Football Manager 2022 Beta – Youth Only Challenge.

The Football Manager 2022 has just been released at 8pm UK time on 21st October 2021 which is a little under 3 weeks before the full release. I was going to do a Beta save and then a long term save when we have the full game but I get into games too much and 3 weeks will be too long to then want to start again so I’m going to do what I did with FM21 and continue my Beta save when the game goes live as long as there isn’t any major game breaking bugs that can’t be fixed for current saves.

For my FM22 save I wasn’t too sure what I wanted to do but I’ve decided to try a youth only challenge by starting at the bottom of England at a newly promoted team after holidaying the first season and trying to win the Premiership and Champions League with them by only using players that have come through my youth teams.

There’s a couple of reasons I want to do this, firstly last season I got Lancaster promoted from the Conference North and it took 18 seasons to be the best in the world but I was able to sign loads of wonderkids and at one point had enough players to have 2 world class teams and another 3 or 4 world class teams worth of players out on loan and it got too easy so I wanted a harder challenge. The second reason is that I can’t see how it’s possible to take a team from the bottom to the top only using youth players as my Lancaster save never got enough quality players so I want to experience it. People on the SI forums have done it and they have a yearly challenge for it so it is possible but I doubt many people manage to complete it as I imagine just surviving the first few seasons with a rubbish team and rubbish youth players will be hard.

I haven’t decided the team yet as it’ll depend on who can be promoted after the first season, I might go with Lancaster again as it will be an interesting comparison to my FM21 save seeing how harder it is when I can’t sign players.

First thing first and I’ve created my save by adding the English leagues and players loaded from the leagues just below the Conference North and South so that teams promoted should have some players as I’ll need players at the club before we start getting youth players. I’ve then decided to load in the bigger leagues in Spain, Italy, Germany, France and also Scotland but they are only view only. I’ve done this as on FM21 I didn’t have the big leagues loaded at all and the teams in those leagues got too easy to beat far into the save which could be due to their leagues not being simulated as much as the playable leagues.

Once my save had been created I first went on holiday until 19th June which was last year’s date for promoted teams being decided and didn’t get a team I liked so loaded back up and got the same teams. After some testing I determined that the date to save on to get new teams is the 29th May, I can then reload from there, save a new save, then go to the 25th June and see if I can get a team I want to manage get promoted, if not I can reload back to the 29th and keep trying.

After a few times loading back up the save I was getting annoying as no teams stood out as a team I wanted to manage, if Lancaster appeared I was going to take them but they never did and eventually a team called Barwell appeared who I’ve never heard of. Looking at them they interested me because I liked their lime green and yellow kit, their nickname of The Canaries was better than most clubs nicknames, they’re a relatively new club only founded in 1992 so I can create history for them and looking online they are based in a small village that according to Wikipedia translates as Stream of the Boar which is pretty cool.

So after being drawn in by their kit colours and finding out some interesting information about them I decided they were the team for this save and added myself as their new manager that has no qualifications and a Sunday league reputation.

Looking at the squad I do have a feeling that we will struggle as I can’t sign anyone other than the youth players that come to the club usually around March/April so until then I can only use players already at the club which despite adding players at potential clubs that could be promoted the squad is very thin and only has 1 keeper, 1 right back and not much cover in other positions either so I think I may need to retrain some players into new positions. I can keep these players though and renew their contracts if needed, I just can’t sign anyone or loan anyone so I’m stuck with these players until we start getting youth players through.

Regarding the clubs facilities as I’d expect at this level they are the worst they can be with 0 youth level so even when we start getting youth players they won’t be good but hopefully we can get some decent players that may sell and bring money into the club as that’ll be the only way to improve the facilities unless we can get a good FA Cup run, I think if we can survive relegation and then sell some youth players, maybe get to the FA Cup proper rounds then we can slowly improve facilities to then be able to get players that are good enough to start moving us up the leagues, if that’s even possible.

As well as a lack of players we also have no staff so I’ll have to bring some in, I’m probably not going to bother with a director of football or lots of scouts as they won’t be needed if I’m not signing players but some scouts might be good for scouting opposition which I don’t usually bother with as all my scouts get sent looking for players but not on this save and I might need to listen to opposition scout reports if I’m working with rubbish players.

It didn’t take long to have my first staff meeting which is one of the new features in FM22 although from what I saw before Beta went live it looks like just things already in the game now bunched together into one meeting so I am interested to see how it goes. The first thing in the meeting is a recommendation for the club captain to someone that looks better than the current captain so I’ve accepted that suggestion and I done the same for the vice captain. One thing I noticed was that one of the reasons for changing the captain was that he’s a more consistent performer on the pitch which I’ve never thought about being a factor but thinking about it now it would be good to have a consistent player as captain rather than one whose performance might not always be good on his off days.

The next thing to say to me was to put a midfielder on individual training to improve his penalties, I’ve accepted the suggestion again as why not but I do like how this is in a team meeting as I usually don’t do much around players individual training as either I missed seeing it in previous versions or you had to manually do it which I never did so having those in a meeting may be a bonus, especially as I’m doing youth only so any individual development will be good so I’ll have to make sure I do that if I think it will benefit the players.

We then had a recommendation to put a player on set pieces, I don’t usually bother with that as the best player on pitch will usually take them whether they are set to take them or not, I won’t be doing what they say on that one, same goes for corner takers which they recommended next.

We then had some player trait alteration being recommended, similar to individual training I rarely done anything in this as I know it was something I had to manually go into each player and then find a coach and ask then to train them in traits and it was a bit fiddly and easy to forget about and if it came in the inbox, just like real life I often ignore emails and messages so I may have missed things so it’s another bonus for me to have these in meetings. I accepted a couple of their recommended trait training but one I didn’t as they wanted a player that I plan to play as a defensive deep-laying playmaker to get further forward which I don’t want him to do so while it’s nice to get in the meeting I’ll need to check that what they suggest doesn’t negatively affect how I want that player to play.

We then had a few players get recommended to train their weak foot which used to be in the game but I couldn’t find it in FM21 when I wanted it done so that’s positive that it’s back, I think all players should be two footed really and not have a totally weak foot but it’s rare in real life football to see that so I accepted all suggestions.

We then had something about transfer policies which I’m not interested in and player contract renewals which I don’t listen to staff about as I do that myself based on performances and there was something about high potential players which probably won’t be useful as I usually have a good idea of who in my squads are good and have potential. There was then some staff suggestions to sign to fill vacancies but that’s something else I’ll ignore as I prefer to find my own staff.

Overall the meeting wasn’t bad, there were some good bits to it and some areas I’m not interested in. None of it was new to the game as all the functions were there before but it was nice to have it all in one place to go through and it might actually be something that I will get some benefit from as I often ignore too much in the inbox clicking through the game and am too lazy to spend time going through individual training and traits. Unlike the recruitment meetings that came in FM21 that got tedious and ignored I can see the staff meetings being useful.

As much as I found the first staff meeting useful we started getting them every week and I found that was too often as most things were about players training weak feet, players that should take set pieces and staff signing recommendations so I’ve changed it to be every 2 weeks and actually I may even change it to monthly if 2 weekly is too often, the meeting will be useful but not every week. (It ended up going monthly later in the season which I found was much better)

We had a few pre-season friendly games and I started off playing a cautious direct 4-2-3-1 as the players we have aren’t the best so I think a more cautious approach might be better and we struggled to a 1-1 draw against a worse team than us in non league Heather St John’s and then lost 2-1 against League One side Shrewsbury which wasn’t too bad but then had another poor 1-1 draw against another non league team in Hinckley.

In those games it was evident that we are going to have problems with the lack of players we have as an injury and tiredness didn’t give us many options. For the next game I tried a formation I’ve never used before going with a 3-5-2 formation playing positive with an emphasis on slow possession, not to use the new wide defenders as I don’t really want them going forward but more so that I had no full backs available and we got our first win and a good performance beating lower non league side Atherstone 2-0 but it didn’t work aswell against Conference South side Bath who beat us 2-1.

Overall pre-season wasn’t the best with 1 win, 2 draws and 2 losses but it has given me a better idea of who in my squad may be decent and I’ve tried out a couple of potential tactics but I’ve no idea how we might do in the league, I’m thinking it’s going to be very difficult and need to hope we can keep players injury free.

I also made a mistake in pre-season because I didn’t realise I needed to make sure to keep hold of the players we do have as early on we lost a midfielder and defender who were on non contract deals so they left for nothing. I have since given contracts to everyone I can until the end of the season but there are still a few that won’t talk to me as they only signed their non contract deals in June before I took over.

Ahead of the first game of the season I looked at the season preview and we are predicted to finish 24th with odds of 200/1 for the league so as I thought we are the worst team in the league so it’s going to take the experience of all my years of playing FM to get through this first season with such a small squad and not being able to bring anyone in.

My managerial debut was an away game against Halifax Town who were relegated from the league above last year and are one of the favourites for promotion so we are starting off with a hard game, although I doubt we will have any easy games this year. I decided to go with the 3-5-2 tactic but with a cautious mentality and we rode our luck at the start of the game but took the lead in the 39th minute as my attackers worked the ball nicely into the box to score but they got back into it with an equaliser in the 43rd minute but just 1 minute later we took the lead again via a penalty to lead at half time. The second half however was not as good as the first as poor defending cost us and they scored 3 goals all from crosses where their strikers were unmarked for 2 of them and the 3rd my defender didn’t bother jumping for the ball and stood and watched their striker. We didn’t do too bad but those poor defensive performances for the goals didn’t look good and if that’s the standard of my defenders I’m losing some optimism.

My home debut was next and we were playing Flyde who are the clear odds on league favourites and won their first game 5-0, they are also a professional club which it’s probably a rarity at this level. I stuck with the same tactics with one enforced change to an injured left winger. It only took then 4 minutes to take the lead with a goal from a corner and then they got 2 more in the first half which we could have defended better. At half time I switched tactics to try a 4-3-3 counter attack and we done better in the second half as we only conceded 2 more to lose 5-0. We were better in the second half as we created more chances but we never really looked like scoring and it showed the gulf between us and the best team in the league.

I don’t quite understand some of the data yet but looking at the new pass map in the last game it seems like it shows average position too and if that’s the case it shows my midfielders and strikers quite bunched up which may be a problem. The overall match momentum shows we did do better shortly after half time after I made the tactical changes but it swung back to them late on when they got their 2 goals. The data also showed we weren’t shooting very well when we did get shots so I think there’s a lot we need to improve on but we were against a much better team. We should start getting data into the data hub soon as I think we get it after 3 games played so it’ll be interesting to see what that shows and if there’s anything useful to help us play better.

I knew it was going to be hard this season but I didn’t realise the start we had was against some of the better sides as our 3rd game is against Spennymoor who also show as one of the league favourites, they’ve won and drawn their first 2 games and we have to go away to their ground. I started the game with the counter attacking 4-3-3 that we played in the second half of the last game as we seemed to do better. The first half was horrible as we conceded from a cross and a corner, it seems most goals we concede comes from a header via corners and crosses. Worse was our overall performance as although the goals could have been defended better they had 14 shots, 7 on target and 71% possession while we had 2 shots with 1 of those on target. The tactic clearly wasn’t working but I gave the team a bollocking at half time and then 15 minutes in the second half but nothing changed so in the 60th minute I changed back to the 3-5-2 tactic with a positive mentality and made a couple of subs to fit the system better and the team picked up and started creating more and pulled a goal back in the 74th minute from a corner and then after a couple of good chances we equalised on the 85th and picked up a good draw and our first point of the season.

The match momentum information we get in FM22 is one I’m liking after the first few games as I can clearly see where things change and in the last game it’s all Spennymoor until the point in the second half where I made the changes and then momentum swung in our favour for most of the time remaining which is good to see as shows my changes worked.

Sticking with the 3-5-2 we played Southport at home who are mid table and a team predicted to finish 17th so this may be a game to see whether we can compete against teams predicted to maybe struggle and we played much better in this game than the others as we created 23 chances with 11 on target and an xG of 1.27 which is the most creative we’ve been so far but we only scored once and wasted too many chances while Southport scored from a direct free kick and a good finish after we gave the ball away and we lost 2-1 but I thought we played better and a defeat is very harsh on the players, we also lost our left winger to injury to make it worse and he’s out for 6 months with a broken ankle, I do have 1 more left winger in the squad but that’s it.

Our next game was a game that may have been winnable as we were away to Ashton Utd who haven’t won either and only have 2 points so I was hoping for our first win and it looked like we might get it as we scored in the 22nd minute and looked to be holding on despite them dominating but we conceded from another corner in the 80th minute and we drew 1-1. It’s a good result considering they battered us with 30 shots, 14 on target and an xG of 2.43 while we had 6 shots and 2 on target so a draw was the least that they deserved so while we got a good point it wasn’t a good performance.

5 games into the season and we have 3 defeats and 2 draws and sit second bottom, we aren’t the worst team as Nuneaton Boro have lost all 5 of their games and although it’s early there’s only 3 points between us and 16th but if we don’t get a win soon I can see a gap opening up between us and the teams above.

Our 6th game of the season had another change of tactics as I’ve not really settled on how I want to play but before the game we had some analyticals in the inbox and they basically said we were shite defensively as the club were showing as the worst in all the defensive scatter graphs so I decided to try out the counter attacking tactic again in a 4-3-3 dm formation but I made a couple of tweaks. We were at home to Kettering who had lost 3 and won 2 of their games and in the first minute they took the lead via a penalty but in the 25th minute one of my tweaks before the game worked out as I instructed the keeper to kick long over the top of their defenders and that’s what he did and my striker through on goal equalised. We then took the lead in the 59th minute through a goal that pleased me as I had created a short throw in routine and that’s how we scored by playing it short to a player who crossed it in for my winger to score. The game got nervy but we got a 3rd goal which I was also happy with as it was a good counter attacking move that came from another tweak I made as I changed my centre backs to no nonsense defenders and one of them hoofed it forward quickly and it fell to my midfielder who quickly played my striker through on goal to score again. I relaxed a little then but it didn’t last long as we conceded a poor goal straight from kick off and I got nervous again and started going more defensive but was pleased to see the final whistle and we picked up our first win of the season. It wasn’t the best performance, we had less possession and let them have 29 shots but we limited a lot of those to long range and only 2 were clear cut chances which they scored from but it was an effective performance which tactically worked well.

I was hoping the win might spur us onto a good run but we lost 1-0 in the next game to 2nd placed Gloucester which they dominated us as 1-0 could easily have been 6 or 7 nil as they had 33 shots and 16 on target. We did better in the next game as it was more even but we still lost 2-1 to Boston.

We did get our second win at the club but not in the league as we got a good 3-0 win at home to no league Matlock in the FA Cup second qualifying round which was also our first clean sheet of the season in our 9th game but it was another win that didn’t lead to better results as back to the league and we lost again, albeit in a game we didn’t deserve to lose as Gateshead beat us 3-2 with a 91st minute penalty in a game we were winning 2-1 for most of the game.

Our next game was our best performance of the season as we played Buxton who were just above us in the league. We dominated the game from start to finish, had more shots and a higher xG but at half time we were losing 2-0 as they scored from 2 shots that had a combined xG of 0.15, we did get a second half goal but lost 2-1. Based on the stats we should have won as we were clearly the better team but it was another game that showed how rubbish my players are as they made lots of mistakes defensively and wasted good chances to score.

We played well again in the next game away to no league Nantwich in the FA Cup third qualifying round but more defensive mistakes cost us 2 goals as we conceded in the first half then equalised in the second. The game went to extra time and we took the lead again but a late defensive mistake let their player score and we went on to lose on penalties.

I decided to try changing tactics again, we have been playing a bit better with the counter attacking but defensively we just aren’t very good, we’re also not good in attack either but I’ve decided to try a 4-2-4 short passing tactic that I’m hoping will score more goals than we concede and maybe the shorter passing will cut out some errors losing possession too easy. I’ve also put a standard defensive line so if we do lose the ball in defence they should be further away from our net than what we were playing and I’ve lowered our line of engagement to much lower and then put on a more often trigger press. The idea is that we let them have the ball in their half but when they get into our half we press them quickly and with the line of engagement closer to our defensive line they shouldn’t have much room to play through our press. Then when we win the ball back I want us to keep possession and slowly work the ball into the box and hopefully score, in my head it might work but with the severe lack of quality we have I’m not sure if any tactic will work.

We were away to 5th place Brackley so maybe not the best game to try a new tactic but the first half worked perfectly as we had 70% possession which meant they only created 3 shots and 1 on target, if they don’t have the ball then my defence can’t mess up and gift them any goals. We also created 5 shots and had 4 on target scoring 1 goal, so far so good. The second half the tactic continued to work as although we didn’t look like scoring neither did they and we limited them to 2 shots, unfortunately in the 86th minute their right back hit a poor shot from a few yards out from the corner of the area which went straight at my keeper who let it roll under his body and they equalised so as good we were and as good as the tactic worked we threw away the win with a mistake from the keeper, a draw is a good point but an individual mistake has cost us a much better and much needed win.

Our next game at home to 17th Curzon is a game we really need to be winning and our tactics seemed to be working again as we limited their chances and created a lot ourselves as we controlled the game but we couldn’t score and then they got a penalty from a corner in the 65th minute and scored it, that was their 4th shot of the game and 1st on target as they never looked like scoring, we continued to create and miss chances and then conceded again from a 93rd minute corner and lost 2-0. We had 25 shots in that game but only had 7 on target as my strikers couldn’t finish their dinner never mind a clear chance to score. It’s another game where we played better but again poor finishing and poor defending cost us, there’s only so much I can do with the tactics but without the players we are heading for relegation and this save could be over in 1 season.

After 12 games we have 6 points and are in 22nd, it’s not too bad yet as 19th are only 3 ahead of us so we can still get out of the relegation places but 18th are 6 ahead so we are in danger of falling away from most of the league, as long as we can stay close to safety then we have a chance.

If the last game was a game I thought we had to win well this next game we have to win, no doubt about it we can’t lose this game and a draw will be poor as we play at home to bottom of the table Nuneaton Boro who have won 1 and drawn 1 and are the only club to have conceded more than us. The game started well as we created the better chances and limited them like the last couple of games but this time we got a penalty in the 23rd minute and took the lead and then the game was made easier as they had a man sent off a few minutes later. With an extra man we dominated possession and controlled the game and we doubled our lead in the 67th minute which calmed my nerves but 1 minute later with their only shot on target they scored from a nothing shot from quite far out that my keeper should really have saved, I really hope we get a better youth keeper to replace the rubbish one we have. At 2-1 we still dominated but they had the odd highlight and I thought they were going to score and then we got a 88th minute penalty which would have sealed the win but we missed and I thought the worst when they got a 94th minute free kick but thankfully they missed the target and we won 2-1 for only our second league win. The win also takes us out of the relegation places into 19th but only on a slightly better goal difference to 20th and 21st.

Things got worse after that win as we lost the next 3 games 3-0, 2-0 and then 3-1 in a game we took the lead. Performances again weren’t the worst but more errors cost us goals and more misses cost us getting goals and then the last game our only striker that had scored this season with 7 of our 11 goals got himself injured for 9 weeks which isn’t going to help us.

Our form picked up a little bit after those defeats as we got back to back draws, the first was 1-1 against York who were second, it was a lucky one as they scored in the 25th minute and we had a man sent off in the 81st but we somehow didn’t concede again and scored a 89th minute equaliser. The next draw wasn’t as good as we drew 2-2 with struggling Bradford PA as we took the lead twice but let in some poor goals.

Our last game in November was the FA Trophy second round and we were out classed by fellow league team Blyth and lost 2-0 which puts us out of all cups, not that I care this season about a cup run.

December started with a massive win against top of the table Telford, I didn’t expect anything other than a defeat based on recent form but we were the better team all game and scored 2 very good goals in the 21st and 56th minutes. The win was much needed as although we are still in the relegation places after 19 games it has put us only 1 point behind 20th which is the last safe spot but we are worryingly 5 points behind 19th so I’m conscious that I don’t want that gap to get much bigger.

I thought we were getting back to back wins for the first time as we were leading against Chester for a long time but they got a late penalty and we drew 1-1.

Afterwards we got the youth intake preview which I’ve been looking forward to all season and based on the poor quality of players already at the club I was expecting we might get something good predicted and I have to say I’m disappointed. The preview screen is different this year and shows a rating for each position, a star rating of the intake and a distribution of positions. To start with the star rating is half a star out of 5, I didn’t expect a good intake but I hoped it would be good compared to the current squad. Then based on the ratings for each position we have an A for attacking midfielders which says we have one we should keep an eye on so that’s positive but that’s where it ends as the next best is an E for goalkeepers which says they are poor then the rest of the positions are rated F so we might get a good attacking midfielder and that’s all. Regarding the intake distribution we are getting 2 strikers, 2 left winger, 2 right wingers, an attacking midfielder, 3 central midfielders, 3 centre backs, a left back, a right back and a keeper so at least we will be getting players to bulk out the squad even if they are going to be rubbish.

We picked up another 1-1 draw next which put us on a 5 game unbeaten run in the league with 4 draws and a win but it ended in the next game losing 3-2 after being 2-1 up and conceding a late goal, we then got another draw before losing again to end 2022 on a run of 5 games without a win.

The games without a win extended into the New Year to 7 as we lost the first 2 games of January and we’ve started conceding more and creating less as it seems our possession football has stopped working, it doesn’t help that although my keeper has a good coach report and ok stats that he seems to be conceding a lot from long range shots that he should be saving.

We’ve now played 26 league games and are looking more in trouble as we have been in the relegation places now for a while and although our 17 points is only 2 behind safety 20th we are now 7 behind 19th and don’t look like getting a win so I need to look into changing things again.

Changing tactics for the umpteenth time this season I thought I would try a more attacking tactic, playing a 4-3-3, very wide with overlapping full backs, direct football with early crosses and shooting on sight. I want to see if we can get the ball quickly into the wide areas then get plenty of crosses into the box and if my players get the chance I want them to shoot. Basically I’m trying to see if we can score goals similar to how we concede them as most goals we concede seem to be from crosses or speculative long shots.

We tried the new tactic away to 10th placed Southport and we started off ok missing a couple of easy chances before going behind as they scored a 28th minute penalty but we equalised in the 33rd minute as a long shot deflected to my striker for a tap in and we took the lead a minute later from a cross and a header. Southport equalised in the 78th minute from another goal conceded from a corner but we went ahead again 2 minutes later from another cross across the ground and we went on to win 3-2. I was happy with the win and the tactical changes seemed to work although we let them have 33 shots, they had 13 on target and an xG of 3.22 so against a better team we could have lost, I was pleased that we created 14 shots with 7 on target which is more than we’ve created in the last few games. The win takes us out of the relegation places by 1 point but only 3 points ahead of second bottom.

For the first time this season we recorded back to back wins as we got a massive win beating Ashton Utd who are 22nd and were 3 points behind us so we’ve gained a 6 point lead over them. We’re still only 1 point outside relegation but have looked better in the last couple of games and I’ve noticed my now overlapping left back has picked up man of the match and two assists in both wins so that might be a good tactic to employ, he was previously played in the same role as an attacking wingback but had 4 assists in 22 games and now 4 in 2 when instructed to overlap.

I was hoping for 3 wins in a row as we had Kettering away next who were 21st in the league but it was postponed so instead our next game was 4th place Gloucester who beat us 1-0 which was followed up with a 2-1 loss to 16th Boston and then a 2-1 loss to Gateshead who were top of the table as we recorded 3 losses in a row which is much easier to do than win 3 .

Our next game was another game we couldn’t afford to lose as we played 21st placed Buxton who are a team that we have been swapping places with a lot between 20th and 21st and are currently 1 point ahead of them. The game got off to the perfect start as we scored in the 4th minute and then held on for 86 minutes as they dominated the game but were wasteful and we won 1-0 to go 4 points ahead of them and we have played a game less. After 32 games we are 20th and 4 points clear of relegation but Kettering who are below us have a game in hand. We are 7 ahead of 23rd and 6 behind 19th, it could come down to 2 between us, Buxton and Kettering to go down but with 14 games still to play anything can happen and I’m not totally convinced by our performances to be sure of survival.

I made another tactical tweak for the next game, keeping the same instructions I decided that as everyone I’ve played this year on the left wing has been shite I put on a second striker instead so rather than having a left winger I played a target man in the middle and an offset advanced forward to the left of him, it’s a formation I sometimes used on FM21. We were playing at home to mid table Brackley and went a goal behind through another goalkeeper error but the target man I brought in equalised in the 33rd minute and my advanced forward scored in the 62nd and we got back to back victories again. We needed that win too as Buxton won their game so we maintained our 4 point lead over them and Kettering only drew so we extended our lead over them to 6 points.

We play Kettering away next and have another chance of getting 3 wins in a row but I’ll be happy with a draw too so they don’t close the gap. Unfortunately with the game being rescheduled it’s on a Tuesday so my players are still tired from the weekend game and we don’t have anyone else to rotate into the squad so most of the team have to play half fit. The lack of fitness wasn’t too bad in the first half as we were the better side but couldn’t score and it showed in the second half as my players were dead on their feet late on and in the 92nd minute my defender missed his header and the ball fell to their striker for a tap in and they won 1-0. We were the better side all game and a draw would have been ok given we weren’t fit but losing to an injury time goal because of another individual mistake is hard to take.

We still remain in 20th but are only 3 ahead of Kettering now and they have a game in hand although we have a +6 better goal difference over them so they can’t go ahead at the moment if they win their game in hand but that could change.

Kettering won their game in hand before our next game but we had a good chance of picking up another win as we were away to bottom side Nuneaton who have easily been the worst team and when we took a 21st minute lead I thought we would go on to score more but despite having 18 shots we were again wasteful and it cost us as we gave away another penalty in the 82nd minute which they scored and we drew 1-1. It was their only shot on target as they didn’t look like getting a goal. Kettering drew their game too so we are still outside relegation but we should have won. It was another defensive error giving the penalty away, errors are what’s costing us too many points.

We got back to winning ways as we beat the second placed side South Shields at home 2-1 and then got a big 1-0 win away to Curzon Ashton who were above us but those 2 wins have taken us above them and into 19th. We have now won 4, drawn 1 and lost 1 in the last 6 games which I would have thought would have put us clear of relegation but while we are one of the best in form teams in the league the number one form team is Kettering who also keep winning so we remain on the same points as them with Curzon Ashton being 1 behind us.

Our next game was our worst of the season away to Guiseley who are only 15, they took the lead in the second minute and we equalised in the 11th before they went ahead again in the 19th. We had the chance to go level again but missed a 21st minute penalty then we collapsed in the second half and conceded 4 goals, nearly all 6 of their goals were long range efforts my keeper should have done better with. Luckily Kettering and Curzon Ashton both lost so we didn’t fall behind them.

We have 7 games to play as do Kettering and we both have 36 points Curzon have 8 games to play and are on 35 points then Buxton are 22nd with 32 points and 7 games to play then the bottom 2 are adrift, 18th are 7 ahead of us so I think it’s 2 from 4 clubs to go down, if we can match the other 2 teams we could survive but not if we play like the last game.

We lost heavily again losing 5-2 in the next game and it was more long range efforts and poor goalkeeping, it’s a shame I’ve only got 1 keeper at the club otherwise he would be dropped. We ended the game with a lot more shots, more on target and much better xG but lost by 3 goals. Kettering and Curzon lost again which was good but Kettering have now gone ahead of us with a better goal difference following conceding 11 goals in 2 games.

I think my players want to be relegated as whenever we start playing well with a new tactic after a few games they play shite again and in the next game against top of the table York it took 6 minutes for my defender to make a mistake and miss their header and we went a goal behind and then a few minutes later we conceded from another corner as my players don’t know how to jump. We did pull a goal back in the 11th minute but another free header this time from a cross gave York a third in the 25th minute and then a 4th header by a totally unmarked player at the back post went in just before half time and then we scored again in first half stoppage time. Nothing else happened in the second half and we lost 4-2 made worse by Kettering drawing and Curzon Ashton winning dropping us into the relegation places again for the first time 14 games.

We got a 1-0 win next against Bradford PA which took us out of relegation but then threw away a point against Telford after getting back to a 2-2 draw we conceded 2 late goals from headers again but at least the other teams lost and we remain 1 point ahead of 21st.

In the middle of April on the 11th with 4 games to play and later than I hoped, we got our youth intake. The preview said we would get 1 good attacking midfielder so I was pleasantly surprised to see we had 5 players with 5 star potential, 3 with 4.5 stars, 3 with 4 stars and a few others. The attacking midfielder has the best current ability with 2 stars and the rest have half a star so maybe the preview is based on current ability rather than potential or maybe the potential is wrong as my coaches aren’t very good. To be honest though, coach ratings are based against my current squad which isn’t good and none of the youth players look like they will be good but I’ve given them all contracts as I need players in my squad and hopefully a few will do better than what I currently have.

Out of the youth intake I promoted 5 to the first team to add cover in areas we lacked and a couple played in the next game as we drew 0-0 with Chester and some other players in the next game as we lost 2-1 to Blyth. 2 games left to play as we are still 1 place outside relegation by 1 point more than the next 2 teams and 1 point behind 19th.

Our best chance to guarantee safety was the next game at home to 17th Chorley as it was a winnable game but after a close 0-0 for 90 minutes they got a injury time penalty and scored so we lost 1-0. The teams around us also lost so we are outside relegation going into the last game but we could have been mathematically safe had we got a win.

The last game of the season was away to 8th place Alfreton who have just missed out on the playoffs so have nothing to play for. Kettering 1 point above us are at home to 3rd place Gloucester, Buxton 1 point below us are away to 5th place Spennymoor and Curzon Ashton also 1 point below us are away to 12th Halifax. If we get lucky the teams below us will lose and our result won’t matter but I’d rather not rely on other teams losing and hopefully we can pick up a final win of the season.

In the last game of the season we were rubbish and lost 2-0 and all through the game looking at other scores it showed Kettering and Curzon were losing but Buxton were drawing so the table showed us being relegated as we have a worse goal difference. At full time I resigned myself to relegation and the inevitable sacking but the team talk at the end had my assistant recommend I say congratulations on surviving relegation so I assumed Buxton must have conceded late on to lose. After the game we got confirmation in the inbox that we had survived and I was relieved as it’s been a long, hard season. Going to look at the Buxton score to see how they lost and I noticed the table showed that Buxton had played a game less than us and when checking their fixtures it shows they didn’t play in their game, it wasn’t postponed but they play it on the following Tuesday so we haven’t actually guaranteed survival as it depends on the result of their game and I’m not sure what happened and why their game isn’t on the last day of the season when all through our game the latest score and latest table showed them playing so now I need to wait a few days to see if we survive and the inbox message I’ve got is lying. I’m guessing it might be a Beta bug.

In the end Buxton lost their game 2-0 and we did survive by 1 point, it was possibly my hardest season on Football Manager given the lack of quality, lack of players and not being able to sign anyone but it was actually similar to my first season with Lancaster on FM21 where we survived on the last day too but although I could sign players on that save I couldn’t sign quality players.

Overall after 46 games we won 10, drew 10 and lost 36 while we scored 52 goals and conceded 87. A good season in the end but I needed all my experience to survive and I used 13 different tactics and formations to do it with some inconsistent results but we did it. The highest we got in the league was 19th and we spent most of the season either 21st or 20th as we couldn’t find any consistency but 20th is what I would have taken at the start of the season.

Next season will be just as hard but with the youth players we got we will have a bigger squad so I can at least rotate a bit more but we will still be lacking quality, hopefully we can do a bit better and hope for a better youth intake to improve further.

This has been a long first season of ups and more downs but it’s been enjoyable, I prefer the struggle to having an easier save with a bigger club.

I’ll be back with an update after next season where hopefully we can survive before the last game of the season.

– Sparko Marco

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