season as I must have changed it at some point and not updated my saved version. This version has a slower tempo, much shorter passing, holds shape when we win the ball and doesn’t counter and pressed more urgently than the other.

I’ll stick with this version of the possession tactic for the next few games and see if the win can be the start of a decent run.

Before the next game I had a look into my set pieces as we don’t score many goals from corners. I tried a corner tactic several seasons ago when my board wanted me to make the most of set pieces but I’ve not changed them since. We were using tactics similar to I used on FM19 aiming for the big man at the back post so I’ve changed it around to aim for the big man at the near post instead.

The set piece change worked straight away as we scored from a 3rd minute corner away to Ipswich who are 1 point below us and by half time we were 3 up. The second half we got away with them missing a lot of good chances, we both got a goal and we went on to win 4-1, our best win of the season so far.

After such a good win away to a team doing similar to us we ended October losing 2-0 away to a Villa side who were 3rd from bottom. I wouldn’t have minded but we were rubbish only creating 3 shots all game and their goals came from a corner and a long wonder goal as they only had 3 shots themselves which makes the loss worse as they weren’t very good either.

November last season was where we started going wrong and our form dipped and we rarely got any wins from then on but not this year as our form has been much better. We started off with a 1-1 draw and then had 3 wins in a row which included a big 5-0 win and ended the month with a loss. Those wins were against teams near the bottom of the league so none of the bigger clubs but those are also the teams we need to be winning against.

We ended November in a very good 8th place, after 20 games we’ve won 9, drew 4 and lost 7 and are 15 points ahead of the relegation zone, if we don’t go on a bad run like last year we could be on for a mid table finish.

The board then offered me a new contract and I noticed that they are happy with my manager performance giving me an A- and the performance had no negative criticism which is good considering the club vision shows they are still very disappointed in not playing direct football and are now also disappointed we are not playing counter-attacking football too but I suppose as long as we are winning games they can’t really complain about it.

December started by by beating Peterborough 2-1 at home but then a loss away to Swansea 4-2. The loss didn’t reflect the game as they scored from 4 shots on target with an xG of 2.28 while we had 7 shots on target and an xG of 3.01 so based on those stats we should have scored more than them.

Afterwards we got the initial assessment of the youth intake and after years of disappointment it looks like we might actually get a better one this year as it shows we have a lot of wingers, a forward considered a fine prospect and it says we have a good group of players coming through so hopefully we get one or two decent players.

After the defeat by Swansea we got back to winning ways as we won the next 3 before and after Xmas. We then got lucky as our game on the 28th December was postponed due to a waterlogged pitch and I then noticed that our next game is the 29th December, for some reason all teams in the league are playing on consecutive days, not sure why that’s happened, it’s also 3 games in 4 days as we all played the Friday before too.

It should mean that we are much fitter than Crystal Palace who we play against as they played their game the day before our game.

The fitness worked in our favour, Palace were a much better team in the game at home earlier in the season hammering us 4-0 but this time when I looked at their team they were playing mostly reserve players and we were much better as the only one of our best 11 not playing was the keeper we have on loan from them. We won the game 1-0 but it should have been a lot more but their keeper had a good game and I never thought we were going to score before we managed to break them down in the 72nd minute to get our goal.

That makes it 5 wins and a defeat in a good December and we end the calendar year in 7th place, 1 point outside the play-offs with a game in hand.

The change in tactics this year has made us a much better team even if my board don’t like how we are playing. I would play the counter-attacking if it worked as I was liking that style of play but it stopped working around November last season which looking back I realised that was also the time when there was an FM patch released to fix a couple of bugs which seemed to affect my tactic but now I’ve got a working possession tactic I’m happy to keep playing this way.

As the transfer window opened we got our first signing join on the 1st Jan and the our second came in on the 2nd Jan as we agreed an earlier deals for them to join when their contracts ended. One is a 21 year old Finnish centre back who will go into the first 11 and the other an 18 year old centre back who will be a back up player for now.

I might try and make other signings but I don’t really need anyone at the moment so only much better players will come in unless I sell players. I was wanting a keeper in the summer but the one we’ve had on loan the last 3 year’s is playing well and although I never thought he was that good, his stats have shot up and he is now current Championship ability and now shows with Premiership potential.

The New Year opened up with an FA Cup third round defeat at home to stoke but we followed it up winning our first league game of the year against Wigan who are second bottom. The league win also gave us a nice milestone as we have now won the same number of games this year as we did all last season as we have 15 wins in 27 games which puts us only just into the playoff places.

Early into the transfer window and we sold players, a few were back ups that haven’t played much this season and we got £160k, £250k and £600k for them but one of those sold was our best centre back and captain. We signed him 5 seasons ago on a free transfer from Man Utd who was now worth £425k. Los Angeles FC wanted him and after I kept rejecting increasing bid, I eventually agreed to sell him for £11m + 50% of any future fee which was too much to turn down.

Also as we’ve just signed 2 centre backs I didn’t mind selling one as we’ve plenty of cover in that area.

The sales have increased my transfer budget to £4.5m so I might have a look and see if there is any one I could sign now to improve the squad, if not it’ll come in handy in the summer.

After beating Wigan we had a couple of games postponed so only had one more game at the very end of January and ended the month beating Derby to make it 6 league wins in a row.

The transfer window then shut without us signing anyone else as I couldn’t find anyone I wanted that will come to us or that wouldn’t cost too much so I decided to keep the money we’ve brought in for the summer.

A few days later our winning run ended as we only managed a 1-1 draw at home to mid table Birmingham and then our mini 7 game unbeaten run ended as we lost 1-0 to bottom of the table Middlesbrough in one of those games where we dominated but couldn’t score, it seems to happen often in FM where a good run ends in a game that should be an easy win.

One home loss was followed by another home loss losing to a lower table team before we beat promotion chasing Stoke away and then we lost again at home to top of the table Bournemouth.

Our home form lately has been poor and so far February has been our worst month of the season which if it continues we could be in danger of dropping out of the play off places.

I thought that we were ending February with better results as first we came from behind to earn a draw away from home before ending with a big 5-1 win at home but we lost our last game of the month 3-0 as we conceded from 3 defensive errors.

I think we just had too many games in the month as we had a few games in hand where we had games postponed. We ended up playing 8 games in the shortest month of the year losing 4 and only winning 2. We are still in the play-off places but only just and only 2 points ahead of 7th place with 10 games still to play.

Our first game in March was more points dropped at home as we threw away a lead in the 90th minute as we drew 1-1 with Villa who were a place below us in the league. The point however was enough to confirm we can no longer be relegated, not that we have ever been in danger this year but it does mean we’ve got our aim to stay up.

We followed up the draw with a win but then lost again which has seen us drop out of the play-off places, only 1 point behind and we have a game in hand but our form isn’t good at the moment.

We then got our latest youth intake and I was hoping for some good players coming through based on the initial assessment and while I wasn’t as disappointed as previous years we never got any really good players. We did get 2 players with 3.5 star potential and a lot of 3 star potential players so overall not a bad bunch so I’ve offered a lot of them youth contracts to fill out the u18 team but even the 3.5 star potential players probably won’t be good enough for my team but they might improve and can be sold on.

My coaches aren’t the best though and some of the youth players have good stats so hopefully my coaches have reported them being worse than they could be, the striker we got in particular is quick, has good dribbling and finishing so if the coaches are wrong and he improves he might be a decent squad player.

Our next game is at home to 20th Blackpool as as I was picking the team I noticed I had the wrong goal keeper picked and realised that I had to change my keeper to a poor back up keeper when I played Crystal Palace due to our main keeper being on loan from them, I’ve then forgot to change him back and hadn’t noticed. That was 15 games ago! It might not be the reason our form hasn’t been great recently but it could account for some of the goals we’ve conceded and if we were playing our best keeper we could have picked up more points. Oops!

At least I’ve noticed now and hopefully we can improve our results in the remaining 6 games and get back into a playoff place.

A poor draw ended a poor March but we started April with a narrow win over the bottom club which secured our highest ever position as we can’t finish lower than 14th and we are now only outside the playoff places on goal difference while we are also only 2 points behind 4th.

A second win in April then took us back into the playoffs and up to 5th after which our board informed me that we are under a transfer embargo as they are in takeover talks with a local investor that will wipe out the club’s debts, not that we have many debts other than £3.2m loan we have £11m in the accounts.

Every season so far there has been at least 2 rumours that the board are selling the club but nothing comes of it but this is the first time we’ve had a transfer embargo so this time it could happen.

A third win in a row and then a draw in April secured a playoff place with 1 game left to play which means I can give my best players a rest in the last game and try and keep them fit for the first playoff game and by doing just that we lost 1-0. It was away to the team that’s finished second so we could have lost regardless of the team I put out.

After 46 games we’ve finished 6th having won 22, drawn 10 and lost 14 which is much better than I thought we would do. We’ve also done better defensively considering we are playing more attacking this year as we have the 6th best defense conceding 52 but our 69 goals is only the 9th best and nearly 50 less that the team finishing top.

We now have the playoffs to come and while it would be good to win them and get promoted to the Premiership I’m not confident we can do it as the teams above us are much stronger than us.

We have Swansea who were relegated from the Premiership last season in the playoff semi final and previously this year we beat them 2-1 at home and lost 4-2 away so these games could go either way.

The first leg went our way but only just as despite dominating the game having 13 shots to their 5, an xG of 1.64 to their 0.42 and most of the possession it looked like we wouldn’t get a goal until one of our January defender signings got his 6th goal of the season from a corner. He wasn’t going to be a first team starter but once I sold our best centre back he came in and at 6ft 6in he’s been a threat from corners, especially after we changed corners to target the near post and put him on the near post.

After that game our club takeover collapsed which I’m happy with because usually local investors don’t make much difference and don’t invest much money, I’m happy for the club to hold out until a tycoon wants them, though I’ve never had that happen at a club when I’ve been the manager.

The second leg away to Swansea went similar to the first leg except instead of a late goal we scored in the 7th minute and went on to win 1-0. I thought Swansea would have been much better than they were as they finished 3rd and were closer to 2nd than they were 4th but they were rubbish in both legs.

We play Crystal Palace in the final so straight away we are missing our best goal keeper who is on loan from them but then 2 days before the game we lost our best centre back and our best defensive midfielder to injury, add in that one of our best central midfielders got injured in the last game and we are missing key players in the spine of the team.

The final went well, we took the lead after 21 minutes, had a goal disallowed 5 minutes later and then there wasn’t much else that warranted a highlight other than the occasional long shot off target by them and we won 1-0 to gain promoted to the Premiership.

If I’m being honest, I didn’t really want promotion this soon as it’s only our second season in the Championship and I’ve been one of the people online defending the game saying it’s not too easy but after taking 7 seasons to get into the football league it has been fairly easy and with the team we have I don’t think we are good enough to be getting promoted this soon, I was thinking it would take 3 or 4 seasons to build a team capable of going up not 2 seasons.

It’s happened though and next year we’ll be in the Premiership and it will be interesting to see whether it’s going to be easy or hard, it should be hard especially in the first season but in previous versions of FM I have been able to win the Premiership after about 3 seasons because once you get Premiership money it’s easy to buy really good players.

I have been limiting myself to signing players only that my scouts find or my Director of Football reccomends which has made it harder as I’ll usually find loads of wonderkids myself or ask my scouts to scout potential wonderkids all around the world but since last season my scouts have been able to scout in Europe and already they have been finding lots of potential world class players so it might not be as hard as I thought it would be.

I’ll be back with an update after next season, will we be able to stay up or will it be easier than I expect again?

– Sparko Marco

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