With all the excitement of a League One promotion fight right here in front of you, it is hard to remember sometimes that there is more than just third-tier football going on. Proof of that came with the League Cup final, won this year by Stoke City.
This is a weird timeline, and I’m not sure I like it.
Matchday 43 – League One – Weston-super-Mare v Rochdale
With a lot of football to get through in March, let’s crack on. If you will recall, I was banned for this game, so I sat in the stands whilst my assistant took charge of the game.
Rochdale are doing surprisingly well this season, although they have lost their last two. In our previous fixture this season , Thomas Ince (son of my arch-rival, Paul) scored the winner in a 2-1 Rochdale win. Who wants to bet that Ince Jr will be on the scoresheet this time?
If you put money on it, you wouldn’t have won very much because it was basically a certainty. In the least surprising moment of the season, Thomas Ince opened the scoring with a beauty, curling in from the edge of the area for his second of the season. Just two goals this season, Tom? Why did you score them both against us, Tom? GO AWAY TOM. I could just feel the grin on Paul Ince’s smug face. I slumped down in my plastic seat and picked at some of the splinters in the pallet that the seat was bolted too. We haven’t mentioned it for a while, but we all remember that our stadium is naff, right?
Luckily, my one change to the starting line-up came in the shape of Hjortur Hermannsson filling in at centre back. The Icelandic defender was playing impressively and our defence once again looked solid, far better than Latvian Toms who was sitting next to me in the stands trying his best not to catch my eye. As well as shoring up the defence, Hermannsson is a presence in the box at corners and he proved it here as he forced home a header in the 40th minute to draw us level.
Unfortunately we couldn’t force a winner but whatever words my assistant said at half time did at least keep the lads mentally strong enough to see out the rest of the game without conceding again.
A point isn’t too bad, although given how many chances both sides had there should really have been a lot more goals here. At least we didn’t lose…
Claus Larsen has been struggling a bit with the pressure of our promotion push and somehow that was leaked to the papers. One former Weston-super-Mare player (who will remain nameless as I don’t know his name) felt the need to publicly voice concerns over whether Larsen is mentally strong enough to be in the team. Thanks, nameless man, I am sure that will really boost his fragile confidence.
I took Larsen aside and told him I had full faith in him and that he wouldn’t be losing his place in the side. Larsen looked like this gave him some confidence, so I decided not to mention that this was because we don’t really have any other options at left back. Although, we do have big Herve…
Matchday 44 – League One – Weston-super-Mare v Walsall
Just three days later we were back in action at the Woodspring as we welcomed a dreadful Walsall side. It was nice to be in the dugout again after forcing my way into one of the ‘seats’ that the stadium ‘boasts’. The single wooden plank that is our bench seems like a luxury now; there aren’t even any splinters!
Things started well for us as we started to dominate right from kick off. Walsall are in serious danger of relegation and have scored less than a goal a game. It was no surprise then that we were very quickly camped in their half. What was surprising was that, despite them having conceded 68 goals in 34 games, we didn’t seem to be able to make the breakthrough.
Chance after chance came and went. Occasionally, for a bit of a change, we let them attack but this was more an exercise in curiosity as I wanted to see what their strikers would do when presented with an actual chance. Not much, it turned out. But the same could be said for our strikers. Lyes Saadoune and Bob Holmes were completely unable to force home one of our 19 chances and somehow, despite being utterly dominated for the entire game, Walsall reached the final whistle without conceding.
Two games, two draws. Not good enough. We need wins. We need goals.
We need…Lee Novak?! Well, that’s what we got, anyway. His agent called up saying he was available on loan so I brought him in. We have far too many loan players, but it’s all good. Late season signings of strikers have served me well in the past, maybe Lee is the man to fire us to promotion..!
I also got in Paul Lombardi in from Arsenal, purely because I have been chasing him for ages and he was finally willing to come. He probably won’t play much but he gives me a nice option from the bench. I have gone signing mad.
Oh, and Arvid Fahrmann has returned to training. I’ll give him a few more days recovery as Hermannsson is doing well and Fahrmann needs to regain a bit of fitness, but he will go straight on to the bench.
Matchday 45 – League One – Carlisle United v Weston-super-Mare
Ok. So far this month we have had draws with a team that had lost two in a row and a team that concedes goals for fun. Now we faced Carlisle who, despite being in 15th, are undefeated in five. We all know what’s going to happen, so let’s jump straight in.
If you predicted “comfortable Weston-super-Mare win” then you were right! If you thought we would lose, please leave. We don’t need your negativity here.
Bob Holmes, having not scored in ages, was obviously feeling threatened by the arrival of Lee Novak so he decided to put on a bit of a show. He scored a fine goal after ten minutes, jinking past two Carlisle defenders before rifling into the far corner of the goal. Our play in this game was superb in parts and we continued to look absolutely solid at the back with Hermannsson marshalling the line. Novak, starting up front as a target man, used his experience well to hold the ball up and link up play between midfield and attack. It was a sight to see.
It paid off in full in the second half when a cross from Captain Barbosa found the head of Novak. Novak nodded the ball into the path of Holmes who hit the ball first time into the roof of the net. It was a thunderous finish that nearly ripped the roof off of the net but, more importantly, it killed off any chance of a Carlisle fight back. We saw the game out to full time with little issue and finally, we looked like our pre-January selves again.
The game left me on a high that only financial worry could break…
Luckily the board apparently have quite deep pockets. They dipped into them once again to provide a cash injection to keep the club afloat. The accountant, his brow previous wet with cold sweat, went back to his office to dump the new funds into the black hole that is the club’s finances and I kept my fingers firmly in my ears. What I don’t know can’t hurt me, so I just won’t look at the finances. We’ll still get paid, right?
Matchday 46 – League One – Weston-super-Mare v Leyton Orient
Back to the Woodspring for our next game, which was sure to be an emotional one. It was the first time that Lee Nasir, a stalwart of our rise from non-league to League One, would be returning to his spiritual home. Unfortunately for Lee, his new side are utter dog-pops and are looking ever more likely to be suffering relegation this season. Just one win in their last five tells a pretty poor story. They do seem to score a fair few goals, but the number they concede is the real problem. I warmly embraced Nasir before kick-off and he was greeted with warm applause from all sides of the ground in recognition of his achievements at the club.
That was as good as it got for Lee, however, as his team crumbled under the first bit of pressure that we applied. The early exchanges were pretty even and Leyton Orient did string together a couple of chances to worry me a bit in the first ten minutes.
However, as we grew into the game a bit more, Orient were forced back further and further. Eventually the inevitable happened and Bob Holmes struck from close range to give us the lead after 29 minutes. We continued to keep them hemmed into their own half but they were resolute. Their goalkeeper was playing exceptionally well and was a key part in the score staying low throughout the game.
He wasn’t able to keep us out forever, though, as right on half-time Christian Neumann flicked home a header from a corner to further deflate Orient’s players.
The second half continued in much the same vein as the first. Orient came out from half-time looking determined to make a go of the game but their resistance lasted only twelve minutes before Lee Novak grabbed his first for the club as he tapped in from a Captain Barbosa cross.
We weren’t done yet, though, and Captain Barbosa was the man to finish off the scoring for us as he smashed in a long-range beauty that the Orient keeper could do nothing to stop.
In the end, it was a disappointing return for Lee Nasir but it was a vital three points for us in our search for promotion and the packed out Woodspring was in fine voice as we again looked back to our best.
Next stop, the County Ground.
Matchday 47 – League One – Swindon Town v Weston-super-Mare
Back to the County Ground. My spiritual home. A theatre of dreams. A place where heroes win glory. A pantheon of greatness near a roundabout of fear. The tippy top of the footballing pyramid. A footballer’s dream. Paradise.
Swindon are in good form recently and, although they sit in mid-table, they will be a tough nut to crack. Their manager, the man they turned to when I turned them down, thinks that we can win promotion if we beat his side. I think so too. Let’s do this.
The first half was a cagey affair, with not many chances created for either side. I think we were overawed by the surroundings, but I could be wrong. Parkinson has made Swindon a tough side and they certainly showed it here.
Whenever we play Swindon I mention Evandro Brandao because; a) I tried to sign him once, and b) he always scores against us. He did so again here, putting Swindon into a barely deserved lead with a fantastic free-kick just after the restart.
This annoyed me and I told the lads to push forwards. We had threatened a few times in the first half but Swindon had matched us. Now we were utterly dominant and started creating chances at will. Finally, our pressure told as an Alex Diabate corner was met by the head of Hjortur Hermannsson who powered the ball past the despairing dive of Wes Foderingham. What an impact Hermannsson has had since returning to the side this month!
The rest of the half was like a training exercise as we dominated possession and created chance after chance. Novak missed a sitter, Saadoune (on as a replacement for Holmes) hit the post, but we just couldn’t make our pressure count.
When the final whilst blew, I shook hands with Parkinson. He knew they had gotten away with an undeserved point. I was just worried what this would do to our promotion chances.
Matchday 48 – League One – Weston-super-Mare v Crewe Alexandra
We were back at the Woodspring just four days later to play our most meaningful match of the month against play-off chasing Crewe Alexandra. We had started the month just four points above them and I was desperate to put some more distance between us and them.
We also had some extra incentives in this game as Crewe had beaten us earlier in the season, beating us 1-0 and scoring with their only shot on target. That wouldn’t be happening this time as our rock-solid defence would keep them at bay. I was so confident, I even told the press as much.
Things usually go very wrong when I talk smack in the press, but this time was one of those rare times when a prediction I make comes true. Crewe’s game plan was hampered by an injury after three minutes to their defender, Manny Smith. Replacing Smith unsettled Crewe’s rhythm and we took full advantage as Captain Barbosa danced past their left back before firing in a shot that somehow beat the Crewe keeper at his front post.
Crewe’s plans were further thrown into turmoil when they lost another defender to injury just before half-time. Luckily for them, the timing meant we didn’t have a chance to take advantage once again, but they had now had to waste two substitutions replacing injured defenders, diminishing their chances to change the game from the bench in the second half.
We were playing very well with our defence again limiting Crewe’s attack to just two shots on target. Our attack was less effective, but we did finally score the second goal that we deserved when Lee Novak tapped home from a Captain Barbosa free-kick. Novak’s goal killed the game off and we were able to reach full time with very little trouble.
One problem was that Christian Neumann picked up a needless yellow card in the 71st minute. The booking was his tenth of the season, meaning he will now have to sit out two games. Luckily we have Arvid Fahrmann back and ready to go so, hopefully, his absence will not be strongly felt.
Matchday 49 – League One – Torquay United v Weston-super-Mare
To round off March, we made the relatively short trip to Torquay United. Torquay were poor and still looking over their shoulders at the relegation zone. They were in poor form, having lost three of their previous five, and they also seem to ship goals for fun. Given our recent upturn in form, I was quietly confident that we could get the three points here, even without Christian Neumann at the back.
The game started perfectly for us as Bob Holmes scored after just three minutes to calm our nerves and immediately put pressure on Torquay. Torquay were seeing more of the ball than us but were unable to make their possession count. By contrast, our play with the ball was much more effective and we were creating a lot of chances, culminating in Captain Barbosa grabbing his third goal in four games just before half time.
At half time I threw on Alex Diabate to give Frank Christiansen a breather and the change gave an almost immediate return. The ball was pumped into the box by Captain Barbosa but it was easily cleared by the head of a Torquay defender. The ball fell to Tamika Mkandawire who side-footed the ball to Diabate on the edge of the box. Diabate took one touch before smashing in a shot that went in off the crossbar. It was a beauty and Diabate celebrated joyfully with the travelling Seagulls fans.
After this, we fell victim to a bit of complacency. The players clearly thought the game was won and took their foot off the pedal a bit, allowing Torquay to edge quietly back into the match. They got a goal back on 75 minutes, a well-worked move that took us by surprise. Luckily it proved to be a wake-up call for our players who re-engaged their footballing brains to see out the rest of the game with little incident.
Another fantastic win against a team we should be beating. I was happy. After last month, this is exactly what we had needed.
Proof of that came from a glance at the table. Suddenly we were the team in the second automatic promotion spot. Over the course of the month, we had overcome the six-point deficit and had now jumped above Watford, Millwall and Aldershot. Our goal difference was playing a bit part in our league position, mainly thanks to a league-low number of goals conceded. If we can keep this up…
There are only six games left this season. Five of them come next month. Yeovil, Oxford, Forest and Gillingham are games that we should expect to win – they are mid-table teams (except Forest who are bottom) and we need those points. The big one comes on the 16th of April when we take on Millwall at the New Den. They are still in the hunt for promotion and are just six points behind us. We need to win that game.
Come back next time to see how we get on. Can we do it? Could we really be on the verge of a second promotion in two years? Will Weston-super-Mare be a Championship club next season? Find out next time. Cheers!