Well now, this is new. For the first time this season, I have been named Manager of the Month. An unbeaten month saw me beat Phil Parkinson and Jez George to the gong (I assume Parkinson is in there simply because his side drew with my irresistible Seagulls). It feels nice to be recognised for my effort, particularly after January and February bruised me mentally as the stress of our promotion push started to tell.
I’m all better now, though.
Matchday 50 – League One – Weston-super-Mare v Yeovil Town
We have six games left this season and we need to win all of them (or at least avoid defeat) in order to keep hold of our promotion spot. First up was Yeovil who were enjoying a decent little spell and were threatening to push up into the play-off positions. Their manager came third behind me in the Manager of the Month award and so I knew already that I had the psychological edge over him. All we had to do now is prove it on the pitch.
Before we could get to the ground, though, Paul Ince was having his say about how we were getting on. Surprisingly, he had only positive things to say about us, telling the media that he thought we would get a result against Yeovil. I suspect he was trying some reverse psychology, but it wouldn’t work on us, by gum!
We conceded after twelve minutes, with Andy Williams racing clear of our defence to slot calmly home past the stranded Pedro Guedes. This was so bloody typical; had Ince’s pre-match comments made our lads over confident?
Well, it was for this kind of situation that I signed the experience of Lee Novak. What seemed like an odd signing out of left field has turned out to be a good one so far, and he proved it yet again as he popped up with another important goal just three minutes later to draw us level.
The crowd went wild, even though they were still a bit confused by the fact we were wearing our away kit at home. Novak was mobbed by the rest of the team and it was clear by their reactions how much the goal meant to them. As I watched them celebrate, I felt renewed belief that we would go on and win promotion this season.
After the flurry of early excitement, nothing much else happened in the first half. We were playing perhaps the better football and we were creating the better and more numerous chances, but things had calmed down a bit and both defences held firm until half-time.
I gave the lads a round of high-fives as they came into the dressing room and I could tell this motivational gesture had worked wonders. I didn’t even need to say anything; they knew we could do it. Captain Barbosa stood up and told the lads to go out there and win this game for the fans (and also to stick one to Paul Ince and his mind games). They cheered. A tear came to my eye.
Within two minutes of the restart, we had taken the lead. Straight from kick off we got the ball up their end and forced a corner. The inspired Captain Barbosa whipped in a dangerous cross and Hjortur Hermannsson was there to meet it, thumping it into the back of the net with Viking ferocity that left the Yeovil keeper needing a bit of a sit-down.
This killer blow dissipated the intentions of Yeovil to push on and win the game and the second half felt like a bit of a procession from that point. We had the chances to kill the game off but the ball just wouldn’t fall kindly to us (plus our finishing was terrible). Yeovil’s keeper responded to his jimmies being rustled by making a number of good saves to further frustrate our attack, but Yeovil offered nothing going forward. We held out for what was, in the end, a comfortable win and the cheers around the Woodspring at full time were deafening. The fans believed.
More importantly, the team believed.
After the Yeovil game, we had to wave goodbye to Big Herve whose loan from Man City was coming to an end. I have kept quiet about it so as to preserve the confidence of Claus Larsen, but since Larsen’s little wobble in confidence last episode, Big Herve has been filling in and doing an admirable job. Now that he is leaving, Larsen will step back up for the final five games of the season refreshed after a short break and ready to help us win promotion. Top management, Ben. Thanks.
Matchday 51 – League One – Weston-super-Mare v Oxford United
Game number two in our run in was a home tie with Oxford United. This time we were allowed to wear our home kit, at home. Things were looking good. We have faced Oxford a lot in recent years and have, by and large, had the better of them. Given their recent form, I was anticipating this to be the same. It seemed that Chris Wilder, former friend-turned-enemy of my managerial career, agreed, saying that he expected to see us in amongst the promotion picture come the end of the season. To do that we needed to beat his boys. No prob.
Another pre-match source of entertainment came from Sam Allardyce, manager of Watford, who also tried to heap the pressure on us by tipping us to beat Oxford. We will do what we can, Big Sam, don’t worry.
This time, the positive vibes from other managers around the division did not foreshadow a win. They should have, given that we battered Oxford and restricted them to two shots and one on target for the entire game, but it wasn’t to be. We may have had ten shots, but only two were on target and anyone who reads this regularly will know we don’t do well with those kinds of numbers. We need to be getting five or six on target just to score one. It was an off day of the kind we can’t afford any more of between now and the end of the season.
Speaking of off days Walsall’s fate was sealed as they became the first side to be relegated this season. 27 points from 42 games is a shocking return and they deserved to be relegated, frankly. This is the same Walsall, may I remind you, that we drew with 0-0 last month…
As if dropping points at home to Oxford wasn’t bad enough, I got news that the board had had to inject another half mil into the club’s coffers. The accountant’s office was a busy one as I walked past, whistling loudly. I pretended I couldn’t hear the sounds of frantic sobbing emanating from the room as I walked past. I just whistled louder.
We had the biggest game of the month coming up, made all the more important in light of the dropped points from Oxford. We simply had to win the next game against Millwall. As if to remind us, Paul Ince was once again in front of the microphones, this time to tell journalists that his side would beat us.
I don’t think I can take this many mind games. I’m all mind gamed out. I took a draught of Bovril from my specially made hipflask I have taken to walking around with. The stress, pushed away during the last month, was back…
Matchday 52 – League One – Millwall v Weston-super-Mare
Millwall have had a good season (surprisingly so given who their manager is, but let’s not be churlish at this stage). Last month they faltered a bit, allowing us to leapfrog them, but they have picked up again in their last three or four games and are once again pushing hard for automatic promotion. Simply put, we need to win this game.
We lost, 2-1. Bob Holmes started things off well as he scored in the 28th minute and for the next ten minutes things seemed rosy. The clouds were suddenly gone, my hipflask of Bovril remained untouched.
And then, completely out of the blue, Sunil Chetri scored a freekick to drag the Lions level. Coming so suddenly, the goal was a shock to our system and we took a few minutes to recover. This allowed Millwall to gain some momentum and by the end of the half we were hanging on in there.
The half-time break came at just the right time for us and it allowed us to regroup. I didn’t make changes, I just calmed the lads down a bit. I told them to go back out there, to remember that we were still drawing, and to be aware of the fact that Millwall are rubbish and we are better than them so just win ok?! I think they got the message, and I think it calmed them down.
We took the field and took the sting out of the game a bit by holding on to the ball. Millwall’s defence was looking strong and we struggled to find a way through. Despite our best efforts, they were pushing us back more and more. We were holding firm defensively, but it felt like there was only a matter of time until Millwall scored.
And then, stupidly, Yanic Wildschut got himself sent off. We were suddenly playing against ten men. I took the opportunity to attack and threw on some new attackers. I prioritised the side of the pitch that Wildschut had occupied, hoping to take advantage of the newly created space. I did everything I could think of, but we couldn’t force a breakthrough.
The game seemed to be petering out and I was happy to be leaving with a point when, suddenly, Millwall scored. Chetri again tucked the ball home, this time after some shoddy defending of a corner, to send the New Den into wild celebrations. We had lost.
I couldn’t believe it but, looking at the stats, it turns out that Millwall had actually deserved their win. Well now, we have to regroup and focus. We have three games left. We ideally need nine points to get ourselves into second place.
First place, unfortunately, seems to have been wrapped up already as Charlton confirmed their immediate return to the Championship this weekend…
…and in even more disappointing news, former two-time European Champions, Nottingham Forest, were confirmed as relegated to the fourth tier. They have had a dire season but, even without their points deduction, they would still have been relegated. I feel sorry for them, although this surely means our game against them will be that much easier. Who knows.
Speaking of relegation, Leyton Orient have also gone. Lee Nasir’s new side couldn’t cut it at this level and have gone down in 23rd place. Poor old Lee.
Matchday 53 – League One – Weston-super-Mare v Nottingham Forest
So we welcomed Nottingham Forest to the Woodspring knowing that we had a pretty good chance of getting three points. Forest had conceded 84 games in 43 games, an impressive total.
That didn’t stop their manager, Paul Jewell, from mouthing off before the game, telling the media that he didn’t think we had the quality to get promoted. When will you learn, Paul? This is the kind of mind game that I know how to use to our advantage. Why must you be so predictable..?
From a Nottingham Forest standpoint, this was embarrassing. One shot on target. One, measly shot.
From a Weston-super-Mare standpoint, this was excellent and just what we needed. 19 shots against Forest, nine on target. Just the two goals scored but I could live with that. Lee Novak got us off to a good start as he scored on 18 minutes, tapping in from an Adam Dodd cross.
Bob Holmes also got in on the act, scoring a nice, clipped finish just nine minutes later to effectively kill off the tie. We could and should have had more, but in the end the three points are what matters and we did at least get them in the bag.
This game was also a landmark for Hjortur Hermannsson who made his 100th appearance for Weston-super-Mare AFC. Hermannsson is an impressive operator and has been with the club now for a few seasons, helping our promotion charge last year. I would describe him as one of the greats.
See? I am a man of my word.
Excitingly, the Forest win meant that we had officially secured a play-off spot. But we have never yet had a need for the play-offs and we still had a strong hope of avoiding them again this season.
We would, however, be without Andy Gibson for the remaining two games of the season as his loan expired and he had gone back to West Brom. This is unlikely to hurt our chances as he wasn’t very good, so I am not too upset.
Speaking of former loan players, Big Herve made his debut for Manchester City’s first team after his successful loans spell with us. I found him, I did. To be fair, though, it seems like City weren’t taking the Wigan game entirely seriously, as four other players also made their debuts. Still, though…
Matchday 54 – League One – Gillingham v Weston-super-Mare
Two games left. Two games. Win them both and we guarantee ourselves automatic promotion. Drop points and we might well be looking at Preston North End leapfrogging us, consigning us to the play-offs.
Luckily, we faced a Gillingham side with nothing left to play for that was in indifferent form. If alarm bells aren’t already ringing in your head at that news, then you aren’t a long-term reader of the blog.
Speaking of alarm bells, I was unnerved when Paul Ince tipped us to do well against the Gills in his pre-match conference. What kind of world is it where Paul Ince repeatedly gives us praise??
Naturally, given the utter averageness of Gillingham and Paul Ince’s kind words, we play dreadfully. The first half was dreadfully dull with Gillingham content to sit around and defend against an uninspired Weston-super-Mare attack. We looked nervous and were not at our fluent best; the closest we came to making the breakthrough came early on when we nearly forced an own goal from a Gillingham defender, but otherwise it was a rubbish first half.
The second, however, was the total opposite. Just eight minutes after the restart, out-of-form Gillingham scored a fantastic team goal, countering us delightfully and allowing Charlie Lee to smash home.
Whilst we were still reeling and trying to calculate the damage this goal could do to our promotion push, Gillingham then took the ball off us and scored again four minutes later. Charlie Lee was on hand to tap home from inside the box, under no pressure from our defence who were looking like rabbits in headlights.
2-0 down. Preston were winning, meaning that, as it stood, we were only in the automatic spots on goal difference. Things looked bleak. I looked out across the Priestfield Stadium to the collection of Weston fans who had travelled all the way to see us play. They looked despondent. As the Gillingham players celebrated, I looked to my bench. Roy Burnell looked desperate to come on. Tamika Mkandawire had his head down. I made a snap decision and sent Burnell on in his place. Burnell is loved by fans and players alike for his selfless play. He doesn’t score goals but he offers a fantastic, energetic shield to our defence. He is, in many respects, Mr Weston-super-Mare (particularly given that he always seems to be injured, something that has very much become ‘our thing’).
Burnell’s impact on the game was immediate. He started geeing up the team, he lunged almost instantly into a challenge on a Gillingham midfielder. This stirred something in the rest of the players. Their heads raised. Within four minutes we had scored, Burnell feeding the ball to Captain Barbosa whose cross found the head of Lee Novak inside the box. Novak picked up the ball and ran with it back to the half way line. We could feel that the momentum had shifted.
For the next few minutes, we laid siege to the Gillingham goal. They couldn’t keep hold of the ball, they couldn’t get out of their box. But we. Couldn’t. Score. Ball after ball was pumped into the box in search of Bob Holmes or Lee Novak. Eventually, one fell to Burnell. He was about 30 yards from goal. The natural thing to do, for someone who can’t shoot for toffee, would have been to feed the ball out wide. Instead, he took a touch and then unleashed an absolute thunderbastard of a shot into the top corner of the Gillingham net.
In the space of 15 minutes we had gone two down, then dragged the game back to 2-2. Our fans went wild. Burnell didn’t know what to do with himself and ended up underneath a pile of Weston players. I jumped up and nearly knocked myself out on the roof of the dug-out. Jack Dovey, asked if he could come on for his first appearance in two years. I laughed in his face.
After the drama, the rest of the half calmed down. We continued to apply pressure and push for a winner, but Gillingham’s defence held firm. They continued to try and hit us on the break, but our incredible comeback had restored the confidence of our usually tough defence and they repelled and danger to Pedro Guedes’ goal.
2-2 at the final whistle. We had done it – we had at least rescued a point, meaning we are now one point clear of Preston in third. BIG. RESULT.
It did, however, mean that our slim hopes of winning the title were now officially over. After a slightly dodgy start to the season, Charlton have won the league fairly comfortably. Fair play to them.
But the news was not all good. Not at all. In the aftermath of the game, I went out for a drink with my agent. We were planning to meet a couple of guys who were interested in offering me a lucrative job. I wasn’t interested, but I thought I would go along and see what they had to say.
We went to my favourite Chinese restaurant in Weston. You can get wine by the pint glass there, it’s fantastic. They asked me a few questions about taking payments for signing players. I laughed at them, reminding them that we had no money at all at the club. Of course, I said, there were ways around the rules governing third-party ownership. I also negotiated a very lucrative deal that would see me provided with as much Bovril as I wanted for the rest of my life. Nice.
As the lads left, I was sat chugging back another pint of wine. Nothing can go wrong here, I thought.
I was wrong. The men we met were actually undercover reporters for a national newspaper. They spread the story around that the Weston-super-Mare manager was corrupt and abusing his current position. They printed the above picture of me and my empty wine pint glass. It was horrible. The board have requested a meeting with me. I probably won’t get that Bovril…
On the eve of the biggest game in the club’s history, it remains to be seen whether I still have a job. Will I get the chance to lead Weston on to more glory, or will this be the end of the road?
With just the Brentford game left, promotion is very much still in ou…the club’s hands. A win would guarantee automatic promotion. A draw or loss would open the door for Preston.
Come back next time to see what happens. Will Weston be promoted? Will I keep my job? IS THIS THE END?