In Part One of my newest Football Manager adventure, I spent some time unemployed, waiting for someone to take a chance on me. In November Aldershot decided to give me that chance.
Straight away I set up tactics I feel would work best, a kind of 4 2-2-2 formation that will hopefully be suited for a non-league side (at least, that’s what the download link said). I set up new training regimes and set about preparing my threadbare team.
Non-league clubs are, by their very nature, semi-professional outfits and they don’t exactly overflow with resources. I’ve got virtually no transfer budget to speak of and the youth setup isn’t exactly bursting with talent, so I’ll have to make do with what I have. A meeting with the squad on the 29th of November grants me the opportunity to lay down a few expectations and the team comes out of it reasonably happy, which is a good start. A day later I’m enjoying my first press conference, a low-key affair compared to the Premier League circus.
My first game is away to Dagenham and Redbridge, it’s Tuesday 1st December 2020, how will this go? In a rare twist, I’m going to view the entire match (which could take nearly ninety minutes) to see what I’m working with. Conceding after just three minutes isn’t inspirational, but as I said to the media in the tunnel, definitive conclusions about the team cannot be based on one game. Also, the equaliser lands a minute later. I take the lead around the 20 minute mark, only for the goal to be scrubbed for offside.
I can’t fault the team for effort in the first 25 minutes of my managerial career. The quality in the final third is lacking, which is where we could get hurt. We seem to be fond of long throw-ins that end up in the Dagenham’s ‘keeper’s hands. By the 35th minute we’ve forced a few good saves from their ‘keeper, but I don’t feel we’ve truly carved them open.
After a period of being better than Dagenham, they hit the post, and my team narrow escapes. Still, come half-time I was quite happy – we’d played well, made chances, and looked sharp.
Forgive the switch to past-tense now, but that’s now I’m viewing it my head. In the 56th minute Aldershot scored again, and for the first time in my career I was winning a game. This was naturally quite pleasing and we appeared to be in control of the match as well, passing the ball reasonably well and not looking stretched. I can’t say I was thrilled to learn of four minutes of injury time (where’d that come from?!), and Dagenham nearly scored… but not only was their forward offside, they conspired to miss a sitter anyway. My first match ended with a 2-1 away victory, not a bad way to start.
I’d hope to upload highlights of my first win, but a snafu between the game and Google is preventing it. I might add the highlights to this video at a later date.
At any rate, one game doesn’t define a season. Winning is good, winning over and over is better. On to the next game, at home to Altrincham, who are 20th and only just above the relegation zone. Easy right?
Well, leading after 20 minutes was a positive sign. on 24 minutes the lead was doubled, after a neat pass to striker Reid, who had headed home from the corner earlier for the first goal. Fondop lashed home a third goal right after half-time, after some frantic flapping in the Altrincham penalty area saw the ball drop to his feet.
Losing the clean sheet on 52 minutes due to some sloppy defending was annoying. The team had a lucky escape on 71 minutes with an Altrincham striker through on goal managing to miss an easy chance. In the end a 3-1 victory came my way, two wins out of two, and the club has moved eight points clear of relegation. Again, highlights will eventually appear, as and when Sports Interactive and Google resolve their issues.
Two games, two wins, and two reasonably good performances as well. Some of the passing was a little sloppy and I need to look at the long throws – they seem to end up in the goalkeeper’s hands on virtually every occasion – but overall I’m pleased.
Time for a change of pace. For the first two games I’d watched full-length matches. This wouldn’t be practical for any length of time – assuming an average of two games per day (ambitious), it would take three weeks to complete a single season, and I am not that patient. I figured commentary with goal highlights would be enough. Having made that choice, my third game in charge rolled up quite quickly (one of the perils of non-league football is that the games come thick and fast, creating problems with player fitness). Match three was a trip to Notts County.
Prior to kick-off, Aldershot sat 15th in the table and Notts County occupied the lofty heights of 2nd. I faced quite a daunting task to take any points from this trip.
My fears were confirmed early on. Notts County pierced my defence twice in the first fourteen minutes, though I managed to get to half-time without conceding further. My team actually ended up with more shots and more shots on target at half-time, but clearly taking the chances had proven beyond my misfiring strikers.
Having taken a more aggressive approach in the second half, my team huffed and puffed and conceded a third goal on 65 minutes, ending any remote hope of points. We pulled a goal back on 87 minutes but it was nothing more than scant consolation.
Game four pitted me against Stockport, who were riding high in 5th – in theory, another difficult slog against superior opposition. We were leading after just two minutes, but goals in the 20th and 45th minutes allowed Stockport to take the lead. I absolutely despise seeing a team of mine throw away the advantage. I made that clear at half-time, and the team responded, conjuring up a 74th minute equaliser. 2-2 ended up as the final score, so I was left to reflect on seven points out of a possible 12. A good return for the squad I’d inherited?
Around this time I made my first two player signings, 21 year-old Callum Nicell and 19 year-old Louis Isherwood, for the midfield and defence respectively. Aldershot’s scouting facilities were limited but I felt confident enough in these two young players, and it wouldn’t hurt to send a message to the squad that I was quite prepared to make changes to the pecking order.
Match five was a cup game, at home against Bromley in the FA Trophy (a non-league FA Cup). Aldershot scored in the 19th minute and we were immediately pegged back in the 20th. We scored again on 27th minutes and the scored remained 2-1 at half-time. A positive sign was nine shots and four on target, along with absolutely dominating possession – 66% to 34%. Not too bad, not too bad at all…
The game finished 2-1, so onwards and upwards as far as the FA Trophy was concerned.
I’m not going to bore you with the details of the next few games, but my sixth game in charge yielded a magnificent 6-1 away win against Dover, match seven was a 3-1 home win over fierce local rivals Woking, match eight was a 1-0 away win over Wealdstone (and my Aldershot side’s first clean sheet), match nine produced a good solid 2-0 home victory over Hartlepool, and match ten (an FA Trophy fixture) saw a 3-1 away win (albeit a hard-fought win) over Altrincham.
So, ten games, eight wins, one draw and one defeat. Six out of eight league games won, and Aldershot have gone from languishing near the relegation zone to eighth in the National League. I can’t say I’m not pleased. The steady upward curve has to look good for this young, up-and-coming manager.
What does the future hold? Stay tuned…