A Fifty Year Holiday Pt. 18

We’re sitting pretty at the top of the league. We’ll be facing Groningen in the Europa 4th Round. We’ve got Walsall in a very winnable upcoming League Cup SF and Leyton Orient in the next round of the Vans. Our finances are spectacular (£36M and change) and the Board have agreed to upgrade our facilities this summer.

I’m having trouble finding things to complain about, but I manage.

  1. We really do need more fans to attend our matches. Purfleet have never seen anything like this team and our record attendance is STILL an FA Cup Qualifying match vs. Grays Athletic almost 40 years ago. We’ve hosted Hearts in the Europa 3rd Round and QPR in the League Cup 5th Round those should have been sell-outs.
  2. Being forced into the sale of superstar Craig Gallagher really messed with our chemistry. I feel like we’re not as potent offensively and none of the variations of our starting XI has clicked nearly as well.
  3. Everton’s completely undeserved victory over us in the FA Cup worries me. I’m not sure whether it was our FA or League Cup win that qualified us for Europe, but I REALLY want to be in it again! It’s like Pringles.

The second half of our season begins on New Year’s Eve’s Eve. We’re hosting West Brom in a top 4 battle. Coincidentally, 2nd (Wycombe) and 3rd (Gillingham) are playing each other in the other top 4 battle too.

We’re clinical with our finishing as West Brom give us everything we could handle in a very even match. Otto the obvious MotM after his brace. The Gills beat the Wanderers in the other match doing our Magic Number a huge favour.

It’s been five matches since Beck has scored (from open play) and he decides to air his grievances about reconsidering his future if we didn’t start playing to his strengths. I tell him to shove it, much to the pleasure of our fans.

Sure, having Gallagher was super helpful for creating chances, but it turns out he’s just unhappy that he was substituted…after being on a yellow card…and having the lowest fitness levels on the pitch at that point…with us still competing on four fronts in a very congested schedule. Relax, Beck. You’re going to get your minutes and the goals will come. Here’s your official warning for unprofessional behaviour. Harsh, was it? Please. Now he’s doubly unhappy as I haven’t treated him fairly.

And the unhappiness is spreading. Now Callabaut dislikes him, Otto hopes he learns from his mistakes and O’Rourke thinks he’s immature. Brilliant. Just what we need.

And now I’M unhappy, as Port Vale’s 4–1–0 is apparently better than our 4–1–0 for December and I lose out on the monthly award. Wycombe’s DMC wins PotM with a string of 8s, but our very own Chris Thompson is awarded the yPotM award. At least we’re back on the board after missing out on all of the November ones.

Happy bloody New Year.

Next up, we’ve the Gills on the road. Their victory over Wycombe last match makes this a top-of-the-table clash, though it’s becoming more obvious that the real battles are for 2nd place, promotion places and 20th place.

Alderete hasn’t shone like I was hoping since his arrival, so as he was the only starter on a 6 last match, James replaces him. Let’s hope Beck bucks up.

He doesn’t. But he helps out nonetheless. It turns out that disliking Beck extends beyond our immediate squad. After Gillingham’s centre-half Hogg slugs him, they move a striker back to right back and we have out most dominant offensive display in recent memory.

So sure, Beck missed a penalty, but the relentless pressure eventually tells and despite allowing three goals, their keeper ends on an eight. Combined with a Wycombe draw, the result has left us seventeen points clear at the top.

We trot out the same lineup a few days later as we’re back at The Rock facing Bristol Rovers. They’re sitting 18th but only a point above 22nd and are in a very precarious position.

We’re second best by some distance in the first half but hold strong at the back to go in scoreless. Then it’s our turn for red card today (I’m not too upset as he’d made 7 key tackles already and will only miss one match), but it seems to galvanise the team and we play better from the hour mark on. Knudsen nets a late winner as we pour on the pressure late. We had 87% of the ball in the final five minutes.

Our lead is now twenty points with twenty matches to go. Though I rather enjoy being undefeated, we’ll certainly start rotating when other competitions start back up again.

Goalscorer Knudsen replaces Otto in the starting XI and Alderete replaced James after an off performance from him last game. Bradford have steadily climbed the table from the basement to the heady heights of 16th over the last ten matches. The last time we faced each other we ran out 6–5 winners after we took a 4–0 lead, they scored five unanswered and we netted twice in the 90th to nick the three points. I could do without a match like that today.

Our customary 3.8k fans show up to watch as we play very well, other than giving away a penalty that Beeton dispatches — his fifth goal in two matches against us. Dickson shows his class and nets a second for himself before turning provider with a neat give-and-go with Otto to seal things late on.

We drew Leyton Orient 3–3 a few weeks ago thanks to a pair of late goals and we’ve got them at The Rock again for a Vans 2nd Round match. We heavily rotate to see if any of our fringe players are interested in stepping up to the plate.

We apparently like 3–3’s with Leyton. The only players making their case to start for use are Severin (fat chance with Beck and Marsh in the side) and THEIR Knudsen. Through we go on penalties after extra time decided naught.

After the match, I confirm a £100k deal to bring in another left-sided AMC from Huddersfield. He’s not a world-beater, but he’s on par with what we’ve got on the bench and he’s decent value-for-money.

It’s a second sandwich match of the season as we travel to basement dwellers Dagenham & Redbridge. We rotate a little bit despite the fact that we’ve got an unprecedented eleven days off prior to our next match. Hill with a debut and Nygaard in for the first time in a few matches.

Well, it’s a dismal match and a dismal result. Dickson wins MotM with an 8, while Smart had a 9 in defence. I don’t see that often.

Our eleven day break is filled with training and little else, as there wasn’t even an international break during that period. Walsall — our opponent in our League Cup SF — are looking safe from relegation in 19th place, but only due to the bottom three being absolutely horrendous. We travel to play them in the first leg on a sleety -1° Wednesday evening. Hutchings is Cup tied and Smart is suspended for this one.

It’s a stalemate and we wait for over an hour for the fireworks to start. Walsall drag Marsh down in the box and we’re suddenly up a man with Beck standing over a penalty shot. It’s dispatched and is followed closely by a first Alderete goal (since he was at Boca in 2050–51) and a Clark strike. The only downside is an upcoming suspension to Scholz for yellow accumulation. We’ve got one very large foot in the League Cup Final.

We welcome 16th place side Stoke to The Rock for our next league match. I have half an eye on Tuesday’s Vans QF and despite the fact that it’s lowest on the list of competitions I care about, I don’t want to NOT win it. We should still have enough on the pitch here to wallop Stoke.

It’s one way traffic and Marsh gives us the lead midway through the first half. The match is essentially over after an early second half second yellow to Coulter and Beck makes our man advantage count. Late on, Lowe decides to make bookends of second half red cards and they finish with nine men and no shots attempted.

West Brom’s gaffer pips me to the MotM award as they’re a perfect 5–0–0 on the month, but Dickson becomes our third player to nab the PotM award after Marsh and Beck’s pair earlier in the season.

We travel to Colchester for a Tuesday night sub-zero Vans (South) QF. Beck is in need of a rest and stays home for this one, but Marsh is necessary, even at 94% fitness.

Marsh is potentially injured at the break, so I don’t risk him for any longer than I have to, especially not in the Vans. We leave it as late as we possible can, but eventually our superiority shows. Rarely used O’Rourke with a 120th minute Golden Goal. We’ll host Bristol Rovers in the South SF.

Registration for the latter stages of the Europa is tricky. Two extras and two replacements doesn’t accurately reflect the transfer business we’ve done. Sadly, Hutchings, Ross, Nygaard and Otto all miss out…this season.

Marine (8th in the Prem) would like to purchase our resident Quidditch star for £130k, but I ask for double(ish) for Barry Potter. £250k and he’ll help seek some wins for you. He’s technically still a first team player, but in title only. He’s slipped down the pecking order with the more recent arrivals.

Now, I don’t want to jinx it, but we’re currently 23–6–0 so far this season. We’re comfortably sitting pretty, nineteen points clear with a match in hand. The Second Division record for consecutive undefeated matches is thirty and the quick amongst you will realise that this would be match thirty for us.

Dickson crocked himself in practice for a couple of weeks and Thompson is ailing as well, so that’s a blow. But at least Beck and Marsh are back at full strength.

Our goalkeepers keep our offences at bay and we grind out a goalless draw. They hit the bar and scored an offside goal, while we had three penalty cries dismissed. We played well enough to win (look at that pressure in the final five minutes), but we’ll take the draw.

Potter leaves for Marine after the match and I’m left wondering if I should have asked for more than £250k.

The team standing between us and the Second Division record for most matches unbeaten is Crewe Alexandra and their Railwaymen. Joint bottom of Div 2 with a better goal difference than both Halesowen and Rochdale, we look to not lose. It’s our best available XI for this one.

It’s three points the old fashioned way as our siege of the Crewe net results in an own goal as a back post cross is nodded over the line.

Having set this record and amassing an almost insurmountable lead, I’d love to say that the pressure is off…but clearly we’ve still got an invincible season going on here.

It’s a Happy VD (Valentine’s Day, not…the other thing VD can stand for) as we host Cambridge United at The Rock. They have a fantastic looking striker that’s listed for sale and only sparingly used, so I submit a bid. He’s on par with Marsh as my best striker. Beck would then be third choice (or sold???) but at least he has finally come to terms with being told that he can’t disparage his teammates in publications. He’s no longer upset with me and is “happy to stay at the club”.

I’m pretty happy to have him at the club too, to be fair. We save our best for last as Beck tucks home at the death to give us a lead we should have had all match long. He’s earned a heart-shaped chocolate from me.

Fourteen to go and a twenty-two point gap from both 2nd and 3rd (assuming the Gills win their match in hand). Magic Number(s): 21, 21 and 17

It’s the second leg of of our League Cup SF with Walsall. After the 3–0 away victory, any result or even a loss by one or two and we’re through. I take a small risk and save our strongest XI with an eye on the Groningen match eight days from now.

In one of the dullest matches I’ve ever had the misfortune of gaffering, we draw one each with a late goal from either side. A League Cup SF still only draws our 3800-ish fans. We really need a some upgraded facilities to entice both fans and players.

Was it a shock though? I mean, we were 3–0 from the first leg over a team only six places above us in the footballing pyramid?

Our league match, squeezed into the the middle of three Cup matches in eight days, is at home to Notts Country. Alderete, Otto, Roberts and Dickson are all in the infirmary, so a tired Nygaard becomes our DM sub for the day.

A relatively comfortable win for us with a late consolation ruining Callebaut’s day. The crossbar and a pair of penalty shouts waved away for no good reason save it from being even comfortabler.

Scout Nick Thompson seems to have mastered time travel, as he brings me recommendation PRIOR to his departure for where he’s looking…

For the Vans South SF we rotate as much as we can, which it tricky considering the five injuries the physio team is rehabbing. We have Bristol Rovers coming to visit and while they’re a good team, we’ve got Groningen in two days’ time.

Despite playing terrible, we make a match of it. Down a goal and a man by the 41st minute, we go all out with a super-skinny 2–2–2–1–2 formation and not only level the match before the break, but take the lead just afterwards too. As soon as I revert to a more defensive formation, they level the score and go on to add the inevitable Golden Goal in extra time.

Just the battle on three fronts now...if you can call Division Two a battle. Then we’ve “drawn” Fulham in the League Cup Final after they knocked off Hitchin (the better outcome for us). And now, Groningen in the Europa 4th Round with a pair of low-90 fitness DMCs in our best XI with no DMC subs. This could get messy.

We’re happy to have Dickson back from injury and as we’re in Holland for this one, I just hope Beck, Marsh and the lads can at least grab a goal or two. My Groningen scout tells me that they’re a very good side.

I’m rather surprised at how well we played. Jaap Stam’s grandson, Jaap Stam III scores for the home side midway through the second half and despite our performance, we still need a late levelling goal (Thanks Steadman!) to earn our reward. An away 1–1 draw is something I’d have happily taken pre-match, but we certainly played well enough to warrant something more.

Beck is unhappy with me again for substituting him, despite him being potentially injured and in the mid-70s fitness-wise. I really hope a deal for Cambridge’s striker can be sorted soon. My bid has been with them for aeons.

The monthly awards are dominated once again by Purfleet as Scholz wins his first PotM award and I’m back to being top manager once more.

And Cambridge agree to my offer for Asmussen! He has some outrageous contract demands, but I’m feeling a little outrageous right now.

Wycombe and their £10.5k/weekly wage limit has attracted quite a few quality signings this season. They just brought in a Norn Iron international from Villa for £2.9M last month and a £1.4M Scotland-capped winger from Bristol City as a Christmas present to themselves. They’re making a push for automatic promotion as they’re in 4th place and there’s a log-jam at 2nd-5th with only two points separating them.

We’re fit-ish, but still don’t have all of our top choices available.

We live dangerously again. Just like our Vans loss, we suffer a forty-something minute red card prior to taking the lead. Wycombe level the match — a goal they certainly deserved — but can’t find a second…which they probably also deserved. The customary 3.8k fans witness our 34th consecutive undefeated Second Division match.

Smart’s red card sees him banned for four English matches and that will include our League Cup Final. As my best performing centre back, I have no choice but to appeal.

It’s dismissed, not shockingly. Appeals are rarely successful. Four matches for a pair of mistimed (not reckless, not two-footed, not knee-high) tackles. Missing him against Fulham is devastating.

It’s time for the home leg of the Europa against Groningen. The players that we have available to us are at 100%, but we’re still short Alderete and Roberts from our DMC corps.

After we got the better of them in Holland, they get the better of us in England…except in the finishing department. We’re clinical, converting three of our five shots on target and we’re through to the QFs with another “shock” result.

The draw is the next day and we get Angers. They’re 5th place in France and while we didn’t get Cosenza or Martigues (both 15th in their leagues) I’m pleasantly surprised to see that Middlesbrough and Chelsea both succumbed to their 4th Round opponents.

This guy won’t be in the squad for the quarters, but it’s very nice to have him aboard. I don’t think I can get rid of Beck until the summer as I don’t want to upset our good form with such a giant change but Asmussen looks far better than Beck on paper.

He gets his debut the very next day as we travel to Charlton. A point above the drop zone at the moment, they’ll be going balls-to-the-wall today.

It’s a magnificent display to begin the match — 16(12) to 1(1) shots (on target) in the first 45 minutes— but Charlton score first and on their only shot. The lads pop cruise control a bit early and after a late “surely that’s just a consolation goal” goal, we have a nervy last few minutes as they turn the tables and allow a solitary shot from us after the break.

Vitesse are after Marc Vos for just under a million quid. Last year’s Purfleet PotY has only made a pair of substitute appearances this season and has fallen well down the depth chart. I’ll happily recoup 92.5% of the fees we just splashed on Asmussen.

Leg 1 of our Europa QF is at The Rock as we get set to face Sporting Club de l’Ouest Angers. Scouting them has shown that they’re an extremely talented side and none of that talent is interested in coming to Purfleet…yet. We’re looking a bit more fit with only Alderete unavailable at this point.

Nothing happens for far too long in this match. It’s like the first minutes of a boxing match where they’re just trying to figure each other out…except it goes on for an hour. A solitary shot off target between the two teams in the first half.

We start taking some initiative around the hour mark, but it comes to nothing. Then it’s Angers that break through in the 90th minute. A cross to the back post is hammered home by Ghanaian international Yeboah, who bears a striking resemblance to his great-grandfather.

Just when we think all is lost, Angers switch to a defensive shell and concede a penalty that Beck dispatches for his 50th career Purfleet goal. Couldn’t have been timelier if he tried. We do still need to score a goal in France to have any chance at progressing, but a goalless loss would have been far worse.

I wonder to myself if this was the same group of 3,874 fans that attended our League Cup SF home match vs. Walsall…

We’ve got a trip to Southend to take prior to heading to France so we rotate in some non-European squad players to save everyone else for Thursday’s 2nd leg. The Shrimpers are safely mid-table in 12th place, with a gap to the play-off places that’s a point more than the gap to the relegation places.

Southend score first and while we’re used to teams scoring that way, this time it turns out to be their only shot all match long. We’ve taken the lead before they’re reduced to 10 men after Wilkinson earns his second yellow. Asmussen with a first ever goal for us to seal the points.

We’re getting awfully close to sealing up Division Two now. With ten matches to go, our Magic Numbers are down to: 5 (title), 3 (promotion), 1 (play-offs)

We’re also only eight goals and fifteen points from the Div 2 records, respectively.

Angers, France is basically due south from Purfleet by a good 350 miles, but the weather is no better at a chilly five degrees. Other than still being Alderete-less we’re fighting fit. A goal-filled draw would be fine, or a win of any kind, please and thank you.

We’re all square at the break, but we’ve each got a goal on the board. Extra time beckons with no further scoring. Angers have had the better of the play and it hurts that Beck and Dickson need to be replaced at the break.

We nose ahead on the hour mark through Beck’s understudy, Severin. If we can stand tall without conceding twice in the last thirty minutes, we’re golden.

The lads take my words to heart and don’t concede two goals. We allow three. Angers strike back almost immediately to level it at two apiece. Then a dubious penalty is given by the assistant after the ref (in a perfect position by all accounts) had waved it away.

With all our subs made, we push our DMs forward knowing we need a third, but they catch us on the counter and we crash out at the QF stage. Not bad for a Second Division side in their maiden European voyage, but still ever so disappointing having been ahead.

We’ll have no meaningful end-of-season matches this year. We had the FA Trophy Final at Stamford Bridge in my first season at the helm (5–0 victors over Peterborough) and the FA Cup Final last year as we upset Chelsea.

We can’t get too upset though, as we’ve still got much to play for. Our next match could theoretically win us the Second Division title and the League Cup Final against Fulham is in 10 days. From there, it’s chasing an invincible season and some records, but our final matches this season will likely be very anticlimactic.