Weston’s Super Mare? – Episode 25: The toughest decision of my management career

Welcome back, you lovely lot. Let’s not beat around the bush, there have been some developments since we last met. I mentioned in the last episode that I had been linked to the Swindon job after they sacked Paolo Di Canio. I didn’t think much of it at the time as other people were considered to be favourites, but then I received a phone call that gave me something of a tricky decision to make…

What to do? Do I take the job of turning around the club I have supported since I was a boy? Do I stay loyal to the club that gave me my first chance in football management, the club that I have taken so far and which has so far left to go? Swindon’s squad is very good for this level and, really, they shouldn’t be anywhere near where they are in the league at the moment. The chance to manage at the County Ground is tempting, temple of football as it is. Do I follow in the footsteps of Glenn Hoddle, Ossie Ardiles, Lou Macari and Danny Williams? Could Swindon once more make a return to the promised land of the Premier League under my astute leadership?

Matchday 14 – League Two – Weston-super-Mare v Yeovil Town

No, I turned the job down, I have work to do at the Woodspring, starting with our home tie against in-form Yeovil Town. I rejected the chance to manage my beloved Swindon in order to remain at Weston-super-Mare AFC, now I just have to prove that that was the correct decision.

We got soundly beaten. Wearing our away kit at home is never a good sign, but we can’t blame our poor performance on that alone (although it was definitely a big factor). Everything just seemed to go wrong for us whilst everything that Yeovil’s players touched turned to gold. Whilst the game was even in terms of shots and even possession, Yeovil showed our misfiring strikeforce exactly how to do their jobs by scoring with 75% of their shots on target. We didn’t help ourselves by giving away a penalty just before half-time which they duly scored to go 2-0 up at the break, and the second half was a bit of a formality for them as we trudged dismally to our defeat.

Our first loss of the season and it was a bleak one. Swindon, at least, carried on their own struggles in the league and lost limply. They then announced the signing of Phil Parkinson as their new manager who, frankly, doesn’t hold a torch up to my level of managerial ability.

Big talk, for sure, but we have a chance to prove my point in our next game, as we welcomed the very side that I had just rejected to the Woodspring…

Matchday 15 – Johnstone’s Paint Trophy – Weston-super-Mare v Swindon Town

Swindon were on a dreadful run coming into this fixture, although given that they had just sacked their manager that is hardly a shock. What was shocking was that they had conceded a ridiculous 15 goals in their last four games. They could well be ripe for the taking, but the new manager bounce that always occurs was bound to kick in at some point. Before the game, Alex Diabate came to my office and asked if he could feature a bit more in the starting eleven. Given that our squad is as thin as  the toilet paper you find in service stations, I agreed, and I put the Ivorian wizard in the centre of the park.

This was a tactical masterclass, as Diabate went absolutely nuts in his attempts to prove he should be in the side. He opened the scoring with a world class strike from well outside the area that was hit with such pace that the Swindon keeper could do nothing more than admire as the ball ripped into the back of his net. Diabate wasn’t finished there, though, and he continued to pull the strings in the midfield as we taught Swindon a footballing lesson. After half an hour, Diabate laid the ball off for Norwegian Mo to lash home our second and almost immediately after coming out from half time, Diabate scored his second goal of the evening, jinking his way past three Swindon defenders before slotting calmly underneath the outstretched hands of Wes Foderingham.

Swindon looked shellshocked and meekly rolled over to let us tickle their bellies; right now turning down that job seems to have been the right decision!

That’s now 18 in five for the Robins. They are struggling. We, however, are marching on in the JPT and got a decent draw away to Barnet in the next round. Whisper it, but we are getting dangerously close to the final of this competition…

Matchday 16 – League Two – Weston-super-Mare v Crewe Alexandra

Rumours of cup glories aside, we have a job to do in the league as well. Next up was our home tie against Crewe who had snuck up to fifth and were looking dangerous, especially in attack. Hopefully, the Yeovil result was a blip and we could use the Swindon game as a springboard to get ourselves back on track in the league.

It looks like the Swindon result gave us some of our old confidence and composure back as we confidently beat Crewe thanks to a cheeky chip from Steven Howarth. We took the lead criminally early in this tie, and from then we simply had to see the game out. The game was very even and both sides could have scored many more than they did, but in the end we hung on for the win.

Matchday 17 – League Two – Gateshead v Weston-super-Mare

Now, how is this for a banana skin? A classic result for my Weston sides has always been to struggle against teams towards the bottom of the league. Gateshead were 23rd, hadn’t won in four, had shipped a lot of goals and hadn’t scored many to compensate. They were all ready to be taken apart by some rampant Seagulls.

They beat us 2-1 and dominated us for large parts of the game. They took a deserved lead in the first half, held on to it well until half-time, and then extended their lead mid way through the second half to leave us really struggling. This was not to be one of those games where we mounted a stirring comeback to steal an undeserved point, although Reece Wabara did score from a corner to give a brief hint that we could come away with a draw. Sadly, it was not to be and we didn’t deserve it anyway.

Well played, Gateshead, well played. Another disappointment was an injury to back-up striker Elliot Lee who was dreadful all game and then managed to hurt his neck whilst going for a header. He would be out for two or three weeks but, after his performance before his injury, he might well struggle to get back in the team when he does eventually return.

Matchday 18 – League Two – Burton Albion v Weston-super-Mare

Back to the kind of games we seem to relish, a tough tie away against one of the sides challenging for promotion. Burton had been a bit stop and start, despite currently sitting in fourth, and had gone through a pattern that read win-loss-win-loss-win. Well then, it was up to us to keep that pattern going by giving them a good battering, right?

Wrong, they battered us instead. They had the game pretty much wrapped up in the first half, and even thought they had a man sent off they still went on to win the game comfortably. It was embarrassing to watch our lads chasing shadows, but that was the way it turned out to be.

We would have to stop this ridiculous habit of rolling over for teams very soon, otherwise I will start to worry and no-one wants that.

Meanwhile, our poor form has not stopped the rumour mill a-turning, as this week I was linked with the Crawley Town job. Fat chance.

Our next home game was against the fallen giants of Bradford City and it was certainly a tie that had excited the football going public of Weston, who were rumoured to be turning out in their droves to get a chance to see a ‘big’ club.

Matchday 19 – League Two – Weston-super-Mare v Bradford City

Bradford, despite being of higher means than us, were struggling so far this season and found themselves in 16th place before kick off. They have not done anything particularly uplifting this season and were very much a middle of the road side.

Cue a horrible 1-2 home reverse. From being a side that was dealing with the step up in class between the Blue Square Premier and League Two well, we have now finally embarked upon a bad run of form. The more seasoned League Two sides are teaching us that, without a cutting edge, games in this division can go against you by the finest of margins. This was a case in point; we had more shots on target and matched them in other areas of the pitch, but we still went away with a defeat. They took their chances better than we did and, although Olli Sara scored to bring us level early in the second half, they quickly retook the lead and held on to it. Our strikers clearly cannot cut it at this level. When Gavin Massey is missing, we struggle. Olli Sara is too slow, Steven Howarth can only score lobbed goals, and Elliot Lee is dreadful. Hopefully, we can pick up a striker or two in January to fill the gap in the side.

This fixture broke our record attendance figures, although only slightly, as 3,181 packed into the Woodspring to see the game.

Unfortunately, we were unable to reward our loyal public by giving them a win, but we put on a decent display, I suppose, and hopefully we won’t have put any off from coming again…

And so, we end the month having dropped down to ninth in the table, albeit just two points outside of the play-off positions. Our goalscoring troubles are highlighted by the table below, where it is shown just how few goals we have scored compared to the other clubs at this end of the table. Northampton have 41, for goodness’ sake!

Well, here’s hoping next month we can turn around our league form a bit. One win and four defeats have contributed to our decline in league positioning, so the aim will be to drag ourselves back up that table. We also have the JPT game against Barnet to look forward to. That competition has been a bit of a holiday from our patchy league form, so let’s hope that that can continue!

Keep the faith, chaps; it will be ok in the end! Cheers!

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