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Weston’s Super Mare? – Episode 45: Baptism of Fire

It’s all go here at the Woodspring. My office has been an incredibly busy place to be this summer as we have sold and signed a whole host of new players. The ground, for the first time in living memory, hasn’t had any work done on it this summer, meaning that the pitch is still barely more than a rectangle of marsh land with white lines daubed on it. This could give us an advantage in the winter months, so long as the games aren’t all called off, but I am doubtful. It is much easier to play our fast tempo passing game on beautiful, carpet-like pitches rather than on something resembling the local rubbish tip, but you never know.

We kicked off our first ever league campaign in English football’s third tier with a home game against Preston North End. Back in the early days of the Football League, Preston had won the First Division title a few times, gone a whole league season unbeaten, and were generally trend-setters. By contrast, we at Weston had only been fully professional for two years. This is what we were facing up against…

Matchday 1 – League One – Weston-super-Mare v Preston North End

Given that it was the first game of the season, I didn’t have any form to go on to tell us how we would be getting on in this tie. That said, eagle-eyed readers of last episode will have noted that Preston were priced as equal favourites for promotion (along with Watford) this season. This was not going to be an easy game. Pass me the Bovril…

Well, I nearly spat my hot, poorly-diluted and therefore chewy Bovril all over my desk when I saw what Preston manager, Paul Jewell, had to say about our chances in the game.

Not sure we are good enough to stay in the division, eh Paul? Well, I’m not sure you’re  good enough to even be a manager at all. What do you say to that? Now, can we get on with the football?

Apparently not. Of all people to kick off in the press, recently promoted Aldershot Town’s manager, Dean Holdsworth, also chimed in with some unnecessary jibes about our quality. Considering his muggy bunch of lowlifes finished 14 points behind us last season, I was a bit mystified as to why he felt the need to have a dig. Whatever; clearly we were being written off this season. Let’s get out there and prove them wrong!

We lost 1-2, although we put up a good fight and were certainly not embarrassed by our more illustrious opponents. Preston had the better of the first half, taking a commanding two-goal lead into half-time thanks to strikes from Frank Nouble and Craig Halkett. That said, though, they weren’t as dominant as you would expect for a side that was predicted to win promotion against a newly-promoted side.

Therefore, at half-time, I wasn’t too harsh to the lads. They were doing well and this was their first ever competitive game together, so there were inevitably going to be some teething problems. I sent them back out for the second half basking in my everlasting confidence that they would be able to turn the game around.

Sadly, that proved a bit beyond them, although we did far, far better and ended up winning the second half after Bob Holmes scored a late goal. This set up a frantic finish but we were unable to take advantage of the chaos and nick an equaliser, much to Paul Jewell’s delight.

It was a disappointing result in the end which was surprising considering how badly people were expecting us to be beaten. I really think we were unlucky not to come out of the game with a draw and I think that rumours of our probable relegation have been wildly exaggerated.

Things were looking up off the pitch, at least, as 5,000 fans crammed into the Woodspring to see our first-ever game at this level. It was exciting to see so many there supporting the boys, and it really gave us a lift. Hopefully, we can make good use of our home support this season to give us a boost and propel us away from the drop zone.

We also set a new gate receipts high, something that the board were particularly pleased about.

And, in a week of record breakers, David Beckham was still in amongst it. In Swindon’s season opener against Hull City, old Golden Balls himself grabbed himself a goal to make himself the Robins’ oldest ever goal scorer. Well done, that man!

Before our League Cup tie with Millwall, I dipped my toes into the loan market to bring in an extra player to give us yet more options out on the wing. Welcome back to Tommy McDermott who rejoins us on loan from Southampton, this time for the season. McDermott is decent and will provide a bit more cover at right midfield (thank goodness). Dirk Lindner played some part in the Preston defeat and looked a bit dodgy, so McDermott will hopefully give us some more reliable back up.

I was also updated by the club secretary on how many season tickets that the club had sold. After our title winning campaign from last season, sales had doubled and now the club boasted over 1400 loyal season ticket holders. This was great for the atmosphere in the ground, but also for the club’s coffers (that mysterious accountant will be pleased).

In the build-up to the League Cup tie with Millwall, we were reacquainted with friend-of-the-series, Paul Ince. Incey took the job at Millwall last season just after being sacked by Exeter City and led the Lions to mid-table obscurity. This season the expectation was that he deliver them promotion. We would be standing in his way when we meet them in the league, but before that we get the opportunity to dump them out of a cup competition as well. Ince wasn’t happy and let rip in his pre-match press conference. I think he is feeling the pressure of playing his great rival…

Yeah, I said great.

Matchday 2 – League Cup – Millwall v Weston-super-Mare

There is always a lot of Ince in the press before our sides face each other but, whilst he got the better of me in our last meeting, I have the better record and most of his moaning is just bluster. I was hoping that the same would happen this time around as we could really do with making the second round and scoring a big draw against a big side to help bring some money into the club.

Millwall had the advantage going into the game as they had won their previous match 3-2 whilst we had lost, although there were still some positives that told me we might have a chance. For one thing, Millwall had conceded two in their win, meaning they are not great defensively, and for another we had performed well even in defeat to title-favourites Preston. It seemed like things were pretty close…

In the end, the game was very close indeed. Millwall had the better of the game and created the more numerous and better quality chances, but we held our own and created more than enough chances to win the game ourselves. As it was, the game finished 0-0 after 90 minutes and, following two goalless periods of extra time, we went to penalties.

Penalties are always stressful and we don’t really have much practice in them. Luckily, however, we had just enough about ourselves to see off Millwall, despite Claus Larsen missing our fourth penalty. Dany N’Guessan and Roy Wohrmann both missed to send us through with what was a cruel result for Ince’s boys.

Having edged ourselves into the next round, we were also granted a fairly high-profile tie as we were given a home tie against Premier League side, Wolverhampton Wanderers. It seems that we are often drawn against big sides at this stage of the League Cup and, so far, we have been unable to progress past this stage. It seems unlikely that this year would be any different but at least we will get a big crowd and another big payday to help the club keep limping along.

Slightly less lucrative was our draw in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy first round where we were given a home tie against Oxford United. After winning the competition two years ago we had a poor defence of our title last season. This time around I intend to be troubling the final stages of the competition again, so Oxford would have to make way!

Matchday 3 – League One – Hull City v Weston-super-Mare

Before all of that fun, though, we made the trip to the KCOM Stadium to take on Hull City. The Tigers were a Premier League team not long ago and have one of the biggest budgets in the division this season. Big money usually translates to success, especially in our division, but so far Hull had started badly and were only off the bottom of the table thanks to the points deduction issued to Nottingham Forest.

In an attempt to kickstart their season, Hull’s manager decided to employ a very odd formation against us…

The 4-1-2-2-1 is not a classic and, given Hull’s performance in this game, it never will be. Given the lack of width on display, it was unsurprising when Captain Barbosa was able to find space on the wing in which to whip in a cross. Bob Holmes is a bit of a fox in the box and wasted no time in nodding home to put us 0-1 up within just five minutes of kick off.

Hull’s lack of width was exposed again moments later when Norwegian Mo also found himself free on the wing. He followed the example of Captain B by whipping the ball into the box where the Captain himself was on hand to tuck home his first of the season.

After this, Hull put their foot on the pedal and started to create chances. I can only assume that they changed formation at some point because suddenly our freedom on the wings was lessened and they began to pepper our goal with chances. Thankfully their strikers are rubbish which combined well with our strong defence and meant we went into halftime with a clean sheet, but not before Bradley Weston had popped up to extend our lead after an incisive counter-attack.

The second half was an impressive display of profligacy from Hull’s strikers who created hatfuls of chances but couldn’t put a single one on target. By the time the referee put them out of their misery and confirmed our stunning 0-3 win, Hull had created 19 chances but had managed to put just a single one on target. As I shook their manager’s hand, I gave him a bracing hug in an attempt to relay to him that I understood the feelings he was going through after a number of our games last season. He looked at me a bit weirdly and didn’t invite me into his office later for a drink. Some people.

Matchday 4 – League One – Weston-super-Mare v Watford

What a first month of the season. We get given games against three of the promotion favourites to start us off with. Talk about a baptism of fire; now we were taking on another former Premier League team in the form of Watford. Along with Preston, Watford were the joint favourites to win promotion to the Championship this season and had started accordingly, racking up two big wins in their first two games.

Luckily, we had proven ourselves to be no pushovers and we weren’t intimidated by these fellas in yella. I chose to start Frank Christensen in this game as David Hruby was a bit tired and, on balance, that was a good thing. The first half was a quiet one as both sides cautiously got the measure of the other. It was apparent, however, that Frank Christensen is a very good footballer and he was pulling all the strings in our midfield, spraying passes out wide and bombing forward whenever he could.

It was fitting, then, that Frank was the man to break the deadlock, scoring a screamer 15 minutes into the second half. The goal shocked Watford’s players and, for a brief few minutes, we took a real strangle hold over the game. This culminated with Stuart Winfield, on as a sub, grabbing his first goal for the club. Given the game Christensen was having it should be no surprise that he was the man to slip a perfectly weighted ball to Winfield who wasted no time in slamming home his shot from just inside the area.

After the whistle, things felt a little odd. We had just, fairly comfortably, taken on and beaten one of the favourites for promotion. Our aim this season is simply to stay in the division but, given our recent performances, I was starting to harbour questions at the back of my mind. Questions like “do you think we will be promoted in March, or April?” and “by how many points will we win the league?”. Was I getting carried away? Possibly. Only time would tell.

Matchday 5 – League One – Aldershot Town v Weston-super-Mare

First to test my ‘Weston could get promoted this season’ hypothesis was Aldershot Town. The Shots had come up with us last season via the play-offs and were having even more of an improbably excellent start to their season than we were. They were still unbeaten in the league and were sitting in third, just outside of the automatic promotion spots.

Not that any of that mattered, though, because we had beaten two of the promotion favourites in our last two games and were giddy with delight and confidence.

I am, however, nothing if not quick to jump to conclusions, and Aldershot proved that here as they came from behind to earn themselves a win to extend their brilliant start to the season and condemn us to re-evaluating our entire lives.

It is mad, too, as Aldershot are not much better than they were last season whilst we are far better. It even felt that way as Arvid Fahrmann headed home his first for the club as he met a Captain Barbosa corner with just seven minutes on the clock. Things were looking good and the lads were knocking the ball about with confidence.


It was not meant to be, though, and as we all know you are always most vulnerable straight after scoring. Right from kick off, Kevan Hurst ran up our end and scored a simple finish to draw Aldershot level. Whilst we were left reeling, nine minutes later Gary Martin connected with a good cross to head home their second and complete the turnaround.

I was despairing and knocked back a couple of hot Bovrils to calm myself down, but it was no good. We managed to stabilise ourselves and limp to half-time with the score at 2-1, but we were unable to turn things around in the second half despite me making some tactical tweaks just after the break.

We didn’t create much in the way of chances whilst Aldershot created 22 (twenty-two!) against us. After the highs of beating Hull and Watford, this was very much a return to planet Earth for me and the lads. Perhaps we should just focus on surviving relegation this season, rather than having pipe dreams about promotion.

Matchday 6 – League Cup – Weston-super-Mare v Wolverhampton Wanderers

Thankfully we had a means of escape from our inconsistent league form as we welcomed Wolverhampton Wanderers to the Woodspring. Wolves had started their season well and were sitting in second in the Premier League (after two games, though, come on). They also had far better players than us, so they should have been expecting to walk away from the game fairly comfortably. Their task was made easier when less than 3,600 fans attended the match, meaning the usually formidable atmosphere created by our fans was slightly lessened.

In the end, Wolves left with their name in the hat for the third round of the League Cup, but by gum did we give them a scare! After a pretty dismal showing against Aldershot, they lads really upped their game against Premier League opposition and didn’t look much different in terms of quality or technique.

OK, Wolves scored after sixteen minutes with a header from a corner, but we rallied well and actually managed to drag ourselves level just eight minutes later when Adam Dodd popped up at the back post to tap home and send the fans wild.

The rest of normal time was pretty tense and we had more than one chance to nick the game late on. Unfortunately, it was not to be and the referee’s whistle signalled the start of extra time. Having held Millwall through extra time before dispatching them via the penalty spot, I was confident that, if we could keep Wolves at bay, we could do the same here.

They scored two minutes after the restart as Alexandru Chipciu capitalised on a defensive mix-up to slot home the winner. It was gutting and we threw everything at Wolves in the dying moments to try and grab a second equaliser. Sadly, it never came but we performed admirably and the fans stayed behind to show their appreciation to the players after the game.

It was disappointing not to hold out for penalties, but I think we can be proud of taking a Premier League club to extra time at all. We needed a good performance to get back on our feet following the humbling by Aldershot, and this seemed to be just the ticket.

One slight issue was an injury to Vladimir Rusnak, our first choice right-back. We don’t have much cover for him so I made sure Rachel Greenley understood how important it was to get him back as soon as possible. She told me two to three weeks. I reminded her that you don’t need elbows to play football…

…she told me two to three weeks. Fair enough.

Matchday 7 – League One – Weston-super-Mare v Coventry City

To finish off a month that has included a few highs, a few lows, and at least two heroic but ultimately doomed performances, we welcomed another fallen giant in Coventry City to the Woodspring. Coventry had started well and were up there in the table. They had lost their last two games in league and cup but were still a dangerous proposition. We, on the other hand, were wildly inconsistent. I was relying on the fact that we seem to play better against the big teams to be our saving grace.

Twice this month we have had to play extra time in Cup games. Twice. That’s my excuse. We lost 0-1 to a goal early in the second half that caught us napping. Straight from their own kick off, Coventry knocked the ball around a bit before launching the ball up to big man, Gregory Tade, who took the ball down well before wasting no time in smashing it past Pedro Guedes in goal.

Unlike previous games (ALDERSHOT) we actually created a good deal of chances in this game. However we had slipped into our old habit of not putting many on target and in the end, Coventry created half the amount of chances than us but ended up with more than double actually put on target. It was frustrating but not without its positives; at least we were creating chances. Plus, we had only lost by the one goal so we are not being totally outplayed in our new surroundings.

Things are feeling decidedly similar to our first season in League Two. Back then we created chances but didn’t score and we were rarely embarrassed (Southend results aside). Hopefully, we could find a solution to the problem. Back then my solution was to sign Bob Holmes. Having already ticked that box, I was stumped as to what to do next. Luckily, we have plenty of the season left to go…

So, at the end of August, this is how the table was looking. Hartlepool were inexplicably leading the way despite being dog pops. Aldershot were also performing wonders and remained undefeated in the league. We, on the other hand, were already four points outside the play-offs. We had to start turning chances into goals soon, otherwise this league could get away from us quickly.

May I remind you that, in this division, only the top two are promoted automatically, with the next four entering the play-offs. That is one less space for us aim for when compared to last season. Of course, really, I was just happy to be clear of the bottom three, but it is always nice to aim high…

Our form this month was mixed. Three wins (two and one draw, really) and three losses had put us bang in midtable. Next month we were faced with our JPT game against Oxford, plus a few games that we should be looking to win in order to stay up. Bristol Rovers, Notts County and Rochdale, in particular, are games we need to avoid defeat in if we have any hope of survival.

So, please join me next time when we really start to see what this team is made of. Will we survive this season? How far will we go in the JPT? Do you know why we are so damned inconsistent? Please leave me a comment! (PLEASE). Cheers!



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