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Weston’s Super Mare? – Episode 38: Weston in a Winter Wonderland      

Another month of fun awaits us. December has traditionally been pretty kind to us; we have only ever lost three games in the month during my past three years as Weston boss. We haven’t exactly been handed the toughest fixtures in the season this time around, so I would say we could be in for an unbeaten month…

We start this month with our 2nd Round FA Cup tie against Dover Athletic. To the winner goes an away trip to Premier League side Sunderland. It is a shame that the tie isn’t at home so as to get us some extra monies, but it would nevertheless be nice to take on a Premier League team in a Premier League setting.

Matchday 25 – FA Cup – Dover Athletic v Weston-super-Mare

So let’s make it happen! Dover were in good form coming into this game and sat proudly atop the Blue Square South. They clearly don’t concede many goals and will certainly be a tough proposition. That said, we are 48 league places better off than them so really we should be looking to win the game comfortably and avoid another replay.

Foreshadowing..! We drew 1-1, although on another day we could have scored a whole lot more. AS it was, Steven Howarth opened the scoring on 41 minutes as he dove well and connected with a cut-back from Captain Barbosa to nod the ball past the Dover keeper. After that, we remained threatening but were unable to get the final touch that would have put the game to bed. Naturally, we were punished as Ed Harris nodded home from a late corner to give Dover a second chance to knock us out of the FA Cup.

They would have to do that at the fearsome Woodspring, though. Would they be able to handle the pressure at that fortress? Only time will tell…

Matchday 26 – League Two – Dagenham and Redbridge v Weston-super-Mare

Before all of that, though, we had to continue in our bid to gain promotion to League One. The next side to stand in our way was Dagenham and Redbridge, the club that had previously denied us a spot in the FA Trophy final back when we were in the Blue Square Premier. That time round we had the last laugh as we walked to promotion and the league title, whilst Dagenham lost the cup final and missed out on promotion. Still, it was a bitter defeat and I remember it hurting a lot. So now we get to take a bit of revenge on the hapless Daggers. They were sitting in mid-table and had just come out of a poor run of form that had seen them lose three out of four games. It was up to us to put them back amongst the ‘L’s…

This time around, we were by far the better side. They may have pretty handily put us to bed in the FA Trophy semi-finals, but we were way better than them here and had the job done before half time. Chelsea loanee Pat Bamford started up top, ahead of Howarth and Olli Sara, and he opened the scoring by turning on a sixpence inside the box before firing into the bottom corner. It was a lovely goal and he was really showing his Chelsea class.

But Bamford is not the only man at Weston capable of putting balls into nets of string with great talent. Bob Holmes is by far the best player that the club has on a permanent contract, and he proved his worth by barging past two players before smashing the ball into the top corner of the Daggers’ goal. 0-2 up at half-time and cruising, we shut the game down in the second half. There was an element of taking our foot off of the pedal involved here, but we were still in control and Dagenham and Redbridge could only muster a single shot on target in response.

A lovely, comfortable win and Pat Bamford’s first goal for the club. An excellent result, all round. Plus, to top it off, we finally got our revenge on Dagenham for that defeat in the FA Trophy final. Har har hardy har.

Matchday 27 – FA Cup – Weston-super-Mare v Dover Athletic

We then had four days to prepare ourselves for the second game against Dover. We have never actually lost to Dover and, given our good form in the last match, I was again feeling confident. They had also won their last league game, but we were better than them and I knew we would prove it this time around.

I was right, too. Due to the short turn-around in between each game I had rotated the squad a bit. Bamford was removed and replaced in the starting eleven by Steven Howarth, and Captain Barbosa was given a break, to be replaced by Simon Feindouno. Feindouno, having moaned a little bit about not being in the team enough, took his chance to prove himself well and got himself on the scoresheet after 35 minutes. Hruby’s through ball found him in space on the right-hand corner of the 18-yard box and Feindouno wasted no time in lashing the ball in past the hapless ‘keeper.

Dover were figuratively creating nothing in response to our excellent opening play and we controlled the vast majority of the game. We spent almost the entire match in their half and, bar one counter attack which resulted in an off-target effort, we held them completely at arm’s length. Despite this dominance, however, we were unable to break them down again until very late on when Olli Sara, replacing the ineffectual Steven Howarth, nodded home from an Andreas Nordvik cross.

It was an excellent display of dominance from the boys and I was extra-specially proud of them for putting on such a good performance.

Plus we got given nearly thirty grand in prize money, which I will never complain about…

…especially with the promise of at least some money from our tie against Sunderland. Whilst I usually try to avoid cup replays like the plague, if we can just hold out and bring them kicking and screaming to play us at the Woodspring, I will be very happy as it will give us even more money.

It is unlikely, but it could happen.

Matchday 28 – League Two – Weston-super-Mare v Tranmere Rovers

We returned three days later to our league commitments as we played host to the Super White Army from Tranmere. They were in poor nick and, despite a decent result or two this season, they were struggling in 23rd place. I had actually deliberately favoured this match by resting some of our ‘stars’ in the Dover game and so I was able to bring the full force of our talents into the game.

It showed, too, as we blew Tranmere away. Vladimir Rusnak the right-back scored his first for the club (I think) when he nodded home from an early corner before Bob Holmes then ran through their whole defence and slotted home. Our first half performance was excellent and we didn’t give much away at all.

We continued this into the beginning of the first half as Pat Bamford took only five minutes to increase our lead to three. Again he showed good feet and composure when inside the box to turn his man inside out before calmly passing the ball past the helpless ‘keeper. After Bamford’s goal we slowed up a bit and Tranmere briefly threatened to make a comeback, although they only managed a single shot on target by the time the final whistle blew.

Another good win – we were on a bit of a roll! But the easily rolled-over hillock is strewn with irritatingly large rocks of different shapes and sizes, causing obstacles for our rolling to overcome. This time, the obstacle came in the shape of midfielder Roy Burnell tearing his groin muscle and ruling himself out for two to three months. Rachel Greenley will be earning her pay in the New Year…

Matchday 29 – League Two – Wycombe Wanderers v Weston-super-Mare

Now for our toughest test this month. Wycombe have been on a dreadful run, but they are still in fourth and are pretty close behind us. Get a win here and we would be well clear at the top. Lose and it wouldn’t be the end of the world, but it would be getting close.

Obviously, we lost. This is the way of things here at Weston-super-Mare; we play crappy teams or ones in poor form and we lose, we play great teams or ones in excellent form and we win. This time round our loss was an unlucky one. We looked good for large spells of the game but were unable to convert our good play into goals.

Pat Bamford continued his good run by opening the scoring after just three minutes to put us into a strong early position. Things stayed that way until midway through the first half when Craig Tanner scored an improbably lovely goal to level the scores. I threw on Olli Sara and freshened up our wingers in an attempt to reinvigorate us, but alas it wasn’t to be. In actual fact, they went and nicked the game right at the death as Ronan Finn finished off a scintillating counter attack by tapping home at the back post.

It was hardly a sucker punch but it was still a bit hard to take. We had equalled them and really, if anything, the game deserved to be a draw. In the end, though, we had to accept our defeat and we now had to focus extra hard on the next two games against Northampton and Gateshead.

Matchday 30 – League Two – Weston-super-Mare v Northampton Town

Northampton were much improved on last year’s vintage. Previously, they had conceded over 100 goals as they just about survived relegation. This time around they were a much tougher nut to crack.

Whilst we were clearly missing Roy ‘Bald Eighteen-year-old’ Burnell in the centre of the park, we were lucky that we could at least welcome Gardner Douglas back into the fold as he returned faster than expected from injury. Maybe he would be able to get a second appearance for us before heading back to Fulham?

Not in this game, though, it was a bit too soon to be rushing him back in. Luckily, Gardner wasn’t needed as we managed to see off Northampton without him. We took another early lead as Pat Bamford scored after just ten minutes. He then scored again, mid-way through the half, to put us in cruise control for the rest of the first period.

The second half was a bit of a bugger, though. Our players clearly thought that the game was already won and seemed to have eased off a bit. Northampton took full advantage as first Phil Airey and then Kieron Forbes scored to draw the Cobblers level.

I was not having this, oh no! We have given away a two-goal lead once already this season and I was damned if I was going to see us drop points thanks to our own complacency. To shake things up, I dragged off Steven Howarth and brought on Olli Sara, sent Liam Conway on at left-mid, and brought back Simon Feindouno in the centre. It was a bit of a radical triple substitution that our opponents were not ready for, and it paid off like something that paid off really well! Just as the game looked over, Feidoundo fed the ball through to Sara. Sara took the ball in his stride before slipping the ball through a defender’s legs to Pat Bamford who wasted no time in smashing home his and our third of the afternoon!

The fans went wild and so did the team. We are often praised by the press for our excellent togetherness and it really showed today as our character shone through.

Even better news came as I settled myself behind the desk in my office and switched on the computer. I had only been meaning to play a bit of minesweeper, but seeing the news that Exeter City had sacked my arch-rival Paul Ince (just two days after Christmas, lol!) I decided to have a go on spider solitaire instead. Treat yourself; why not?

Not all was well in the world, though. Norwegian Mo took a nasty fall in the Northampton game and ruled himself out for between six and seven weeks. Things looked grim, as this may mean starting Liam ‘Talentless’ Conway, but I have been training Alex Diabate to play left mid so maybe he will get the nod instead (he will).

Elsewhere, Millwall sacked yesterday’s man Paul Jewell. I was heavily linked to the job but denied any interest at all in associating myself with that club. Please note, though, that our good (and recently unemployed) friend Paul Ince was also linked with the role. It is almost tempting to take the job just so that he can’t have it…

Matchday 31 – League Two – Weston-super-Mare v Gateshead

Nah, why ruin a good thing just to upset Paul Ince? Instead, why don’t we take on promotion-chasing Gateshead; that would be fun, right? Well, possibly. They are doing exceptionally well this season and are currently in fourth. Their form isn’t fantastic but they have picked things up a bit of late and will be a tough nut to crack. They score a lot of goals, so our back line will have to be ready for a hard day at the office…

It ended up being a bit of a frustrating day at the office. Things started well and we were looking in control but then, after thirteen minutes, Gateshead took a surprise lead through John Wright. This was a bit out of the blue as we had been pretty dominant in the early stages and it threw us a bit off our stride. For the next ten minutes or so, Gateshead had a couple of gilt-edged chances. Luckily for us, Guedes et al held firm and we kept the score down to just 0-1.

After weathering this storm of pressure, we were then able to start building some attacks of our own. Once we had regained our early swagger we managed to carve Gateshead open fairly easily and we had a number of chances before the ball finally fell to Captain Barbosa who whacked home to draw us level.

The second half promised much but didn’t deliver. We had the more numerous and better chances whilst Gateshead seemed quite happy to just sit back on the result and play for a draw. This resulted in a draw, surprisingly, and the game finished 1-1.

I was a bit disappointed not to convert one of our many chances into a winning goal, but at least we didn’t lose the game.

Someone we did lose was David Hruby, who will now miss a week or so with a bruised rib. Our midfield is being decimated by injury at the moment…

At the end of 2014, fans of Weston-super-Mare could look proudly at the League Two table. Sitting six points clear at the top were the Seagulls who looked to be in good form and starting to look pretty promising for a promotion spot come the end of the season. Nothing was in the bag yet, of course, but if we could continue to play as we have been, promotion was surely going to be ours.

Looking back at December, we had enjoyed a pretty good month all told. Just the single defeat, plus three wins and a draw in the league made me a very happy manager. We also qualified for the third round of the FA Cup for the first time under my stewardship where we would face Sunderland in our next game.

Can we go one step further in the FA Cup? Can we continue our fine league form? Is yet another promotion on the cards for Wheatland’s Weston? Well, you’ll just have to keep on coming back for more…Cheers!

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