If you are late to this, do not fret – you just have …
We stand on the brink, dear friends. The brink of losing everything we’ve bled, sweated and nursed our hurty groins for all season. The league is almost sewn up, sure, but in the space of two weeks we’ve gone from dreaming of a Quadruple to having even a Double put in jeopardy. There is no shame in being beaten by Liverpool and Manchester United of course, but a 2-0 loss to Oxford United in the south final of the Vans Trophy, first leg? Unacceptable. After all we’ve been through, I refuse to accept that we won’t contest the final of at least one cup this season.
To that end, I put together a team of pure mental warriors to take Oxford apart in the second leg. We’ve got goals to make up, but if there’s one thing we have in this team, it’s firepower. The Great Dane partners Sir Les, with Ronaldo on the bench itching to come on and cause havoc if the game is getting away from us. Freddie the Fence starts after I realise I got my dates wrong and his suspension doesn’t start until the next one – result – and I decide to drop Gough because he’s tired and let Garry Monk make a few goal-line clearances in his place. The lads are not recovered from Liverpool, but I trust them to go again. Oxford are here, they’re ready, and they’ve got one foot in the final. Let’s put down some land mines.
We start menacingly and bear down on Richard Knight’s goal from the first whistle. Bubb tests the U’s keeper first, then Mustafa collects a pass from Pflipsen and wonks a full cross-field ball to Underwood on the left. Our full-back steadies himself, then whips a perfect delivery onto the head of Sir Les, and he breaks the deadlock! It’s only the fifth minute, and we’re already on the board.
We continue to test Knight either side of an Omoyinmi chance at the other end, but eventually Møller picks up the ball on the edge of the box and hits a swerving drive that Knight can only block, and Jamie Davies is there to crash home the rebound! 18 minutes on the clock and we’ve hauled the deficit back – it’s 2-2 on aggregate, and we are absolutely flying. The Oxford Beast awakens after that as the men in yellow realise they’re bottling it, and suddenly they create chances. Savage and Stockley are in the commentary a lot, and both test Pinheiro, but our Portuguese stopper is equal to both efforts. We are glad to see Savage forced off injured as the half ends. We’re level on aggregate at half time. Just one more half to the final, lads. Keep going. You’re almost there.
The commentary notes that Oxford have dropped off as we start the second half, and I see my players smelling blood. Møller tests Knight, Ferdinand is there for the rebound and the U’s keeper saves again, but he can’t stop Pflipsen from thundering home a second rebound, and we’ve turned this tie completely on its head! It’s 3-2 on aggregate, but it’s bad news for Pflipsen – his day is over as he goes down with an injury. I replace him with Farnerud, and also bring the steadying influence of Richard Gough into the heart of my defence to replace the anonymous Monk.
The changes don’t help, and an Oxford free-kick threatens to break Rushden hearts. Blake swings it in deep, and Patterson is at the far post to nod home. It’s 3-3 on aggregate, but the commentary notes that Oxford are now leading on away goals. I didn’t know away goals counted in this competition, and I am now snarling in my chair as we continue to rain shots down on the Oxford goal – Bubb, then Davies, then McKinlay, then Ferdinand all see efforts either saved by Knight or agonisingly off target. I start to sweat as Farnerud jinks past his marker along the left flank, and curls yet another cross into the box that Ferdinand rises to meet, but Knight is there again – oh no! Ferdinand has beaten him in the air and cracks his header in off the bar!! It’s 4-3 on aggregate!!
I take the hint and drop everyone’s runs. We are in control and we don’t need to rush things. I almost clench myself into a hernia as Robert Quinn hits a low drive in the last minute, but Pinheiro is there to claim it, and it’s all over! After an absolute rollercoaster of a game, we’ve done it! We win 4- 1, 4-3 on aggregate, and we will contest a cup final this season after all! What an afternoon. I am more puddle than man.
Pflipsen has broken his toe and will be out for three weeks, but he’ll be back in plenty of time for the big one against the seriously overpowered strike force of Port Vale. We’ve got about six weeks until we need to worry about them, but with an eye on that game as well as next season, I decide to take a cursory look at my Player Search list to see if anyone has been so impressed by our run to the Vans Trophy Final that they’d like to make an early move to glorious Irthlingborough. I don’t really need Nelson Vivas at this stage since we’re out of the big cup competitions, so I’ll most likely cancel my £1m bid for him and use the money to perhaps try to collect some bigger, younger names. I remove all my filters except for ‘Interested’, click OK, and can’t quite believe who’s sitting at the top of the pile.
Utterly absurd as it is, Le Sulk seems to have gone so far off the rails that he’s prepared to come and play the rest of the season in England’s Third Division rather than stay at PSG. Now, ordinarily we wouldn’t welcome a gentleman of such attitude and vulgarity to Northamptonshire, but on the other hand, massive, massive lols if this somehow comes off. I cheekily tell PSG I’ll give them £1m for him in a bid to unsettle him further. We’ll see how that goes.
In other news, Tarkan Mustafa has finally received proper recognition for his performances at right-back. No, he’s not player of the month – even better. He’s been called into the Cyprus squad for the first time, and presumably will earn his first cap in a glamour friendly against Latvia. Also, the media hype up Ferdinand and Bubb, and I agree. Sir Les removes his crown and takes the time to thank me for my kind words. No, Sir Les. Thank you.
Vivas doesn’t get his work permit but that’s okay, didn’t fancy her anyway. The legendary Gary Speed, who I was thinking about bidding for, goes to Middlesbrough for £1.3m and I have a £500k offer turned down for Jason McAteer. My bid for Alexei Lalas is accepted and he also accepts my contract offer pending a work permit, but I really don’t need him. You have probably noticed that I’ve got a hankering for a new household name. However, in CM Legend news, Bishop Auckland are seriously determined to hold onto Michael Dunwell. I’m in with a £160k bid on his value of £30k and they’re still holding out. I’ve been making offers for months now and I’m getting a little fatigued. I wonder what Justin Georcelin is doing… nope, still not interested. Jesus wept.
Right then, enough of that, and back to the league. A cursory glance tells me that our lead at the top has been slashed to just six points, but due to our cup exploits, we now have four games in hand – so the advantage is still very much with us. Today it’s a full schedule and we make the arduous drive to Plymouth to face an Argyle team who are sixth in the league and boast some decent players. Many of you will remember David Friio and Romain Larrieu, but Mickey Evans and Ian Stonebridge are two strikers we’ll also need to keep a keen eye on.
We have ten league games before our cup final, so I decide to go strong in this one. Pinheiro and Risp are both suspended for the next three, so Plummer partners Monk at centre-half and Bernard Lama pulls on his trusty trousers and takes his place in the sticks. Kah, Brandon and Pflipsen are all injured so they miss out, but otherwise, it’s a strong side. Let’s make this count.
It’s a comfortable win, exactly as I hoped. The game is over by half time – Sir Les and Møller both have a brace each, and Plymouth have barely troubled us. The only injustice is that Alex Farnerud isn’t on the scoresheet after he sees not one, but two goals disallowed for offside. After that, the second half is a stroll – Lama is made to work for it by Stonebridge, and Renner does well to pick up his game and hit a couple of stinging drives that Larrieu saves, but all in all, a routine victory.
That win guarantees that we’ll get at least a playoff spot this season, but we’ll be aiming much higher than that. I want the league sewn up by the time we reach Wembley.
I click through, and we’re immediately welcoming Hull City back to Nene Park. The Tigers are third in the league and will also need to have a professional job done on them, so I decide to keep most of my loyal hitmen in the side. Carlisle, Mustafa and Convery are all away on international duty and Pinheiro is still suspended, but The Fence is back, Davies comes in for Renner, and I also decide to give Cristiano a jog, because why not.
We are excellent in the first half, with Sir Les conducting our orchestral onslaught with his massive forehead. However, he can’t find the net, so it’s left up to an unlikely source to provide our opener. Byron Bubb collects in central midfield and spots the marauding forward run of Freddie Risp, of all people – he lobs the ball over the top, The Fence clatters a right-footed volley at goal, McCaldon can’t hold onto it and Jamie Davies mops up the rebound for 1-0. Have you ever known a player to knock in rebounds more regularly than Jamie Davies? The kid is something else.
However, Hull, being the bastards they are, manage a single shot on target that goes in from Gary Alexander, and despite utterly dominating, we go in 1-1 at half time. I leave everyone in place and hairdryer them back out onto the pitch, and after 65 minutes, I hook the invisible Ronaldo and put on Peter Møller to grab us some headlines. Instantly, Lawrie Dudfield has Hull’s second shot on target of the game, and we’re 2-1 down.
Incensed, I also put Renner on for the tiring Farnerud and clench my fists. Møller and Ferdinand are thundering shots in from all angles and eventually McCaldon spills another effort from Sir Les and Byron Bubb gobbles it up to bring the scores back to 2-2.
We’re so dominant that I sit back and await the winning goal, and it eventually comes…for Hull. With only their third shot on target, in the 90th minute, and with Bernard Lama presumably off chatting someone up behind the goal, Alexander squares for Jenkins and he finds the net to complete an absolute mugging. We’ve lost our first league game of the season 3-2, and it’s a classic Champ Manager encounter. I suppose it had to happen eventually.
Tarkan Mustafa gets sent off 38 minutes into his Cyprus debut, so it’s a day to remember all round. What’s clear is that we have to replace big Bernard in the summer. I obviously love him and his funny little goatee, but his days as a top-class goalkeeper, or even just a goalkeeper, are surely numbered.
Then, slightly more bizarre news. PSG accept my £1m bid for Nicolas Anelka. He wants to be Indispensable – fine. He also then wants £65k per week, which is less fine. I offer him £9k per week and a £500k signing on bonus and genuinely have no idea what to think of the entire situation.
Chugger splutters and backfires his way back up the A1 to Spotland, where we’ll meet Rochdale in the first of our three rearranged games. Dale are fifth in the league and are the third team in a row we’ll face who will provide strong opposition. We played them right at the very start of the season and thumped them 6-1 in a game that saw Sir Les grab a hat-trick – I’m hoping for a repeat performance today. We go out the same as we did against Hull, apart from Ronaldo, who is sulking after having been substituted last time out. I give him a Tamagotchi to play with on the bench as Mad Dog McKinlay leads us out.
Okay, we have a serious problem. Our leaky back door from the start of the season has finally burst open. Bernard Lama has conceded five goals from seven shots on target, we have lost five of our last eight games, and I feel like we’re in freefall. This is an absolute disaster. Hugo Pinheiro cannot return quickly enough.
The transfer deadline passes and all my active bids are put on hold. I can’t even sign reinforcements anymore. How have we gone from the Plymouth game to this shambles? I’m going to a local dog shelter to adopt two Alsatians so that I can take them out for a very long walk.