Bon day, mein chums. We had a good month last time out, and we typically do well in December. All that should add up to you expecting an episode of Weston’s Super Mare? chock full of victories and chat about Bovril. I did my best to bring you what you desire.
Matchday 26 – FA Cup – Weston-super-Mare v Swindon Town
To get December up and running, we welcomed my beloved Swindon Town to the Woodspring in the second round of the FA Cup. We have already seen off Swindon once this season and since then they have dropped down the table a bit. That said, their recent form has shown signs of improvement, but we aren’t scared. We know they have a right winger who is over 40 years old. We will be fine.
We were too, although this match was far closer than our earlier game. After a close and goalless first half, we finally took the lead via Captain Barbosa on 53 minutes. We continued to push forward in search of goals, but Swindon were a much tougher side to break down than they were before and we met with stern resistance from their back line.
In fact, the Robins started to grow into the game a bit and, rather than us pushing for a second, they were the side that looked most likely to score. They eventually did when Evandro Brandao (I have said multiple times that I once tried to sign him and it is therefore highly irritating that he always seems to score against us) thwomped home a free kick in the 71st minute.
Luckily, we are well versed in what happened next. If there was a tagline for my Weston-super-Mare side, it would be “You are always most vulnerable just after scoring”, and this was again on display. From kick off we passed the ball back to our defence and embarked upon a remarkable run of possession-based football. We slowly worked the ball forward and around our midfield. It took time for us to find a space, but we found it past an essentially immobile D-Becks on our left wing. Finally, we switched from slow, possession football to rapid movement. Dodd exchanged passes with Tamika Mkandawire before galloping into space behind their right back. Dodd looked up and whipped in a beautiful ball that perfectly found Lyes Saadoune, who tapped home his second in two games. The fans went wild, the players mobbed lovely Lyes, and I sounded the cliché alarm.
Saadoune’s goal knocked the fight from Swindon and we saw out the rest of the game with very little trouble, marching confidently into the third round of the FA Cup for the second time in two seasons.
We also got another decent lump o’ monies from the FA, although it made no noticeable difference to our financial turmoil.
In the wake of the game I retreated to my office to play some Football Manager. It is a great game, I don’t know if you have heard of it. It is fun, but I am rubbish – I took charge of Weston-super-Mare in the game and have so far led them to back-to-back relegations. Such a shame. Anyway, as I was reloading the game after my fifth or sixth rage quit that afternoon (since joining Bovrilholics Anonymous, my memory has become a bit patchy…), I received a phone call. My virtual Weston side would have to wait, this was real life calling.
Brighton and Hove Albion’s chairman, Tony Bloom, was calling to see if I wanted to take charge of a different team of Seagulls. He was offering me a £12 million transfer budget, plus over £130k a week extra wage budget. I was tempted, but I couldn’t accept. We were enjoying a ridiculously good season here at Weston and I didn’t want to throw that away.
As soon as I put the phone down, it rang again. If a phone could ring with ambitious urgency, this one did. I answered and found the chairman of Bristol City on the line. He was sounding chipper, as if he had an enticing offer to put to me. He offered me a budget of £0 and no additional money for wages in return for me leaving a good old thing and jumping into a relegation dog-fight. It wasn’t hard to reject him. I wasn’t going to take this job after turning down the Brighton one. Plus, I’m a Swindon fan. Jog on.
Turning down these two approaches for my services proved to be the right decision. As if they were rewarding my loyalty, the board injected another £475k into the club to keep us going…
…before, more excitingly, I heard who we were going to face in the FA Cup third round. Arsenal. Bloody Arsenal! Ok, it is at the Emirates, but that is still a plum draw. I am chuffed. Someone get me a half-and-half scarf, stat!
This may have been good news for fans of the club, but it did have the unintended consequence of causing our game against Preston North End to be rearranged. Ah well, who cares. ARSENAL.
Matchday 27 – League One – Weston-super-Mare v Millwall
I don’t want my players getting distracted by the upcoming Arsenal tie. Luckily, I was helped in this by our next fixture against enemy of the show, Paul Ince. We had already gotten the better of Incey and his Millwall boys in the JPT this season, and this was clearly rankling with the former England legend.
As is customary before matches between clubs managed by us, Ince got his chance to tell the press that we don’t see eye to eye on many issues and that he isn’t my biggest fan.
Chippiness aside, it couldn’t be argued that he wasn’t doing a good job at the New Den this season. Millwall were third, having jumped above us courtesy of playing an extra game, and were looking like real promotion contenders. They were on a decent run and had scored a lot of goals, so this was going to be a tough test no matter which way you looked at it. All the drama was focussing the minds of my players on the task at hand, so thank you, Paul, for that.
This extra focus was more than welcomed on the day, as we ran out 2-1 winners in front of a 5,000 strong crowd at the Woodspring. Adam Dodd got us off to a flier by scoring past ex-England keeper Paul Robinson after just seven minutes. Twenty minutes later, Robinson reminded everyone why he is an “ex- England keeper” by fumbling a back-pass into his own net to double our lead.
The first half also featured a couple of negatives for my Seagulls. First, Hjortur Hermannsson took a heavy blow and was forced off, replaced by the now fully recovered Christian Neumann. Second, Bob Holmes was hauled down in the Millwall box right on the stroke of half time. Whether it was complacency on the part of Holmes or a burning desire to prove himself as a half-decent keeper, but Paul Robinson somehow managed to tip Holmes’ penalty around the post and keep the score at 2-0.
At half time I told the lads to keep up their hard work. We started brightly and carved a few early opportunities, but we were halted in our tracks as Bob Holmes went down in a heap after challenging for a header. He needed to come off and the change took the wind out of our sails a bit. We were still able to keep up our pressure, but we looked a bit less dangerous without Bob and we were unable to convert any more of our chances.
This was fine whilst Millwall remained utterly devoid of any finishing ability, but that wouldn’t and couldn’t last forever. Just as it seemed we would see out the game at 2-0, Franck Moussa tapped home after a scramble following a corner, and suddenly tension levels were high. The last few minutes of the game really stretched my one-cup-of-Bovril-per-game resolve to its limit, but I held on and so did our defence. Neumann and Fahrmann were like a wall in front of our goal, whilst the midfield worked hard to keep the Millwall players back. We held on and, with the three points, we leapfrogged Ince’s boys into third.
Take that, Incey.
The win was costly, though. We will now be without Holmes for at least two weeks whilst he recovers with a specialist.
We will also be without Hjortur Hermannsson for a similar length of time, although at least with him we have more than capable cover. I am just worried that our back up strikers are not good enough to fill the gap left by Bob, but we will soon get the chance to find out…
Matchday 28 – League One – Nottingham Forest v Weston-super-Mare
A week after the battle with Millwall, we found ourselves in very different surroundings. This was our first trip to the City Ground, home to the many great triumphs of the legendary Brian Clough and Peter Taylor. They had taken Forest from the lower reaches of the Second Division to First Division Champions and two-time European Cup winners. They were legends, but the club they had built was a long-faded memory. After years of financial mismanagement, Forest were struggling badly and now sat in 24th in the league. Ok, they had been hit by a ten-point penalty, but they were still doing appallingly badly and would have been bottom regardless of their fine. It seems mad to say, but we were clear favourites for the game.
Whilst we usually struggle in these circumstances, we were easily able to turn over Forest. They put up a fairly feeble resistance and we took full advantage. To start things off on the right foot and as a sign of things to come, Forest defender Joe Edwards got himself sent off after just six minutes when he clumsily took down Lyes Saadoune whilst he was the last man.
Now with ten men, Forest set about attempting to frustrate us but it wasn’t long before we had taken the lead as Christian Neumann marked his return to the starting eleven with a goal from a corner.
Forest briefly rallied and set the cliché alarm a-blaring as Felipe Azevedo tapped home from a cross just three minutes after our goal. For a while after this, both sides dug in and the game slowed down a lot. By half time this was starting to irk me, so I threw on Norwegian Mo at left midfield to replace Adam Dodd and stuck Joel on upfront in place of Olli Sara in an effort to mix things up.
It took a while, but eventually this did the trick. First, Norwegian Mo’s corner found the head of Arvid Fahrmann who whammed home a header to restore our lead. Then, just five minutes later, Joel showed good skill on the ball to find some space in the box before firing low and hard past the Forest keeper to score our third.
Forest’s fragile confidence collapsed at this point and they were officially done. They didn’t trouble our goal again and we were able to see out a comfortable victory. In some ways it was sad that Weston-super-Mare could make the trip to a former European champion and come away with three points so comfortably, but in many others it was great.
In a game of few lows, one major one came in some news I received from Rachel Greenley later that afternoon. Apparently, Lyes Saadoune had injured himself whilst trying to sprint in the Forest game and would now be out for up to five weeks. We are getting short on attacking options, just in time for the Arsenal game. Great news.
Matchday 29 – League One – Weston-super-Mare v Gillingham
But before the Arsenal game, we had to take on Gillingham (I wish people would stop bringing up the Arsenal game, can’t we just focus?). Unlike Arsenal, Gillingham aren’t very good, meaning that we will have a much better chance of beating them than we will have against Arsenal next month. But enough about Arsenal, we need to focus on the task at hand.
Good news for Weston fans who want their side as strong as possible for the Arsenal game; Bob Holmes returned to training prior to the Gillingham game. This was great, especially considering the news about Lyes Saadoune’s injury, and Arsenal should be shaking in their boots at the prospect of facing Bob on the pitch.
I decided not to start Bob in the Gillingham game as I had half and eye on the Arsenal game (only half an eye, mind. I am a professional and totally and utterly focussed on this game). Instead I plumped for a Joel and Olli Sara combo, hoping that they would take the chance to shine (and maybe play their way into contention for the Arsenal game).
As it was, despite Gillingham being in indifferent form and occupying a place in the bottom half of the table, neither man was able to make a lasting impression. In fact, the entire team’s performance was diabolical and I can only put that down to them being distracted by talk of the Arsenal game, something that, understandably I think you’ll agree, I have been trying to avoid.
Whatever the reason, we played football like an articulated lorry performs ballet. Badly. Gillingham were in total control for most of the match and had by far the better chances. They also had double the chances we did. We didn’t get a single shot on target. We were naff.
To say that we were lacking in creativity and ability is to do a disservice to Paul Merson’s punditry. Compounding that, Joel – who had endured a dreadful game – went and got himself injured and had to be replaced after a naughty number of minutes. One can only assume that he preferred to have a fractured cheekbone than continuing to waste his time playing upfront for Weston-super-Mare against Gillingham. I can’t blame him.
Bob Holmes got a late run out but didn’t do much to influence the game. It was a turgid affair, brightened only by the fact that we somehow (and totally undeservedly) came away from the game with a point. Football is funny, eh?
As I alluded to earlier, Rachel Greeney’s month got a whole lot busier after the Gillingham game as Joel had fractured his cheekbone. He’ll only be out for four to five weeks, though. That doesn’t seem long enough to fully heal that particular injury, but when I asked Rachel if she was sure it was right, she snarled at me and slammed the door to the physio’s room. I didn’t return.
Matchday 30 – League One – Brentford v Weston-super-Mare
To finish off an excellent 2015 for the club we travelled to Griffin Park to take on relegation-threatened Brentford. They were struggling, hadn’t won in five and conceded a lot, all a recipe for a disappointing away loss for my Weston side, but we were spared this embarrassment as the referee called off the game due to heavy snow…
So, at the end of 2015 we find ourselves sitting in third in League One. We are three points off Charlton in second, but we have a game in hand over the Addicks and, with goal difference being what it is, a win in our game in hand would put us second. Meanwhile, Aldershot continue to perform miracles in the league, whilst Watford and Millwall continue to breathe down our necks in a threatening and uncomfortable way.
January promised to be a tough old month. The FA Cup game against Arsenal, plus our rearranged game against Brentford, means we have to fit seven games into just four weeks. Just to put the icing on the cake, those games include tough away games against promotion-rivals Watford and Preston (who are eighth), a home tie against table-topping Aldershot, and tricky matches against big sides like Hull and newly-rich Coventry City. It was going to be a bumper month and we would need some big performances to keep up our promotion push (ok, this might be a promotion challenge. I’m not definitely saying it is, but it could be).
So, can we escape January without too much damage? Will we still be within touching distance of the top come February? Could we, against all odds, beat Arsenal? Let me know what you think!