Beta has been out a little over a week now and I’m into my 3rd season with Barwell doing a youth only challenge, seasons seem to be quicker with less time wasted looking for signings. In our first season we finished 20th, 1 place and 1 point outside relegation and last season we done slightly better finishing 18th, 3 places and 10 points ahead of relegation. Last season wasn’t easier than the first but we did confirm survival with 1 game to spare but it was looking bad when it took 10 games to get our first win.
This season I’m hoping to do better as we ended last season well with 4 wins, 3 draws and 1 defeat in the last 8 games and were the joint 4th best in form team so if we can start this year as we ended last then we should do better, however other clubs can strengthen their teams while we can’t. I do have a couple of youth players I plan to integrate into the first team squad which is like getting new players but they aren’t good players, just potentially better than some we have.
I leave my friendly game arrangements to my staff and the first one they have set up is the same team as the first last season Coventry Sphinx. Last season we won 2-1 while this season we have won 3-0 and I was pleased with some of the performances of the youth players albeit against a poor side that we should be beating. Our second friendly against Stourport was also a 3-0 win where I rotated the entire first 11 and gave some other youth players a game, it was another game we should win but I was still happy with the performance.
Out third friendly was against Heather St John’s and should give me a better indication of whether we have improved as while they aren’t a good team we’ve played them the last 2 pre-season drawing 1-1tm then 2-2 and this year we were much better winning 3-0 again.
Out last friendly was against Nuneaton Boro who were relegated from our league 2 seasons ago and in that season we lost and drew against them. In this friendly it wasn’t as comfortable as the others as we were losing 1-0 at half time but we scored 3 second half goals before they got a late goal and we got an even later goal and won 4-2.
We’ve had our best pre-season at the club winning all our friendly games and even though the teams were all lower than us we put in good performances and I was especially impressed with my defender turned striker that I’m still training as a target forward as he got 6 goals and an assist in 3 games including a hattrick in the last game and although it was a friendly it’s the first hattrick for any player in a match for us.
The friendly performances have got me optimistic going into the season and if we can play as well as we have we might not struggle as much as the last 2 season’s. Our first game in the league is against a newly promoted team, we’ve played promoted teams at the start of the last 2 season’s and lost both times and this year we start against Stafford full of confidence that we can start with a win. The season preview doesn’t look good though as we are predicted bottom with odds of 250/1 for promotion, when I checked as the new season ticked over there were 2 promoted teams below us, Reddich and St Ives but they must have made some good signings as we are now below them.
The game with Stafford started well and we soon controlled the game and took the lead in the 36th minute through a penalty, I hoped we would go on to get a second or more as we were creating plenty of chances but last seasons problems showed again as we wasted a lot of them but thankfully we didn’t regret the misses as we held on to get a 1-0 win and got our first win of the season in the first game which is much better than last season where it took 10 games to get a win.
Next up for our first away game was FC United and although we went a goal behind in the 36th minute we scored a deserved equaliser in the 74th to get a good draw but the next game at home to Chorley wasn’t as good as we again went behind in the first half but despite being the better side last seasons problems came back to haunt us as we wasted lots of chances and couldn’t score so lost 1-0.
Not a bad start with 4 points in 3 games early on, I’d be happy with averaging 4 points every 3 games as that would give us about 61 points and a lower mid table finish which is what I would like from this season, I’d take just surviving again but we need to start improving.
After a good pre-season scoring it seems like we’ve had a false start to the season as we’ve now lost back to back games as Gloucester beat us 2-0 but what was bad was we had 72% possession and created 10 shots which was twice as many as them but all 10 were off target and like the last defeat and like much of last season, poor finishing is costing us points again. The next game then made it clear that we are going to be fighting for survival again as we played Halifax at home and took the lead with a first half goal and looked like we would be heading for a second win but more issues from last season occurred as we first conceded via a header from a corner and then a late defensive mistake handed them the win and 3 defeats in a row has put us down to 19th and looking like relegation candidates.
If we are seeing ourselves as relegation candidates then the next game is an early relegation 6 pointer as we went away to South Shields who have drawn 2 and lost 3 so it was a game I didn’t want to lose and it looked like we would be when they scored in the 51st minute but we scored almost straight away to level the score and then we took the lead last in the 86th minute and won 2-1 to move us up to 17th.
We then got back to back league wins beating Curzon Ashton 1-0 before a humbling 4-1 defeat at home against 2nd top Boston. The defeat didn’t set us back too much as we beat AFC Rushden & Diamonds in the FA Cup second qualifying round, then beat Altrincham 1-0 in the league and got 3 wins in a row beating Nantwich in the FA Cup third qualifying round.
After a few good wins we were heading for a 4th in a row at home to Reddich in the league as we went 2 up in 20 minutes and then missed a penalty to go 3 up before half time. Unfortunately we regretted that pen miss as Reddich scored twice from back post headers including a 91st minute equaliser, we should have won easily but those headed goals from crosses seem to be an easy way for us to concede as teams score too many like against us, at least we didn’t lose and after 10 league games we have 4 wins and 2 draws giving us 14 points and we are currently 12th with a 6 point gap to relegation so although we could have been doing better we have got off to a good start.
We then had the FA Cup 4th qualifying round and have been drawn against once Premiership side Bradford who have found their way down to the Conference National. We were away from home so I expected a loss but we took the lead just after half time and although they scored in the 71st minute we got a draw and a replay at home. Better than the result though is because they are still a biggish team at this level there were just under 10,000 people in the ground and we picked up £100,000 in gate receipts which is massive for us as last year we got £138k all season and now this year we have £132k from gate receipts which is good seeing as we are still £200k in debt after getting that gate money.
The FA Cup reply game at home was going ok for 90 minutes as not much happened and it was heading for extra time until we conceded in the 90th minute and got knocked out.
Then we hit a really bad run of form, it’s been hit and miss all season but it started getting worse as we lost 2-0 at home to Alfreton conceding 2 late goals after wasting more than enough chances to score ourselves, then we got hammered 5-1 away to Hesnesford where we were awful, they weren’t great themselves but got 5 goals from an xG of 1.45 as we conceded more poor goals. That was followed by a 2-0 loss away to Chester as they scored twice from 3 shots but we didn’t create anything and never looked like scoring.
We did then picked up a win against 2nd bottom Brackley but it wasn’t a great performance as we got a good goal and defended well but weren’t that good overall and then we lost 5-1 again this time against Spennymoor as we gave the ball away 4 times that they scored from, 3 of which were long range goal of the season contenders and 1 was from a corner again, their 5 goals came from a 1.27 xG as it seems that teams can just score from anywhere against us during this poor run.
4 defeats in the last 6 games has dropped us closer to relegation as we are down in 17th only 4 points ahead of 21st, it’s still a good season so far as we haven’t been near relegation in league position but we’ve been too close on points and we need to turn our form around soon.
We had the perfect game to end our poor form as we played Darlington at home who were 3 points behind us so it was a good chance to get a win but it wasn’t to be as they took the lead in the 7th minute with their first attack, we equalised just after half time but they scored again in the 54th minute with a back post header from a cross. It was again a game lost through our own poor finishing as they scored twice from 5 shots and 3 on target but we only got 1 from 19 shots and 10 on target. We just can’t seem to score, I converted a defender to a target forward and he was brilliant in pre-season but hasn’t scored yet in 17 games including subs appearences and was dropped several games ago, I’ve tried every other striker we have at the club and they can’t score either, it’s not the tactics as we create enough chances and the strikers have plenty of shots, they just either can’t get them on target or they are straight at the keeper, until we get a good striker or two through the youth intake it’s going to be hard to win games.
The league stats show we are top for possession averaging 61%, we are middle of the league for chances created and shots for but near the bottom for goals scored. We are 4th for crosses completed but near the bottom for cross completion % which indicates my strikers aren’t getting on the end of enough crosses. We are only getting 38% of shots on target which is poor but worse is we have only converted 7% of our shots.
As well as our strikers doing bad, our defenders aren’t doing great either as only 1 team have conceded more than us but while we have conceded 29 goals our expected goals conceded is only 16 as teams seem to score when they shouldn’t be and it’s not the keeper making mistakes as it’s a lot of long shots into the top corner or headers from players unmarked or where defenders don’t jump with them. We are also bottom in the league for tackles and % tackles won so it seems like my players aren’t tackling which won’t help defend, I don’t have instructions to stand off but maybe I need to ask them to get stuck in although we are quite high for possession won and interceptions so maybe we don’t need to tackle as much if we win it back through interceptions.
I’m at a bit of a loss and not sure how to change things, if we weren’t dominating possession or creating chances or getting shots on target etc I maybe could change something but based on the data I believe my tactics are working and it’s probably just a severe lack of quality in the team that I can’t do anything about.
A season that started with optimism has now fully turned into pessimism as I’m now expecting a relegation battle as after the last league defeat we got a lucky FA Trophy second round draw but got knocked out in the replay to Southport and then we lost again in the league 2-0 at home to Kings Lynn who only got promoted into this league last season and was a game I would have been hoping to get 3 points from. The game was also a first for me as I saw us have 3 shots that had an xG of 0.00 and then a 4th took it up to 0.01, I’m not sure how that’s even possible unless it was my keeper shooting from his own area.
The latest run of 6 defeats in 7 means we are now only 1 point outside relegation and our -17 goal difference is only 1 better than the bottom side St Ives who we play next.
St Ives have only won 2 and drew 2 in their 17 games and have the worst defence in the league so if any team is going to help our goal shy strikers score it should be this team and if we don’t get a better result against them then I could lose any hope I still have left.
It turned out that even the worst defence in the league could still stop my strikers from scoring as all 4 of my attacking players were poor. Luckily my left back wasn’t poor as he first set up a goal from an indirect free kick that my left winger scored in the 27th minute before seemingly vanishing from the game as he done nothing after that and it looked like we were throwing another win away when they walked through my defenders to equalise in the 84th minute but my left back scored a direct free kick in the 92nd minute and we got a long awaited win that we definitely needed which has taken us 3 points above relegation.
After the game we had a bit of good news as we got the youth intake preview and it showed that it’s a 5 star excellent intake with the best position showing an A rating for strikers as we are getting 1 good striker which is what we need at the club, hopefully he will be fast or really good in the air and be ready to come into the first team straight away and solve our goal scoring issues. Other than the A rating striker we also have C ratings for full backs and centre backs so here’s hoping we get a few better defenders too, I’m looking forward to April now.
Back to current football and we were once again let down by my players as we lost again at home getting beat 3-1 against Telford with more poor defending and even worse shooting. They did get a 0-0 draw against Hereford who were a point ahead of us but then had another heavy defeat to end 2024 losing 5-1 at home to Guiseley.
The New Year started as the last ended with another horrible performance as we lost 3-1 to Blyth and we are now only 1 point outside relegation and the early days of dreaming about avoiding a relegation battle are a memory long in the distance. We’ve also now got the worst goal difference in the league of -24
Our next game was away to the 3rd worst team in the league Stafford and we couldn’t even beat them as we came from behind to draw 1-1, a result that has put us into the relegation places for the first time this season. I did try a new formation out with a more asymmetric 4-1-2-2-1 that seemed to play ok and I moved my deep-laying midfielder to striker as based on star ratings he is supposed to be the best striker even though he’s naturally a midfielder and he got his first goal of the season so maybe he’s the answer to our striker problem but it means having no playmaker as he is the only one good enough.
We had another winnable game next as we played FC United at home, they’re only 1 place and 1 point ahead of us so a relegation 6 pointer. We played like we often do and controlled the game without scoring and then went a goal behind in the 44th minute as they had their first attack and my defenders ran away from the cross leaving 2 of their players unmarked in the middle of our box and one of them had a tap in. The second half was better as I changed to a more attacking formation and put 2 up front and went with a 4-1-3-2 and my new striker that was our playmaker equalised in the 80th minute and then he got a winner in the 90th and we won 2-1, he’s now got 3 goals in 2 games playing as striker which is more goals than any of my other actual strikers have managed all season. The win has taken us back out of relegation by 2 points as we leap over FC United.
As has been the case most of the time after we get a win we go on to lose the next game and this was no different as we lost the next three losing 3-1 to Chorley, 3-1 to Gloucester and 1-0 to Halifax. We did pick up another win beating South Shields 1-0 but again we lost after that losing 3-0 against Curzon Ashton and 3-0 against Altrincham.
With our form being one of the worst in the league we picked up a good 2-0 win away to high flying Reddich with one of our best performances of the season as we created lots, scored twice and defended well which rarely happens. After the win for a long time we didn’t lose the next game after we win as we got a bore 0-0 draw with Hesnesford and then came the loss as we lost a game in hand we had over some teams around us losing 1-0 to Boston as they scored a late goal from a corner and then we missed a penalty.
Also since my deep laying midfielder was moved to striker and scored 3 in 2 games he hasn’t scored again since and has been rubbish up front, I think we are cursed to have rubbish strikers as they are getting plenty of chances created for them, they just mess up when presented with them, I’m still hoping our potentially good youth striker we should be getting is actually going to be decent.
We’ve now got 12 games left to play and have 33 points which is better than we’ve done the last 2 season’s but we are still only 2 points ahead of relegation, this is usually the stage in the last 2 years where we’ve picked up the points needed to barely survive so I’m hoping we pick up again for the end of season run in, I would like another 10 points which should hopefully be enough to see us safe.
We done a bit better in our next game away to 6th Alfreton as we took the lead and looked good but we conceded from a headed cross just before half time and then just after we conceded via a back post header from a free kick as my team continued to be unable to defend crosses, the first goal came as 4 of my players surrounded their only attacker yet he out jumped all of them, I say out jumped but he was the only one that looked bothered to jump and attack the ball. We did however get a goal back in the 75th minute but a 77th minute red card ended any chance of getting a winner. The next game at home to Chester we also took the lead but then my defense went into half time early and their players were free to wander into the box to score in the 44th and 45th+2 minutes and then they got a third in the second half and we lost again.
We had a possible winnable game next away to Brackley who are 18th and 6 points ahead of us but while I thought it was winnable my players decided early on to change my mind as they first gave away a 13th minute penalty which or course they scored from as we haven’t saved any of the many penalties we’ve gave away this year and then my right back decided that wasn’t good enough so got himself sent off in the 26th minute just to make things harder. My team did look good at one point and we got a highlight which showed some wonderful football as my team made around 60 (at least) passes looking like prime Barcelona only for one of them to give it away and 3 passes later by Brackley and they were 2 up. At half time I threw a water battle, usually that happens maybe once a season but this year I’ve thrown so many we are getting sponsored by big water bottle company next season.
Throwing a water bottle did absolutely sod all to change the game as my players gave up long before that and couldn’t care less based on a lack lustre second half display where they conceded 1 more and didn’t try and score themselves and we lost 3-0 and that was low considering they had 25 shots and a 4.50xG. I threw another water bottle at them after the game for good measure, maybe it’ll knock some sense into a few of them.
The next game was a little better as we played much better at home to 7th Spennymoor but we missed a penalty in the 57th minute and then conceded from a direct free kick in the 71st and lost 1-0 to add the the number of games lost through a set piece. That’s taken it to 6 without a win which is our longest winless run this season in the league and with 1 game left in March we could be heading for our first month without a win but thankfully we picked up a win to end the month beating Darlington 2-0.
We started April with a home game against Southport and I started the same team that played in the previous win which included a youth striker that I gave a debut to and he played ok. In this game he done much better as he opened the scoring with his first goal for the club in the 13th minute and we dominated the rest of the half without getting a second. In the second half we conceded in the 53rd minute again from a corner and then conceded again in the 75th through a defensive mistake and although we played better than them based on the stats we lost again and this defeat has taken us back into the relegation zone on goal difference with FC United as our -37 goals is much worse than their -19. With 6 games to play we are 3 points ahead of 22nd and level with 20th but are now 6 behind 19th.
It was then youth intake day and I was hoping that the preview was right when it said we would get a good striker and some decent defenders and while the striker we got wasn’t rated as the best he does look like he could be good as he does have 5 star potential and his stats at this level might be good as he has 13 acceleration and 12 pace, he’s naturally fit with 14, he has 18 aggression, 16 determination, 16 teamwork and 12 work rate but he does only have 4 finishing which is awful for a striker so he might not solve our goal scoring problems but with his speed and work rate I’m hoping that he could make a good pressing forward and get more goals than my current strikers manage, his speed might make a massive difference at this level. The rest of the intake was ok too as we got 5 players classed as elite talent and 5 top talents but other than the striker I’m not sure if any will go into my first team squad yet. Same as the last couple of years I’ve given them all contracts as some of the first years intake will be getting released as they haven’t progressed and potential is low.
Our next game was another loss as Kings Lynn beat us 2-1 as we went 1 point behind safety but then we had a game where I would expect to win as we are at home to already relegated bottom club St Ives who have the worst defense in the league but they have scored a lot more than we have. It was the first game where I could play my new youth striker to see if he could be the answer to our goal scoring problem, it’s probably too soon for him but no other striker scores so I’ve nothing to lose by playing him.
My striker got off to a dream debut as my right back shot and hit the cross bar and my striker reacted first to run onto the lose ball for a tap in only 1.5 minutes into the game. St Ives equalised not long after as their keeper hoofed it over my defense to their unmarked striker to score and it looked like more points dropped as we couldn’t score but my left back scored a 87th minute free kick to win the game. We needed to win too as FC United won their game so remain 1 point ahead of us, we are now 5 points ahead of 22nd and 7 behind 19th so it looks like either us or FC United will be getting relegated with them having the advantage.
Our next game was away to 7th Telford while FC United were at home to 3rd. The game came 3 days after our last game as we played Good Friday and now Easter Monday so a lot of my best players were tired but I thought it would be ok as Telford would be in the same situation but when we kicked off all their players were fully fit and when I checked they haven’t played for over a week so are much fresher than we are and it showed as they took the lead in the second half as we tired and dominated the game but my sub defender got a goal from a corner in the 89th minute and we managed to get a draw, unfortunately FC United also drew so we didn’t gain a point on them.
We had a good chance to get out of relegation in the next round of games as we play 17th Hereford at home which is on paper the easiest game we have left while FC United are away to 2nd Gloucester so if we can pick up a win and they lose we could be 2 ahead of them. Unfortunately we couldn’t get the win we needed as we could only draw 1-1, we did take the lead and we did dominate and were the better side but we also gave away another penalty late in the game and threw away 2 more points. FC United lost their game so we are level on points with them but they may as well have an extra point with their much better goal difference.
Next up in our penultimate game is Guiseley away who are 10th and FC United are at home to 7th Halifax. In this game we were our own worst enemies again as we went a goal behind early on from another defensive mistake but got back into it before half time with a goal from a free kick. Level at half time we weren’t doing too bad but then we gave away a penalty in the 49th minute and again they scored to continue our run of never saving a penalty and then my winger got himself sent off before we conceded another goal from poor defending and we lost 3-1, our only saving grace was FC United also lost their game so it goes down to the last game of the season.
The last game of the season we are at home against 8th Blyth who need a win to get a playoff place and FC United are away to already relegated South Shields, I know which team I would rather play and it’s not the one we play against. We need to better FC United as matching them won’t do unless we both win and we win by 20 goals which would never happen so we need to hope they lose and we draw or win or they draw and we win.
I’m not sure why but FC United’s game is postponed to the following Tuesday, it can’t be waterlogged pitch as we are in May. This happened 2 seasons ago when we survived on the last day as we lost our game and then the other team that could have been relegated needed a win but their game was postponed to the Tuesday so we had to wait and find out if we survived or not, could be a bug as it seems strange that’s it’s happened twice as now it makes things harder for us as we need to really win as we won’t know their score, if we knew they were losing and we were drawing we could try and play out the draw knowing it would be enough but now ideally we need the win in case they draw their game.
In the end it didn’t matter that their game was moved as we lost ours, it was a game like too many where again we had more shots, more on target, a higher xG and lost 1-0 from a late free header after a cross while wasting our chances. FC United actually went and lost their game so a draw would have seen us safe but despite some early optimism as we got off to a decent start the team isn’t anywhere near good enough to do anything more than fight against relegation.
With 12 games to go I said I wanted 10 points which I thought would keep us safe and it turned out 10 points would have been enough as we only got 9 and we’re relegated on goal difference, we picked up 42 points which was more than the 40 we survived with in the first season and only 4 less than last season when 42 would have also seen us safe. Our biggest problem was scoring goals as we only got 40 which was second worst in the league though only 2 less than last season but we were worse defensively than last year as we conceded 80 which was also the second worst in the league, we didn’t deserve to stay up.
That means we have been relegated and it’s the first time I’ve ever been relegated on any version of FM. I’ve been playing FM and it’s predecessor CM for about 30 years and I’ve won the Champions League taking teams from the bottom of England to the top, I’ve won it with Scottish teams and on FM21 with a Welsh team so I’d like to think I’m good at the game but even using all my knowhow and experience I’ve only managed to survive relegation for two seasons, a third was too much to ask.
I honestly think that without cheating or save scumming that taking a newly promoted team from the bottom of England up the leagues without signing players and relying on youth intakes is impossible without a hell of a lot of luck. You start with a team that doesn’t have enough players and the ones you have aren’t good enough, if I was signing players I would have replaced everyone I started with. Then if you survive you rely on the luck of a lottery draw each year to hope you get good youth players but your facilities are rubbish so unless you get very lucky you’re never going to get enough good players to improve as I’ve found out. The club also has no money to improve facilities so you need to either sell players but no one will want to buy your shit players or you need a good cup run but again players aren’t good enough.
I’m going to end this challenge as it seems an impossible ask for me to do, I honestly think it relies too much on rng and luck as to whether you get good youth players and even if you get good ones one year it’s not going to happen every year or often enough to progress up the leagues, I said in my first blog post about this challenge that when I took Lancaster from the bottom to the top I never got enough good players through my youth intake to have progressed out of non league and I think if we didn’t get relegated then we would have probably spent every season fighting relegation which wouldn’t be fun long term.
At least I’ve given it a try and confirmed to myself that it’s nigh on impossible to do with out some extreme luck or cheating, at least when doing it in England, maybe other countries are easier.
I’m going to keep the save going however as I like to keep one save and make my own FM world for the entire save, after getting sacked through being relegated I’m going to make the view only leagues I have playable and then when the new season starts I’m going to turn the save into a journeyman save and see where it takes my manager.
I’ll be back with an update after next season.
– Sparko Marco