OK, so last month we had some issues. Some very patchy form coupled with ALL THE INJURIES meant that our lead at the top of the table has been cut to just three points. This month is a big one. We play some middle of the road sides and we could really do with winning three or even four of our games this month to try and claw back a commanding lead.
With that in mind, I dipped my toes into the transfer market to bring Arsenal youngster Wesley Said into the club. Pat Bamford’s loan deal is up soon and we won’t be able to extend it, so I thought I would beef up our attacking options for the remainder of the season. Look at him. He’s so good.
Whilst I cleaned myself up after looking at how good Said is, an email dropped into my inbox from Rachel Greenley. She is so rushed off of her feet, what with all our injuries, that she didn’t have time to tell me in person that Norwegian Mo was finally back to full fitness after an ankle injury that had kept him out of the squad for a few weeks. Another string to our bow..!
Perhaps the return of Norwegian Mo was part of the reason that Kevin Dillon, manager of Bradford City and man I have never spoken to or about before, decided to tell the world he doesn’t like me. Why does nobody like me?
Matchday 38 – League Two – Bradford City v Weston-super-Mare
Well then, I don’t like you either, Kevin. And to prove it, we are going to smash a few goals past your utterly average Bradford side. Sitting slap bang in mid table having scored 40, conceded 40 and bored many civilians to death, I was feeling fairly confident that we would be able to deal with whatever the Bantams could throw at us, despite our patchy recent form.
I was wrong; in fact Bradford edged us out in a very even game that didn’t come alive until late in the second half. Matt James opened the scoring with a well taken finish, only for Pat Bamford to equalise nine minutes later with a well taken turn-and-shot fro, inside the box.
*FOOTBALL CLICHE INCOMING*
The thing is, you are always most vulnerable just after scoring, and that proved to be the case here as an elderly Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink scored the winner just two minutes later as Bradford took the ball from kick off and, after some slick passes, grabbed a goal.
I expect Kevin Dillon thinks he is a big man after getting the better of me in this game. All I will say is that I do not condone forcing old people to work well past retirement age and that Dillion should allow Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink to leave England and see his family again soon. What Dillon is doing is sick and I have half a mind to report him to the appropriate authorities.
One bright spot was that Rachel Greenley’s job was getting easier by the week as Roy Burnell finally returned to full fitness. We had been missing his tough tackling in the centre of the park in recent games and hopefully his return to the squad will help us rediscover our good form.
In other news, Roberto Mancini was having a lovely old time as England boss…
Matchday 39 – League Two – Weston-super-Mare v York City
Having undergone some sort of OAP-related meltdown after the last game, I told the squad to take a couple of days off whilst I got my head in order. Whilst the lads did what all professional footballers do with some time off by going to have a go on the slot machines on Weston pier, I spent my free time crying into a bag of Kettle Chips and watching Mike Bassett: England Manager on repeat. It helped no end, and I returned to the club on the Tuesday before the York City game with a fresh outlook on life.
I was immediately dealt a fresh emotional blow as I was reminded that Pat Bamford’s loan deal ended just before the York game. Wesley Said would get his chance soon enough.
Bamford had enjoyed a very productive time at Weston-super-Mare, bagging seven goals in thirteen games and helping out greatly during a period in which our own strikers didn’t do much at all in front of goal. He was sad to leave and everyone at the club was disappointed that he had to go. If we get a chance to bring him back to the club in the future, I will look to make it happen.
Until then, though, we have to make do with our own strikers. York were in a bit of a rut and hadn’t won in three games. They were no great shakes, but we were hardly in the greatest of form ourselves and so it was hard to tell what to expect from the game.
In the end, we ran out comfortable 2-0 winners in front of over 3,000 loyal fans at the Woodspring. The first half was fairly equal up until the 40th minute when Bob Holmes finally found some time and space to get a shot away. His effort was hit too hard for the York keeper to deal with, so we took a 1-0 lead into half time.
Wesley Said started this game but wasn’t playing well. Having only been with the squad for a few days, he obviously hadn’t had the chance to properly gel with our style of play, so after about 55 minutes I dragged him off in favour of Steven Howarth. Howarth has been in and out of the side this season due to him being by far our worst striker, but he does occasionally have goals in him and this was one of those times. Just a few minutes after being brought on, he was in the right place at the right time to bundle home from close range after good work from Norwegian Mo.
After that, the game slowly wound down to full time without too much incident. York looked well beaten and seemed happy to ensure that the score stayed at 2-0, whilst we seemed happy to stroll to only our third win in eight games. Whatever, so long as we get the three points…
Matchday 40 – League Two – Shrewsbury Town v Weston-super-Mare
Next on our hit-list was Shrewsbury Town, who had been on a bit of a good run and were now threatening the play-off positions. This was now a big game, as it was a good opportunity for us to push back some of the chasing pack and stop ourselves being dragged into the mire of the play-offs.
With quite a lot riding on the game, it didn’t disappoint. The first half was slow to get going, but then in the final five minutes of the half things got exciting. First, after 42 minutes Scott Davidson, deputising at right midfield for a knackered Captain Barbosa, rifled in a shot from the edge of the box to put us one up. This was a big, big goal and we were happy to take the lead just before half-time.
*FOOTBALL CLICHE INCOMING*
The trouble is, you are always at your most vulnerable just after scoring. Just as Bradford did before, Shrewsbury dragged themselves back into the game barely three minutes later as Matt Richards danced through our defence before slotting home calmly past Pedro Guedes to level the scores.
Half time was a weird one; having lost the lead so quickly, it felt like we were behind. It clearly affected us in the second half as, again, it took us a while to get going. Slowly, though, we began to work our way back into some kind of rhythm. We started to look threatening again and were creating a decent number of chances. Sadly, though, it all felt a bit like last season where we had loads of the ball without being able to score.
Luckily, this year we have Bob Holmes. Not content with seeing the game sleepwalk its way to a draw, he picked up the ball, played it out wide to Norwegian Mo, ran into the box and headed the return ball into the back of the net. It was a beautifully worked goal and again underlined the fact that it is just a single good striker that can make the difference to a side at this level. Holmes is a bit of a streaky player, so hopefully this will set him off on a hot run of form.
Not bad, not bad. We had won in an important game to push ourselves further away from the play-offs, and we had done it whilst having the better of the game. That’s two in a row now; why not let’s make it three?
The next game, against Barnet, would also be my 200th game in charge of Weston-super-Mare. How far we have come…
Matchday 41 – League Two – Weston-super-Mare v Barnet
Barnet were in the mood for draws, having drawn four of their previous five games. We were out to stop that by sending them home with only a loss to keep them warm.
Adding to my growing confidence was the news that Lee Nasir was fit to return to the side. We now had nearly all of our first teamers back fit and healthy (great work, Rachel) just as we start the final run in…
And then the match was postponed. We need to keep the water off the pitch, seriously, because this is maybe the tenth game that we have had to miss because the pitch was waterlogged. Considering how much money we have spent on the ground, you would think we could have done something about the state of the pitch…
To keep my mind busy over the now free weekend, I was heavily linked with the Portsmouth job again. The club were doing poorly in League One and had sacked their manager, and the bookies had made me the favourite to take the job. I responded with a public display of loyalty to Weston and my players – if we carry on the way we have been, we will be in that league anyway next season…
The extra gap given to us by the postponement of the Barnet game also meant that there was time for Andreas Nordvik to return to training as well. At the beginning of the episode I had about five fit players, now we only have one or two in the physio room. Rachel Greenley will be relieved, I am sure.
Matchday 41.5 – League Two – Port Vale v Weston-super-Mare
To round off February, we travelled to take on Port Vale at Vale Park, one of the many grounds not to be waterlogged this week. They were hovering just above the relegation zone and had been enjoying some rather mixed results in the last few weeks. We, on the other hand, had won our last two and were starting to build some momentum. Plus, half our squad was now back from injury, so I finally had some actual options to choose from.
Norwegian Mo got us off to a flier in this one, as he curled in a beauty after just five minutes to give us an early lead. Having struggled to click in his first couple of games for the club, Wesley Said was finally enjoying his football and playing “The Weston Way”. He showed just how good he was by collecting the ball in midfield before skinning a couple of opponents and slotting the ball into the net for his first goal for the club.
It stayed 0-2 until half time, but we very nearly let Port Vale back into the tie after they flew out of the blocks and scored just seven minutes into the second half. Luckily, we held firm and prevented them from gaining too much momentum before delivering a hammer blow as Bob Holmes was played through to score by Said. At 1-3 up we were cruising again and in total control. We had a couple more chances to extend our lead further but nothing happened until the 81st minute when Stuart Tomlinson scored an own goal under pressure from substitute Steven Howarth.
A 1-4 win was nothing more than we deserved. Port Vale didn’t look up to much and only managed a single shot on target in the entire game, so had we contrived to drop points here I would have been very angry. As it was, we ran out comfortable winners and finished February on a high.
Speaking of high, the bookmakers had made me odds-on favourite to take over at League One Coventry City after Sam Allardyce was sacked. Fat chance.
So, going into March, this is how the table looked. We had consolidated our position in the automatic promotion spots very well this month; we are now eleven points clear of fourth with a game in hand. We are also now eight points clear of second-placed Notts County (again with a game in hand) so things are looking rosy…
Next month we have a packed schedule. We have to play the rearranged Barnet game, we play the Southend side that walloped us earlier in the season, and we face off against two sides chasing promotion. It could be a season-defining month.
Will we still be top come April? Will we finally be able to beat Southend? Will we be able to beat Exeter now that Paul Ince has left them? Find out next time…