For my FM22 save I’ve started it in the Beta and hopefully like FM21 there won’t be any game breaking bugs and I can continue it into the full game when it goes live on 9th November 2021.
My save this year is my hardest ever as I attempt to start at the bottom of England and progress a team into English Premiership and Champions League winners, that team will be Barwell and we are now into season 2.
Our first season as a struggle as we hovered in and around the relegation places all season, tried 13 different tactics and formations, had some good periods and even more poor periods but eventually survived relegation on the last round of games although for some reason we had to wait a few days after our last game and hope the team below us lost as they played days later than everyone else and thankfully they did.
This season will be just as hard but while we started our first season with a small squad of rubbish players with some positions only having 1 player, this year we start with a slightly bigger squad of rubbish players as we got our first youth intake which after giving them all a contract we now have a few players for each position so I can at least rotate a bit more this season, not that it will make it any easier to win but we will be able to cope better with injuries and fitness.
Pre-season is a bit quicker not having to scout and sign players so we quickly got into the friendly games and I decided to start the season using the same tactic we ended with last year as we did have some good results with it late in the season. The tactic is a 4-3-3 with 3 central midfielders, 2 attacking wingers and 1 striker which using intructions to focus down the wings with attacking wingbacks that overlap crossing early and I’ve instructed the team to shoot on sight. I found that last year we conceded a lot from crosses and speculative long shots so I tried the same and it seemed to work.
Although I can’t sign any new players in this save except from my youth intake I can renew contracts of players that start at the club and that’s what I done at the start of this season and gave anyone that was useful last season a new contract for this year too, I want to phase in my youth players where I can to become starting players but I still need the current players to fill out the squad and I don’t get have good enough youth players to replace my better players.
In pre-season I did also ask the board to improve facilities and recruitment to try and improve our youth intakes but as I expected they rejected it as we have no money, I’ll ask whenever I get the option to but it might take a few years and a good cup run to get any money to improve anything at the club. The board did however agree for me to go on a coaching course so this season I will be completing my first coaching badge which will improve my coaching ability in game, I could do with getting better coaches too to improve our overall coaching ability but I’ve got the best I can find at the moment and even those I can’t offer new contracts too as they want more than we can afford so I’m hoping they stay on non contract terms and don’t get pinched by other clubs.
Shortly after the coach contracts ended we lost our head of youth who was quite good for this level, he was on £180 a week, he wanted £220 and the most I was allowed to offer was £170 so I’m not surprised he turned down a pay cut and went to league rivals Guisely for £325 a week. I found a much better one that wanted to join us but he also wanted £625 a week, another good one wanted £700. In the end I got one that was ok as he has 18 determination and Driven personality which I’d like some youth players to maybe get from him but he’s not the best available though he is one of the best that we can afford.
We had a few pre-season friendly games and I got all my youth intake into the first team and made sure they all got a game or part of a game to see which I thought could step up this season. We started with a game against a lower no league team Coventry Sphinx and the whole starting team were my youth players and they won 2-1 but that was the only win of pre-season as we lost against Atherstone 1-0 who we beat 2-0 last pre-season, we drew 1-1 against Darlington which was a good result as they are in the league above, we then drew 2-2 with no league Heather who we drew 1-1 with last pre-season and we lost 2-0 against Everton u23s.
I thought we played ok in the friendly games and created a lot of chances even if we didn’t win many, a few of the youth players looked ok and my goal keeper from last season was once again rubbish even though his coach report, stats and ability all show he’s good at this level he kept making mistakes, in one game I took him off in the 27th minute after fumbling the ball which lead to the opening goal.
We started the league away to Hednesford who have just been promoted to this league and the season preview shows that although they have just been promoted they have a better chance than us as they are predicted to finish 15th at 25/1 for promotion while we have improved since last year as we are not predicted the worst team but we are predicted to finish second bottom with odds of 150/1 for promotion which I think is accurate. Especially as when looking at some peoples screen shots on the forums that are doing the same challenge as I am, the 40 points we got last year would have seen us relegated on a lot of their saves.
The starting 11 for the opening game had a youth keeper which may back fire as my other keeper is supposed to be better even if he does make mistakes, then I’ve brought in a youth centre back that’s 6ft 7in and although he is slow and maybe not the best I’m hoping that height might stop some of the goals we concede from crosses and maybe he can get a goal from a corner, I’ve brought in the best youngster from the intake who was an attacking midfielder but I’m training him as a deep-laying playmaker as I think he looks better for that role and both wingers are youth players because last year’s wingers were rubbish so they can’t do any worse.
The first game confirmed that we are in for another long season as we were rubbish against a newly promoted team as we lost 2-0 as they scored 2 long range goals that had a low xG but they were good shots into the corners, more worryingly was we didn’t create anything and our 11 shots had a 0.27 xG so didn’t deserve to score.
Our second game was at home to Kidderminster and we played worse than the first game as they battered us and it was only my youth keeper playing well keeping us in the game but he couldn’t keep everything out and in the 66th minute they scored from their 16th shot on target and then 2 minutes later scored with their 17th shot on target, both were poor defending. We pulled a goal back in the 84th minute but lost 2-1, every outfield player was rubbish as Kidderminster had 33 shots with 19 on target compared to our 5 shots and 3 on target. My keeper got a 7.9 rating while the best outfield player got 6.4.
I need to have another rethink about the team and tactics as we can’t play like the first 2 games and expect to pick up points. For the next game away to Chester I tried a 4-4-1-1 tactic that I used several FM versions ago in the lower Scottish leagues where the emphasis was on very short, very slow passing while defending deep, disciplined, no dribbling, basically trying to just minimise any risk of giving the ball away and controlling the game with the ball. It didn’t work as we were again shite and lost 3-0 but the goals came from a long shot into the top corner then two headers from set pieces, it was a similar story to last season.
For the next game came yet another change to my tactics. I wondered before the game whether I’m being too harsh on my players abilities as I know they are rubbish so I play more defensive, passive tactics but we end up giving the opposition too many shots and we don’t create enough so I thought I would try a tactic that brought success on FM21 and played the short passing, positive tactic I used which employs a high line and focusses down the wings in a 4-2-3-1 formation. We were at home to newly promoted FC United of Manchester who are predicted to finish mid table and we were much, much better as we dominated the game, created lots of chances as we had 17 shots, 9 of those were on target and we had an xG of 1.84 while also having 56% possession, all stats were much better than the previous games. Defensively we also limited them to only 9 shots with 5 on target and an xG of 0.74 which is also the best so far this season, it was helped by them also going down to 10 men in the 47th minute but we were the best team before that happened. Unfortunately what didn’t change from the previous games is that we still lost the game as they scored a 79th minute goal from a corner, yet another header from a set piece. We should have scored but their keeper got a 8.2 rating and made some saves that looked impossible to do, I can’t complain about our performance this game but the result wasn’t good and it leaves us with 4 defeats in 4 games and 3rd bottom of the league as 2 other teams have also lost all their games but have worse goal difference.
Then 3 days later we had a tired team and had to play against early league leaders Gloucester. I rotated the squad to try and player fitter players and like the last game we played better and limited their chances but also like the last game we conceded a goal from a corner and we lost 1-0 again.
There’s a familiar pattern emerging in our games now as in the next game against 2nd Hereford we went a goal behind in the 8th minute from a header at a corner, I’m not sure what to do to stop them, I don’t usually mess around with defensive set piece routines and never have a problem. For this game I also brought back in last year’s keeper as he complained about not playing so I told him I would give him a chance and he was at fault for the second goal as he couldn’t hold onto a header that was straight at him and he parried it into a unmarked opposition player for a tap in so he’s getting dropped again and probably won’t play again unless my youth keeper gets injured. We ended up losing 2-0 but stats wise it was a close game, we aren’t playing too bad with this new tactic but we can’t score and concede stupid goals.
6 games, 6 defeats, 1 goals scored and 11 conceded is the worst start I’ve ever had on any Football Manager save, we’re not bottom but we already have a 6 point gap to safety.
Next up is a team that at the start of the season I would have been optimistic of beating as it’s Leamington who have just been promoted and are predicted to finish bottom below us, however going into the game they have won 2 and drawn 3 of their 6 games and only conceded 4 so I don’t fancy our chances against them, plus we are away from home. Playing the game I couldn’t see why they are doing better than us as we were the better side but were wasteful before taking the lead from an indirect free kick. We continued being the better side but they scored from long range into the top corner with their first shot on target in the 79th minute and we drew 1-1.
We at least picked up our first point of the season and including last year ended a run of 9 consecutive defeats but doesn’t end our run of 12 without a win. It should have been a win though as we deserved to win but there’s not much we can do about these top corner long range shots, at least it wasn’t another header from a corner or cross.
At home to Brackley next and we lost again 1-0 and again it was a headed goal from a corner which seems the favourite way for us to lose this year. We’ve also not scored from open play yet in 8 games and this game we had a 1.37 xG and one player managed to hit the cross bar from no more than 1 yard out from goal. Suffice to say we deserve to be bottom of the league, the first time since I took over that we’ve been rock bottom, as they say though the only way now is up, I just can’t see how we are going to do it unless our luck changes.
We have a chance of a confidence booster next as we play Matlock, who aren’t in a league, in the FA Cup second qualifying round. We played the same team in this round last season and beat them 3-0 so I’m hoping for a similar win that might kick start our season. Just like last year we scored 3 goals again and won though it wasn’t easy but we got our first goal through open play as we scored in the 20th minute but then kept wasting good chances and I thought we were going to throw it away but we scored a 84th minute penalty, then conceded straight away before my best youth intake player scored his first goal for the club with a long range effort and we won 3-1, let’s see if that result can spur us on in the league, winning against them last season didn’t help us.
The cup win did nothing to help in the league as we lost again against Telford who were just outside relegation which has put us 8 points adrift for safety now. We conceded 3 goals via 3 headers from 3 crosses, it’s a consistent way that we concede and it was similar last season too, I’m starting to wonder if it is just my players that are shite or of there is a bug somewhere in the Beta as it’s happened all too often, if it’s not a header from a cross it’s a header from a corner or a long range effort into the top corner.
We did pick up our second win of the season and 2nd in 3 games but it wasn’t a league game as we beat Felixstowe 1-0 away in the FA Cup third qualifying round which means we’ve got further than we did last season. We should have scored more as the goal we got came from a corner while in open play we just kept missing chances again as has been happening in all our games this year, we had 23 shots but only 4 on target which is really bad.
We had a league game now that we had to win, no doubt about it anything less wouldn’t be good enough as we played at home to Warrington who were 8 points above us in the final relegation places so we had to close the gap. I said earlier we might need our luck to change and in the 22nd minute they had a man sent off and then they had another man sent off in the 73rd minute and it took until the 81st minute to finally break them down as we got our first league goal of the season from open play and we doubled our total league goals scored as we got a 93rd minute goal from long range.
It’s taken 10 league games but we’ve got our first league win and now have 4 points which has moved us off the bottom by 1 point and we are the last club to record a league victory this year. We are still 5 points from safety so we could do with this being the start of a better run.
We were back in FA Cup action and had Newport from the league above at home but as we had a league game midweek I decided to rotate by team, something which I couldn’t do last year, and they got a 0-0 draw but that meant a replay which came straight away midweek as my league game got moved. I decided to play my strongest team for the replay seeing as I had rested them for mid week and we took the lead through a penalty in the 18th minute but in the 26th minute they equalised with a header from a corner. We took the lead again just after half time and were comfortable until the 91st minute when they equalised through a long range shot from about 35 yards that went under my keeper. Then a few minutes into extra time they scored again from yet another header from a corner, it’s more of the same goals conceded and it’s cost us a place in the FA Cup proper rounds as we lost 3-2.
Back in the league and we had another must win game at home to Bradford PA who were 22nd and 1 point ahead of us. I hadn’t realised we had a winnable game coming up otherwise I would have rested my best players in the cup game so I had to rotate the squad and played some players I’d rather not have played but I needed fit players and we got kind of lucky as my attacking midfielder got injured early on so I brought on a second striker who then set up two goals for his strike partner and we came from a goal down to win 2-1.
That’s back to back victories in the league against relegation rivals which have taken us up to 3rd bottom with 7 points but still 5 points from 20th but it’s potentially the start of our come back to close the gap.
We seem to have turned a corner and found some better form as after back to back victories we got a 1-1 draw against mid table Alfreton, then got our 3rd win of the season 2-1 against promotion chasing Flyde followed by a 2-2 draw to relegation contenders Altrincham and a 1-1 draw to Halifax who are in the play off places and then ended November with another draw against mid table Blyth 1-1. That meant we went the whole month without losing, although we also only got 1 win but a run in the league of 5 without defeat and 3 wins and 4 draws in the last 8 games over October and November has seen us move out of the relegation places for the first time this season as we now have 14 points from 17 games and are 1 point ahead of 21st. We could have done better too as 3 of the 4 draws we were leading and couldn’t hold onto the win but any points are good.
December started with a rubbish performance and defeat in the FA Trophy second round away to no league Ashton Utd where we should have done better. In the league though our unbeaten run continued as we drew 2-2 at home to Chorley who are mid table but it highlighted a problem we’ve had all season as our second goal came from a striker that scored his first of the season after 20 hours of football without a goal and my other striker was put through on goal in the final minute and only had the keeper to beat but despite having 14 finishing he blasted it over from about 10 yards out and could have won us the game.
After that we got the youth intake preview and I was disappointed again as although it shows a 3 star average intake the best position shows a C rating for wingers with 1 winger looking a handy prospect but the rest of the positions being E, F or G and says the players aren’t good enough. Last season we only had half a star for the intake so 3 stars is better but we also got an A rating for one position so I’m expecting this season to be overall worse, hopefully it’s wrong but we will find out in April.
Our unbeaten run in the league ended with a 2-1 defeat away to Spennymoor and we went 6 games without a win as we drew again this time 1-1 away to Boston but we ended that winless run with another good win over relegation rivals as we beat Kettering 2-0 to jump over them and we ended December 1 place and 1 point again outside the relegation places. At the turn of the New Year we’ve played 21 games, we’ve only won 4, drew 7 and lost 10. Defensively we haven’t been too bad as our 30 goals conceded puts us mid table compared to other clubs but in attack our 20 goals is rubbish and only 3 clubs have scored less than we have.
The New Year started with old problems losing 3-1 to Southport as the players went from playing fantastic to playing awful and then done better as they came from 2 down to draw 2-2 with Hednesford but should have done better as they scored with their first 2 shots in the game, first a long range shot and the second a header from a corner and we wasted more than enough chances to win as we had 21 shots but only 7 on target which was more than the 6 overall shots they had.
It was more of the same in the next game at home to Guiseley as we went 2 down again from their first 2 shots and we ended the game with more shots, more on target and our 1.61 xG was much better than their 0.51 but we couldn’t score and lost 2-0 and to cap it off we lost our left back who is one of our better performers to injury for 3 months, his 8 assists is the most of any player so will be a miss, I do have a youth player I can bring in but he’s not the same quality.
We picked up another draw in our next game away to Kidderminster which was good as they’re second in the table, they scored first in the 76th minute then 1 minute later our best youth player scored a fantastic goal from the edge of the area and we got a good draw. He scored again in the next game as we got a 1-0 win over mid table Chester.
After those 2 good games we had 3 bad games losing 2-0 to FC United, Gloucester and Hereford though in all games we were the better side having more possession, more shots and a higher xG but it was more long shots and headers conceding goals and a lot more wasted chances as one striker has now gone 11 games without a goal and has 1 in 22 games and the other has gone 7 without a goal but only has 5 in 32 games. I would drop them but I don’t have anyone else to come in that would do any better and injuries have meant I’m playing a 4-2-4 formation with 2 up top, it’s working in a way as we are picking up some points but not as many as we should be, if we had 2 better strikers I think we could be mid table with the number of good chances they keep wasting.
We are still just outside relegation by 1 point but Leamington below us have played 1 game less and Kettering 3 points behind us have played 2 games less so they could both go ahead of us if they were to win their games in hand.
Although this year we’ve played ok and struggled to win we have had some good wins against teams around us at the bottom and we got another one as we played Leamington at home and beat them 3-1 in a game where both my strikers ended their goalless runs which has taken us 4 points ahead of them. Kettering also lost their game so we moved 6 ahead of them, those are the 2 teams below us that can overtake us so it’s good to get some gap ahead of them. Above us Telford have the same 27 points we have but a +2 better goal difference and Southport are 2 points ahead and then 17th Boston are 8 ahead so with 16 games left to play I think there’s currently the bottom 2 going down and then 5 teams battling to survive.
The win against Leamington was the only win February as we lost 2-0 in the next game before getting a couple of 1-1 draws but they were more draws we should have won, the first at home to Telford who are just above us in the league by 2 points where we did come from a goal down but were the better side and we were also the better side away to bottom of the league Warrington where we were leading until conceding in the 90th minute.
The last game I decided as my strikers weren’t scoring I would try converting my 6ft 7in youth intake centre back who hasn’t been playing much since the start of the season into a target forward, he didn’t do much in the last game but in the next game at home to South Shields he scored a 50th minute equaliser as we went a goal behind in the 4th minute as my players left their attacker unmarked at the back post at a free kick for a simple header. However it only took 4 minutes for them to walk into our box and their player was going no where when my defender decided to foul him and they scored from the penalty and won 2-1.
12 games to go and we are still 20th just outside relegation, all teams at the bottom have now played 34 games and we have a 3 point lead over Leamington and Kettering and are 2 behind Telford and 3 behind Southport.
My team are determined to make it harder for themselves as in the next game against 2nd bottom Bradford PA we took an early lead thanks to my defender thats training as a striker scoring his 2nd goal in 3 matches up front which is now 1 more than my other target forward has all season and it stayed 1-0 until the 93rd minute when we gave away another penalty which they scored and it was another draw and 2 more points dropped when we should have won. It didn’t even look like a penalty as my defender and their attacker ran side by side across the corner of the area, neither went to ground and it didn’t look like anything happened but the ref decided it was a pen, I’ve even replayed it in slow motion and I can’t see anything, the players may have touched each other but when that happened they and the ball were outside the area so any foul shouldn’t have been a pen, the referees in the Conference North are just as poor as some of the players as it’s not the first poor penalty we’ve had given against us.
Another 1-1 draw followed but at least this time we got lucky and didn’t deserve it as we played Alfreton at home who took the lead in the 15th minute and battered us but we held on and equalised in the 89th minute through an own goal, we haven’t had many of them scored for us but one just gave us a good point.
We didn’t get any luck in the next game as we lost 5-1 to Flyde, it’s the first time we’ve conceded 5 in a game this season as most games tend to be quite close on their scorelines but a defeat like that has been coming all season as not for the first time a team battered us and they had 24 shots with half of them on target and then we lost 3-1 at home to Altrincham who were 17th and was a game I was hoping we might pull off a win.
We are now on a 8 game winless run of 4 draws and 4 defeats which has put us back into the relegation places as we are level on points with Leamington but they have +7 better goal difference to us, it’s the first time we’ve been in the relegation places since 1st January. We need to pick up a win soon, we have 3 mid table teams, 3 promotion chasing teams, and 2 relegation battling teams left to play with 4 at home and 4 away and I think I need at least 9 points to match last year’s 40 but that might not be good enough this year.
I’ve gone back to the tactics drawing board and created myself 3 new tactics to try and see if one of them can gain us some points, all are in a 4-2-3-1 formation but depending on fitness might be changed to 4-2-4. The first is possession similar to we have been playing, the second is a direct counter attack and the third is a pressing Gengenpress type tactic that may be good when pushing for a goal. I may try starting with possession, if we take the lead change to counter attack, if we go behind change to pressing, I don’t usually change tactics like that in game but I need to try something new.
First up in the final run was 6th placed Halifax away and a good 0-0 draw took us back out of relegation by a point again. We then got our first win in 10 as we beat 12th placed Blyth at home, we took the lead with a 48th minute penalty and then I went counter attacking but we just invited pressure and they equalised in the 56th minute but going back to possession we scored again in the 85th minute and then missed a late penalty but still won which was much needed as it’s put us 3 points ahead of Leamington. Another away draw followed and it was 0-0 again this time against 13th Chorley which put us 4 clear of Leamington although they didn’t play so now have a game in hand but they went and lost it so 4 points ahead with 5 to play, it’s not over yet but if we can match their results and Ketterings who are also 4 behind then we can survive.
On the 10th April we got our youth intake and I wasn’t expecting much as the preview gave it a 3 star and no good ratings but when it’s came though it shows it’s an excellent intake and 4.5 stars with 9 players showing as elite talents and high potential which is better than I expected. None of them have more than half a star ability and their stats aren’t great but at least they have potential so maybe if I’m still at the club in a few years some could be good, hopefully some might also make decent squad players next year if needed. Same as last year I gave them all contracts to get numbers into the team as I’ll be losing some older rubbish players at the end of the season.
Our next game was at home to top of the table Spennymoor so I wasn’t expecting anything and they were the better side but we controlled possession without creating much while most of their shots were off target so we were heading to a good goalless draw but in the 86th minute one of my new youth attacking midfielders I had just brought on for his debut took a free kick out wide and my centre back got a headed goal and we won 1-0. A fantastic win which continued our good form, Leamington won so we needed it to keep us 4 ahead of them and Kettering lost giving us a 7 point lead over them and Southport have been sucked down as we have gone 1 point ahead of them into 19th which equals our highest position of the season.
After beating top of the table we couldn’t beat 2nd in the table as Guisely were too good for us as we lost 3-0 but other teams around us lost too and we picked up another point in the next game at home to Boston as we drew 1-1. 2 games left against teams below us and we have matched last season’s point tally of 40, with a 5 point gap to relegation we are in a good place now for survival.
Kettering away was a hard game but like a lot of games this season we gave them a lot of chances as they had 17 shots but they couldn’t score and we nicked a winner with our 3rd shot and 1st on target in the 83rd minute and won 1-0 which was enough to secure survival with 1 game left to play, our form over the last couple of months has been the best of the season and it’s come at the right time.
Our last game of the season at home to Southport who are 5 points below us is my 100th game as manager of Barwell, I wasn’t bothered about the result as we can’t finish lower than 19th though we can finish 18th but now I know its my 100th game it would be nice to get a win and that’s what I got as we won 2-1.
After 46 games we have won 10 which was the same as last year, drawn 16 which is 6 more than last year and lost 20 giving us 46 points and in the end we survived 10 points clear of relegation which might seem comfortable but it was a long hard season. We scored 42 goals which was 10 less than last year and we conceded 67 which was 20 less than last season so we done better defensively but weren’t as good in attack. After taking 10 games to get our first win I was expecting to get sacked or relegated but we had a decent spell in November and a much better spell in April and May getting the points we needed.
Overall a better season, and I think the team has improved with a few youth players coming though into the first team, our best player from last season’s intake played either attacking midfielder or left inside forward and finished our top scorer with 8 goals and our keeper who played 49 games for us was also a youth intake player from last year who played well and another 5 youth players played some part in our season.
Next season I’m hoping our form at the end of the season can continue in the new season and we may not be sucked into a relegation battle, I’ll try and keep the same team playing while maybe adding in a couple more youth players and hopefully that will be enough for a more comfortable season.
At the end of the season I was sorting out player and staff contracts and noticed that my contract ends at the end of the June so I asked the board for new one and they rejected it saying they couldn’t afford it so I’m not sure what’s going to happen regarding my management at the club, they best not get rid of me unless I stay on non contract terms like players do when out of contract.
A few days after telling me they couldn’t afford to give me a contract they offered me one which I accepted, maybe they just rejected me because I asked and their default response is to reject it like everything else I ask them for.
The board have also informed me that a planned stadium expansion to bring the stadium capacity up to league minimum has been blocked by the local council, we need 3,000 capacity but only have 2,500 with potential to expand to 5,000, hopefully that’ll be sorted soon as I’m not sure how long we can playing in a under capacity stadium, maybe we will need to rent somewhere else.
I’ll be back with an update after next season.
– Sparko Marco