The New Football Manager Story P7 – Blaze of Glory?

My plucky Wealdstone side sat 10th in League Two, halfway through the 22/23 season. It seemed likely that the club would spend at least one more season in league football, but nothing was assured. How would things fare in the second half of the campaign? Well, proceedings would begin with the visit of Yeovil Town. Yeovil were fourth in the table, and fighting for a spot in the top three, which would guarantee automatic promotion. They also happened to be the Boxing Day fixture. Would this be a late Christmas present for Wealdstone? The game ended goalless, so the fans certainly weren’t given much of a spectacle.

We had a week to prepare for a trip to Walsall. It didn’t help us. We played poorly, had a man sent off, and lost 2-0. It was hardly the best way to usher in 2023.

Another difficult away day, um, awaited. Wealdstone would travel to Carlisle, who sat second in the table. I did not expect anything from this game. We lost 3-2, and here the game reared an ugly element I hadn’t seen for a while – the late ‘phantom’ goal, where it seems to gift the opposition a goal without any indication of an attacking move. We had led 2-1 at one point, and had earned a point, so this ghost goal business… it wasn’t welcome.

If I had been inclined to do so, I might have restarted that match, to achieve ‘justice’ for the phantom goal. However, it was done, and as irritating as it was, there was no changing it. Instead, I had to prepare my Wealdstone players for the visit of Southend, who were a little too close to the relegation zone for comfort. I decided to use my alternate formation here, to try and keep my opponents off-balance.

It paid off, sort of. We won a poor game 1-0, but we did not play as well as I had hoped, and I made that clear to the players. We would have to improve for our next match, another home game, this time against Forest Green. I reverted to our more familiar approach for this one. A somewhat better performance yielded a somewhat better result, a 2-0 win. A third home game in a row was up next, against Port Vale. The players put in another reasonable performance, and won 2-1. This little sequence had lifted us to 8th in the table.

Scunthorpe were up next, with Wealdstone taking on the mantle of visitors. Our opponents were in the relegation zone, but a win had the potential to lift them out of it, whilst a win for us could put us back into the play-off places. We played terribly, losing 4-1, which was completely unacceptable.

A 0-0 draw followed, at home to Grimsby, and then we hosted rock-bottom Oldham. Bearing in mind our performances against strugglers had been erratic at best, I had no idea what to expect here. Using the alternative strategy, we played very well, and this time, backed up a good performance with four goals, and no reply. It was quite a satisfying victory, and it kept Wealdstone in the right half of the table. A trip to Hartlepool followed.

A superb display of hungry, attacking football brought us another good result. 3-0 away from home is always good! Wealdstone had established themselves as one of the form teams of the division. How long might we sustain our results? Another away day was up next, with a trip to Fleetwood. This time, we lost, 4-3, and we were 4-1 down at one stage.

I hoped we might recover at home to Colchester. I shifted back to my primary tactic, and hoped it would prove worthwhile. It didn’t, and we lost 1-0.

I was starting to feel that I’d taken Wealdstone as far as I could. The desire was there, but for the club to take the next step, serious investment would be needed, and that wasn’t forthcoming. Still, on the pitch, we won 2-1 at Crawley, despite falling behind after just a couple of minutes. This win also secured Wealdstone’s place in League Two for next season.

We hosted 2nd-placed Exeter next. I expected little from this one. We drew 0-0, a result I was happy to take. A 2-1 defeat followed at Tranmere. We were entering the final phase of the season, and I think the players were tiring. We deserved to beat Bradford at home, but the phantom goal crap reared its ugly head to gift them an equaliser.

I lost my temper (you can actually set a scenario where you throw a water bottle in the game) with my players at half-time against Bromley, and they ended up losing 3-0 at home to them. By now, I was resolved to leave, for the club just could not move forward. I gave the players the silent treatment after the game, but later, held a team meeting to try and boost morale. Nonetheless, I planned to resign at the conclusion of the campaign. In fact, I took the step of announcing this. That way, all the cards were on the table.

How that might impact the remainder of the season, I had no idea. However, I felt in my heart that I had done all I could with this plucky set of players. Who know, I could come across them again in the future. For now, the focus was on top of the table Swindon. The trip to Swindon would almost certainly end in defeat, but as long as we tried, I would not mind. We lost 2-1, which was not a disgrace.

By now, Wealdstone had the worst form of any team in League Two, but we won 3-1 away at Crewe to keep alive faint hopes of a play-off place, and gain a long-overdue victory. We returned home to the Hive to host Newport County, and dented those hopes by tamely losing 1-0. A 1-1 draw followed at Cheltenham, and we threw away a 3-1 lead at home to Salford to draw in our penultimate match.

The finale of the 22/23 season would come with a trip to Port Vale. Would my final game as Wealdstone manager be a fruitful, memorable one? No. We lost 2-0, and that was that. Wealdstone finished 12th, not disastrous by any means, with 18 wins, 10 draws, and 18 defeats. We had wound up on 64 points, and had the two top scorers in League Two (Parish and Slew). Yes, things could have gone better, but they could have been considerably worse.

So, that was that. My tenure at Wealdstone was at an end. An unlikely promotion, and two reasonably solid seasons of comfortable survival (in defiance of odds and expectation) was hardly a bad beginning to my managerial career. The question now was, what would happen next?

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