Ok, things aren’t going perfectly, but there is no need for this:

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Two consecutive promotions and a cup final and the fans, after just 19 games of this season, want me to change my winning formula. Will I heck! Do you people need me to link to the Mike Bassett video again? DO YOU? These fans are fickle, they really are…

Matchday 20 – League Two – Oldham Athletic v Weston-super-Mare

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Despite the increasing calls from the fans to alter my tactics, I will be doing no such thing. One poor month does not constitute a crisis and I will be sticking faithfully to my tried and tested system that hasn’t let me down yet, particularly in games against lower-mid table opposition who are in indifferent form.

We lost. They came from behind and beat us 2-1. We took the lead through Gavin Massey, but very soon afterwards they equalised through a Keanu Marsh-Brown header. Despite the setback, we weren’t playing badly and we had more than enough chances to retake the lead before, in the 30th minute, Kevin Sainte-Luce powered in a freekick to send us reeling. We had nothing in the tank and only barely held out for half time.

The second half was better as we surged forward trying to find an equaliser, but nothing materialised, primarily because of the state of our finishing. We had more numerous and better chances, but we were just unable to get the final touch necessary to put the ball into the back of the net, which was highly annoying.

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Two things stood out to me from this game. First was the aforementioned dreadful finishing which is something that we will have to address at some point. Second was that we conceded two goals from players with double-barrelled surnames. Modern football is a joke.

Luckily, we had the FA Cup first round draw to distract us from our league form. We were handed a home tie against League One side Gillingham. Not an easy draw, by any means, but certainly a good opportunity to test ourselves against higher league opposition and get some more supporters through the turnstiles.

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Matchday 21 – League Two – Weston-super-Mare v Northampton Town

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Before that, though, we welcomed Northampton Town to the Woodspring.  The Cobblers were having a good season and were sitting in second place, just behind Wrexham. They had scored a mammoth 41 goals in their 15 league games which worried me, although I was heartened to see that they had also conceded 33. Clearly their fans were getting their money’s worth, having witnessed an average of 4.9 goals a game so far this season.

Our game was no different; the goals flew in from all sides and all of the 3,000 plus crowd left the ground after the game remembering exactly why they call football the beautiful game.

We took the early lead as Hjortur Hermannsson rifled home from the edge of the box after just nine minutes. All was not well, though, as we also lost Gavin Massey to injury early on. Nevertheless, in general, things were looking good for us and we pressed forward, hoping to grab ourselves some more goals to extend the lead. Unfortunately, as we did that, Northampton picked up the ball and hit us on the break when Joe Ironside slotted the ball confidently under Guedes.

The rest of the half was fairly uneventful, especially when compared with what was to come. We came out of the blocks quickly and got forward at every opportunity. With Massey injured I had moved Norwegian Mo up front and thrown Scott Brown on at left wing. Brown was having one of his rare excellent games for us as he tore the Northampton right flank to shreds, but he capped his performance off with a goal of absolute majesty. With the ball cleared long up to him, he let the ball bounce about 40 yards from goal before smashing home an absolute beauty that lobbed the keeper before nestling into the back of the net. The crowd went wild and everyone was very excited, and for about ten minutes we looked really good. Then, Northampton won a corner. We looked to have dealt with it well but the ball eventually fell kindly to Bradden Inman who hit the ball on the half-volley from the edge of the box and into the top corner.

To round things off, Northampton then took the lead for the first time, Joe Ironside nodding in from a cross from down their left-hand side. I was incensed and, clearly, the team were too, as they immediately picked up the ball and set up camp in the Cobblers’ half. Scott Brown, carrying a knock, threaded the ball through for Steven Howarth to run onto and Howarth, finding himself one-on-one with the keeper, calmly lifted the ball over his head from inside the box to score and ensure both teams shared the points.

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Some poor defending from both sides meant that the result was probably fair, but I was annoyed that we had twice taken the lead and yet somehow managed not to win the game. We really should have, too, as we had three times as many shots on target than our visitors. Our strikers are, at the moment, the reason we are not converting these draws into wins and losses into draws…

More bad news was to come, as first Massey was ruled out for two weeks…

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…before I was told that Scott Brown, despite having told me he could play on during the game, had apparently pulled his groin and would now be out for up to five weeks. The squad is starting to look thin on the ground again.

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Luckily, Gavin Donoghue returned to training to ease the squad crisis somewhat, although we don’t actually have a problem with defenders at the moment so thanks for not being a striker, Gavin.

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Matchday 22 – Johnstone’s Paint Trophy – Barnet v Weston-super-Mare

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With our league form continuing to be a concern, we had a welcome break in the form of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy where we would travel to Barnet. This would be tough as they are doing well in the league, although they hadn’t won for two games so there was always the possibility that we could nick something.

Nick something we did! We edged past them on penalties after a tight and edgy affair. They took the lead right on the stroke of half time after Andreas Nordvik gave away a penalty and Akwasi Asante coolly converted. We were not to be beaten that easily, however, and came back at them in the second half, culminating in Simon Feindouno’s equaliser after 76 minutes.

JPT games go straight to penalties, forgoing extra time, so as neither team was able to make the breakthrough in the final 14 minutes the lads tightened their boots and got ready to take part in the first penalty shoot out of my time in charge of the club.

As you can see from the below, we were engaged in quite an epic duel. At one point, Barnet had scored six in a row, but they were still unable to come out on the winning side after Mauro Vilhete missed and Dean Lawrence scored to send us through to the next round.

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It was a tense way to win, but I was happy and we continue on in this competition.

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We were initially expected just to enjoy taking part in the first round, but now we are in the quarter-finals and just three games (the semi-finals are a two-legged affair) from a place in a Wembley final.

We would have to make our way past League One side Brentford in the quarters, and then either Bournemouth or Yeovil in the semis if we were to make it to the final. This was going to be a tough ask, as we had already lost 3-0 to the lowest ranked team left in the competition (Yeovil). How could we possibly manage to do it?

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Matchday 23 – FA Cup – Weston-super-Mare v Gillingham

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Whilst I ponder how to plot my course through the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy, we had another cup competition to take part in. Given that we are playing League One opposition here, and will have to get past at least one club from that league in the JPT, this would be good preparation for us.

Well, all I learned from that was that our strikers really need to step up and start taking our chances. We had double Gillingham’s shots on target but could only convert one, whilst they managed to hit three past us. Ok, one was a penalty, and for a large part of the game we were within touching distance, but I was still far from happy with the lads. New strikers are needed.

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Despite our troubles in front of goal, we managed to attract a very large crowd for this game, just beating our previous best and really making use of the slightly increased size of the Woodspring to our advantage.

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We also took in a record amount of gate receipts which is sorely needed. Our coffers are perilously low so every little helps…

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Things were tough for us, but that is nothing when compared to the struggles of the European Champions, England, and the hash that they were making out of qualifying for the World Cup in Brazil. An injury to left-back Ashley Cole led Stuart Pearce to call up a like-for-like replacement in the ancient and creaking centre-back Rio Ferdinand. Just what England need, I am sure.

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The stakes were high for poor old Pearce. After his historic European Championship win and an impressive third place finish in the Confederations’ Cup, things had all gone a bit pear-shaped for the former Manchester City manager. England had finished second in their qualification group for Brazil 2014 and now had to overcome a two-legged tie against Russia in order to book their tickets to Rio. After winning 2-1 in London, England were in great shape, although Pearce’s job was still rumoured to be on the line…

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In the second leg, England absolutely collapsed as a rampant Russian side tore them to shreds to send themselves to Brazil at England’s expense.

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Following the result, Pearce, England’s most successful coach since Sir Alf Ramsey let’s not forget, was sacked by the Football Association. Robero Mancini was installed as the early front-runner for the position, but there wasn’t even a mention of my name. Rude.

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Joining Russia in Brazil would be Slovenia (beating Italy), France (beating Ireland) and Belgium (beating Greece). Intriguingly, Scotland had managed to qualify automatically for the tournament, so I am sure that everyone was getting ready to rally round in support of the Scots over the summer…

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Every cloud has a silver lining, though, and ours came in the form of the return from long-term injury of Lee Nasir. Nasir had been out for three months after breaking his ankle, so I decided to take my time with his recovery and vowed not to throw him into the squad too soon.

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Matchday 24 – League Two – Exeter City v Weston-super-Mare

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Finally a return to the league, and this next game gave me the chance to renew my budding rivalry with Exeter manager Paul Ince. Incey didn’t like me and criticised our style of play before a JPT tie earlier this season, but was ultimately silenced as we comfortably beat his side to progress. Now we returned to St James’ Park to try and do one over on him and his men yet again.

This time he didn’t speak out in the press, but it still didn’t help him as we tore through his side’s backline and put them to the sword. Finally, we displayed some cutting edge as both Steven Howarth and Norwegian Mo, both players that are in the side with the explicit goal of scoring goals, managed to score goals. In the second half we extended our lead even further as Dean Lawrence nodded home to put us three goals up. For once an opportunity to be relaxed at a Weston game! They did manage to nick a goal right at the end, but we were never troubled. The result was a metaphorical mic-drop right in front of Paul Ince’s smug face.

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Finally, a win in the league. It has been a long time coming, but we have deserved one and this is some vindication of my style.

In other news, Roberto Mancini was named England manager. I look forward to observing his progress from afar. It seems ridiculous to say this, but Pearce did leave quite a high bar to beat. Mancini has his work cut out…

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Before we even welcomed Oxford United to the Woodspring, rumours were whirling around suggesting that Chris Wilder would be sacked if he didn’t get a result against us. That was fine with me as it piled all the pressure on them. Plus, I mean, as a Swindon fan, would I be happy if we got the manager of Oxford sacked? Yes. Yes I would.

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Matchday 25 – League Two – Weston-super-Mare v Oxford United

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It is not like they are even in that poor shape. The Us were sitting in eighth and had picked up form a bit recently after a bit of a wobble. That Wilder’s job should be under threat seemed harsh to me, but that is the way the game is.

In fairness, they played very well and could – even should? – have won the game. If Wilder does lose his job based on this performance, he is being hard done by. They took the lead midway through the first half as Cian Bolger slotted home, and they were looking comfortable. We were being held back by Oxford, who weren’t giving much away at all in terms of chances.

It took a bit of tactical tweaking at half time, plus an adjustment due to another injury to the recently returned Gavin Massey, for us to finally get into the game at all. Finally, however, we managed to get a goal as Steven Howarth nodded home from a cross from Captain Barbosa. Moments later, with Oxford still reeling from our sucker punch earlier, Gavin Donoghue gave us the lead as he connected with a Captain Barbosa corner and thumped the ball into the bottom corner of the goal.

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The game was, overall, an even one, but it was definitely hard on Oxford who probably deserved more from the game. That said, we have been on the end of silly results like this, this season, and I am not about to start dishing out favours to people. The three points are ours, you ain’t having them back!

I mentioned before that Massey got himself injured again during the Oxford game. This time his injury was a little more serious and he would be sidelined for a lot longer than previously.

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Who needs strikers, anyway?

So, at the end of November, we are still just about clinging on to a play-off spot. Our form has dropped recently and we are starting to see a gap opening up between ourselves and Wrexham at the top of the table.

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In order to close that gap, we will need to have a strong December. We get the opportunity to take on some teams challenging at the top of table next month, so a string of good results could mean we find ourselves back in contention for automatic promotion come January. We also welcome Swindon back to the Woodspring and have the JPT quarter finals to enjoy, so it will be a packed month.

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If you are enjoying the series so far, please drop me a comment or share the blog with your friends and help get it out as far and wide as possible! Until next time, cheers!

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