Football Manager 21 P3 – Reaching for the Stars

We left our Aldershot boys on the back of eight wins after ten games in charge, and a decent climb up the National League table. It was fair to say I’d enjoyed quite a good honeymoon period, so to speak, but would this form be sustainable?

My 11th game in charge would be a home game against Torquay United, managed by Graham Westley. At half-time Aldershot enjoyed a 2-0 cushion and this became 3-0 shortly after the break (with striker Fondop scoring a magnificent hattrick). However a sloppy second-half performance allowed Torquay to pull two goals back, raising the ugly prospect of letting a very comfortable advantage slip (recall if you will, how much this annoys me). However the team held on and Reid added a fourth goal in injury time to seal another three valuable points.

Westley actually has a tenuous connection to me in real life, in that I’m originally from Stevenage and he managed Stevenage on two separate occasions, including a spell of promotions for the club. It was quite satisfying to defeat his Torquay side and maintain Aldershot’s strong run of form. We now had five consecutive wins to our name, a nice run.

Up next were Bromley, who we’d recently dispatched quite convincingly in the FA Trophy, only this time we were heading into the match as visitors. The team earned a hard-fought 2-1 victory, coming from behind to win in a game that saw both sides have goals disallowed and Aldershot claim the points via the penalty spot – but I wasn’t complaining! The Bromley fixture was quickly followed by another away game, this time at Boreham Wood. A 4-2 win followed, however after cruising at half-time the second half brought an unacceptable drop in performance, something I stressed to the players. They didn’t like that.

Match 14 and a third consecutive away fixture waited for me. I didn’t know what I’d done or who I’d offended to end up with three away matches in a row, but that’s football for you. Prior to the game Reid, who had scored seven goals in his last five games, won the National League Player of the Month, and I won the Manager of the Month award! Go me! To celebrate, Aldershot beat Eastleigh 2-1. Clean sheets are a distant memory, but with wins continuing to come, I wasn’t too fussed. The points mattered more than the performances.

For match 15 we returned to the FA Trophy and a home tie against recently beaten Torquay. A red card for Brewitt after just 13 minutes did not please me. Consequently a more defensive approach became necessary, and an early substitution. I ended up conceding and the game went a bit funny after that, not showing any match highlights. The game ended 1-0 to Torquay, a disappointing end to a promising cup run, and the end of my run of consecutive wins.

My 16th game in charge was back in the National League, and guess what? Aldershot’s fourth away game in a row. Wrexham were 3rd in the league, whilst we had risen to 4th, so the opportunity existed to leapfrog them.

In the end, despite going 2-0 down and then 3-1 down, two late goals (including one right at the end of stoppage time) rescued a point. Whether that point was deserved or not I’m not entirely sure, but I wasn’t complaining! The result meant we were maintaining our solid run in the National League, sitting nicely in the playoff places.

Cast your minds back to the first chapter of this Football Manager story, and the jeering, derisive Chesterfield fans when my name was linked to that club. Well, now Chesterfield would be visiting the Recreation Ground (the name of Aldershot’s snug stadium). Would their fans be so dismissive after the match? Chesterfield were struggling near the wrong end of the table, so could I pile on the misery?

I can answer those questions with an emphatic YES. Quick-fire goals in the 11th and 13th minutes put Aldershot in control, and a second penalty (the first goal also being a penalty) on 50 minutes ensured victory. Although towards the end of the game Chesterfield began to threaten (and even had a goal disallowed), the damage had long since been done, and to make the win sweeter Aldershot had only their third clean sheet under my stewardship.

My 18th fixture was potentially the toughest one yet – Aldershot had a (rare!) home game, but we were hosting league leaders Yeovil. Reid (one of my top scorers) was out with a bruised ankle, so my team felt hindered going into the match, but I still had a number of good performers in the line-up. Would they be enough?

Aldershot led 2-1 at half-time thanks to goals from Tanner and Rees, and generally speaking we’d been the better side. However we conspired to throw away our advantage and lose 3-2, and I was not happy. At one point we’d been 2-0 up, and to take no points from such a position was deeply disappointing. One angry conversation later I had some players doubting my ability, to which I let them know I am in charge, not them.

A trip to Sutton followed very soon after the annoying Yeovil defeat, and I needed the team to quickly bounce back. We duly did, a 2-1 win that was never really in doubt, following some rather sweeping squad rotation.

My landmark (eh) 20th game in charge would be at home to struggling Maidenhead. They sat 21st in the table, and Aldershot had climbed to 3rd. My team’s form had been pretty good, theirs… hadn’t. However, form and football can often make strange bedfellows, so nothing could be taken for granted. To assure possession of the ball I adopted a cautious approach, and Aldershot wound up 2-0 winners.

So, twenty games in charge, fifteen wins, two draws and three defeats. An early exit from the FA Trophy but up to third in the National League and not far off the leaders. That’s not a bad return for an inexperienced guy in his first ever managerial role (if we ignore the considerable Football Manager experience accumulated elsewhere). We’ve played 28 games out of the 44 league fixtures, so there’s still a long way to go, but things are definitely looking up!

Can we maintain this form? Find out next time!

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