It has been a while but welcome back. After the last, bumper episode, I thought we all deserved a break. Did you enjoy it? I didn’t. Let’s get back to it!

First off, after having two games a week every week in January, we will now have two weeks before our game with Hartlepool because our famously shoddy pitch had one of its many off days and forced the Bristol Rovers game to be postponed. We will welcome the time to recover..!

Matchday 38 – League One – Hartlepool United v Weston-super-Mare

The thing is, though, Hartlepool are actually doing pretty well this season. They are currently sitting in eighth place and are challenging seriously for a playoff spot. Whilst we had a week off, they were getting their promotion push back on track with a first win in three, so we were sure to face a side high on confidence in this one.

Not too worried, though, I took advantage of the fact that we had had a long run-up to this game to play my strongest available team. I was confident that we would brush Hartlepool aside with relative ease and that the extended break would give us extra freshness with which to abuse the Hartlepool defence.

Unfortunately, though, we lost 2-1. The game wasn’t even close, really. Hartlepool deserved to win and were two up before we even bothered really trying. Their second goal did spark us into action and, for a brief spell, we looked like we might force our way back to claim a point. Bob Holmes responded well as he nodded home to restore some hope, but the short spell of momentum seemed to run out without us making any more significant chances.

With all hope lost, Holmes was getting desperate. With the game in its final moments, he took a horrendous dive in their penalty area which was ridiculously deemed a penalty by the referee. Having won the penalty, Holmes was the man to step up. With two minutes to go we were going to steal an undeserved point. I was already planning to ask my assistant to crack open a Bovril to be ready for me in my office after the game when Holmes smashed his penalty high over the bar. Not even on target.

We lost. We deserved it. The Bovril was left un-drunk. What a senseless waste…

Matchday 39 – League One – Weston-super-Mare v Charlton Athletic

Things were starting to get a bit worrying. We were losing to sides like Hartlepool and the automatic promotion spots were getting further and further away from us. To top it all off, we then had to welcome the runaway train that is Charlton Athletic to the Woodspring. Just what we need; to play one of the sides in the automatic promotion spots who are in good form whilst we are ourselves are in terrible form. This must-win game really had come at the wrong time.

Mind games.

They didn’t work, though. We were never really in this game and how we only ended up losing by one goal I will never know. Arvid Fahrmann was unfortunate to score an own goal early on as a low cross diverted into the net off of his outstretched leg. We tried in vain to hit back but Charlton had a strangle-hold on the game and didn’t let us anywhere near their box. It was a professional job done by an excellent team, but it meant we had now lost two on the spin.

Matchday 40 – League One – Notts County v Weston-super-Mare

Things were looking grim. Two losses to promotion rivals had left our confidence low and our challenge for promotion looking at lot less likely. Luckily for us, we got to play Notts County in our next fixture. County are poor and sat in 16th at the time. This was a side that we were expected to beat; hopefully, we could get a morale-boosting win to get ourselves back on track. The one issue I could see was their form guide: LWLWL. That means that this game should be a W for them. It definitely means that. It probably does. What is football? I don’t even know anymore. My team-talk was a little garbled; I think the pressure is getting to me.

Luckily the pressure isn’t getting to the team. They are taking ownership of the situation and are leading the team on regardless of the Bovril-induced madness of their glorious leader. Arvid Fahrmann got our first, making up for his own goal last week by having the ball kicked at him by a Notts defender before it ricocheted into the net, right on the stroke of half time.

This was a reminder to us that we could still play football, score goals and, hopefully, win games. I was rejuvenated and the lads could see it at half time. My spark, momentarily missing in the pre-match stress, was back. I rallied the troops with a Churchillian address. “Oh yes,” I said, “Oh yes, oh yes, oh yes”. “Aren’t you going to say more than that?”. “Oh no…and you keep quiet, Dovey, you’re just the sub keeper”. It was genius and the lads thought so too.

All fired up after my frankly epic speech, the lads went out in the second half and battled their way towards the three points. Things were hard going; Notts came back at us and made a good few chances, but our defence, which has been very strong this season, held firm once again and allowed us to play on the break with confidence and speed.

Right on the stroke of full time, just as the Notts players were charging forward to try and steal a point, we broke. Holmes, Burnell and Norwegian Mo flew at the Notts defence. Just as against Hartlepool, Holmes won a penalty as he turned to receive the ball but was brutally hacked down by a County defender. Memories of the Hartlepool game immediately sprung to mind and I was yelling “DON’T LET BOB TAKE IT, FOR GOD’S SAKE” before I knew what I was doing, #motivation. Norwegian Mo took me at my word, swiped the ball from Holmes’ disappointed hands, and placed it confidently on the penalty spot. The world went in slow motion as he ran up to the ball. His connection was perfect, his accuracy perfect, his hair perfect. The ball flew passed the keeper into the net.

We had won. With just a single shot on target, we had scored twice and won the game. We were back.

Matchday 41 – League One – Weston-super-Mare v Bristol Rovers

So, with a fortuitous win under our belts, we made preparations to play the rearranged game with Bristol Rovers. To ensure that the game could be played, I had the squad spend the evening before the game drying out the pitch with hairdryers. We are a professional football club.

As the promotion race has heated up in recent weeks, the pressure seems to have been getting to Paul Ince who has taken to commenting on me and my team even when we aren’t actually playing each other. Prior to the Rovers game, Ince felt the need to tell the press that he thinks our squad isn’t strong enough to get promoted. We will see.

Despite having full confidence in my team’s ability to win promotion, I did feel the need to dip into the loan market to bring in a new left midfielder. Norwegian Mo is getting a bit old and can’t play every game, and we often need Dodd to fill in at left back, so I grabbed Marvin Nevins and flung him bodily into the starting line up against Rovers. He will have to learn quickly.

I was also getting fed up with our flopping strikers, so I gave Joel a start. I said, “Joel, get a goal” and he did, scoring with a deft little dink after 25 minutes to put us one up. For the first time this month we were finally playing good football and looking the better team. Even when we beat Notts we didn’t play particularly well so it was nice that we were able to get back to something like our best in this fixture.

Of course, we continued to finish poorly for the rest of the first half. I gave Joel a high-five and told him to score more goals, but he looked a bit upset and sulked in the second half. I don’t understand how to talk to these modern players with their fancy shoes and sparkly hair. None of them even enjoy Bovril. It is a weird, weird world.

With Joel having the hump, we were even less incisive during the second half and Bristol Rovers were able to drag themselves into the game. They started the half well and put us under some sustained pressure but our tough defence stayed strong. As Rovers turned the screw we were suddenly able to break free and attack as the ball found its way out to Nevins on the left. He received the ball inside our half, turned and ran towards the Rovers goal. He ran, jinking his beautiful way past one, then two defenders. He bamboozled a third, looked up and hit a cracker from the edge of the area that rocketed into the top corner.

It was a beauty and fair play to the lad, he came into a new team and did well, but I would say his goal gave him a bit of overconfidence. The rest of the half was continued defensive action against renewed Rovers attacks but Nevins was very casual. So casual, in fact, that he headed home his second of the afternoon right in the dying seconds of the game. In our net.

I was frustrated but at least we had been able to hold on for the win.

Frustration levels were lowering until Rachel Greenley told me that Arvid Fahrmann, part of our rock-solid defence this season, had damaged his elbow so badly that he would be out for three weeks. I was tempted to again bring up the fact that you don’t need elbows to play football, but memories of the last time that I had questioned Greenley’s judgement had me quivering with fear. I left it alone, but as I wrote Latvian Toms’ name on the team sheet for the Stevenage game I started straight into Arvid’s eyes. He knows what he has done.

Because of Fahrmann’s injury (but also because I like to get players who might one day play for England to have Weston-super-Mare in their career history so that I can claim I found them), I brought in Aston Villa’s 18-year-old defender, Phil Bowes, on loan for the remainder of the season. He is very good for us, very physical and mentally tough, and will be a hit. He is only 5 foot 9, so perhaps he could do with some growing, but I won’t hold it against him. He will learn some things here at Weston. I found him.

Matchday 42 – League One – Stevenage v Weston-super-Mare

Things have picked up a bit in the last couple of games and confidence going into our game with Stevenage was again on the up. Ok, so we didn’t have Arvid Fahrmann but we would still be fine. Our defensive strength this season has not just been down to him. I have full confidence that Latvian Toms will slot seamlessly into the back four as we march to a routine victory over these mid-table nobodies from Stevenage.

Latvian Toms lasted just 39 minutes of his return to the starting XI. He earned himself a straight red card after a vile and inhumane lunge on a Stevenage striker who was almost through on goal. Why do you always get sent off, Latvian Toms, why? To make matters worse, the freekick that Toms gave away led directly to their goal as they launched the ball into the box. After a bit of pinball as we frantically tried to clear it, the ball fell to Marc Pugh to hammer home.

At half-time, I changed things around whilst making Latvian Toms hold my coat. My coat was wet. He got wet. He deserved it. We pulled Tamika Mkandawire back into the hole left in our defence and then put Roy Burnell into midfield at the expense of a striker, leaving Joel alone upfront.

This, to me, gave us the best chance of not conceding any more goals in the game. Naturally, we conceded again just four minutes after the restart as Liam Ridehalgh broke free down the left and beat Pedro Guedes at his near post. Bums.

With this, I decided to go really crazy as I told the lads to keep attacking. I was determined not to lose this game (because who loses to Stevenage?!) but it wasn’t to be. We briefly threatened a comeback after Joel scored two minutes before it was naughty but, unfortunately, we couldn’t sustain the pressure when we were a man down. In the end, it was a comfortable victory for Stevenage (seriously?!) and a very uncomfortable bus trip home for Latvian Toms. I made him sit next to me so that I could stare angrily at him for the entire trip. He looked uncomfortable. Good.

Oh, also I may have let my anger show a bit in my post-match press conference. I went off on a long rant about how inept the referee was and how it was never a foul, let alone a red card. I called into question the integrity of the FA and everyone involved in English football, bar me and my team. In retrospect, I may have gone a bit too far…

At the end of a stressful month, the table is looking a lot less rosy than it did before. Charlton are now three points clear at the top, Aldershot’s momentum appears to be slowing down, and Watford and Paul Ince’s Millwall have leapt over us, leaving us in fifth and just four points inside the play-off spots. We are now six points behind the top two with thirteen games remaining. Not impossible but, given the way we have been playing recently, not likely.

And here is why we have dropped off. A silly defeat at Hartlepool and the frustrating loss at Stevenage have hampered our promotion push no-end. I can forgive the Charlton result, but really we should have won our other four games. Next month is another busy one. My one game ban is for the Rochdale game so, hopefully, the lads will be able to cope without me. Otherwise, we play a whole host of also-rans meaning that, theoretically, we should be picking up a lot of points. We will also see a return to the Woodspring for Lee Nasir when we play Leyton Orient, plus I get to go to the County Ground again.

Let’s hope that we can rediscover some of our early season form and let’s hope that we can do it soon. We are only six points from the automatic promotion places and so we need to win whilst hoping our rivals start dropping points. This season looks like it will have an exciting end…

Thanks for reading! Cheers!

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