Ooh, it’s good to be back! My tummy is rumbling a little bit, partly due to nerves but also because of the curry I had yesterday, but overall I am feeling excited about our first baby steps into the wild world of league football. This excitement was a feeling shared by a large number of Weston-super-Mare locals, who were rumoured to be turning out in great numbers to see our historic first game as a professional, Football League club, a home tie against AFC Wimbledon.
Matchday 1 – League Two – Weston-super-Mare v AFC Wimbledon
Let’s make no mistake; this is a different world that we now inhabit. The lads are still getting used to training twice a week and not eating doughnuts on the team bus, so we shouldn’t be expecting us to be pulling up many trees in our debut league campaign. Standing in our way to start with were AFC Wimbledon, a very tough opening fixture. Last season they finished fifth, losing in the playoff semi-finals. They were no pushovers, they are a serious outfit.
Oh my giddy aunt, we only went and beat them! Two goals, a clean sheet and an absolutely dominant performance from the lads. What an afternoon. We entertained our massive crowd in some style, carving the Wombles open on a number of occasions and preventing them from getting a single shot on target. A goal just on the stroke of half time put us 1-0 up, with Steven Howarth doing what he does best and scoring a cheeky dink from just inside the box to send the fans into delirium and send the lads into the half time break in high spirits.
During the break I emphasised that the lads were doing fantastically well and that they should spend the second half putting on a performance to thank the fans for their magnificent support. They went out all puffed up with pride and did just as I asked for. We were knocking the ball around beautifully and looked extremely comfortable, and our dominance was confirmed in the final seconds of the game as Norwegian Mo broke free of the Wimbledon defence and squared the ball to the back post for Captain Barbosa to slide home and complete our victory.
It was fantastic to watch and we were well worth the result in the end. It did feel a bit like we were still riding the momentum and good will that we gained at the end of last season, so I don’t know how much to read into this result. We will at some point lose that momentum and that will be the real evidence of how well we can do this season.
Hopefully, we can continue to bring in the crowds like today, though. We smashed our previous attendance record at the Woodspring, even with part of the ground closed for the renovation work, and it shows just how far the club has come within the community in Weston itself. Hopefully, when the work is complete, we can use the added capacity to try and claw in some more money to help the club.
Money like this. With our increased attendance record came an improved gate receipts record as we brought in £40,000 from match day sales. This is fantastic news and will go a long way to alleviate the strain on our coffers that continual stadium improvements (and suspected wage budget overspends) are currently having. Hopefully, we can keep this level of investment up.
Part of these increased attendances are thanks to a massive increase in season ticket sales when compared to last season. We are really starting to gain some fans and are convincing more and more people that it is worth coming along week-in, week-out. Good news all round.
We weren’t making friends everywhere, though. Gary Smith, the Stevenage boss, was apparently not impressed with what he saw from our game against Wimbledon. Smith’s Stevenage team are in League One, where they play like Barcelona, apparently.
Matchday 2 – League Cup – Stevenage v Weston-super-Mare
So, after a whole one game into our new season, we got to take a break from the league as we made our debut in the Football League Cup. The League Cup is not held in great regard by teams higher up the league pyramid, but for clubs like us it can be great, potentially pitching us against huge teams as early as round two. But first, we needed to get past the Barcelona of League One (if you believe Gary Smith), Stevenage FC.
Despite their manager disliking our style of play, Stevenage played more like, well, Stevenage than Barcelona. In fact they were dreadful and it wasn’t apparent at any point that they were the side from the league above.
We took the lead early on through Hjortur Hermannsson’s first goal in English football, a tidy finish at the end of a slick passing move, and then added a second just five minutes later as Norwegian Mo grabbed his first of the season with a beautiful strike after some good build up play. We were bossing the game and looked very comfortable, but gave away a penalty after fouling one of their strikers in the box. Not ideal by any means, particularly when they then scored from the spot, but we held on until half time relatively unscathed. The second half was nowhere near as troublesome as I had expected; all we had to do was clear the ball after Stevenage lumped it into our box for the umpteenth time. It was from one of these clearances that we scored our late third as a big clearance found Captain Barbosa, who teed up Scott Davidson on the edge of the box who duly blasted home a shot into the bottom corner.
Not a bad debut and, more importantly, not a bad way to stick two fingers up to Gary Smith.
Better even than getting one’s own back, however, was the news that we would be inviting Newcastle United to the Woodspring in the next round. Exciting stuff, although I suspect that our involvement in the League Cup will not be progressing much further than the second round…
We also got to know who we would open our debut Johnstone’s Paint Trophy campaign against. We got drawn away to Exeter City, a decent tie that gives us a good chance to get through to the next round. There is so much that is new this season, how very exciting..!
Matchday 3 – League Two – Barnet v Weston-super-Mare
But first, back again to the league where we travelled to Barnet who finished last season in mid-table but who were predicted to struggle this year.
Clearly, Barnet’s fans have been excited by the prospect of getting to see Ben Wheatland’s entertainers in the flesh, with over 4000 expected to attend the game, 700 more than watch Barnet on average. This is quite the honour, so let’s not disappoint..!
We didn’t, either. We gave them a bit of a battering but they didn’t help themselves by having Allassane N’Diaye sent off in the first minute for trying to rugby tackle Steven Howarth. It was an interesting approach to the game, but it didn’t pay dividends as we were able to take control of the match.
Norwegian Mo grabbed his second in two games to start the scoring, hitting a peach of an effort into the top corner from the edge of the area. We saw out the rest of the first half pretty well encamped in the Barnet box, but without making too many chances. The second half was a pretty dominant display as we pushed them back and did all the running. We were finally rewarded with a second goal in the 73rd minute as Olli Sara nodded home from a Captain Barbosa cross to double our advantage.
This briefly stirred Barnet and they quickly hit back through Izale McLeod, but this turned out to be a false recovery and they finished the game with only the one shot on target.
Barnet’s fans had got what they came for; a view of the most entertaining football team from Weston-super-Mare in real life. We gave another impressive performance for a recently promoted team and I was very impressed with the lads. This is going well, so far!
Matchday 4 – League Two – Weston-super-Mare v Cheltenham Town
Three days later we faced the mighty Cheltenham Town back at the Woodspring. The Robins were on some pretty poor form, having lost both of their league games and finding themselves knocked out of the League Cup already. They hadn’t even scored a league goal yet, although the season is only two games old so best not to read too much into that. Still, given how well we have started, I would make us favourites.
And, as usual, when I make that kind of prediction, we failed to live up to expectations. Cheltenham are not even that good, having come 21st in this division last season, and in the end, all we could do was limp to a drab 0-0. We were the better side and had the better chances, but we struggled to take our chances when they were presented to us. I suspect that the quick turn-around between the Barnet game and this one had something to do with it, but I won’t go making too many excuses. We would have won it any other day, it happens.
Confession time: I have somehow managed to fall foul of the league registration rules this season that says each club must have at least six players who are English or who have been trained in England as youngsters in their squad. Having picked up a number of foreign players in the summer, and not knowing about this rule, I am now in the position of having to leave a gap on my bench to allow a space for an extra English player (it’s a game mechanic, just accept it). The point of mentioning this is it partly explains why tiredness is affecting the squad so much already this season – I cannot rotate the squad like I usually do because of my lack of English players. I will do my best to bring in some loan players to cover and then hopefully rebalance the squad in January (because I just bought the players and I am at my budget limit, I can’t do anything about it this summer, sorry!). #professional.
Matchday 5 – League Two – Southend United v Weston-super-Mare
So, with that off my chest, we turned our collective attention to our trip to Southend United just four days later. Southend were another club in poor form, having lost all of their league games and bombed out of the League Cup. They have, at least, scored some goals this season, but they have also conceded a fair few. They can be got at. Let’s do it!
Nope, another draw. We even went behind in this game and things looked like they were heading towards a drab 1-0 loss before Gavin Massey scored his first for the club in the 88th minute to snatch us a point. In the end, it was nothing less than we deserved, but we were made to work hard just for the point. We are clearly lacking that cutting edge up top, which is making me long for a striker like our beloved Big Cherno Samba. Not actually Big Cherno, but someone like him.
So, from two games we absolutely could have won, we have taken just two points. At least we didn’t lose them, but the optimism from our opening three games has dipped a bit and perhaps people are starting to realise that we are not just going to waltz to promotion again.
Matchday 6 – League Cup – Weston-super-Mare v Newcastle United
Glamour ties! Ohhhhh baby, this should be a cracker. We will have a rocking crowd, our pitch is a state (it is always a state) and we are in decent form. By contrast, Newcastle sit bottom of the Premier League having lost their first two games against West Ham and Brighton respectively. They are out of form. They haven’t scored a goal. What’s that written on those cards? Is it the word “upset”?
Nope, it clearly wasn’t “upset”, although we gave them a decent game and even edged the key statistics. We had more possession, more shots and more on target. They difference on the night was that Newcastle had quality strikers like Shola Ameobi and Leon Best as opposed to Steven Howarth and a tired Olli Sara.
Newcastle didn’t exactly start a star-studded squad, but I suspect that that was because they don’t have one rather than a reflection on how seriously they were taking the tie. That said, they started Tim Krul in goal, as well as Cheikou Kouyate, Sylvain Marveaux and Dan Gosling, so it is not like they sent the kids. They just sent the rubbish pros instead. Their Saudi striker, Saad Al-Harthi, opened the scoring just on the half time whistle which was a punch to the gut.
We kept pressing and pushing, but we were unable to break down a strong defence and, as we piled forward in search of a late equaliser we were caught on the break as Shola Ameobi rounded Guedes in our goal to put the tie beyond us.
I was proud of the lads and the 3000 plus crowd were happy with what they had seen from the team, even though we had lost. One thing, though, was that this game yet again showed just how much we lack a cutting edge, but maybe that’s being too harsh. Anyway, that is the end of our debut League Cup campaign, which was short but sweet. At least we got to enjoy a game against a big side before we bowed out.
Matchday 7 – League Two – Weston-super-Mare v Port Vale
So, we rounded off August with a home tie against Port Vale, a side that finished last season in 21st place, only avoiding relegation by one point. They had started this season off a little better and found themselves in 12th, but this is the kind of team we need to be beating to keep ourselves away from the danger of relegation.
For once, we did well and put a side down effectively and efficiently. We dominated possession and created a lot more chances in the game and thoroughly deserved to run out 2-0 winners, although we were made to wait by some dogged defending from Port Vale. Gavin Massey finally made the break through after 71 minutes, before doubling up and grabbing his second on 86 minutes to kill off the game.
I was happy with the performance and was particularly happy with the work of Massey who looks like he could be a key player for us. Interestingly, more people turned up to watch our league game against Port Vale than came to see Newcastle United. Clearly the fans have their own priorities and for that I can’t blame them. Still, though…
One big worry was an injury to Lee Nasir that looks to have ruled him out for a large chunk of the season. He broke his ankle after being crunched by Vale player Ian Westlake (boo) and we will now have to do without our best right back for some crucial games. Not ideal.
Speaking of not ideal, Glenn Johnson has been confirmed as fit and available for England’s upcoming World Cup qualification double header against San Marino and Poland.
So, at the end of our first month of league football we have had a busy time of it. We are sitting fourth in the table after five games and are still undefeated in the league, although there is an argument to be made that we really should have won all of our games so far. Wrexham, the team who came up with us last season, are top, two points better off than us. Well played, lads.
We have also had two League Cup games, beating Exeter before being knocked out by Newcastle. That is seven games in three weeks, and the lads are knackered already. Given our squad registration…issues… this is not a good situation.
Luckily, next month we only have the six games and four weeks in which to play them. Here’s hoping we can carry on our unbeaten league run for a bit longer yet and keep up the early pressure on the top of the table.
So, come back next time to see how we get on. Can we keep up this good form? Is it possible that a third promotion is on the cards? No, stop it. Cheers!