Football Manager P18 – Middle of the Road

The first half of the 25/26 season was over. Palace were 13th, nine points clear of the relegation battle, and reasonably steady, despite some heavy defeats. We’d kick off the second half of the season against my old foes Sheffield United, who were languishing in 19th place (in a league of 20 teams, that’s not exactly where you want to be). We’d beaten them once, could we do it again?

A few days before the game the Palace board offered me a new contract, worth £30,000 a week. This nearly doubled my wages, so naturally I said yes. We then celebrated as a team by comfortably beating Sheffield United 3-0. The 3rd round of the FA Cup followed, with Aston Villa, 7th in the Prem table, paying us a visit.

Alas, our cup dreamed died early, with a 2-1 loss. From there we faced a long trip up north to Yorkshire, to face Leeds. We lost 3-2 but did not disgrace ourselves. At home to Wolves we produced arguably our best performance of the season, winning 4-0, with Brewster scoring a terrific hat-trick!

Now for a bit of revenge (or so I hoped). Brighton (the Seagulls) had humiliated the Eagles on the south coast in a 5-0 thrashing. This time, I wanted to clip their wings. It wouldn’t be easy – remarkably, Brighton were 4th after 22 games, thus occupying a Champions League spot. It seemed unlikely they could sustain such form, but then again, football does throw up surprises.

It didn’t in this case. We lost 2-0. I was peeved.

We gave a better account of ourselves away to Newcastle but the glitch that grants goals for no reason struck again to give them an undeserved 3-2 win. Southampton came up from the south coast to London, and for the game I would debut new ‘keeper Trubin, signed from Shakhtar. A brace from Stevanovic, including a late goal, gave us a deserved 2-1 win. It was an important tonic for the side, and I hoped we could carry that form into a trip to Bournemouth. Somehow we did, snatching a 1-0 goal with a late goal from Williams.

We’d been missing Brewster through injury, and still managed to grab a couple of vital wins. Brewster was now back in training as the team prepared to face Everton, an encouraging sign. We won 1-0, thus winning three in a row for the first time in… well… ages. However winning four games in a row would be mighty hard, for visiting Selhurst Park next? Manchester United. We’d already been hammered by them once, could we avoid a repeat?

A 0-0 draw was credible, and kept us moving in the right direction. Next was a trip across London to play Spurs. We were beaten by a good goal but gave a good account of ourselves. We’d then travel to Leicester. A 2-2 draw might have seemed like a good result, but once more the game’s stupid glitch gave Leicester an injury-time goal to deny Palace all three points. For our next game we’d host Aston Villa, who we’d beaten 4-2 earlier in the season.

We won 1-0, thanks to a goal from Williams and a strong defensive display. I hoped it would serve us in good stead for our trip to bottom club Burnley. We didn’t exactly pile on the misery but a 2-2 draw at least meant avoiding am embarrassing defeat. I expected nothing from our trip to Chelsea, and was proven correct in a miserable 4-0 defeat.

One thing was starting to look likely – that we’d stay in the Premier League for at least another season. In fact, I think we were safe, with 33 games played and only five games – 15 points max – remaining, we were 16 points clear of the drop. A superb 4-1 win at home over West Ham followed, with two late goals, and Draxler showing his quality in helping to create them.

We were awful at home to Norwich, losing 3-1 in what should have been a victory.

The last thing my side needed was a trip to Anfield to face Liverpool, but that was what awaited next. Liverpool’s title challenge had faltered, but the potency of the side Klopp had assembled was more than enough to take my Palace side apart. My fears proved well-founded – a 6-0 thrashing is never fun.

Next up was a trip to Manchester City, so I expected another hammering. Victory for City would secure them the Premier League title, and I suspected my lads were already on holiday – mentally they definitely were!

We did not disgrace ourselves, losing 1-0 and showing a bit of grit, but we were powerless going forward. City were champions, and my Palace boys were forced to watch the celebrations from the side-lines. City were the benchmark, and we had a long way to go before we were approaching their level.

To finish the season we’d host Arsenal, who could still grab a Champions League place if they won and Man Utd lost or drew. We lost, 2-1, and I was not happy with how we’d ended the season. 13th in the table wasn’t bad, but the team had it in them to do so much better.

The board were delighted. A mid-table position was much better than they’d targeted me to achieve. Whether or not I could build on that with the players I had was debatable.

Back to Football Manager 21

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