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Discussion
4 defeats in a row was a drag on morale around the joint, and put a lot of focus on our next game to recover. It would be a bit of a big one locally, as we travelled to face Leeds United at Elland Road against a side without a win in 7 games. Quite why they turned to Gordon Strachan after Marcelo Bielsa celebrated a top half finish by taking the Leicester job is beyond me.

Aiming to reboot after our recent iffy form and take success over our Yorkshire rivals were:
Dawson - Odubajo, Iorfa, Worrall, Fox - Reach, Bijol, Swift, Penney - Armstrong, Brewster
Subs: Wildsmith, Hector, Borner, Luongo, Matheus, Diangana, Conway

From the Everton game that we lost going into the international break, it was a formation change back to the usual 4-4-2 but just two personnel alterations, with Iorfa replacing Borner and Penney replacing Diangana.

Defeat here would continue the unwelcome sense we're beginning to slide towards the relegation battle. Could we get out of any such tailspin and taste success here?

https://i.postimg.cc/HL2fdNqw/leeds-1-2-swfc.png

The half-time revamp paid dividends. We were terrible in the first 45, but after keeping the deficit down to just one, we changed to a more attacking approach, got the breaks, and ultimately, delivered a big win that benefits our cause.

Such a turn of events looked a long way off when Leeds scored inside the opening two minutes. Bijol gave away a foul, and from the free-kick, Talsica launched a blistering strike that flew past Dawson to put the home side ahead.

We could've managed an early recovery, after Brewster was put through and saw a good strike denied by Ezequiel Unsain, before the Liverpool loanee headed over at the following corner.

Leeds weren't about to roll over and let us equalise though. Ritsu Doan hit one wide before Dawson did well to deny Jamie Shackleton and also kept out Leonel Miranda from a corner.

Dawson had to be alert to deny another Talsica free-kick, before Jean-Kevin Augustin put an effort wide of the mark and the striker had another effort kept out by our goalkeeper.

Indeed, we were in danger of being swamped in the first half, with Leeds blowing more chances on top of that, with a lame Reach header our only real moment going forward.

We decided to go attacking at the break, switching to a Bielsa-esque 4-2-4 by bringing on Conway to partner Brewster, with Penney dropping back and Armstrong moving to a wide role.

Leeds could still have shut the door on any aspirations we had to turn it around when Shackleton had a hit saved by Dawson. Much closer was then Armstrong, who was denied by Unsain after hitting a sweet volley on target.

The game was even and open but in truth lacked many chances until, just after the hour, Mike Dean gave us a penalty. A cross from Luongo was handled by Leeds defender Amir Rrahmani, giving the referee just cause to give us a penalty, and Armstrong scored the spot-kick.

Ten minutes later, where the only real chance saw a half-chance saved by our goalkeeper, we were preparing to remove Reach. But our winger had other ideas, as before we could take him off, a lung-bursting run saw him connect with Armstrong's cross and bury his header to put us in front.

Unsain then denied Brewster as we nearly hit them again moments later, before Armstrong saw a hit saved, although Leeds would come close through Dael Fry and Doan.

Brewster had a shot very well saved moments before he was subbed off, while an ambitious strike by Doan was well saved by our goalkeeper.

Leeds had plenty of chances to equalise in the final moments, with perhaps the best seeing Augustin denied by Dawson in a one-on-one, but we squeezed it over the line to seal a great result for our cause and send our fans back down the M1 with smiles on their faces.

Our next game would be back at Hillsborough, as we welcomed another side promoted in season one in the form of Fulham. We should have motivation to beat them given they beat us in the play-offs 2 years ago, but to be honest, my stronger motivation is points towards our attempts to get to that 40 point mark.

Trying to get the twin goals of points towards survival and petty revenge would be:
Dawson - Odubajo, Iorfa, Worrall, Penney - Matheus, Bijol, Swift, Reach - Armstrong, Conway
Subs: Wildsmith, Hector, Borner, Fox, Luongo, Diangana, Brewster

The headline grabbing move is a full Premier League debut for youngster Conway, who is preferred to Brewster as he's not scored since August. Matheus for Fox is the other change, with Penney moving into the back 4.

Can we get the necessary result from this affair?

https://i.postimg.cc/yNv4KNt6/swfc-1-0-fulham.png

Clearly, Brewster saw being dropped for a kid who turns 20 in a few days from this game as motivation to do better. The Liverpool loanee grabbed a winner in the final minutes after coming off the bench.

Alexsandar Mitrovic had a great chance early on only to hit a limp effort at Dawson, before Matheus saw a shot saved well by Wuilker Farinez. Our keeper then also denied former Sheffield United man Callum Robinson.

The first half was of really low quality, with Fulham having the only real chances of note as Mitrovic put one seemingly easy chance over and the Serbian then saw another easily held by Dawson.

The second half began more openly, as Robinson and Armstrong exchanged errant strikes. Fulham's Venezuelan international goalkeeper Farinez then made a firm stop to deny Conway.

Robinson was denied by Dawson after a sweeping strike following a decent run, before he also denied Diego Demme and sub Ahmed Musa flicked one wide.

Fulham were beginning to look like the likelier team to break through and grab the game's opening goal. But with 8 minutes to go, we had a response with the game's opening goal.

Armstrong laid the ball off to Brewster, who flicked past a Fulham defender and suddenly ran through towards goal after Fulham's high-line let him simply run through. He was soon one-on-one, and clipped it into the bottom corner to score his first goal since August.

After Diangana put a volley out so wide that it was closer to the corner flag than the goal, we traded disallowed goals. Musa was offside when he headed in a cross, before Brewster was also ruled offside when we lashed in Penney's cross, making me wonder if the game algorithm will allow VAR at any point to overrule the official and give goals.

Mitrovic had a half-chance saved by Dawson in the 94th minute, as we soaked up the pressure just enough to take the 3 points and beat Fulham for a potentially vital victory against a side likely to be down with us when the final reckoning comes.

Our next test would also be a home clash against a team from London, but in the form of West Ham, who are having a very good opening to the season and are challenging Spurs and Southampton for 6th. It'll be the first of two clashes in just over a month, as we also drew the Hammers at home in Round 3 of the FA Cup.

Hoping for more than simply being lambs to the slaughter were:
Dawson - Oudbajo, Iorfa, Worrall, Fox - Diangana, Bijol, Swift, Reach - Armstrong, Brewster
Subs: Wildsmith, Hector, Borner, Luongo, Penney, Conway, Ambrose

From the weekend assignment, in come Brewster, Fox and ex-Hammer Diangana for Conway, Penney and Matheus.

There's no real need to fear West Ham United, but their excellent early form means they will be a challenge. Can we rise to the occasion?

https://i.postimg.cc/QMhPtWTG/swfc-1-2-westham.png

The decisive moments of this one ended up being those around the hour mark, as within seconds of Armstrong missing a penalty, West Ham went 2-0 up. We had plenty of chances to do better but still... bugger.

We did start fairly positively, with Diangana having a shot blocked before Armstrong saw one tipped onto the post by Dominik Livakovic and Reach hit the rebound into the side-netting.

West Ham's first chance on target was a simple save by Dawson to deny Arthur Masuaka, but the opening goal would be theirs. Fox put the ball out for a corner, and the delivery by Felipe Anderson was flicked on by Marko Pjaca to Declan Rice, who had a simple header into the back of the net.

We thought we'd equalised a few minutes before half-time when a grand volley by Diangana. Unfortunately, VAR piped up, ruling Diangana offside and the goal would not stand. Seems to have been a recurring feature of this season.

Anderson saw a shot go off target in the final moments of the half, while in the opening period of the second half, Albian Ajeti had a shot saved by Dawson.

The second half in truth didn't start quickly, but on the hour mark, Lisandro Lopez was ruled by VAR to have fouled Armstrong, awarded us a penalty.

In theory, it should've been something to look forward to as Armstrong had looked good from the spot so far. Unfortunately, this was the moment that broke the streak, as our number 9's penalty was hit down the middle and straight at Livakovic.

Livakovic would then deny Armstrong again, and these two saves would prove even more crucial when West Ham grabbed a second goal. West Ham had a free-kick cleared, but the original kick taker Anderson received a pass back from Issa Diop, and his first-time half volley blasted past Dawson.

Danny Drinkwater hit one wide, but while Ambrose struck a chance wide, the game was beginning to peter out and give West Ham an easy passage to the three points.

However, we made life interesting again when we made it 2-1 with six minutes to go. A cross from Bijol picked out Conway, and the youngster off the bench got himself on the scoresheet.

Pjaca saw a strike cannon off Iorfa as West Ham nearly shut the door on us straight away, but we had two glorious chances to equalise. Sadly, Ambrose clipped one wide, before an injury time hit by Brewster went straight at Livakovic. But there was tot be no way through for us, so we lost. Not good.

This isn't exactly ideal preparation for our next assignment, which is the far from ideal test of travelling to Anfield to face last season's FA Cup winners and Champions League runners-up Liverpool, and the absolute armada of talent they have to play with.

Seeking to pull off something unexpected at Anfield were:
Dawson - Iorfa, Worrall, Borner - Odubajo, Bijol, Luongo, Penney - Matheus, Armstrong, Diangana
Subs: Wildsmith, Hector, Palmer, Swift, Reach, Conway, Ambrose

We tried a more experimental 3-4-3 for this one, hoping the extra bodies and use of wide-players might get us somewhere. From the West Ham defeat, the incomings would be Borner, Luongo, Penney and Matheus. Reach and Swift dropped to the bench, while Brewster is on loan with Liverpool hence ineligible and a 5th yellow of the season means Fox is on the bench.

Liverpool at Anfield is not a game I'm expecting to take points from, but if we can put in a decent showing, we can at least take heart that we have the blocks in place to take rewards from winnable games that follow this examination. So what would we do here?

https://i.postimg.cc/rFkJG2fM/liverpool-6-0-swfc.png

Well that was just terrible.

Compared to the Manchester City defeat, we actually held out for longer, but that was only 8 minutes compared to 3 at the Etihad. Here, Mo Salah's cross was on a plate for an unmarked Fabio Silva - despite all our defenders - and we were behind.

It got little better five minutes later, as Rodrigo Bentancur headed in Salah's corner to put the home side 2-0 in front.

We could very much tell it wasn't our day when, with 20 minutes gone, Salah curled in a brilliant strike to make it 3-0 despite carrying a knock after a poor challenge.

Somehow we got to half-time only 3-0 down, despite Liverpool having a bundle of chances and absolutely battering our back-line. Unfortunately, it got little better after the break, and we fell 4-0 down 12 minutes after the break.

Salah was protected at half-time with a sub following his injury. However, Jadon Sancho simply took up the mantle of running rings around our full-back, and his cross was tapped home by Roberto Firmino.

The former Dortmund man then duly got a goal himself, as he headed in a sweeping ball by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to make it 5.

The only Liverpool attacker who seemed to be happy little luck was the amusingly named Everton, but that provided little consolation when we fell 6-0 down - by far and away our worst result so far. Gini Wijnaldum was the man who made our day even worse, as the Dutchman came off the bench to head in Jordan Henderson's cross.

We actually had chances late on, with Armstrong having one blocked and Alisson denying Luongo. But Liverpool by then had clearly taken their foot off the gas, and it was just an awful afternoon for us.

It is worth noting that our players took it on themselves to refund our fans who brought tickets in hope of rewards from this trip to Liverpool hopeful of glory only to see a total drubbing, but its not good enough and we're going to have to find a new approach for the big clubs. We were lucky not to be overwhelmed at Stamford Bridge and the Etihad, but there was no mercy at Anfield.

We're certainly going to need to come back with new ideas for the top six mob quickly, given our 2 games between Christmas and New Year's are against Spurs and Chelsea. Least before then we have relatively easier games against Aston Villa and West Brom sides who are below us in the league, but 4-6 points from those two are essential if we're going to maintain the healthy margin we have on the relegation zone.
noir et blanc armée

Read my FM20 Career WAWAW

The best antidote to a result like the humiliation at Anfield is victory. We had Aston Villa at Hillsborough, against a Villains side out of form but who beat Chelsea and surprisingly comfortably so at Villa Park in their last game. It would certainly be a measure of our progress if we beat Villa, given our first game against a Premier League side saw us lose to the West Midland side in the FA Cup Third Round in our first season.

Aiming to reboot after that irritating evening on the banks of the Mersey were to be:
Wildsmith - Iorfa, Worrall, Borner, Fox - Diangana, Bijol, Luongo, Reach - Armstrong, Brewster
Subs: Dawson, Hector, Penney, Bannan, Swift, Matheus, Conway

The headline change to our starting line-up for this one is in goal, as Wildsmith earns a first Premier League start in place of Dawson after his chastening experience conceding six at Anfield. From that depressing afternoon, we also brought in Brewster, Reach and Fox for Matheus, Odubajo and Penney.

We absolutely must do better in this game than we did in the game at Liverpool. Could we manage to successfully reboot after what happened at Anfield?

https://i.postimg.cc/FKcwyJSK/swfc-3-2-astonvilla.png

Oh thank fuck for that. Recent disappointments meant we needed something as quickly as possible, and here we got what we needed.

Villa could've given us some early pain when Wesley had a shot deflected onto the post by Wildsmith in the early stages.

Dennis Man put a strike wide for the visitors, but then we had a decent one ourselves after Brewster had a shot saved.

Four minutes after Brewster was denied, we had the opening goal of the game. Reach's cross was half cleared by Tyrone Mings to Diangana, who sent a fine first time effort into the back of the net.

Aston Villa's chances to get level saw Jack O'Connell denied by Wildsmith before Man hit a first time effort wide of the mark.

Wildsmith had to make a few more saves as he kept busy on his top flight debut, although Brewster had a shot saved at the other end.

Even so, Villa had the more positive play and it was little surprise when they equalised. It came in similar flow to our goal, as Villa worked the ball out for Mings to cross and after Iorfa misjudged the flight of the ball, Man sidefooted it into the back of the net.

But then we went back in front just 3 minutes later. A sweeping ball forward by Reach was picked up by Armstrong, who still had a fair bit to do, but our record signing got free to fire home a first time strike and put us back ahead.

Wildsmith denied Andreas Pereira in fine style, and that proved important as following that, we grabbed a third first half goal.

Luongo was able to evade a tackle by John McGinn, and the Australian's precise pass released Brewster, who flew through towards goal before firing home to give us a two goal cushion.

Noah Okafor and Wesley missed chances in the opening period of the half, before Wildsmith did well to deny McGinn and made another save to deny Wesley at a corner.

Reach and sub Bannan had shots saved, but Villa were still having a smattering of chances themselves and were continuing to pressure us.

With three minutes to go until the half-time whistle, Aston Villa got back to within one. Juan Mata hit a low shot under Wildsmith at the end of a flowing move that involved a variety of Villa players, and cued up a nervy final few minutes at the game.

The visitors had plenty of chances to try and grab an equaliser, but none of them on target and we duly ground out to win an entertaining five goal contest to take the points, and some very important ones to boot after our depressing episode the previous weekend.

Interestingly, on his Premier League debut and his first league appearance since the opening day of last season, Wildsmith was given a Team of the Week place. Which is a decent way to make your arrival, especially given he conceded two goals.

This was enough of an incentive to give him a go in goal for our next game. We travelled to West Brom, who were bottom of the Premier League on our arrival and with the worst defensive record, though the compressed nature of the bottom half meant they could jump out of the relegation zone if they won and results went their way.

Seeking to give us back-to-back wins were:
Wildsmith - Iorfa, Worrall, Borner, Fox - Reach, Bijol, Bannan - Diangana, Brewster, Armstrong
Subs: Dawson, Hector, Penney, Swift, Luongo, Matheus, Conway

With West Brom using the 4-2-3-1 we found problematic in days of yore, we switched to 4-3-3 for this one, although in practice, the only change is Bannan for Luongo. Bannan is being used because he wants more game time.

As this is our last game before Christmas, could we give our fans an extra present?

https://i.postimg.cc/HxfLnMb9/wba-2-1-swfc-pls1.png

Inexcusable. Against our fellow new-boys who have had a rougher introduction to the top flight than us with the worst defence, and who we have done well against in the past, we should've done much better than give West Brom a 2-0 head-start.

The omens weren't great in the early stages. Rekeem Harper headed one over early on before Marcos Paulo and Bradley Dack missed chances and Paulo had one saved by Wildsmith, and our keeper also denied Jonathan Leko.

It was no surprise we conceded the opening goal. A cross from the West Brom right picked out Paulo, who got away from his marker Iorfa to head past Wildsmith.

After West Brom put chances wide, it took us until just before the half-hour mark to actually have a go, with Brewster and Worrall putting chances off target.

We then duly returned to being on the back-foot, and with four minutes of normal time still to play in the first half, we duly fell 2-0 behind. It came through more or less the same route as the second goal, with another cross finding Paulo, who again headed in.

A great save from Wildsmith denied what would've been a fine strike by Dack in first half added time, as our game played in a disappointingly limp manner.

Matheus Pereira had a shot saved straight after the break as things threatened to continue to get away from us, though we came close when Worrall had a shot saved by Sam Johnstone.

Anton Nedyalkov had a shot fly wide after great prep work, before Brewster put one wide for us.

Harper hit two wide and Will Hughes was denied by Wildsmith, as we continued to look unimpressive, although substitute Conway hit one wide as we belatedly began to wake up.

Leko, Dack and Semi Ajayi missed chances as West Brom continued to miss chances.

But then we did make things interesting, when a long pass forward by Borner picked out Conway, who lashed a home a marvellous goal as he came off the bench to score as he continued his breakout run.

However we had no momentum to make it 2-2, and as a result, we sunk to a disappointing reverse.

This being the aforementioned last game before Christmas, the festival table looks as thus:

https://i.postimg.cc/44Vfwmzj/pl-table-at-christmas.png

So we are mercifully clear of the Premier League relegation zone, with a 7 point advantage on the relegation zone. But I'm aware such an advantage will erode quickly if we don't get out of our recent poor form.

Boxing Day wasn't about to make life easier for ourselves, however, given we had a trip to face Spurs at their swanky enormodome, and given our last visits to big six teams saw us somehow avoid annihilation by Man City before being destroyed by Liverpool, it can't be a good fixture.

Seeking something better from this latest visit to a big name was this collection of individuals:
Dawson - Iorfa, Worrall, Borner, Fox - Matheus, Bijol, Luongo, Penney - Brewster, Conway
Subs: Wildsmith, Hector, Odubajo, Bannan, Reach, Diangana, Armstrong

With our wide variety of defensive-focused position remixes not really working in recent weeks, we went for our normal 4-4-2 against this lost. We brought back Dawson in goal and also brought in Conway, Matheus, Luongo and Penney, with Wildsmith, Diangana, Bannan, Reach and Armstrong benched.

Victory in this corner of North London was a guaranteed long shot. But given Spurs are the least consistent member of the top six thus far, maybe we can fluke something. Could we do so?

https://i.postimg.cc/4NXKjrQf/spurs-1-0-swfc.png

While the stats point at another case of big six domination, I think we gave a good account of ourselves and had some pretty good chances. But its still a defeat.

Spurs pressed early on, although it took a few chances until one on target came, as Juan Foyth was denied by Dawson, while Gabriel Barbosa was proving a real handful.

Brewster had a low shot blocked by Toby Alderweireld, before we reverted to defensive duties, with Dawson making saves to deny Harry Kane, Daniele Baselli, Houssem Aouar and Barbosa.

Worrall and Conway came close with chances as we had a few opportunities on the break, which was perhaps our best opportunity to do so.

This would happen again later in the half, with Brewster firing over before Alex Meret denied Conway. The Spurs keeper also denied Penney in added time.

Spurs had been quieter at the end of the opening half, but they returned in the opening period of the second half, with Kane and Barbosa firing wide before Steven Bergwijn had one saved by Dawson.

Simone Verdi was brought on as a sub by Jose Mourinho, as we continued to sit on the backfoot in this period.

Eventually, with 64 minutes on the clock, it was Spurs who belatedly went in front. Giovanni lo Celso was the ultimate scorer, with the midfielder advancing from deep to slot home Verdi's pass.

Things didn't really improve from there, with Raphael Guerreiro denied by Dawson and Davinson Sanchez hitting the post. Kane would then see one shot saved by Dawson and another go wide.

We tried to go more attacking in response, and came close when Conway hit one wide before Meret denied another hit on goal by the same man.

However, we ultimately had nothing left in the tank and it was defeat on our first visit to The Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

A two day pause then lead us to yet another game against the big six, as we faced Chelsea at Hillsborough as we tried to get over that and grab something off a big team.

Seeking something better from this latest visit to a big name was this collection of individuals:
Dawson - Odubajo, Iorfa, Worrall, Fox - Matheus, Luongo, Swift, Reach - Armstrong, Conway
Subs: Wildsmith, Hector, Borner, Bannan, Diangana, Ambrose, Brewster

It was natural there would be changes between the Spurs game and this one. Our shifts would see us bring in Armstrong, Swift, Reach and Odubajo for Brewster, Bijol, Penney and Borner, though with Bijol and Penney suspended for picking up their 5th yellow cards of the season, that does make their removal easier.

Chelsea would represent another difficult exam for us though. What would we manage to do this time?

https://i.postimg.cc/gr9Pb9fY/swfc-1-1-chelsea.png

Awww so close but so far. Was a bit of an emotional journey this one. A point would've been taken pre-game, but not at half-time when Chelsea were down to 10, but again after they missed a penalty. Bit confusing, but as we have some kind of reward - our first draw in 10 games, interestingly - we'll just have to take it and move on.

Tammy Abraham had to be denied by Dawson inside the opening minute as the game threatened to follow our usual pattern against big six sides of being very much second best. He also denied Maximilian Wober in the early minutes.

Reach hit a snapshot wide of the mark as we tried to find a way through ourselves, before Conway had a strike later denied by Kepa Arrizabalaga.

A fairly open passage of play saw Worrall block a hit by Lautaro Martinez, before Iorfa hit one wide, before N'Golo Kante hit one wide himself, and then Kepa in the Chelsea goal did a good stop to deny Worrall.

Chelsea had a few chances but the game seemed to take a huge turn in our favour. Cesar Azpilicueta had just been booked for a foul on Reach, when he was ruled to have committed another foul on our left-winger in the penalty area.

VAR backed this up, giving Azpilicueta a second yellow card and a consequent red in the process, and from 12 yards, Armstrong beat Kepa to put us in front at the break against 10 men.

Ideally, we would've pushed on, but with one player missing, Chelsea still proved to be very much in the contest. Wober hit a strike off the bar before Luis Diaz had a shot saved by Dawson, though we quickly broke and saw Matheus have a shot blocked by Fikayo Tomori.

Kepa made a good save to deny Matheus, but we were disappointingly not offering enough against the 10 men.

Chelsea duly made this situation even more annoying when they equalised. From a cross from the Chelsea right, Lautaro Martinez had a shot blocked by Worrall but Kante swept in ahead of anyone in blue & white stripes and swept the ball past Dawson.

It could then have nearly become worse. Federico Bernadeschi was played through by a promising move down the Chelsea right, when he was fouled by Fox, and the referee gave a second penalty of the evening.

A sweeping drive by Bannan flew over the bar in our best chance to respond with a second goal in our favour. Luongo then did the same in added time, before Berndaeschi had a shot saved by Dawson.

A draw was ultimately the final result, which was a half-decent return I would've taken on the morning of the game but perhaps not the result I really wanted. Still, with 2 defeats in a row, we'll take what we can get.

Still, we have a mildly healthy cushion on the relegation zone going into 2022, with a 7 point lead on 18th place Crystal Palace. But again, we have to keep getting results in order to ensure we still have this comfort going forward. After our FA Cup tie against West Ham on New Year's Day, we have good potential for points from games against strugglers Burnley and Sheffield United sandwiching a contest against Leicester, who are near us in the table, and so we have potential to do get these necessary rewards. Hopefully it'll go according to plan.
noir et blanc armée

Read my FM20 Career WAWAW

A New Year brings with it the FA Cup Third Round as our first test, and with it, a home fixture against West Ham United at Hillsborough. Its consistent - in our first 2 seasons, our FA Cup ties were home clashes with Premier League teams, though we ended up losing both. With West Ham beating us at home just a few weeks earlier, its safe to say we knew we were not gonna be in for an easy ride.

Looking to try and change our poor form in this competition were:
Wildsmith - Oduabjo, Worrall, Hector, Fox - Matheus, Bijol, Bannan, Reach - Ambrose, Brewster
Subs: Dawson, Borner, Iorfa, Luongo, Diangana, Armstrong, Conway

From the draw at home to Chelsea in our last game of 2021, Odubajo, Worral, Fox and Matheus retain their places, and its all change for everyone else.

Will we able to knock out the Hammers and in the process make the 4th Round draw for the first time?

https://i.postimg.cc/T3qm86pQ/swfc-2-2-westham-fac.png

I suppose if nothing else, we're still in the hat. Could've gone any which way in all fairness.

It looked like being a long afternoon when we fell behind in the opening minute, as Felipe Anderson eluded Odubajo and crossed it for Declan Rice to hit a fine first-time strike into the back of the net.

But we weren't about to take it lying down, encouragingly. Reach headed one effort over the top before Brewster had a shot well blocked by Dominik Livakovic.

It wasn't long after when we made it 1-1 though. We would win a free-kick for a foul on Reach, and from Bannan's set-piece, Hector got a touch to put it in the back of the net on his first start in a while.

Livakovic then made a good save to deny Brewster, while West Ham's keeper also denied the increasingly luckless Ambrose, who is yet to score in competitive football this season.

But moments after that, we moved in front in a slightly messy manner. Bannan's corner was met by Hector up from the back, whose header was saved by Livakovic but struck West Ham defender Arthur Masuaka and trickled over the line to put us in front.

This woke up West Ham, as Rice and Issa Diop put strikes wide before Wildsmith denied Andriy Yarmolenko.

We would reach the half-time break in front and still had chances of our own, with Worrall heading over and Reach having a header saved by Livakovic.

Our hopes of keeping this lead were not helped, however, when we gave away a penalty in the opening minutes of the second half, after Fox barged over Yarmolenko, and the winger beat Wildsmith from 12 yards.

We weren't far away from responding with a goal of our own, as Livakovic denied Brewster before Reach headed narrowly over the top.

But despite being well poised, the game did not end in the way it had threatened to, as while both our teams had a reasonable quantity of chances, neither of the two teams created much in the way of worthwhile chances, and as a result, we had to regroup and go again in a replay at the London Stadium, adding to a busy January.

While we do progress into the Round 4 draw in this competition, its not an enticing reward that awaits the winner - a home match against Arsenal, who I suspect won't be any more generous than they were when they beat us in the Carabao Cup.

The West Ham tie was on the same day as the opening of transfer window, and I would like to make some signings. For this end, and after redefining our goals with Chansiri, we have a budget of £7M, but it as much about stretching every penny in the account if we can add anyone. This started already, as we had a bid accepted by Argentine side Independiente for their impressive looking centre-back Rodrigo Moreno, but he wanted to clean out our available wage budget, so wouldn't have worked.

We also have loans to make. With Kadeem Harris wanting game-time after struggling to break in, he has been granted his wish and will move on loan to Charlton for the rest of the season. Its likely it could be his last appearance in blue-and-white, given his contract is up at the end of the season.

In the interim, our next game would see us host Burnley at Hillsborough and hoping to bag a first home-and-away double of the season against the struggling Clarets.

Aiming to grab a second win over Burnley this season were:
Dawson - Iorfa, Worrall, Borner, Fox - Matheus, Bijol, Bannan, Reach - Brewster, Armstrong
Subs: Wildsmith, Hector, Odubajo, Swift, Luongo, Diangana, Conway

From the Chelsea game, our changes to the starting 11 see Borner, Bijol, Bannan and Brewster start. Which is an unintentionally high use of alliteration.

With this coming on the back of 3 games without a win in the Premier League, something here would be very useful. Would we be able to get those rewards?

https://i.postimg.cc/PJqWMrhP/swfc-1-1-burnley.png

Just wasn't meant to be. We played better after switching from 4-4-2 to a more unconventional 3-4-1-2, but there was to be no way through to get victory.

Burnley started the game in a busy manner, with Andre Ayew firing wide and Dawson denying Chris Wood as not for the first time of late, we struggled to really get going.

Josh Brownhill had two shots blocked before Wood put two effort over the top, in a first half of low quality but where Burnley were doing the only things of note.

It was perhaps no real surprise that Sean Dyche's side scored the opening goal. Loic Nego received the ball out wide, and his cross found Ashley Barnes, who beat Worrall to the ball to head home.

With our first half being so poor, we changed things up with a double sub and tactical switch, and we would grab an equaliser six minutes after the half-time break.

It came from the unlikely source of Odubajo, who we threw into a slightly unorthodox right-midfield position but was in the right place at the right time to head in Armstrong's cross.

We nearly made it 2 goals in 3 minutes, as a vicious hit from 25 yards by Brewster had to be very well saved by Burnley goalie Nick Pope, while the Claret keeper also made a good save to deny Odubajo.

The game was now more open, as Dwight McNeil saw a header clip the bar before Pope made another important stop to thwart Conway.

Ayew then had a shot blocked by Borner before Pope denied Odubajo seconds before McNeil put a vicious strike off target. Dawson denied Brownhill before Worrall and Reach put strikes off target.

A slow second half would see a flurry of chances late on, with Pope denying Diangana before Dawson kept out Wood, and then Brewster hit one wide with more or less the last kick of the contest.

As a result, we are still holding a reasonably healthy margin on the bottom 3, but once again fail to win and its something I'll be eager to stop as soon as we possibly can.

Before then is the distraction of our FA Cup replay at the London Stadium against West Ham. Though before that, we made a new signing as we pulled off the signing of Ollie Watkins. The former Brentford man has been in exile at Southampton, having failed to make an impression after a big budget move at the start of season 2, and as a result, we've been able to snap him up for a modest £2.3million.

Making the squad for our replay at West Ham are:
Wildsmith - Odubajo, Worrall, Hector, Fox - Diangana, Luongo, Swift, Penney - Ambrose, Armstrong
Subs: Dawson, Borner, Iorfa, Bijol, Watkins, Conway, Brewster

Our new signing starts on the subs bench. From the weekend draw with Burnley, we again choose to rotate with the much more important test of the Sheffield Derby waiting for us the following weekend, with Worrall, Fox and Armstrong the only ones staying in the starting line-up.

With West Ham maintaining their key men, victory would be even more of an upset. What would we be able to do?

https://i.postimg.cc/X7YZXz77/westham-1-0-swfc-fac.png

Meh. Would've been nice to finally win an FA Cup tie but it wasn't to be.

Our former Hammer Diangana headed over inside the opening minutes, before Wildsmith did well to deny Emerson. Declan Rice also hit wide before our cup keeper kept out Albian Ajeti.

It was perhaps to be expected that West Ham played better, with Marko Pjaca denied by Wildsmith and Ajeti putting one wide.

It would be all square at the half-time interval, with West Ham doing little despite having most of the ball, although Wildsmith did make a decent save late on in the half.

However, West Ham would score with their opening goal of the second half. Full-back Emerson did well to do so, receiving a lay-off from Anderson, cutting inside and lashing home.

Wildsmith then had to make good saves to keep out Granit Xhaka and Ajeti as they threatened to overwhelm us.

We belatedly had a chance after the break, but a limp header from Diangana was easy for the West Ham goalkeeper to stop from going near the line.

Ajeti and Anderson put a couple of long-rangers wide, while our midfielder Swift put a strike wide as well in response.

Things then threatened to get worse for us when Hector was ruled to have committed a foul for a West Ham penalty but, in a first this season, VAR decided the call for a spot-kick was incorrect and the penalty was not taken.

Not that it helped us that much, with Xhaka firing wide before Wildsmith denied Emerson from a second goal of the game.

Diangana then had a very good opportunity, with our winger seeing a good try well saved by the West Ham goalkeeper. But this was a rare foray forward as West Ham continued to enjoy more chances than we did.

Brewster saw one shot saved and another go wide, but we struggled to make things work for us, and after Danny Drinkwater had a strike saved in added time, we ended up out of the FA Cup. We also don't get the benefit of a free weekend, as a Premier League game against Leicester had been scheduled for this midweek game slot and with the Foxes also out of the competition, we play them on 4th Round weekend.

That is still after a few games to consider, with the first being a big test as we face on Sheffield United against a Blades side now managed by Unai Emery, after they sacked Chris Wilder shortly after Christmas.

Aiming for derby day delights were:
Dawson - Odubajo, Worrall, Borner, Fox - Reach, Bijol, Luongo - Armstrong, Brewster, Watkins
Subs: Wildsmith, Hector, Iorfa, Swift, Diangana, Matheus, Conway

With Emery playing the 4-2-3-1 that we tend to struggle against, we tried out a 4-3-3 for this one. Watkins makes a full debut after a sub cameo in the midweek cup tie, while we also bring in Luongo and Odubajo from the Burnley game.

So far, all of the Yorkshire derbies with me in charge of the Owls have ended as goalless draws. Can we be the ones to grab the points today?

https://i.postimg.cc/LXNVZQwk/sheffutd-0-0-swfc-s3.png

Well, if we did end up winning this game, it would've been undeserved. We are really struggling going forward at the minute and its little surprise we're now on a run of 5 games without a win, even if we have drawn our last 3 outings.

We could've taken the lead in the early stages, with Jack Butland just doing enough to prevent a hit by Armstrong going over the line before Fox fired a strike off target.

The home side then began to press, with Dawson denying Rafael Borre and Nissen Kristensen.

Worrall headed one over before Odubajo had to block Luke Freeman's strike, and our keeper was able to keep out Sander Berge's attempt.

Man City loanee Adam Hlozek had one shot go wide and another saved by Dawson, before our keeper also kept out Kristensen and Chris Basham & Berge put shots off target.

Brewster headed a shot way over late in the half, before Dawson denied Borre as well.

It continued to be the case that we were on the backfoot, with Dawson denying Freeman with a fingertip save before Luongo put in a good block to thwart Adam Lallana.

Kristensen and Borre saw chances fail to find a way through, while at the other end of the pitch, a good run by Armstrong had the pay-off of a dire hit wide.

Dawson was then on hand to deny Borre and Hlozek, before Basham put one wide. An almighty scramble then saw Hlozek have two strikes blocked - one by each of our centre backs - but in the final stages the game began to just peter out.

Really, this was insipid stuff from us. With new management and home advantage, the position was there for the home side to have a real fire in the belly and Emery's bunch should've won in truth. But still, we survived that. Just.

With the second Sheffield Derby of the year in the record books, the table is currently looking like this:

https://i.postimg.cc/wjXLmbst/pl-table-after-second-derby.png

Our pre-Christmas form is doing a lot of the heavy lifting at present, given we're still six points clear of the relegation zone despite the fact we've not got a win in 5 Premier League games (and 7 overall). But we do need to get out of this slowdown sharpish though or else our advantage is going to be eroded fast.

Not that things are going to be any easier for us, however, given that Spurs and Leicester are the next 2 games, and that is not a pair of fixtures I would've happily selected to try and rectify this situation.

Still, its up to us to find a winning combination where all kinds have recently not managed to do so. So let's see what we can do.
noir et blanc armée

Read my FM20 Career WAWAW

With our winless run now stretching to 5 Premier League games, what we could use is a home game against some absolute no-hopers, either because they're out of form or because they're on the beach already even though its still January. What we got instead was a home clash against Spurs, who are beginning to get cut adrift from the top 4 but still have a sumptuous array of attacking talent to give our defence nightmares.

Aiming to spring a surprise on Jose Mourinho and his gang were:
Dawson - Iorfa, Worrall, Borner, Fox - Luongo, Bijol, Reach - Diangana, Armstrong, Watkins
Subs: Wildsmith, Hector, Odubajo, Bannan, Matheus, Brewster, Conway

2 changes for this one from the goalless Sheffield Derby, with Diangana replacing Brewster and Armstrong sent to play in the middle, while at the back, Iorfa replaces Odubajo.

While Spurs do enter this contest on the back of defeat at home to a similar out-of-form Wolves, you suspect this would be a huge challenge for us. But could we still do something unexpected?

https://i.postimg.cc/2y6zhHpB/swfc-0-0-spurs.png

We weren't all that far off in fairness. We battered Spurs at times, but when we did get things on target, their Italian international keeper Alex Meret was just too big a barrier to overcome.

This pattern was set early on, as he saved a shot from Diangana before headers by Watkins and Armstrong bounced wide.

Meret would then also make saves to deny Diangana and Luongo, with the keeper also denying an Armstrong hit that may've taken a faint nick off Toby Alderweireld.

I was half-expecting Spurs to snatch something on the break as we continued to fail to take advantage of our opportunities. But instead, we kept pressing. Meret made off a save to deny Watkins before a glancing header by Diangana kissed the post.

Spurs' keeper then acted again to deny Armstrong, before the striker saw a shot crashed off the post on its way out. Our number 9's luck continued to be out, as he saw another drive well stopped by Meret.

The pattern then continued after the break, after Reach hit one wide before Meret denied Watkins. Indeed, it took 51 minutes for Spurs to do anything going forward, and when they did, Jerome Onguene put a header wide at a corner.

Meret then did another save to deny the increasingly unfortunate Diangana, before Spurs belatedly troubled our keeper, although Alderweireld's header was a simple one for Dawson.

Diangana and Armstrong would both then be denied by Meret, while Alderweireld headed one wide.

The latter stages saw our energy levels dip, but there was still time right at the end for Meret to make a good save to keep out Armstrong.

Its a weird game to be frustrated by in all fairness. Despite this making it now 6 without a win, we would've taken a point going into it, but we had so may chances to win it that we should've taken at least one, and while there's an argument us taking one may well have woken up a strangely sleepy Spurs side, it wasn't to be.

Leicester away the following weekend was hardly any more straight forward, with Marcelo Bielsa's side belatedly getting into gear after a slow start to the campaign. We were beaten by them in the last minute of our first meeting, so it would be good to get some revenge on this lot.

Trying to get a share of the points this time were:
Dawson - Iorfa, Worrall, Borner, Fox - Luongo, Bijol, Reach - Armstrong, Brewster, Watkins
Subs: Wildsmith, Hector, Odubajo, Penney, Bannan, Diangana, Conway

Same team more or less, except for switching in Brewster for Diangana. Which was a difficult call as Diangana played well against Spurs, but I felt Brewster might offer us more in this one.

Could we get payback on the Foxes for the manner in which they beat us back in September?

https://i.postimg.cc/1tZ0mjnP/leicester-2-1-swfc.png

If anything, this was more painful. Missing out on what would've been a very handy point (even if it would've been a 5th straight draw) thanks to a 93rd minute winner by Julian Draxler. Fuck's sake.

While the first chance saw Ross Barkley denied by Dawson, we did have a few flings forward early on, with Brewster hitting one wide before a good save by Kasper Schmeichel denied Armstrong.

However, it was little surprise Leicester began to look likelier to score, and after Dawson had to make saves to deny Diego Costa and Haris Seferovic, he was beaten by the game's first goal, and the first in 3 games involving us.

A cross from the Leicester right found Barkley, whose initial shot was charged down by Borner, but the ball bobbled for the former Everton and Chelsea midfielder to place a shot past Dawson.

Seferovic hit an effort wide before Hamza Chouduhry had a sweeping drive saved by Dawson, and we continued on the back-foot, with Draxler firing wide and Seferovic having a strike denied by Dawson.

The flow of the game was pointing towards a second Leicester goal and pretty quickly. What it actually produced was our equaliser, as on a counter move, Brewster ran onto Borner's long ball, out-paced the home defenders, and struck home.

The best chance for Leicester to re-take the lead before half-time saw a smart drive by Harvey Barnes well saved by Dawson, although they would miss others.

After Angelino put one wide just after the break, a sadly similar lack of accuracy let down a shot by Watkins as we threatened on the break.

Dawson made a great save to deny Draxler before the German saw another shot go wide, and another effort saved by Dawson moments later.

Home sub Michy Batshuayi was then similarly thwarted by our goalkeeper, who was certainly being kept the busier of the two keepers, and so it proved again when he had to make a flying save to keep out Dawson.

With Leicester beginning to run out of ideas, we weren't far off a sensational breakaway winner, with sub Conway and starter Brewster both seeing efforts creep agonisingly wide.

Unfortunately, they ended up being the pre-amble to an injury time gut punch. Batshuayi's first time ball released Barnes, who in turn worked in a first time cross. Up rose Draxler, who buried his header to break our hearts and condemn us to another game without a win, even if it is a first league defeat in 2022.

Before our next game at Watford, we decided to make another transfer move. In the summer, I had made an attempt to sign Rangers winger Ryan Kent as I felt he would be a useful option in the wide areas, but I had two bids rejected before being told he had a very high transfer value even if I added unwanted players, with similar issues ending my pursuit of QPR's Bright Osayi-Samuel and a few high-value centre-backs, some of whom I may be in for in the summer if we stay up.

While scrolling for targets notionally meant for alternative positions, I found the Rangers manager had transfer listed Kent and wanted a very low value deal for him. So I agreed a deal starting at £3million with a £500K bonus if he plays 30 games, and sure enough, he has arrived at Hillsborough. Very cost effective and a potentially very exciting acquisition.

This did have one squad place consequence, as Sammy Ameobi continued to moan after being upset by the signing of Watkins earlier in the window. Not that it was going any better, as the winger - one of the only players to have played PL football before our promotion - got even more mopey following a bad meeting. He then also rejected a move to Salford City, and we decided as he was out of contract in the summer that it was OK to offer mutual termination. So he's off.

Kent meanwhile was straight in the squad for a reunion with his former Rangers manager Steven Gerrard, who has turned up at a Watford side who are a few places ahead of us in the table, but who are fairly different to the group we met in August given they signed multiple players on deadline day and in January.

Trying to get a share of the points this time were:
Dawson - Iorfa, Worrall, Hector, Penney - Reach, Bijol, Bannan - Armstrong, Brewster, Kent
Subs: Wildsmith, Borner, Fox, Luongo, Matheus, Watkins, Conway

Straight in from the start for Kent after his arrival from north of the border, with Watkins dropping to the bench. We also made 3 other changes, with Hector getting a start after asking for more play-time, while we also brought in Penney and Bannan.

After no victory in a while, we needed something to prevent January being our first month without a win in charge of the Wednesday. Can we grab something in Hertfordshire?

https://i.postimg.cc/HWMNpqrc/watford-2-1-swfc.png

Ah crap crap crap crap crap crap.

We knew this was going to be a tough one, though it was ourselves who had the first opportunity after a swinging hit by Kent was well saved by Pontus Dahlberg.

Dahlberg then denied Kent again, with our new boy looking rather lively in his attempts to make a positive first impression.

After that, we began to sit on the backfoot, with Gerard Deulofeu denied by Dawson, and our keeper having to deny Wesley Hoedt.

Unfortunately, we couldn't hold out. The referee played advantage after a foul by Penney, and with the advantage, Valentino Lazaro played in Mateusz Bogusz, who beat Dawson with a fine first-time hit.

The end of the first half saw Watford take most of the ball, with Roberto Pereyra and Joe Rodon missing opportunities before Armstrong put two efforts wide and Penney did so as well, while the most accurate opportunity saw Dawson divert Deulofeu's strike wide.

The tricky winger would then be denied by Dawson again with seconds of the restart, while he also to deny strikes by Bogusz, Rodon and Hoedt, and Luis Suarez hit one wide.

Watford continued to look likelier to grab the game's second goal, but we broke away to make it 1-1. A through-pass released sub Conway, whose cut-back found Armstrong, and he rolled it over the line to equalise.

However, we were only level for 8 minutes, in which time Dawson had to make good saves to deny Lazaro and Jamal Lewis.

The home side would take the lead at the end of a flowing move, with Dragos Nedelcu, Allan Saint-Maximin and Lewis combining for Nedelcu to eventually hit the final effort into the back of the net.

We offered very little to respond in our way to come back, with Lazaro denying Dawson in the last minute of normal time as we failed to get back on level terms and sink to back-to-back away defeats.

As deadline day arrived, I assessed my options and decided that we need an extra body in centre-mid, with Bannan looking past it, Luongo failing to fully convince, and our new signings being hit-and-miss. But with only a tiny transfer budget, I decided to sweep for a loan player, and after assessing a few options, we made a loan move for Bayern Munich's Adrian Fein, who will join for the rest of the season on loan, and who curiously did not flag up the supposedly harsher Visa rules given he's an uncapped German.

One failing of the window was a loan move for Liam Palmer, though this may as much be down to my badly thought out decision to give him a big budget new contract before assessing if he was any good for the Premier League.

We have loaned out a few, with perhaps the headliner being Osaze Urhoghide, who is a player I was hoping to use more than I have. He signed a new deal then moved onto League One side Doncaster for the rest of the year.

So anyway, with only one win in December and no wins in January, we are beginning to see our advantage on the relegation zone eroded. We need wins and fast, and next up was a potential opportunity. Wolves are still trying to find their feet after yet another change, with Rafa Benitez shown the door and Jon Dahl Tomasson brought in.

Seeking to take advantage of our latest opportunity to arrest the slide were:
Dawson - Iorfa, Worrall, Hector, Fox - Matheus, Bijol, Reach, Kent - Watkins, Armstrong
Subs: Wildsmith, Borner, Fox, Luongo, Matheus, Watkins, Conway

It was back to the old classic 4-4-2 for this one. Watkins, Matheus and Fox are given starts, with Brewster, Bannan and Penney shifted out of the starting line-up.

We began our Premier League adventure with an opening day defeat at Molineux on a Monday night TV game. Several months later, would our Friday night game on TV give us the points and a first win in so long?

https://i.postimg.cc/4dCZ2zKm/swfc-3-2-wolves.png

Well it certainly wasn't as smooth or relaxing as I would have liked, but the important thing is that we are victorious. Excellent.

Wolves began on the front foot, with Willy Boly missing a chance before Dawson had to deny Joao Moutinho and Raul Jimenez, while after a lull our keeper also kept out Willian and Moutinho, and Ruben Neves had a shot blocked.

It was inside the final 10 minutes of the half when we finally did a productive thing. However, that productive thing was a big intervention as we grabbed the game's opening goal.

On his recall to our starting line-up, it was Matheus that got the fans celebrating, as the Brazilian winger received Bijol's pass and clipped a fine strike past Rui Patricio.

This had the effect of waking us up. Iorfa had a shot blocked by Patricio before his rebound was deflected wide, and Matheus put his own shot wide.

In the final minute of normal time in the first half, we would then strike for a second time. A long through-pass from the back by Worrall set away Armstrong, who broke free of the high Wolves line to score.

We could've been forgiven for thinking we were halfway there, but that train of thought in football tends to bite you on the backside. And so it proved again. A few minutes after the break, VAR ruled a tussle in the box between Worrall and Jimenez was a foul by our centre-back, and from the spot, Wolves' Mexican frontman beat Dawson.

The striker would then make it 2 goals in 7 minutes to bring Wolves level. A flying cross by Adama Traore found Jimenez free, and he was not about to turn down the chance to equalise. 2-2. Shit.

We weren't down in fairness, with a good stop by Patricio denying Armstrong. But there was a sense Wolves were in a great position to complete their comeback, with Dawson twice denying Jimenez and Traore putting one wide.

Dawson then also denied Moutinho and Jimenez, with the scorer of Wolves' two goals also having a shot blocked, and Fox also had to intervene to clear one off the line after a Neves header almost crossed the line.

Wolves were looking likelier to grab the game's fifth goal. But we had a surprise in store for them on 90 minutes. Kent had a shot well blocked by James Tarkowski, but the ball ran free for Matheus to drill it past Patricio and in for his second of the night.

We then held out for 5+ minutes of stoppage time to grab ourselves a huge and necessary victory. Its our first since beating Aston Villa in early December, ending that recent jinx, and we finally and at long fucking last have something to show for our efforts. Huzzah.

With the new mid-season one-week break in play for Premier League clubs, we now have a peek at the table with 12 games to go after everyone else played their fixtures:

https://i.postimg.cc/ZKqkcffw/pl-table-12gamestogo.png

Mercifully, our run of 8 winless games that we broke with the win against Wolves has not sucked us a great deal closer to the bottom 3. We are 8 points clear of our cross-city rivals, who currently occupy the final place in the bottom 3.

With West Brom and Aston Villa sides that are below us in the table next in the fixture list, we do have two games to get much closer to that magic 40 points total, and will certainly be likelier games for us to get rewards from than a double header of Liverpool and West Ham.

Certainly it would be very handy to have our survival secured in advance, though its not exactly a given even though we remain at the top end of the relegation battle and have a few teams between us and the bottom 3. So let's see if we can do just enough to get all this over the line.
noir et blanc armée

Read my FM20 Career WAWAW

Squeaky bum time, hope you can stay up.
The Man formerly known on SUSIE as Poolie Exile
Give my story a read - Now I would walk 500 miles...

https://i.postimg.cc/3r4p65Qz/lisbonlionssig.png
Squeaky bum time, hope you can stay up.

I'm pretty confident we can do it. An 8 point lead with 12 to go is a great position, so I think we're likelier than not going to do it, but we just have to wrap it up.
noir et blanc armée

Read my FM20 Career WAWAW

Having finally broken our winless streak, with the win over Wolves, and gaining points over a side I turned down for a job interview twice (one last season, one after sacking Benitez a few weeks earlier), we need to carry on.

The only side we've played in the league in all 3 seasons is West Brom, and our record is fairly even with the guys from The Hawthorns. Being on the right side of it this time is a good idea.

The 18 of choice for this one was this mob:
Dawson - Iorfa, Worrall, Hector, Fox - Matheus, Bijol, Reach, Kent - Brewster, Armstrong
Subs: Wildsmith, Borner, Penney, Fein, Diangana, Watkins, Conway

Only change from the previous game is Brewster for Watkins in attack, as we seek to get things to continue.

Against a side who came up with us but are not finding it as easy, we do have a chance. Can we make something work?

https://i.postimg.cc/YqrWnjDx/swfc-2-1-westbrom.png

Back-to-back victories. Excellent. A clean sheet would've been nice, but good that we kept the Baggies out at the end.

Buoyed by our success over Wolves that finally ended our barren run, we nearly had a fortunate goal in the opening minute when a floated cross by Matheus had to be tipped over his own bar by Sam Johnstone.

But it would be us who would grab the opening goal. A ball in-field by Matheus was received by Bijol, and our defensive midfielder's well placed effort cruised in via a post, giving the Slovenian his first Sheffield Wednesday goal.

Armstrong missed a great chance to make it 2-0, although his blushes were saved by an offside flag, before Brewster saw a header kiss the bar on the way over.

West Brom began to have chances, with Will Hughes and Marcos Paulo seeing efforts saved by Dawson, with the keeper also denying Rekeem Harper. Seconds later, we came close ourselves after Brewster saw his own strike well stopped by Johnstone.

The visitors had the strongest opportunities in the final moments of the first half and earliest of the second, with our one-time transfer target Danny Loader giving us a particularly rough time at the back.

But we would go 2-0 up after the hour. Advantage was played after a foul on Kent, and his ball was flicked on by Armstrong to Reach, who put a fine strike into the top corner.

A good stop by Johnstone denied Armstrong from making it 3-0, which would very much have made things secure and echoed a victory by the same score against this lot last year.

Instead, West Brom got a goal back as moments after Matheus Pereira fired wide before the dangerous Loader slipped in to meet Hughes' pass and made it 2-1.

West Brom were the more dangerous of the two teams for the rest of the game, same for our own strike when Matheus put an effort wide, but Dawson was equal to what few efforts were on target, and voila - a vital win.

Three victories in a row would undoubtedly make the path to our survival so much clearer, as we travelled to face an Aston Villa team who we beat at Hillsborough in our first meeting.

Aiming for success in the north side of Birmingham were:
Dawson - Iorfa, Worrall, Hector, Fox - Matheus, Bijol, Reach, Kent - Brewster, Armstrong
Subs: Wildsmith, Borner, Penney, Fein, Diangana, Watkins, Conway

Exact same squad that saw off West Brom the previous weekend, with the ambition that this would manage the same result against their neighbours from down the road.

We're still yet to manage a home and away double as a Premier League side, but managing one today would get us so much closer to another Premier League year. Was this what we'd get out of our trip to Brum?

https://i.postimg.cc/Df9XhBzB/astonvilla-2-1-swfc.png

Well, if we concede two goals in the opening 12 minutes, we're going to find any recovery much more difficult than it needs to be. And so it proved.

Things began to go wrong pretty much immediately. After five minutes, John McGinn smashed a fierce long-range strike beyond Dawson, and then seven minutes later, former Sheffield United defender Jack O'Connell headed in Juan Mata's free-kick via the bar.

Barring one breakaway that saw Matheus denied, Villa had enjoyed most of the early running, and our Brazilian winger saw a further lobbed effort just creep over the top of the crossbar.

We then thought we'd made it 2-1 when Armstrong got a touch to turn in Kent's cross. However, VAR piped up and it was no goal for us.

Etrit Bashira in the Villa goal then denied Kent, before at the other end, Dawson denied Noah Okafor and later did well to deny Paul Owen, while Armstrong was then denied by Bashira, Brewster fired over, and the Villa keeper denied Bijol.

The second period saw Matheus and Brewster have shots blocked by the man in the Villa goal, before a crisp hit by Kent drifted just wide of the mark, and Matheus had a fine hit well saved by Bashira.

We would reduce our deficit to 1 with 16 minutes remaining of the game, as Armstrong turned in Kent's cross to get the goal he was denied from getting many minutes earlier in the afternoon.

Berisha then made a simple save to keep out Brewster, before Dawson had to make a more flamboyant intervention to deny a decent hit by Ilkay Gundogan.

In the latter stages, it was Aston Villa who looked more likely to grab the game's 4th goal, with Dawson having to make saves and the hosts putting further efforts wide, and all that really ended up doing is that we just couldn't crawl our way through. As a result, it was a defeat for us. Sucks.

It wasn't about to get any easier for us from there. The first game of March saw Liverpool make the trip across the Pennines to Owlerton, and given Jurgen Klopp's side having won every game in the Premier League, Champions League, FA Cup, Carabao Cup and a one-off friendly since early December, this isn't a promising match to get points out of.

Hoping to succeed where 16 other teams had failed since a draw with Lazio in the Champions League in December were
Dawson - Iorfa, Worrall, Hector, Fox - Luongo, Bijol, Reach - Matheus, Armstrong, Kent
Subs: Wildsmith, Borner, Penney, Fein, Diangana, Watkins, Conway

One enforced change is that Brewster is ineligible given he's on loan from Liverpool. His replacement is Luongo, who drops into a midfield 3.

With Liverpool increasingly looking unstoppable, it would be a major statement if we somehow managed to upset the apple cart with victory here. Could we manage to do so?

https://i.postimg.cc/L5PhhYTr/swfc-1-2-liverpool.png

I mean, we pushed them a lot closer than we did when we were annihilated 6-0 at Anfield a few months earlier, but it still adds as many points to our total as a thrashing would've done.

Most people would've predicted Liverpool to apply pressure from the off, and so they would. Dawson would be tested early on to deny Milan Skriniar, Mo Salah, Wilfred Ndidi and Trent Alexander-Arnold, while Fabio Silva, Salah and Jadon Sancho also missed early opportunities.

Our first chance of note came after 25 minutes, when a strike from Reach was fairly easily saved by the visiting keeper Alisson.

We continued to be pressed hard by the visiting red men, but it looked as though we would be about to get to the half-time break somehow level. But then came the moment that ensured we would not.

We'd already survived one VAR intervention when the man behind the monitor ruled that a challenge on Salah by Fox had been inches outside the box as opposed to in it. However, it then popped up Hector challenged Silva, and this time ruled penalty, with Salah duly flicking the kick past Dawson to put Liverpool ahead.

The response actually saw us have some shots in the final minutes of the first half, with Matheus seeing a powerful volley crash off target before Bijol saw a header just clip the bar on the way out.

Armstrong would also see a shot saved a few minutes into the second half, but either side of that was yet more Liverpool domination, with our gang back to being on the back-foot.

A wide variety of attackers in red shirts would miss opportunities, but it was seconds after Armstrong missed a chance that the visitors would make it 2-0, when Salah doubled his tally. The Egyptian broke free to meet Nicolas Tagliafico's cross, and duly buried it to make it 100 Liverpool league goals.

When Dawson made a delightful save to deny Dawson, along with further efforts to deny Alexander-Arnold and Silva, it looked as though we were at risk of being cut adrift.

Instead, it was a a player in blue-and-white stripes who grabbed the game's third goal, and not by putting it into his own net. We won a corner, and from Reach's delivery, a near-post flick by substitute Conway crept in to bring us back to within one goal.

On another day, this may have been the jumping off point for a comeback. In this one, however, we had to rely on Dawson making more saves to keep the scoreline down to one as the title chasing Reds return west with the points and leave us to ponder our frustration. After all, its alright to earn plaudits for being plucky underdogs who gave the big football Goliath a run for their money, but I'd rather have points.

West Ham away one week later would not be a simple solution to this. After all, the Hammers already beat us at Hillsborough in the league and at the London Stadium in an FA Cup replay. Even though the Hammers are out of form ahead of our visit to East London, with the team without a win in six games in all competitions, I don't think them being merely out of form is going to be enough to show them as an east 3 points.

Aiming to find the sweet taste of success in the same venue as Mo Farah, Jessica Ennis-Hill, Greg Rutherford and the rest were:
Dawson - Iorfa, Worrall, Hector, Penney - Luongo, Bijol, Reach - Armstrong, Brewster, Watkins
Subs: Wildsmith, Borner, Penney, Fein, Diangana, Watkins, Conway

Sticking with the 4-3-3 to mirror West Ham's use of the same tactic, we made 3 changes - Brewster and Watkins in for Matheus and Kent in our front 3, plus Penney as a replacement for the suspended Fox.

Our away form has been a little suspect of late - our last victory away from Hillsborough was at Leeds in mid-November, one of only 3 overall after previous victories at Southampton and Burnley. Is this the day the jinx ends?

https://i.postimg.cc/V6qZB4Dg/westham-2-0-swfc.png

Well this kind of shit definitely won't keep us up.

Things started going wrong more or less straight away. We were second best at the start of the contest and would fall behind when Seb Haller flicked a corner back to Jarrod Bowen, who smashed a fine strike into the back of the net from outside the box.

We did have some half-chances, with the recalled Watkins heading wide and Dominik Livakovic denying Worrall. However, these were isolated breakaways, with Dawson just having to endure a peppering at his goal once again.

West Ham entered the break unlucky not to grab a second goal, even if we missed chances to make things interesting when Penney and Armstrong had shots blocked in the final minutes of the opening 45.

The second half would go back to the previous flow of things, with our goal the more tested, even if Dawson wasn't as worked as he was in the opening 45.

However, just after the hour point, we would fall further behind and lose further ground in this contest. Again the second phase from a West Ham corner undid us. This time, Issa Diop saw an initial shot blocked, but reacting quicker than anyone else was Jhon Lucumi, who left Dawson with no chance and made it 2-0.

We offered pretty much nothing in response, and after Dawson had to make a few more saves and a few others ventured wide, we limped back north with no rewards and wondering what we did to misjudge a meeting with this lot. Again.

Before the international break, we had more obligation to fulfil as we welcomed our Yorkshire neighbours Leeds to Hillsborough, and with the West Yorkshire gang in high spirits after a shock 3-0 win over Manchester United at Elland Road while we were struggling to lay a glove on West Ham, we knew this was going to be another potential ballache.

Looking to post in something better after 3 consecutive defeats was this mob:
Dawson - Odubajo, Iorfa, Worrall, Penney - Diangana, Bijol, Reach, Kent - Armstrong, Conway
Subs: Wildsmith, Borner, Hector, Fein, Matheus, Watkins, Ambrose

The reshuffle from the visit to London would see us choose Conway, Diangana, Kent and Odubajo, with Watkins, Luongo and Hector making way. Brewster would originally have started, but he was not risked after missing most of the week's training sessions with an injury.

3 points here would've been a huge boost going into the pause. Would this be something we could achieve?

https://i.postimg.cc/t4ggKM61/swfc-0-0-leeds.png

Well... its not a fourth straight defeat. Its not exactly 3 juicy points though.

Armstrong was denied by the man in goal for the visitors with the first real chance of the game, before Leeds attacked a few times, as Jay-Roy Grot saw one shot go wide and another blocked.

Helder Costa saw a shot deflected wide, before Reach and Conway were also inaccurate with their own attempts at breaking through.

There was plenty of endeavour and build-up work by the two sides in the early stages that was yielding a healthy quantity of chances, but not really a great deal for the two keepers to do.

That soon began to escalate, as Dawson made a save to deny Talsica, and seconds later, Kent saw a smart shot well saved by Leeds goalkeeper Ezequiel Unsain.

After that brief burst, the game became a bit more gritty. Leeds would miss a few wayward chances later on, before our Leeds-born striker Conway had one shot denied by Unsain and another bounce wide.

Unsain then made a great save to deny Penney in the early minutes of the second period, but for the most part the game continued as before, with more huff and puff than actually accurate chances.

Reach would miss a chance before Unsain denied Kent and at the other end, Talsica prodded one wide, as things did belatedly begin to kick into gear.

A fine run by Jamie Shackleton ended in an inaccurate shot, before Reach and Worrall were forced into blocks and an injury time hit by Talsica was tipped away by Dawson.

Ultimately, it was goalless at the end, with nothing really gained by either side in the end and plenty to think about for both managers in the upcoming 2 week pause thanks to the internationals before the home straight.

The Leeds game lead directly into the last international break before the end of the season, so ahead of a busy April and May that ends the 2021/22 season, what does the Premier League table look like?

https://i.postimg.cc/bNyYnB36/pl-table-start-of-april.png

With 7 games remaining of the Premier League season, I would prefer to be in our position than many of those below, given we are 8 points clear of the 2 teams either side of the dividing line. But this margin can be so easily eaten up - certainly, if we contrive to lose all of our remaining games, we would deserve demotion. But equally, I think two more wins from our final run will keep us up.

It puts a huge onus on our first game after the break, given our first one is a trip to 17th place Fulham, who are trying to build up form after sacking Scott Parker and bringing Nuno Espirito Santo to Craven Cottage. Certainly, that looks like being a more friendly game than consequent clashes against Manchester City and Everton.

Either way, we aren't far away from managing our fundamental goal. While we've mainly occupied a sport in 11th-14th in the Premier League table, I couldn't care less if we finish lower so long as its 17th or higher. We are close to this goal but can we just claw our way over the line in the final stages of this Premier League Year?
noir et blanc armée

Read my FM20 Career WAWAW

TS Elliot once wrote that April can be the cruellest month, and certainly, if we contrived to lose all 4 games, it would be a very cruel time for us given that, with a very difficult May coming up, it would most likely put us in the Championship.

April's fixtures gave us a mix of tests. It was book-ended by games against fellow strugglers Fulham and Crystal Palace, but also featured a title chasing Manchester City and an Everton side with a real shot at a top 6 spot.

First of all were Fulham, for whom Nuno Espirito Santo has been drafted to arrest a fairly alarming slide that has seen them win just twice in their last 23 Premier League games. One of those, however, was against Everton in their last game before the international break, thus presumably giving them a lot of hope given we turn up with no win in our last 4.

Looking to pick up a huge victory in our own survival fight are:
Dawson - Iorfa, Hector, Borner, Penney - Matheus, Bijol, Reach, Kent - Brewster, Armstrong
Subs: Wildsmith, Worrall, Fox, Fein, Diangana, Watkins, Conway

From the Leeds game immediately before the break, we made four changes, although the 2 defensive ones are enforced after Worrall and Odubajo suffered injuries, meaning Iorfa shifts to right-back while Hector partners Borner. Matheus and Brewster are recalled for the other 2.

We know the stakes - victory is huge towards our survival aspirations, a draw kinda leaves us in limbo, and defeat would put us under huge pressure, especially with Pep Guardiola's multi-million roster of talents turning up next week. What would we manage?

https://i.postimg.cc/tgn1Ch0N/fulham-0-4-swfc.png

This is huge. A fantastic victory that rarely looked in doubt is added to our points total, very much increasing the likelihood we'll be sticking around in the top flight for a second season.

Games like this often be tight affairs but instead, we scored within the opening minute. Iorfa played the ball forward for Kent, who played a one-two with Armstrong, ran into the box via the byline, and flicked the ball home from a right angle for his first Wednesday goal.

Fulham did have attempts to respond, with Ahmed Musa having a shot blocked and Alexsandar Mitrovic seeing a header clip a post on the way out. This continued, with Maycon having a shot blocked before Dawson denied Mitrovic.

The game progressed with the home side having a fair amount of the ball and opportunities, with Penney and Matheus covering to block strikes before Jamaal Lascelles headed over and Dawson did well to deny Ivan Cavaleiro.

We had been second best after scoring. But as the game creeped towards half-time, Armstrong hit an effort straight at the Fulham keeper before we then hit the West Londoners with a surprise second goal.

A through-pass released Matheus down our right flank, who raced down the wing before winging in a cross. It missed first target Armstrong but not Kent, who motored in to lash a fine volley into the back of the net for his second of the day.

Even more remarkably, it was 3 in the final minute of normal time in the first half. Matheus was again the architect, with our Brazilian winger this time finding Armstrong, who was able to poke home a tap-in.

It could even have been 4, with Armstrong having a shot saved by Wuilker Farinez in added time as we threatened to make the home side's afternoon even worse.

Fulham had some chances in the opening minutes of the half to try and kick-start an improbable-looking comeback, with Diego Demme hitting a shot wide before Dawson denied Mitrovic and another shot by Demme.

Armstrong fired wide after a Brewster shot was deflected into his path, but as time continued, Fulham's hopes of any way back were receding, and after Mitrovic and Musa missed chances, the home fans began making their way out the ground early.

Its likely the exodus would get quicker when we made it 4-0 with 15 to go, as Armstrong grabbed his second goal when he turned in Kent's cross.

Kent then saw a lash at goal just touch the bar on its way over as we played well, while Matheus would also have a late shot for a fifth denied.

Still, given this was an evening where I would've been content with a 1-0 win, a 4-0 victory is absolutely sensational stuff, and I am absolutely delighted with this, as it is a huge result in our attempts to avoid getting sucked into the relegation battle.

We could certainly afford a day off to reflect and bask in the triumph of this, not least given several of our players made the following team of the week for the division - no mean feat.

The week after would be more difficult, given we were hosting Manchester City, who have won the last 4 Premier League titles, are competing with Liverpool for this one and who are defending Champions League winners. With this game coming in-between the two legs of City's Champions League knockout clash with Atletico Madrid, we could certainly hope to catch them at a point of distraction.

Aiming to give City a tougher game than they had at the Etihad were:
Wildsmith - Odubajo, Borner, Hector, Fox - Matheus, Bijol, Reach, Kent - Armstrong, Brewster
Subs: De Bie, Worrall, Penney, Fein, Diangana, Watkins, Conway

I would've preferred an unchanged line-up, but injuries to both first-choice keeper Dawson and full-back Iorfa meant two were needed. So Wildsmith returns in goal - and nothing like a nice low-stakes game to make only his 3rd Premier League appearance of the year - while a fit-again Odubajo returns to right-back. We also decided to bring in the more defensively minded Fox for the more attacking Penney. Reserves goalkeeper Jonathan De Bie - a summer signing from Spurs - is bumped up to the bench, if only to avoid any circumstances of throwing an outfielder between the posts.

So far this season, we are yet to taste victory over a big six club, even if we got points from games with Arsenal, Chelsea and Spurs. Could we make the nation stand up and take note with a surprise win over this lot?

https://i.postimg.cc/c4GpL3jM/swfc-1-2-mancity.png

Unfortunately not. Promising we made the most of a chance to equalise after surviving the expected huge quantity of City pressure, but sadly we failed to stick the landing.

We weren't far away from getting an opening minute goal as we did at Fulham the previous weekend, with a flying stop by Ederson denying Matheus. Which at least is more than the previous game against Manchester City, where we had precisely 0 shots on target (no thanks to VAR disallowing what would've been an equaliser).

Wildsmith's first appearance since January was always likely to be a busy one. And so it proved, with the keeper making early stops to deny Ruben Dias and Bernardo Silva, plus a flying save to deny Talles Magno at the end of a swinging strike.

The first half was in truth more sedate than expected, but Man City had the majority of chances and it really wasn't a great surprise they scored first. Hector did well to block a goalbound shot by Phil Foden, but the loose ball landed for Silva, whose cross found Pedrinho, who duly volleyed it past Wildsmith.

Wildsmith had to make a few more saves as the goal had the effect of waking the away side up, but it looked like they'd found a way through when centre-back Ferro got a touch on Dias' header at a corner to turn it in. However, the VAR booth spotted a push by Ferro on Wildsmith, and the goal was disallowed.

We nearly took advantage of this good fortune straight away, as Matheus headed over less than a minute later.

Armstrong did have a shot blocked in the early minutes of the second half, but it was less surprising Wildsmith was busier, with our keeper denying Silva and Kyle Walker.

But then, ten minutes into the second half, we were celebrating as we got an equaliser. A through-pass from the back by Hector released Kent, who zipped away from Walker, ran all the way to the goal, and hit a low shot across Ederson into the bottom corner to draw us on level terms.

Walker, Sergio Aguero, Silva and Julian Brandt were all guilty of missing chances - either wide, blocked or saved - and we could've hit them with a sucker punch on the counter shortly after, but Kent's shot was blocked and bounced away.

The game was still intriguingly poised with 15 minutes to go, but that was the moment when Manchester City struck the game's third goal. A patient passing move ended with Kristoffer Ajer's clipped pass releasing Brandt, who powered a first time strike into the back of the net.

Substitute Diangana fired wide at the end of a fine move, and after Wildsmith had to make 3 more saves, we nearly nicked a point when Ederson did well to deny Bijol.

Ultimately however, there was no way back for us. We weren't embarrassed, sure, and if nothing else both this and a recent similar result against Liverpool is proving this is a tougher place to come. Still a loss though.

Next on the list for us was a Friday night trip to Goodison Park, to take on an Everton side pushing an out-of-form and currently managerless Spurs for 6th place. If we beat them, we're pretty much over the line for staying up.

Looking to chew up the Toffees were:
Wildsmith - Odubajo, Borner, Hector, Fox - Matheus, Bijol, Fein, Kent - Armstrong, Conway
Subs: De Bie, Worrall, Penney, Luongo, Reach, Brewster, Ambrose

Two changes once more, as Fein makes a belated full debut in place of Reach and Conway is preferred to Brewster, who suffered an injury and missed training.

While we didn't get the statement victory that would've come with beating Manchester City last time out, victory at Everton would still be a big result. Could we get such a thing, or at least scrape a point?

https://i.postimg.cc/3rzt8Hks/everton-2-2-swfc.png

Hmmm... mixed emotions. Would've been happy enough with a draw, disappointed to throw away a 2-0 lead, relieved not to lose given Everton had time and chances to punish us for our defensive doziness.

Conway fired a crisp shot wide inside the opening minute, but Everton took charge from there with a variety of efforts, if little to really trouble stand-in Wildsmith between the posts.

The first chance on target saw Man Utd loanee Tahith Chong denied by Wildsmith, moments after Perr Schuurs headed wide when it seemed likely he'd turn it in.

Wildsmith then did well to deny Jose Juan Macias and Mirko Maric to keep Everton from opening the scoring, and we would make the most of such a reprieve when we scored first.

A through-pass set Conway forward, and on the counter, our young American duly ran all the way to the box before clipping his shot into the back of the net.

Andre Gomes hit a shot wide before Kent put an effort onto the post, although the Liverpool academy graduate was raised offside.

Something that would've counted came when Conway was found well placed, only for Jordan Pickford to deny our goalscorer.

Schuurs, Gylfi Sigurdsson and Maric put shots off target, but we were very much expecting an Everton onslaught after the half-time break ended.

However, it took a while for this to get going, with half-chances and blocked shots the order of the day until a swinging hit by Sigurdsson kissed the bar on its way out.

In quick succession, Armstrong and Matheus saw decent strikes at goal go off target, before we then found an equaliser with 20 minutes to go.

Conway's cross after receiving a throw picked out Matheus, and the Brazilian ghosted in to head us 2-0 in front.

But our two goal lead would only last 5 minutes, as a half-cleared corner found Schuurs, who laid it off for centre-back Ronald Araujo to hit an excellent volley past Wildsmith and reduce the deficit.

Ten minutes later, our lead was wiped out. A cross by Everton full-back Kostas Tsimikas picked out sub Lewis Dobbin, who stooped in to draw Everton level.

This opened the door for Everton to win the game, but while they had plenty of chances, it was pretty much all blocked shots and we rode it out.

As a result, we got a point that would've been useful pre-game but was gutting given we had a glimpse of what we could've won.

Certainly, this gives something to ponder about extra defensive homework ahead of our last game of the month, away at a Crystal Palace side who look to be on their way out of the Premier League knowing a win would fully book our survival.

The selected squad looking to seal our survival were:
Wildsmith - Odubajo, Worrall, Borner, Fox - Matheus, Bijol, Fein, Reach - Armstrong, Conway
Subs: De Bie, Iorfa, Penney, Luongo, Kent, Brewster, Watkins

Two changes here, with Worrall replacing an injured Hector at centre-back, and Reach displacing Kent, who is on the bench for emergencies only after his own injury problems.

Victory at this lot would guarantee that we could stay up even if we lose our final 3 games. Can we take advantage of such a huge incentive and get the job done?

https://i.postimg.cc/k4bf8jZ1/crystalpalace-1-1-swfc.png

Not quite. Its frustrating because we're so nearly there and we again dropped points after scoring first, this time while playing a Palace team that realistically needed a win as any dropped points from here on out equals the Championship for them. Still, for us its better than the alternative.

Each keeper was tested early on, with Sondre Rossbach in the Palace keeper denying Bijol moments before Wildsmith made a save to keep out Patrick Roberts.

Wilfried Zaha saw one blocked before Ruben Loftus-Cheek missed the target with an effort of his own, as Palace had some momentum in the early moments. This continued, as Wildsmith denied Juan Hernandez.

But from nowhere, it was Wednesday who struck first. After a home attack broke down, Fein's pass was moved on by Conway to Reach, who cut inside and hit a vicious one on target. It duly flew into the back of the net, putting us ahead at Selhurst Park.

It could've been even better, with Rossbach making good saves to deny Fein and then (an admittedly offside) Conway.

The loss to injury of Armstrong, however, was less than ideal, with our big money front-man taken off injured with damage that means he's likely going to miss the remaining games of this season.

We were doing a reasonable job at containing Palace from that point out, although they would come very close in added time when Zaha got a free header that beat Wildsmith only to strike the crossbar.

Palace returned as if keen to prove a point, with Wildsmith denying Hernandez before Radu Boboc put a strike wide, although on breakaway moves, Reach saw on effort go wide and another well saved by Rossbach.

However, the home side were having chances, with Zaha hitting the side-netting after a fine solo run before Wildsmith made a great save to deny Roberts.

It was Palace who would however grab an equaliser, as Oscar Medina flicked on a free-kick to Magomed Ozdoev, who turned it over the line to bring the home side level.

A fine solo run by Conway ended in a strike saved by Rossbach, before Worrall headed wide at a corner as we tried to restore our advantage.

Wildsmith then denied Hernandez before Zaha and Ozdoev put strikes wide, as both sides tried to find a winner.

The single best chance for that saw a free-kick by Penney head on target, if fairly easily saved by Rossbach in the Palace goal.

It was frustrating not to be able to get the job fully done and pick up the three points that would've confirmed our Premier League status for another year, but hey, its still a point and we still enjoy a healthy enough gap on the relegation zone.

With April now done, its worth a peek at the table with 3 games of the season to go:

https://i.postimg.cc/jdKZw4hc/pl-table-3-to-go.png

Victory over Southampton will wrap up our survival, though a draw might theoretically enough. Certainly, that clash against the midtable Saints is a likelier source of points than games against Manchester United and Arsenal in our final two outings before the summer break.

We're almost over the line though in fulfilling my minimum expectation of keeping our Premier League status after fighting so hard in our first 2 seasons to get to the party. Let's get it done.
noir et blanc armée

Read my FM20 Career WAWAW

With the season almost over, the stakes were simple enough - a draw against Southampton at Hillsborough in our final home game, and we've reached our base goal of survival.

Should be doable in theory. Indeed, I'd like a win against the side who were the first team we beat in the season, but I'm happy enough with the point if it gets the job done. Christ above I don't fancy having to try and get a win from 2 final games against Manchester United and Arsenal.

Aiming to see off the Saints or at least get a point were:
Wildsmith - Iorfa, Worrall, Borner, Fox - Fein, Bijol, Reach - Matheus, Brewster, Kent
Subs: Dawson, Odubajo, Penney, Luongo, Diangana, Watkins, Ambrose

With Ambrose and Conway out injured, I considered various approaches but settled on a 4-3-3 against the 4-2-3-1 that we historically haven't done very well against. Brewster is called up as a lone striker, with a fit again Kent to join as part of the front 3. Iorfa also gets a game.

So, with this being the last stop to securing safety and a second season in English football's top 20, could we get over the line?

https://i.postimg.cc/cHfYpy7Q/swfc-0-0-southampton.png

It may not have been the most amazing game of football played, and it enhances the prospect that we will end the season with no win in 6, but it keeps us in the Premier League so fuck it.

Borner headed an early chance over, before Southampton's Alfredo Morelos did likewise. Brewster was then close with an elegant mazy run only to put a shot off target at the end of it, with Matheus doing likewise with a header.

It took 27 minutes for either keeper to really do anything, as moments after Morelos put a shot wide, Wildsmith did well to deny Jonjoe Kenney.

We had our chances, with Brewster having a shot blocked before Matheus put another one wide, before Southampton responded in kind, with Moussa Djenepo putting two efforts off target either side of Wildsmith denying Liam Moore.

Wildsmith then made extra saves late in the half to deny Djenepo and then Mahmoud Dahoud, as we ultimately got to the half level.

Southampton would then come close again moments after the half-time whistle, as Pierre-Emelie Hojbjerg had a shot saved by Wildsmith and Djenepo put the rebound wide.

Kent would then put a shot wide before Fraser Forster had his first thing to do when he denied Matheus.

The game was beginning to open up a bit more, with Wildsmith denying Shane Duffy and Bijol blocking a drive by Dahoud, before we came close as Fein and Reach put strikes off target and Forster kept out Brewster.

Kent and Hojbjerg exchanged off target strikes, before the keepers then had tests thrown their way by defenders. First, Wildsmith kept out Duffy, before at the other end, a fine stop by Forster denied Worrall.

Brewster then saw one denied right at the end, but that was the end of the line.

It would've been nice to confirm survival and another year in the top 20 with 3 points. But ultimately a point was enough, and a point is what we got. So you know - it may only be the bare minimum, but I can still accept it if it is enough.

If nothing else, it reduces the pressure on our final two games, neither of which was the most ideal. First was a visit to Old Trafford, where Carlo Ancelotti's side still have vague hopes of the title, although it is likelier the winner of the game between top 2 sides Manchester City and Liverpool is going to be the ultimate champions.

Seeking an attention grabbing result at the Theatre of Dreams were:
Wildsmith - Iorfa, Worrall, Borner, Fox - Luongo, Bijol, Reach - Matheus, Brewster, Kent
Subs: Dawson, Odubajo, Penney, Fein, Diangana, Watkins, Conway

One toggle with the starting line-up, as Luongo displaces Fein in central midfield, and Conway returns to the squad on the subs bench.

So far, we have won 3 games away from Hillsborough, taking maximum points from our visits to Southampton, Burnley and Fulham. Could we manage a real surprising addition to that list?

https://i.postimg.cc/63hSBStv/manutd-1-0-swfc.png

Well we weren't humiliated, but it still was more something to endure than enjoy. Especially the method of the only goal.

It wasn't a surprise that we were on the backfoot pretty much straight away. Marcus Rashford, Victor Lindelof and Diogo Dalot all put strikes off target early on, with Dalot's header very much the closest after it kissed the post on the way out.

We could've sprung a surprise on them after they blew through the early opportunities, with a looping header by Kent creeping over the top.

Ousmane Dembele had a drive tipped wide by Wildsmith, before Kent then had his own strike from outside the box fly into the stands.

David de Gea was then called into action to keep out the recalled Luongo, before we returned to being on the back-foot, as Franck Kessie hit one wide before Rashford had a shot saved by Wildsmith.

Rashford, Dembele, Mason Greenwood and Kessie all missed opportunities in the remainder of the half, with Greenwood having no fewer than 3 shots well saved by Wildsmith. Our keeper would also deny Dembele with pretty much the final bit of the half.

Wildsmith then denied Bruno Fernandes as the second half began with such pressure, and ultimately, it was less of a surprise they found a way through.

Disappointingly, it came from our error. A push on Rashford was spotted by VAR and a penalty awarded, and from 12 yards, Rashford beat Wildsmith despite our keeper diving the correct way.

Wildsmith did generally impress, making a good number of saves as we struggled to make a comeback from conceding the opening goal of the game.

Our only real chance to grab an equaliser came with 13 minutes to go, when substitute Conway rose to meet a cross by fellow sub Watkins only to arc his header into touch.

And that was that. Didn't expect anything, didn't get anything. Thus our final away match of the season is in the books, and all we can do is move on.

The result means we slip to 14th - our lowest point of the season, impressively, for a side everyone expected to go straight back down. Nobody else can overtake us, but we can slip above Leeds with a win.

This isn't as high a stake conclusion as our final opponents Arsenal, who need a win to book in a spot in next season's Champions League ahead of Chelsea. Indeed, its a very lively end to the year, given Manchester City and Liverpool are in a showdown for the title - with City overtaking Liverpool by winning against Liverpool in the midweek before the final game - and a close tussle between Fulham, Aston Villa and Burnley to avoid following Sheffield United and Crystal Palace in being relegated.

Hoping to sign off from this season with a final flourish were:
Wildsmith - Odubajo, Iorfa, Worrall, Fox - Matheus, Bijol, Fein, Penney - Brewster, Conway
Subs: Dawson, Borner, Hector, Luongo, Diangana, Watkins, Armstrong

There are starts for Conway, Fein, Penney and Odubajo for this one. Kent and Reach miss out with injuries, while Luongo and Borner drop to the bench. They're joined there by Armstrong, who contrary to my expectations does return to a squad before the end of the season, which I wasn't originally expecting.

We did manage a point from our visit to the Emirates earlier in the season, even if they did turn us over easily in the Carabao Cup. What would we manage from this one?

https://i.postimg.cc/LXncVSP3/swfc-2-4-arsenal.png

Well this got wildly out of hand in the final minutes. We could've swiped victory on another day, but we just mismanaged things a few times and slipped to a not unexpected reverse, as Arsenal get the win to beat Chelsea to take 4th place.

It was perhaps not a surprise Arsenal took the lead early on, given they had something to play for. They had a fair wedge of early opportunities, with Eddie Nketiah, Alexander Lacazette and Jonathan David putting efforts off target before Wildsmith denied Lacazette.

They would take the lead inside the opening 10 minutes, when a fine ball by Hector Bellerin released Giorgan de Arrascaeta, who went on a mazy run and finished a shot at the end of it all into the back of the net.

Bellerin and Nketiah then missed chances, before de Arrascaeta had one saved by Wildsmith. David then put two efforts off target before another shot was tipped away by Wildsmith.

de Arrascaeta then had another shot saved by Wildsmith before Lacazette punted the rebound wide, with our first opportunity of note belatedly coming after 41 minutes, when Conway punted a shot wide.

Conway then had a shot blocked straight after the break, before moments after a Bellerin shot was saved, we would equalise.

It was Conway who would bring us back on level terms, as our American striker was perfectly picked out by Odubajo and glanced a header into the back of the net.

We could even have taken the lead moments later, as Matheus had a shot blocked by Bernd Leno and Conway missed the rebound.

Nketiah and sub Gabrielle Martinelli missed opportunities in the second period, before Martinelli was denied by Wildsmith. In truth, however, this was a fair period where nothing much had happened in comparison with the busiest first.

This would soon change as we moved into the final 10 minutes of normal time, however. Arsenal had already missed a few chances when they went in front in the 84th minute, as Lacazette turned in the rebound after an initial shot by David had been saved by Wildsmith.

Yet just 3 minutes later, we were back on level terms, when Armstrong received a through pass by Conway on a pacey counter and beat Leno to bring us level again.

However, Arsenal would then take the lead again within a minute of our second equaliser. de Arrascaeta would pick up his second of the game, with the Uruguayan getting a head on Joe Willock's cross to put them in front for a third time in the day.

They wouldn't be done there either. In the fourth minute of time added on, de Arrascaeta intercepted a poor pass by Diangana, ran into the box, and beat Wildsmith to claim his hat-trick.

Victory on the final day was enough for Arsenal to book their spot in next season's Champions League ahead of Chelsea. It also means we end with six games without a win at the end of the Premier League season, which is something we're going to have to do better to recover from next year. Still, if nothing else, we made Arsenal work for it.

So, we have now reached the end of the line, and all 38 games of the 2021-22 Premier League season have been played. So it only makes sense to have a peek at the final table.

https://i.postimg.cc/VkKZZTmG/pl-table-end-of-season-2122.png

14th in the table. Mildly impressive, although its odd we actually finish the season lower than the 12th/13th positions we usually occupied over the season. But I would've taken 17th in pre-season, so it is still 3 places better and the fact we were rarely in relegation bother means we did something right.

Elsewhere, Manchester City win a fifth straight title, with a 2-0 win over Liverpool in the midweek leading up to the last game of the season. Liverpool are left to stew over things as runners up, though they did win the Champions League and Carabao Cup, while Manchester United and Arsenal finish up the top 4. Chelsea and Spurs both sacked their managers as penance for missing out on the top 4, while after a dreadful start, Leicester finished 7th to reach the Euro Conference thing for a second year in a row. Indeed, they reached the final of that competition, being beaten by Sampdoria.

At the sharp end, Fulham were the unlucky ducks in the relegation skirmish on the final day. A draw at Burnley, coupled with Aston Villa beating Crystal Palace at Villa Park, means the West Londoners are going back to the Championship, following the already demoted Sheffield United and Crystal Palace. They'll be replaced next year by Brighton, Bristol City and play-off winners Newcastle.

Best eleven of our season, meanwhile, looked like this:

https://i.postimg.cc/BnJ7Z3mQ/end-of-season-awards-s3.png

So anyway, that was our third season. It was tough, but that was to be expected, and given the team everyone said would finish 20th ended up being rarely in immediate danger of a swift return to the Championship after only a year, we did rather well. I'll count it as a success.

We do need to build on this for next season of course. To that end, we'll need new players, and probably clean out Chansiri's £55million budget to bring in 3/4 new bodies. So let's the work started.
noir et blanc armée

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Well done on securing survival, next target top half finish?
The Man formerly known on SUSIE as Poolie Exile
Give my story a read - Now I would walk 500 miles...

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Well done on securing survival, next target top half finish?

Thanks very much.

I'm not sure what I expect - we're predicted a relegation fight again (prediction for 2022-23 is 19th) and board expectation is just to stay up. Top half would be impressive, but our changes have to hit the ground running. We'll give it a shot though.
noir et blanc armée

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So our first season in the Premier League saw us defy pre-season odds of 20th to come 14th and rarely look like we would go down. But the question of course now changes to "What's next?"

This after all is football - you get a few minutes to reflect on how well you did one year, then have to dive straight into the next one. For all that I'm very delighted with achieving survival last season, I would like to progress onward next season. But that'll be difficult given that while we have a bigger budget, we're still going to be reliant on a core of players that got us up. If we stay up, next season might need to be the big one.

To try and assist attempts at progressing, I was given a new warchest of around £55million, and it gave me one of two choices. Option one is to buy a lot of purchases for a wide-ranging squad revamp, as happened in our first season when we signed 10 players over the two transfer windows. Option two is to bring in a few big budget players to improve key areas.

It was clear early in the window that the latter was what I wanted to do, partly as the market and scout recommendations looked more favourable for this approach. Though this decision to prioritise a small amount of big ticket players was done straight away when we immediately broke our transfer record to sign Jude Bellingham.

19-year-old Bellingham was still yet to leave Birmingham City, and was courting interest from the likes of West Ham and Leeds when we decided to beat them to it. We also had a deal in place for Matty Longstaff, but with Bellingham younger, more versatile, more attacking, wanting a cheaper wage and potentially sellable for higher profits, we decided to splash for him.

I'm a long way from having budgets of less than a hundred grand of course. The structure for Jude is an initial fee of £18M, £5M in extra instalments paid over the next 3 windows and a £1.5M goal bonus, plus a big signing fee as well. Our previous record is £10M with a £1.5M goal bonus for Adam Armstrong, so a deal that could eventually rise to £24.5M is proof we are now big business.

I decided to prioritise two more spine additions, which became a centre-back and a striker. A goalkeeper was considered but Dawson and Wildsmith seemed capable enough last year so we shall continue with them for one more year and re-address it next season.

Our next signing is one we wanted in January. Independiente defender Rodrigo Moreira, who is a former Argentine U20 international, nearly joined in January but we couldn't agree terms on his wages. This time he wanted something more modest and we were able to make savings on his transfer fee as well. And so he makes the move from Argentina to the UK for £4.5M. We did consider the more experienced Davinson Sanchez after he was released by Spurs but felt he had too many conditions so left him to the market, and he joined West Ham instead.

The last incoming woudl come after our last pre-season game, as I felt an extra striker was a must as a squad replacement for Rhian Brewster, who returns to Liverpool after a loan year that only yielded a disappointing 4 goals. We flicked through for a few options before settling for Lois Openda, The Belgian U21 international arrives from Club Brugge for another big-arse fee - £13.5M basic, £2.5M in the next two summers, potential extra fee of £1.5M for 20 goals, making a potential max fee of £17.5M. Although he then went and got injured in his first training session... typical. Least he's only out for 10 days.

Outgoings were minimal. Read pretty much none. Though that wasn't always going to be the case. We accepted a £12.5M bid for Dominic Iorfa from Bristol City around the time the Bellingham deal was being negotiated, but Iorfa rejected a move to the Premier League newboys, before Chinese side Shanghai Shenhua approached us with an initial bid for Iorfa but baulked when we asked them to meet Bristol City's offer. So we gave Iorfa a new deal that removed his release clause for Champions League clubs instead. I tried to offload the veteran Barry Bannan, who is out of contract at the end of the year, but no takers on loan or permanent thus far.

From the first team bubble, the only exiters are Kadeem Harris, who is released on a free, and full-back Liam Palmer, who joins Bristol Rovers on loan. Something of a habit for Rovers, who also signed Fernando Forestieri from us last year, though its not a reunion as Forestieri has left the Pirates. Osaze Urhoghide's loan at Doncaster last season has simply been extended, while the usual amount of U23s have also been allowed to exit on loan.

Interestingly, our final pre-season friendly against Eibar was arranged as a testimonial for Palmer, with a few of our older players returning for those purposes, but we weren't allowed to use Palmer to do so. Which feels slightly self defeating.

Team report now looks like this:

https://i.postimg.cc/fTyXM5fx/2022-team-report.png

The original idea was to use Bellingham in the middle of a 4-4-2, but him playing as the number 10 in a 4-2-3-1 makes more sense for his abilities in my view, so we'll try this out to start the season. See where that gets us.

The January business does make us more robust down the left flank, with Kent and Watkins having come in. Another deep lying central midfielder to upgrade on Swift, Luongo and the out-of-position Reach could've been useful but it would have to be on loan, similar to Fein last season. But hopefully better.

Our choice to already spend around £43million certainly brings us in big spending company in the Premier League financial bubble:

https://i.postimg.cc/vm0b87zV/2022-summer-pl-window.png

£1.45bn in transfer spending by all 20 clubs, with all the new boys Brighton, Bristol City and Newcastle also being big spenders as they seek to do what ourselves and West Brom did last season and stay up. Although neither were as big a pair of moves as the two involving Liverpool and Barcelona, with Frenkie de Jong's £120million move to Barcelona confirmed a few weeks before Rodrigo Bentancur made a similarly big money move to the Nou Camp.

We are of course in a different sphere now. Last season we were among the lowest spenders of all, but this time our investments have us as bigger spenders than 6 others and also being one of the highest net spenders in the Premier League. Not that it was hard given we have incomings of £0.

As for pre-season, this happened:

https://i.postimg.cc/hvBBpC4N/2022-pre-season-finished.png

In truth, this isn't quite where it initially went. In the first version of this schedule, my 4-2-3-1 style saw Bellingham manage back-to-back hat tricks in high scoring wins against Sheffield FC and AC Milan (the latter a 6-3 thriller). Unfortunately, my computer then crashed and I lost those two (and the first draft of the Eibar game).

In fairness, it fulfilled my usual quota for pre-season of testing ourselves against a variety of teams, although with only one of the usual 3 games against the non-league trio of Stocksbridge, Sheffield FC and Chesterfield. Going unbeaten in pre-season was good as well.

The Eibar game as a testimonial was certainly unusual, as ex-Owls Oliver Skipp, Angel Gomes, Sammy Ameobi and Forestieri came back, although the latter two proved why we didn't really need them anymore. Gomes could've been still useful, though an early injury limited his potential audition and in truth he's not really pushed on since his loan with us in season 2, while I don't think we can afford the fee Spurs will want for Skipp.

Anyway, 2022-23 is here, and its certainly a very strangely co-ordinated season. This is of course the year of the Qatar World Cup, and to help Fifa's ultimate boondoggle make any sense, its in November/December. As far as we're concerned, we stop playing after a Bonfire Night game at home to Everton before a Boxing Day clash against West Ham at home restarts things.

It also seems to confuse the fixture creating algorithm. Unusually, nearly all our home and away game sequences seem to be in pairs or longer. Bizarrely, and unhelpfully, we have to play 4 away games in a row in August & September - the latter of which is entirely composed of away games - with sequences of 4 and 3 home games in a row also appearing later in the season. Its rather unusual.

Still, we have the players, we have the fixture list, we have a basic goal to stay up, and we have an idea of another year of frenzied competition with 19 other sides. Starting with the game at home to Leicester that will begin the 2022-23 season, there is everything to play for once again. So let's see where the mood takes us.
noir et blanc armée

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Our first few games in the 2022-23 season weren't really ideal. Leicester beat us home and away last season, Watford have lots of decent players, Spurs are looking to rebuild under new manager Thomas Tuchel and Liverpool won last season's Champions League.

Still, if we're to show signs we have progressed from last season, there's plenty of opportunities in this opening cluster to prove we're a new team with new ideas that can tackle the new season accordingly. So with that, its the opening day (and the first PL season to start in July), and with it, we welcome Marcelo Bielsa's Leicester City.

Trying to win on match day one were:
Dawson - Iorfa, Worrall, Moreira, Fox - Bijol, Swift - Diangana, Bellingham, Watkins - Armstrong
Subs: Wildsmith, Hector, Borner, Luongo, Reach, Conway, Ambrose

Openda's late arrival means he is not fully fit, but we give full debuts to the big budget new boy Bellingham, and a start for centre-back Moreira. There's also starts for Swift and Watkins, as much due to other players fitness issues.

It would be a great sign of intent if we can begin the new season with 3 points. So, would we be switched on from day 1?

https://i.postimg.cc/sxFdnYwz/swfc-0-0-leicester.png

Not a bad game but nobody a winner. Though we lost our first game last year so its a start.

Leicester had the earliest positive moments, with Filip Benkovic and a deflected Youri Tielemans strike giving Dawson some early examinations.

Armstrong and Tielemans hit efforts off target, before our first big chance saw Leicester's debutant goalkeeper Marek Rodak deny Watkins.

Diego Costa would be denied by Dawson, while at the other end, a swinging Fox free-kick was tipped away by Rodak.

Dawson would again act to deny Jorge Sanchez, but that was the cue for the crawl to the end of the first period, with not much else going on.

The pattern continued in the second period. Bijol and Harvey Barnes hit early errant strikes off target, but it was a while into the second half when either keeper was tested, and when it happened, Dawson made an ordinary stop to deny Jefferson Lerma.

Dawson then had to make 2 stops in quick succession to deny Sanchez and Berkovic, as Leicester generally looked half decent.

We then had our own go, with Rodak denying Diangana and then Moreira from the following corner. The goalkeeper then also denied Watkins.

This was the cue for a decent and open final few minutes. Dawson denied Kyle Walker for Leicester, before Rodak denied Bellingham and Ambrose hit a late one over.

Ultimately, however, there was no late drama as was seen in the clashes with Leicester last season, as the game ended 0-0 on day one of the new campaign.

Another test would follow in our attempts to disprove doom mongers already speculating we're going down, as we travelled to Vicarage Road to face Watford.

Looking to record victory from our first away match were:
Wildsmith - Iorfa, Worrall, Hector, Fox - Bijol, Luongo - Diangana, Bellingham, Watkins - Armstrong
Subs: Dawson, Hector, Penney, Swift, Reach, Openda, Ambrose

Training injuries to Dawson and Moreira means Wildsmith returns in goal and Hector gets the nod at centre-back. Our other change is in centre mid, as Luongo replaces Swift.

Will we get good rewards out of our visit to Hertfordshire?

https://i.postimg.cc/7LFwcrZj/watford-2-0-swfc.png

Well that's unfortunate.

While Watkins had two efforts saved and Hector headed one off target, Watford enjoyed a lot of the ball and missed several chances in the early stages, with Gerard Deulofeu and Lucas Moura coming notably close.

It was sadly not a surprise when the yellow and black clad home team got the opening goal of the game. Deulofeu was found by Ismail Sarr's cross, and turned it beyond Wildsmith.

Wildsmith then had to do well to deny Moura and Sarr, along with another save to keep out Deulofeu before Valentino Lazaro fired wide.

We simply weren't great in the first half, and although Diangana had a shot saved after the break, this continued into the second period.

As the game remained at 1-0, we did begin to hope we could be about to rectify the situation. Unfortunately, things got further away from us, as Fox fouled Moura in an incident the ref spotted and VAR backed up, and Carles Alena rolled the penalty home.

Things didn't really get better from there, with Sarr denied by Wildsmith and Deulofeu striking the post.

Reach, new boy Openda and Fox had late tries, but it didn't really get better and we limped to a loss. Boo.

Next in the diary was our entry in the Carabao Cup, as we had a home tie against League One side Burton Albion at Hillsborough, and pre game, their manager Stephane Henchoz was shit talking us and saying he fancied an upset... OK.

Looking to make him eat his words were:
Dawson - Odubajo, Borner, Hector, Fox - Matheus, Luongo, Swift, Reach - Ambrose, Openda
Subs: Wildsmith, Worrall, Iorfa, Penney, Kent, Bellingham, Armstrong

The Carabao Cup remains as much a priority as ever, with just 3 people starting that began against Watford the previous weekend - namely Fox, Hector and Luongo. Openda makes a full debut, Matheus and Reach get starts to build fitness after pre-season injuries, Dawson gets a go, etc.

So, would we see it through?

https://i.postimg.cc/sxvFDnx5/swfc-1-0-burton.png

Meh. How unremarkable. Still, its a win.

Dawson was forced into an early stop to deny Joe Sbarra, but it would be followed by a dominant patch for us as Reach and Matheus came close with shots.

We opened the scoring after 10 minutes, as Ambrose beat a covering defender to turn in Reach's cross.

Openda would have 2 shots off target and one saved just after the break, while Ambrose and Luongo hit their own ones off target, but in truth, the momentum was not really as strong as hoped for.

Indeed, our inability to kill things off in this game did give Burton plenty of scope to put us under pressure with chances late on to force penalties. But it didn't really work out for them, and whether it was convincing or not, we booked our place to Round 2 and with it book a tie against Sunderland in the next round.

It was enough I guess. But I think we still have work to do if we are to win games in the Premier League more often.

Not that the following weekend would give us an easy ride. Home match against Spurs, who are trying to impress after Tuchel replaced Jose Mourinho. In a quirky twist of fate, Jose turned up at PSG as the German's replacement.

The squad selected for this test was:
Dawson - Iorfa, Worrall, Moreira, Fox - Bijol, Reach - Armstrong, Bellingham, Watkins - Ambrose
Subs: Wildsmith, Hector, Borner, Swift, Diangana, Kent, Openda

From the Watford game, we brought in Ambrose, Reach, Moreira and Dawson as we continued to try and make our 4-2-3-1 flirtation work.

Spurs at home was nearly a success, as we came very close to defeating a flatlining side. What could we do here?

https://i.postimg.cc/bvsFnGpj/swfc-0-1-spurs.png

All I can say is that we were outplayed throughout.

This was evidence from the off, with the away side having a fair amount of pressure, although it took about half an hour until the away side had a chance of note, as Louis Munteanu had a shot simply stopped by Dawson.

Dawson had to make some good saves to thwart Harry Kane, Giovanni Lo Celso, Eric Dier and Houssem Aouar as the remainder of the half saw us continue to be on the back foot.

Its a trend that would continue after the break, with Kane and Steven Bergwijn having shots blocked.

Our first chance eventually came after the hour, as sub Kent saw a drive blocked at the other end, and shortly after that came an actual shot on target when Alex Meret denied Ambrose.

Sadly it wouldn't go our way from there. With 20 to go, our resistance was broken when Simone Verdi played in a cross for Munteanu to finish.

Kent had a shot well denied by Meret but we offered little thereafter and Spurs had a fantastic chance to go further in front, as Raphael Guerriero saw a free-kick tipped onto the bar by Dawson.

The result means however that we're still looking for our first Premier League game, and despite trying to switch from our old dependable 4-4-2 to a 4-2-3-1, we're finding things tough in these early stages - a trend I already fear continuing, and making this a more difficult second season than the originally hoped ability to push on.

With Liverpool next up followed by 4 straight away games, its not as if things were about to get any better or easier any time soon. But we've still got hope, right?
noir et blanc armée

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Really surprised personally that you haven't spent anything on a top end goalie. If I'm able to get Preston promoted in my save then I've made it one of my priorities.

A wee bit of luck somewhere and you can definitely improve on last season's 14th placed finish, am convinced on that.
The Man formerly known on SUSIE as Poolie Exile
Give my story a read - Now I would walk 500 miles...

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Really surprised personally that you haven't spent anything on a top end goalie. If I'm able to get Preston promoted in my save then I've made it one of my priorities.

A wee bit of luck somewhere and you can definitely improve on last season's 14th placed finish, am convinced on that.

Thanks for the praise and hope. The strange irony is that 14th in our first year up was actually a downgrade as we spent most of it in 11th-13th. It'll be a toughie though.

I looked at a few goalkeepers but as Dawson was voted fans player of the year and Wildsmith did well when standing in, I figured I could get away deferring it a year and invest in other areas first, as I needed an extra striker and felt a PL-worthy centre mid was needed, and sure enough Bellingham and Openda wiped out my budget. But I might buy one in January if a good option is there waiting to sign. After all the January signing of Ryan Kent was arguably pivotal in getting us over the line, so we're open to it.
noir et blanc armée

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With no win in our opening 3 Premier League games, what we could use is a nice easy test against a side we could reasonably expect rewards against. Liverpool at home is not one of those such contests. Filled with superstars and still on a high from winning the Champions League and Carabao Cup, despite throwing away the Premier League title to hand it to Man City for a 4th straight year, this is not a contest we can expect an easy ride from. But still, surprises happen.

Hoping to roll the dice and hit the jackpot were:
Dawson - Iorfa, Worrall, Moreira, Fox - Swift, Bijol, Bellingham - Diangana, Ambrose, Watkins
Subs: Wildsmith, Hector, Borner, Reach, Kent, Armstrong, Openda

From the previous weekend's defeat by Spurs, I felt 4-2-3-1 wasn't really the way to go and switched to 4-3-3. From that teamsheet, I made 2 changes with Swift and Diangana replacing Reach and Armstrong.

Last season's 6-0 mauling at Anfield was the lowest point of the campaign. Could we try and avenge that here?

https://i.postimg.cc/JhCJzDpn/swfc-0-1-liverpool.png

On the positive side, we did reasonably well at containing this team of superstars. On the other, we still lost and rarely got close to troubling Jurgen Klopp's gang.

The chances of it looking long were there early on as only an offside flag denied Fabio Silva and Mo Salah forced a stop from Dawson, although Bellingham did put a header over early on.

Liverpool dominated possession, as expected, but weren't really doing that well to break us down, with a few blocked shots the best that their attacking intentions could get. Indeed, we nearly snuck up on them, with Watkins seeing a header kiss the bar on its way out.

Dawson then made 2 stops in quick succession to stop Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino, with Mane then seeing a shot just go wide, Dawson denied Trent Alexander-Arnold, and Silva and Salah put efforts off target in the final minutes of the first half.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the second half continued this pattern at first, as Firmino blasted one wide. But we then nearly pounced ourselves, as Alisson was forced into a good stop to deny Ambrose.

Bellingham then fired wide at the end of a good solo run, though this came after Dawson had to make saves to deny Salah and Silva.

Our keeper then made 2 good saves to deny Salah and Silva as Liverpool tried to bring back the noise of their heavy metal football, with lots of opportunities. Salah and Mane both came close.

It looked as though we were holding firm, only for things to go wrong fast. It looked as though we survived a moment of pressure as we cleared a free-kick, only for VAR to pipe up and rule Iorfa had committed a foul on Silva.

Aggravatingly, this meant a Liverpool penalty missed in real time by the referee, which Salah duly scored. Bollocks.

We did actually have chances in added time for a leveller, as sub Openda had one deflected wide and his fellow sub Armstrong headed wide.

But there was no reprieve as we suffered the expected defeat in a sickening manner. No fun.

So we have to try and find salvation away from home. After all our next 4 Premier League games are all away from Hillsborough, although interestingly, 3 of that 4 are at Burnley, Leeds and Southampton - all 3 of whom we beat away from home last season. We'll gloss over the fact that the other game in that sequence is at Manchester City.

Another away game comes in first, as we travel to the Stadium of Light to play Sunderland in our Carabao Cup Third Round tie. This indeed is a tie we had in our first season in charge of the Owls.

Hoping to secure our progress from this Second Round tie were:
Wildsmith - Odubajo, Iorfa, Moreira, Penney - Matheus, Bijol, Reach, Kent - Ambrose, Openda
Subs: Dawson, Borner, Fox, Luongo, Diangana, Bellingham, Armstrong

From the weekend's Liverpool defeat, we keep Iorfa, Moreira, Bijol and Ambrose in the starting 11, and drop the rest.

Our only win so far was in the Carabao Cup, which we managed in a tie against Burton Albion at Hillsborough. Can we at least win here?

https://i.postimg.cc/263dMqTS/sunderland-0-1-swfc.png

More or less similar to that opening tie against the Brewers - we got the core essential of winning the game if nothing else.

Sunderland may have entered this tie on the back of 4 straight defeats in the Championship, but they started positively when Armando Broja and Bali Mumba putting strikes off target.

Ambrose and Matheus would come close with our first chances, before Broja fired wide for the hosts.

With Openda making his first start since his big budget arrival from Belgium, he would come close, with one shot well saved by Alex Cameron and another deflected wide.

Cameron then did well to deny Iorfa, but in a low quality opening period it was Sunderland who had the better chances in the remainder of a low quality first half, even if they were little of note.

The second half wasn't much better. Indeed, it took half an hour of football for either side to put a chance on target as presumably those who traipsed their way to the Stadium of Light just progressively lost any real interest.

The chance that did surface was for us, as Openda had a shot saved by Cameron, with Iorfa and sub Bellingham putting efforts wide.

Sunderland had a shot on target as Stuart McKinstry had a header saved by Wildsmith in goal.

This was the cue for a slightly more opening end to proceedings until finally, a way through was found with 89 minutes on the clock, and just as it looked as though the game was heading for a penalty shoot-out.

The late winner was our big budget Belgian up top, as Openda turned in Diangana's cross to grab his first goal since his arrival from Club Brugge.

Diangana and Kent would miss chances in added time to wrap things up with even more of a flourish, but one was enough and while it wasn't exactly the most convincing display, it was still enough to book our spot in Round 4.

That Round Four tie is certainly one of interest, as we have a home tie against Sheffield United. So it'll be the first time in our meet-ups with Sheffield United in the Steel City Derby when a tie between us two produces a winner.

As this comes a few days after our Premier League game away at Manchester City, its genuinely tempting to rest players for the game at the Etihad Stadium as beating the now-Championship Blades might well be the bigger priority.

But that's for a later date. First is another attempt to get our first win of the Premier League season, and with it is an away game at Burnley, which we must target as having potential for our first win of the year. After all, we did that last season.

Seeking to triumph at Turf Moore once again would be this selection:
Dawson - Iorfa, Worrall, Moreira, Fox - Reach, Bijol, Bellingham, Kent - Armstrong, Openda
Subs: Wildsmith, Borner, Hector, Luongo, Diangana, Watkins, Ambrose

From the Liverpool defeat a week ago, we made 4 changes, bringing in Reach, Kent, Armstrong and Openda to enable a switch to 4-4-2, with Diangana, Swift, Ambrose and Watkins those excused from front line duties.

So, would we deliver what we need to do and beat Burnley?

https://i.postimg.cc/7brZD7NM/burnley-0-1-swfc.png

Excellent - a first win of the new season.

We would take the lead inside the opening 10 minutes in a fairly simple manner. Bijol to Bellingham to Reach, who cut inside and crossed for Armstrong to roll the ball home and get us one goal closer to paying Blackburn his goal-related additional fee.

Bijol then saw a drive well saved by Nick Pope, before Dawson had to be alert to deny Josh Brownhill and again to deny a piledriver from Steven Lochhead.

Fox saw a free-kick well stopped by Pope, before Loic Nego - who scored an own goal here last season - was denied by Dawson.

Our keeper would then also thwart Lochhead, before Pope did well to deny Openda, Armstrong and Bijol. Somewhere in the midst was a chance when Chris Wood was found in space, but the Kiwi fired wide.

Wood then had a shot blocked before a fine run by Eberechi Eze resulted in a disappointing shot that was straight at Dawson.

The start to the second half was open, with Openda denied by Pope and Reach firing wide before Eze had a try blocked by Iorfa and hit the rebound wide.

After a series of uninteresting half chances barely worthy of recalling, the game seemed to have a major tilt in our favour after Burnley had a man sent off. Yeferson Seltedo had only been on for 11 minutes when the Venezuelan went in 2 footed on Reach, earning him an instant dismissal and leaving his side with 10 players.

Burnley still could've levelled, as Cody Gakpo hit one way over when well placed, while Ezequiel Barco hit one at Dawson in added time.

But we had enough in the tank to see the job done from there, and as a result, we had the points and our first victory of the 2022-23 season. Result!

With the first month of the season in the history books, this is where we are:

https://i.postimg.cc/8PV72JzP/pl-table-end-of-month1-22-23.png

There's still 33 games to improve, and I fully expect that later down the line we will, though in truth the opening fixture run is far from ideal.

The summer transfer deadline came and went, and there would be no further incomings. Frustrating part, however, was that we could've done something.

Massimo Luongo is unhappy at no longer being first choice, and as we have better centre mids, I felt happy entertaining offers for his service. Sure enough, a £3M offer from Blackburn came in and we accepted, but it ultimately looks as though Blackburn are actually looking to make him a January arrival and he won't move until the first month of 2023.

Odd. So I guess until then we're going to be stuck with him sucking up a high wage, moaning and doing crap in training until then. Along with Barry Bannan, who is out of contract in the summer and graded by my coaches as surplus to requirements but who we couldn't offload in the summer. The pair of them are the centre mids in our historical best 11, but really its time to move on.

I had been looking to buy Isaac Hayden as a replacement, with the former Newcastle man on the transfer list at Aston Villa, but it was dependent on Luongo and/or Bannan departing, and with neither gone yet, we opted against a move. We might come back in for him in January. But of course there's plenty of time to go to work out what we will do.

Until then, we have to pick up more points where we can, starting with the trip to Leeds straight after the break.
noir et blanc armée

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The September international break has been and gone and first out the gate is a Yorkshire Derby against Leeds United at Elland Road, which will be an intriguing test. Leeds have a new manager and brought a lot of players in the summer, with their manager also slagging me off for only buying UK-based talent - unfair to some extent given 2 of our key new signings came from Belgium and Argentina. It should be an intriguing contest and clash of styles if nothing else.

Seeking a triumph in West Yorkshire were:
Dawson - Iorfa, Worrall, Moreira, Fox - Reach, Bijol, Bellingham, Kent - Armstrong, Openda
Subs: Wildsmith, Hector, Borner, Swift, Diangana, Watkins, Ambrose

Same starting 11 from the win over Burnley before the international break.

A very satisfying occasion last season came when we defeated Leeds at Elland Road in a comeback victory in our first trip to them in the Premier League. What would we achieve this time?

https://i.postimg.cc/wTZWJRDz/leeds-1-1-swfc.png

We avoided defeat if nothing else. And good for Ambrose, as our top scorer in our promotion winning season finally and at long last gets a first Premier League goal.

Leeds pressed early on, with Alexsandar Mitrovic being denied by Dawson twice in the early minutes and Kevin Rodrigues having a deflected shot trickle into the waiting arms of our keeper.

Our first chance would then come, as Openda was well denied by David Raya, before Mitrovic and Ritsu Doan had two efforts off target.

Talsica nearly scored a great goal only for Dawson to deny him, before our keeper then also denied Mitrovic.

We then had a go in turn, as Raya did well to keep out Bijol, and the Leeds keeper also did well to deny Armstrong a few moments after Dawson kept out a bolt from Talsica.

It was our team who pressed late in the half, with Bellingham firing over before Kent was well denied by Raya, but no goals and all to play for at the break.

If the first half was open and flowing, the second was more gritty, with few shots of note and all of them going wide. It took 25 minutes for a chance on target worth noting about, and when it came, Raya made a straight forward to stop Kent before Dawson did the same to deny Leeds sub Ayoze Perez.

Things began to open up, with Bellingham seeing a shot go over before Talsica was denied by Dawson and the keeper did well to deny Bosko Sutalo at the following corner.

Sutalo would however then be the man to open the scoring in a fairly unconventional manner. The Croatian centre-back was well denied by Dawson but we failed to deal with the fallout, and the ball was worked wide for Rober Ibanez to cross. Sutalo did well to float a header across the box when he met the Spaniard's cross, and it seemed to be aimed for Perez, but instead it floated in.

We began to shuffle things around and did come close as Raya made good stops to deny Bellingham and substitute Diangana. Things would continue in such a way, as Ambrose had a shot blocked and Raya again denied Diangana.

But we eventually found a way to goal. It would also be straight forward. From the corner awarded after Diangana's shot was denied, Swift's delivery found Ambrose, and he found the goal - his first time doing so in the Premier League.

This was the cue for a very open final stage of the game. Leeds came close twice with Talsica and Perez both denied by Dawson, before Raya kept out Openda in added time at the end.

Both teams could've reasonably had a claim of taking the points out of this one, but ultimately it was a game where it was totally fair enough that neither team would be getting all of the rewards.

This feeling would be different, one dare say, for our next game. While Manchester City haven't begun the season at their swashbuckling best, its safe to say a team that won the last 4 Premier League titles was a far from ideal opponent.

Aiming to see what they could get from this proverbial Everest were:
Wildsmith - Iorfa, Moreira, Worrall - Odubajo, Bijol, Reach, Bellingham, Penney - Openda, Ambrose
Subs: Smith, Borner, Fox, Swift, Kent, Diangana, Armstrong

Went for 3-5-2 today as a possible attempt to neutralise City's threat in the middle, with Odubajo, Penney and Ambrose introduced out-field to make it work in place of Fox, Kent and Armstrong.

Two training injuries also forced our hand - Hector was due to start but misses out with an injury, while Dawson missed out with an injury so Wildsmith starts and young keeper Tom Smith starts on the bench. An admin error means notional third choice keeper Jonathan De Bie isn't included - he would've been on the bench but turns out he's 22 so no longer covered by the PL's over 21 rule.

A victory for us here would be an almighty surprise. Would we be able to do it?

https://i.postimg.cc/wTNWXcHV/man-city-3-1-swfc.png

Meh. Expected that to be worse.

The perception of this being a potential disaster started almost immediately, as Ferro put the home side ahead inside the opening five minutes. The defender had already seen one shot saved by Wildsmith, when Merih Derimal's picked out Ferro after his initial try at a free-kick was blocked, and Ferro duly put Man City ahead early on.

We were pretty much overwhelmed in the first 45 minutes of this encounter, with Wildsmith making a number of saves on the way, but it was no surprise we fell 2-0 down just before the half hour. Talles Magno got the goal, as he turned in Marvin Barajas' cross.

Man City continued to be relentless in the remainder of the half. Wildsmith again had to make a few saves, perhaps indicating why there was cursory interest from Manchester United in the summer, and our back-up man in the number 16 shirt was not surprisingly kept busy. This after all is a team that could buy our squad about 4/5 times over and still have change.

We changed to a 4-4-2 at half-time, with Odubajo the sacrificial lamb, but this pattern continued. While it was quieter, the home side still dominated and still pressured us, with Wildsmith kept especially busy.

But to our surprise, with 16 minutes remaining, we got something. Openda grabbed his first Premier League goal, receiving a through pass from Kent, running through to goal and beating Ederson.

But any hope we had of a surprise point dissipated within ten minutes. Worrall fouled Demirah when the two were challenging for a Man City set-piece, and Thiago Almada beat Wildsmith.

Swift had a shot well saved by Ederson right at the end, but we were never really in this contest. It was pretty brutal, with 30 shots peppering our goal throughout the contest, and we cannot say its anything other than a surprise that we lost.

Somewhere where I get the feeling failure is not an option comes in midweek. Sheffield United make the cross-city trip for a Carabao Cup 4th Round tie at Hillsborough, with the side relegated from last season's Premier League making a very positive start in their attempts to return and in the process mark themselves as a yo-yo club.

Aiming for derby day delight were:
Wildsmith - Iorfa, Borner, Hector, Fox - Matheus, Swift, Bellingham, Reach - Armstrong, Openda
Subs: Dawson, Moreira, Odubajo, Bijol, Kent, Watkins, Ambrose

Fair few changes from the weekend, as Borner, Hector, Fox, Matheus, Swift and Armstrong are recalled. Part resting players, as the Southampton game at the weekend is important and winnable, but still a good quantity of regulars in this selection.

The Carabao Cup may not be a priority, but beating the rivals sure is. What could we do against this lot this time?

https://i.postimg.cc/3rLw7mv3/sheffield-derby-carabao-cup.png

The theme of the Carabao Cup thus far appears to be that we are finding a way through by hook or by crook. Again, a Sheffield Derby ends level in 90 minutes, but we just held our nerve a little better in the penalty shoot-out.

We started very brightly, with Openda firing wide after a great solo run and a bolt from Reach being saved by Daniel Schmidt.

But against the run of play, Unai Emery's bunch pulled a fast one on us. Luke Freeman's throw-in was received by Harry Boyes, who tried to wing in a cross that instead deceived everyone and found the back of the net.

We would be behind for 8 minutes. Matheus' cross picked out Reach, who got in ahead of a defensive marker to head the ball past Schmidt and he drew us back on level terms.

Schmidt then had to deny Openda straight away, before Wildsmith in our goal denied Rafael Borre and Kyron Gordon. He would also deny Borre.

The remainder of the first half was low quality in comparison - a wide header from Hector being the only time either keeper was remotely troubled under first half time, when Carlos Fernandez had a shot saved by Wildsmith.

Hector was denied by Schmidt seconds after the break, before Borre and Fernandez came close for the visitors straight after the break.

But after such a reasonably bright looking opening, the second half ended up being pretty terrible with neither side looking close to a breakthrough, and we would end the 90 minutes on level terms. So penalties it was.

The decisive spot-kick of the regular 10 ended up being Sheffield United's first spot-kick, as away sub Borja Mayoral saw his kick and the visitors' first saved by Wildsmith. All the others went in, meaning Openda booked our spot in Round 5. Not a win in 90, which would've been nicer but well... its something.

Our Round 5 tie will be sending us on the road, but not so sure yet as to what destination, as Southampton and Arsenal are still to play their 4th Round tie. It'll come in the early phase of the October international break, so we wait and see what it produces.

Speaking of Southampton, our next assignment would be a trip to St Mary's to face the Saints, who are struggling. While the 7-0 mauling by Manchester City on the opening day was a one-off, they have 1 win in their opening 7.

The squad selected for this test was:
Dawson - Iorfa, Worrall, Moreira, Fox - Reach, Bijol, Bellingham, Kent - Openda, Ambrose
Subs: Wildsmith, Hector, Borner, Swift, Matheus, Watkins, Armstrong

This is closer to what we were using in the win at Burnley and point at Leeds. As far as changes from the midweek derby game, however, the shuffle sees us bring in Worrall, Moreira, Bijol, Kent and Ambrose.

My first victory in the Premier League as Sheffield Wednesday manager was a 2-0 win at St Mary's last season, although that afternoon's 2 goal hero (Adam Armstrong) is only a sub today. But some 13 months on, could lightning strike twice?

https://i.postimg.cc/pL57ybcs/southampton-0-1-swfc.png

Huzzah it did. And thus we have a 100% record from our trips to the South Coast... granted its only 2 from 2 but it counts. Hence why I'm now enthusiastic for Southampton to beat Arsenal as we might have a good chance in the Carabao Cup Quarter Finals. Or at least more of one than we woulda got from going to the Emirates. Although losing Bijol to a big injury is not what we need.

Our goal came in the opening 10 minutes, and was somewhat against the run of play, given that Alfredo Morelos was well denied by Dawson and Southampton had plenty of early possession.

Instead we picked up an opener. Reach was found on the edge of the box, his cross found Kent, and his header crawled under Fraser Forster and in to put us ahead in Hampshire.

Southampton did respond, with Dawson denying Valentin Antov, Thibaud Verlinden having a shot blocked, and Nathan Redmond looking pretty dangerous.

Forster then did deny Worrall on a breakaway corner, before Redmond and Pierre-Emelie Hojbjerg put efforts off target and Dawson denied Luis Abram.

We had to make a change just after the half-hour mark, as Bijol suffered an injury after a poor tackle, making me slightly wary as the more attacking Swift now has to be a defensive foil in our central midfield. Though barring one move that saw Verlinden denied by Dawson, we did manage to restrict Southampton's attacks in the final part of the opening 45.

Ambrose hit a shot wide and had one deflected wide as our green-clad away side (wish I had the in-game editor so I could create some cool new alternate strips) were able to keep things going in a low quality start to the second half. Kent would also have a shot blocked as things proceeded.

Southampton's best chance saw Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall have a low shot creep inches past the wrong side of the post, with the home side lacking some of the fluency they showed in the opening 45.

We then had a burst of attacking activity ourselves, with Forster denying Worrall, Swift and Ambrose in quick succession.

Dewsbury-Hall and Verlinden hit shots off target late on, but we did just enough to take a big victory and take delightful in our success. Its only a second win in our 8 Premier League games so far - 1 less than we managed in the same period last season, but still roughly on par with what we'd like to make sure we can establish a margin on the relegation battle.

We just have to keep it going. Essential to this is beating new boys Brighton at home in our last game before the international break, which would certainly be useful given we face Manchester United in our first test after it at the start of the final 4 games (5 including the Carabao tie) before the World Cup leads to one month in hibernation. To that end, I have arranged a friendly against Championship side Derby one week before we return, with plans for another to make sure we're fighting fit for the West Ham game on Boxing Day - something I suspect a lot of teams will need after a month of, even if a lot of them will have players in Qatar fighting for that big prize.

As for us, we still have plenty of chances to ensure we don't spend that month kicking our heels in a deep hole. There's a wide variety of testing exams, but we have to have some degree of confidence we can do something.
noir et blanc armée

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The victory over Southampton has certainly stabilised things for us after a few iffy recent results, but its up to us now to try and build momentum. Certainly, however, going into the October international break with back-to-back wins would be a good thing for us, and Patrick Vieira's Brighton do represent beatable opposition on paper.

Hoping to see off the Seagulls were:
Dawson - Iorfa, Worrall, Moreira, Fox - Reach, Swift, Bellingham, Kent - Ambrose, Openda
Subs: Wildsmith, Hector, Borner, Bannan, Matheus, Watkins, Ambrose

From victory at St. Mary's, we used Swift as the stand-in for the injured Bijol, with our other alteration seeing Ambrose chosen over Armstrong.

Can we therefore see them off and give our fans something to cheer going into the weekend off?

https://i.postimg.cc/XJvjgnTR/swfc-2-1-brighton.png

Win at all costs mentality in vogue, clearly. Brighton had more chances and possession, but we have more goals. I don't care though - I like wins.

The away side would enjoy a few early half chances, but soon, we began to adapt to things and after Openda hit one wide and Kent had a shot saved by Matt Ryan, we would strike first.

It all began with a Brighton throw-in, as Federico Bustos' throw was intercepted, and lead to a first-time cross for Openda to nod past Ryan and score his first Premier League goal at Hillsborough since his summer arrival from Belgium.

Ambrose then saw two efforts well denied by Ryan as we tried to press for a second goal before the break.

Brighton's best chance for a while was a wayward hit by Aaron Mooy, before Alexis Mac Allister saw a close range hit well stopped by Dawson.

James Justin hit one wide in the early stages of the second period, before we responded as Ryan denied Joe Worrall. In response to that, a good chance opened up for Jesse Lingard only for Dawson to deny it.

Armstrong and Mac Allister exchanged off target hits, before James Igbekeme had a close range hit denied by Dawson.

Seconds after the Igbekeme strike was our second goal. It came through Reach, as our winger beat Bustos to Fox's cross and headed it in.

In the remainder of the second period, Brighton missed a number of opportunities from open play, but when they got a goal back with 4 minutes to go, it was a set-piece that unlocked us, with Ben White heading in at a corner after an initial strike by Lewis Dunk was blocked.

Things could've been nervy given this came in the latter stages and there were a further five minutes of added time, but we held out to secure three very welcome points going into the international break.

Certainly, this was enough to keep us delighted going into the international break. Not that expectations were high for our first test on the other side, given that was in the form of Manchester United.

Trying for something against the Red Devils were:
Dawson - Iorfa, Worrall, Moreira, Fox - Reach, Swift, Bellingham, Kent - Armstrong, Openda
Subs: Wildsmith, Hector, Borner, Bannan, Matheus, Watkins, Ambrose

Having over-thought games against the big six teams in the past, I thought I'd stick with the normal 4-4-2, but with Armstrong up top alongside Openda instead of Ambrose.

What could we manage against the Red Devils then?

https://i.postimg.cc/zBSzC0Dc/swfc-0-0-manutd.png

I'll gladly take the point in all honesty. I'd like to think we'll beat one of those top 6 leviathans eventually, but for now, avoiding defeat against them is still something.

The sign that this would be a very defensively-focused afternoon was there from the off, with Dawson denying Aaron Wan-Bissaka in the opening minute and Gabriel Jesus firing wide.

In saying that, we still came close inside the opening four minutes, as David de Gea had to be on hand to deny a snapshot by Kent. Our former Rangers man also saw a strike denied by Dayot Upamecano.

We soon then went defensive again, with Paul Pogba and Matias Zaracho coming close, although Manchester United didn't really do a lot in all truth and we were content to play a containing game.

Zaracho and Pogba both forced saves out of Dawson in the final stages of the first half, but again, its not as if we were under sustained pressure to make it to the break still level.

Kent hit an effort wide for us straight after the break, before a much more dangerous one came when Jesus was denied by Dawson.

Dawson then also denied Marcus Rashford and Bruno Fernandes, plus two more saves to deny Zaracho.

In the back of my mind was the fact we lasted about 70-75 minutes until we threw it away against Liverpool and Spurs, but we got past that timeframe and even nearly responded with a breakaway goal, as De Gea made a good stop to keep out sub Watkins.

Matheus, Fox and Watkins even had chances thwarted in the final minutes for a famous win, while Rashford hit one wide at the other end in the final minute of added time.

We probably did well enough at containing to justify a point at the end, and I feel like we could be reasonably content at how we went about our business in the end.

Next in the diary is someone at the other end of the extremes. While Manchester United are competing for the title, new boys Bristol City are still yet to win a game in their Premier League debut, and we had to be hoping to take the points from Ashton Gate.

Looking at avoid what would effectively count as an upset were:
Dawson - Iorfa, Borner, Moreira, Fox - Matheus, Swift, Bellingham, Kent - Armstrong, Openda
Subs: Wildsmith, Worrall, Penney, Reach, Bannan, Watkins, Conway

Two switches for this one, with club captain Borner getting a rare start over Worrall and Matheus preferred to Reach on the right.

The respective form of these two means we should be crushing this. Would we?

https://i.postimg.cc/90HjnT0q/bristolcity-0-2-swfc.png

We were dreadful in the first half so its a good thing Armstrong made the most of his chances straight after half-time to wrestle control away from the home side and send us on the path to winning. Yippee.

The recalled Borner did head over in the early minutes, but the centre-back and his colleagues would be frequently tested in the opening moments of our contest. Oli McBurnie and Kasey Palmer put early ones off target before Palmer saw a shot saved by Dawson and our keeper also denied ex-Sheffield United forward McBurnie.

Dawson made a great stop to deny a Palmer volley, before Hugo Noel, Billy Arce and Lukas Nmecha hit efforts off target

This trend continued for a while, with Dawson making a number of saves, and it wasn't until the fairly late stages of the half we were able to manage a shot on target on a breakaway move, as Daniel Bentley denied Swift following a quick counter-attack.

We were less than amazing in the first period. Straight after the break, however, we did something much better. A quick move released Openda to leg it down the flank, and his cross was buried first time by Armstrong to put us in front in the shadow of the Clifton Suspension Bridge.

Han-Noah Massengo was denied by Dawson and Arce hit the bar as Bristol City took the challenge of trying to respond.

However, we would soon enough make it 2 goals in 7 minutes. It would be a second for Armstrong, who received a direct ball by Fox, escaped the covering defender, and placed a strike past Bentley to give us a second goal.

The second took a lot of the enthusiasm out of the Bristol City performance, of which there had been quite a healthy amount for a side in such horrible form, and after the hour mark, we nearly rubbed further salt in the wound as Bentley denied Openda, Armstrong and Moreira in quick succession.

Bentley later made two good saves to deny Armstrong as our number 9 repeatedly threatened in his attempts to land a hat-trick, but there were no more goals for him. However, we'd done well enough to contain our opponents and in the process book in a good win that makes it 4 unbeaten in the Premier League for us. No mean feat given our relative lack of budget to everyone else.

A good measure of our progress in the Premier League would come next, as we travelled to face Wolves - the first game we had as a Premier League side some year and a half or so earlier.

Looking to make a fine impression at Molineux were:
Dawson - Iorfa, Borner, Moreira, Fox - Matheus, Swift, Bellingham, Kent - Armstrong, Openda
Subs: Wildsmith, Worrall, Penney, Reach, Bannan, Watkins, Conway

Same starting selection as what was picked for the meeting with Bristol City a week earlier, though I do wonder if a slightly different mentality might be required given a Wolves side in with a shot at the top 4 is not going to be the same test as the struggling Robins.

What would we manage on our first return to the site of our PL debut as a manager?

https://i.postimg.cc/7hphZbK3/wolves-2-0-swfc.png

... well that wasn't any good.

Both sides had early chances, with Raul Jimenez and Openda exchanging early blocked shots.

But Wolves began to play more positively and would take the lead. A foul on Adama Traore triggered a free-kick, despite some suspicions of a dive, and Takefusa Kubo drove a stonking free-kick past Dawson from 25 yards.

Openda had a strike saved by Rui Patricio within seconds of the restart, but Wolves began to dominate, with Dawson denying Morgan Gibbs-White and Jimenez before Traore hit one wide.

This pattern continued, with Wolves creating and missing chances, generally due to either good saves by Dawson or crap finishing by those in orange.

However, we couldn't keep it to one at half-time. Jimenez piped up to volley in a rebound, after an initial shot by Traore was blocked by Moreira.

Patricio in goal did have to make good stops late on to deny Openda and Armstrong, but we still had a big task to face after the break if we wanted to take a point back north with us.

Instead, it continued as before, with Dawson being the main barrier as to why weren't 3-0, 4-0, or maybe even 5-0 down, as we continued to wonder what we'd done wrong to misjudge this contest.

We even tried switching to a more obtuse 3-4-1-2 to try something different, but the sum of our efforts was one shot by Armstrong saved with around 20 to go and a free-kick from sub Penney thwarted with the very final kick of the game.

So, that was a bust. But hey, maybe a home tie with Everton will see us sign off before the World Cup-induced long pause with a nice thing in our favour. And hey, maybe it won't.

Tasked with 3 points in what is our last game before Christmas (on Bonfire Night!) were:
Dawson - Iorfa, Worrall, Moreira, Penney - Reach, Swift, Bellingham, Kent - Armstrong, Openda
Subs: Wildsmith, Borner, Fox, Bijol, Matheus, Watkins, Conway

Two defensive changes after our underwhelming afternoon at Molineux, with a first start of the year for Penney and a recall for Worrall over Borner and Fox. Other switch is Reach for Matheus.

So, what would we do in this one?

https://i.postimg.cc/QxKGQfMx/swfc-1-1-everton.png

Well that's frustrating. The win at all costs vibe means I could've taken the overly defensive nature of our performance as a positive but instead it comes mixed with the crushing disappointment of conceding an equaliser in the final minutes of normal time.

Kent did have the game's first chance, as the winger who began his career at Liverpool saw a lashed effort well stopped by Jordan Pickford.

Reach saw a decent volley crash over after a few minutes where we had been on the back foot, after Everton saw a few efforts fly off target in the intervening period.

Dawson denied Jose Juan Macias with the first effort they had on target, with the away side enjoying a fair amount of chances in a low energy game thereafter.

But a chance then did come our way, as Kent saw a strike ping wide.

Tahith Chong saw two efforts come close in the opening stages of the second period, before Armstrong saw a shot stopped by Pickford seconds before Dawson denied Andre Gomes.

Everton were still winning the possession battle, but it was us who got the first goal of the game, as Yerry Mina barged over our sub Conway, and from Swift's free-kick, Moreira glanced it past Dawson.

Reach lashed one wide for us minutes later and seconds after Rasmus Nissen Kristensen had been denied by Dawson.

Roman Zobnin saw a vicious strike tipped onto the bar by Dawson, with our keeper also denying substitutes Richarlison and Ronald Araujo.

We came so close to a breakaway second goal, as Conway and Armstrong had shots blocked. Sadly, however, Everton would get the goal their general game probably justified.

Richarlison would grab it, grabbing the ball at the end of a move involving Gylfi Sigurdsson and Macias, running into the box from the flank and thread a shot past Dawson.

Armstrong had a vicious shot well stopped by Pickford, before Everton came close themselves when Mina had a deflected drive well stopped by Dawson.

In the end, we probably wouldn't have justified a win had we got it, but still would've been great to get one.

With this now being the start of the World Cup break, the table will look like this:

https://i.postimg.cc/WbVp4R8c/pl-table-during-2022-world-cup.png

There's a fair wedge for my in-tray, not least given skipper Borner is moaning he's not getting game time, while Bannan, Diangana and Hector have also been dissatisfied with their lack of game-time. It certainly will be a fair wedge to go through, with a long time on pause thanks to the World Cup.

Still, there's plenty of room for us to grow here when things return, starting with our Boxing Day meeting against West Ham. Whether or not we can is another matter of course, especially as no win in our 2 games before the stop doesn't help. Let's see what we can achieve after the great December without football.
noir et blanc armée

Read my FM20 Career WAWAW

Great promotion and a solid season surviving, hopefully can kick on again in this new season!
Great promotion and a solid season surviving, hopefully can kick on again in this new season!

Cheers.

I'm not sure where we'll end up yet given that January and February are going to be stupidly busy and will push us. A top half finish is certainly possible given things are pretty tight at present, but its not going to be the easiest to achieve. We'll just see how we fare.
noir et blanc armée

Read my FM20 Career WAWAW

The 2022 World Cup certainly proved to be full of surprises. Uruguay upset France in the final in Qatar to win the World Cup for the first time since 1950, with Holland beating the other shock package Norway in the 3rd place play-offs. England were beaten by Belgium in the first knockout round, with Gareth Southgate resigning straight away and replaced by Italian Marco Giampaolo, which is slightly surprising given his Rangers side finished over 30 points behind Celtic in last season's Scottish league. This was still less of a harsh lesson than it was for Wales, who finished second to Brazil in their group and then conceded 5 against the Dutch.

As far as we went during our break, it turns out my contract expires at the end of the season, so I negotiated a new one to stay for another 3 years. First for the in-tray is wondering what to do with all the dissatisfied players on the fringe. The declarations are that we will try to offload Bannan, play Diangana and Hector more, and have an uneasy truce with captain Borner, although it looks like he might now want to leave the club.

With no football for a month, we also tried some friendlies to build up match fitness, but that turned out to be a bit harder to find then I perhaps hoped. There was a 6-1 win over Championship strugglers Charlton and a 0-0 draw with Derby, although curiously, while friendlies were all the rage from Scottish and Spanish clubs, as far as I could tell, no other Premier League sides were doing them.

No matter. With fitness partially but not fully built back up, part 2 of our 2022-23 season begins on Boxing Day with West Ham at home. Not that I'm sure what to expect - we've struggled against them and they have a better squad, but equally, they lost their last 7 games before the break.

Aiming to have that winning formula to hand right away in the first of 4 straight home games were:
Dawson - Iorfa, Hector, Moreira, Penney - Diangana, Swift, Bellingham, Reach - Armstrong, Openda
Subs: Wildsmith, Borner, Fox, Bijol, Kent, Watkins, Ambrose

Two changes from the starting line-up of our last pre-WC game, with Hector - who impressed for Jamaica at the tournament - and Diangana given their home for game time in the starting line-up. Up to them to make the most of such a chance.

Would we win on our comeback?

https://i.postimg.cc/brpfZW1Y/swfc-0-2-westham.png

Damn. They always seem to have our number.

Openda nearly put us in front in double quick time as he had a shot blocked inside the opening minute, and after Dawson denied Felipe Anderson, Armstrong would be denied by Domink Livakovic and Reach put a header wide.

We however lost momentum after Swift was forced off injured. Anderson had been blocked moments before that, but West Ham then upped the gears, with Sime Vrsaljko, Jarrod Bowen, Anderson and Myron Boadu coming close before half-time.

This pattern continued after half-time and unfortunately it was not a surprise that we conceded the game's opening goal. Iorfa's block from an initial through-pass went for Anderson, who slotted it across the edge of the box for Callum McGregor, who slotted it past Dawson.

Armstrong had a shot blocked moments later but we weren't really offering much going forward. Boadu and Hector then exchanged errant headers,

We threw on attackers to try and get back on level terms, but the only real chance saw a drive from Kent blocked by Livakovic.

West Ham then ended any hope we had right at the end, as a fast move ended in sub Marko Pjaca beating Dawson at the end of the counter.

So its a loss on our first game back, and a first after 7 straight defeats for West Ham. How disappointing.

Curiously, we do have a week to work out where we went wrong after that, and then try to reset for an FA Cup 3rd Round tie against League Two outfit Accrington Stanley, who recently changed to make Ian Holloway manager. So far, all of my FA Cup campaigns have ended straight away, so hopefully this is the moment that changes our miserable record in that competition.

Looking to be my first FA Cup winning starting 11 were:
Dawson - Iorfa, Hector, Worrall, Penney - Bijol, Reach - Diangana, Bellingham, Watkins - Armstrong
Subs: Wildsmith, Borner, Moreira, Matheus, Kent, Openda, Ambrose

The shuffle we went for sees us bring in Worrall, Bijol and Watkins in place of Moreira, Openda and the injured Swift, with this being a revival of the 4-2-3-1 experiment we tried at the start of the campaign.

We decided to go for strong as much because our fitness is still something we need to work on. Would our first choice names make the most of it?

https://i.postimg.cc/XNPDDX2K/swfc-1-0-accrington.png

The opportunity was there for more in my opinion. It was a real low quality game decided by an early set piece, but it is what it is.

The goal came after 12 minutes. A foul on Diangana gave us a free-kick, and Penney's delivery found Worrall, who headed in. Bish bash bosh.

Hector had volleyed wide moments before, but we had to wait quite a while for us to do anything else and in the interim, Accrington had half a chance when Offrande Zanzala fired wide.

Bellingham had a shot saved before Diangana and Hector put efforts off target.

Penney and Armstrong had shots saved in the early stages of the second half, but after we basically offered nothing and were so close to paying for that when Jon Nolan had to be denied by Dawson in added time.

Still, we're in Round 4, and with it the reward of a trip to Championship outfit Hull.

The opening of the transfer window came the day after the Accrington tie - this game being played on New Year's Eve. It began with the overdue move for Massimo Luongo, who agreed a £3million move to Blackburn shortly after the last transfer deadline and who had fallen very much out of favour.

We were approached with offers with Dominic Iorfa and Jaka Bijol from various Chinese clubs, but neither initially met our valuations. Bijol's suitors were scared off when we gave him a new contract - his was due to expire at the end of next season. Iorfa is more complex, as there a lot of sell-on clauses and payments to Wolves, so we need a big offer to be tempted to sell.

We also tried an overly ambitious bid for the Derby right back Jayden Bogle just in case Iorfa exits, with an accumulative fee of £12M after all kinds of add-ons plus Moses Odubajo and Barry Bannan. However, Derby insisted they would not accept anything less than £40M as a base... our budget is currently £7M, so we politely walked away.

As a distraction from that, we welcomed Chelsea to Hillsborough still hoping to land our first win over a big six side since our arrival in the top flight.

Aiming to upset Luis Enrique's big budget gang were:
Dawson - Iorfa, Moreira, Worrall, Fox - Bijol, Reach - Diangana, Bellingham, Kent - Openda
Subs: Wildsmith, Borner, Penney, Matheus, Watkins, Armstrong, Ambrose

3 changes as Openda, Kent and Fox get starts over Armstrong, Watkins and Penney.

Will this be the day we upset one of English football's big boys?

https://i.postimg.cc/pX2HQsdh/swfc-0-1-chelsea.png

If anything, this is even more cruel than the late winners we conceded to Spurs and Liverpool early in the season. Yes, Chelsea played us off the park and yes, it would've been a bit jammy had we held out, but god damn cruel fate.

The tone was set pretty much straight away, with Dawson denying Kai Havertz and Nelson Semedo inside the first 10 minutes, but we nearly pulled out a surprise as Kent had a firm drive well saved by Kepa Arrizabalaga.

We then immediately went on the back foot, as Lautaro Martinez headed over and Dawson denied Sandro Tonali, with Tonali, Andreas Christensen, Sergej Mililinkovic-Savic and Thomas Lemar all firing wide.

Chelsea continued to pose us challengers and threats as the game continued, but it was us who had a decent shot on target, as Kepa did well to deny a firm drive by Diangana.

The away side's dominance would continue to go unrewarded at the end of the half, with Martinez heading at Kepa and Havertz hitting the side netting.

Dawson then denied Martinez and Lemar moments into the second half, but a decent chance did fall our way as Openda was well denied by Kepa.

For a while, it was backs against the wall time for us, but we still came close as Armstrong was nicely kept out by Kepa.

Chelsea were still close as Dawson did well to deny Fernando Bernadeschi, and they thought they finally had their breakthrough when Fikayo Tomori turned in Lemar's free-kick, but he was called out by VAR for being offside.

If only that had caused Chelsea to lose heart that it wasn't gonna be their day. With 93 minutes on the clock, Chelsea attacked again and after Moreira did well block to the initial try by Bernadeschi, it fell for Lemar, who eluded everyone and clipped his shot beyond Dawson.

There was still more time for Bernadeschi to be denied by Dawson, but that was the end of the line for us.

The last of this block of 4 straight home games, which ironically backs onto 4 straight away games in all competitions, is against West Brom. The Baggies came up with us but are currently in the dropzone. However, one suspects they've identified our rendezvous as the opportunity to strike back.

Wanting our own first win since the restart were:
Dawson - Iorfa, Hector, Moreira, Fox - Diangana, Bijol, Bellingham, Reach - Armstrong, Openda
Subs: Wildsmith, Worrall, Borner, Matheus, Kent, Watkins, Ambrose

Armstrong and Hector get starts for this one, with Kent and Worrall not used.

Would we do something here?

https://i.postimg.cc/3RRLJDrw/swfc-1-0-wba.png

I have absolutely no idea how we won that. We played badly even before we had a red card thinning our numbers even more, yet a breakaway and a back 5 got us somewhere... take what you can get in the face of adversity I guess.

We started well enough, with Sam Johnstone doing well to deny Openda. After that happened, however, we were on the back foot, with Michael Obafemi, Bradley Dack and Matheus Pereira giving us a few early troubles.

This pattern continued but it took until after the half hour mark for a real opportunity for our opponents, as Dawson had to deny a ping from Dack. Our keeper then also had to make 3 very good saves to deny Obafemi.

But in the final moments of the first half came the moment that seemed to twist the game in West Brom's favour. A dangerous lunge by Hector on Pereira was seen, and saw him given a straight red card, meaning we had to compete the second half a man light.

We restructured to a somewhat inelegant 3-4-1-1, with Reach and sub Matheus operating as wing-backs and Worrall introduced to be part of a back 3. I could've pushed Fox forward but he'd not played well so felt he needed a rest.

As expected, WBA continued to have chances in the opening five minutes of the second half. But we had a surprise to play on our visitors. A cross by Matheus was intercepted, and a second ball from Reach found Armstrong in space, who in turn tucked it home to score.

It could've been even better, with a firm strike by Diangana blocked by Pereira.

West Brom had a number of chances but took a while for it to produce a chance of note as Dawson denied Pereira.

The Baggies had plenty of possession and play to try and equalise, but it was a surprising lack of opportunities to equalise for West Brom, and we could've increased our advantage when Bellingham saw a header denied by Johnstone in the Baggies goal.

It did feel as though West Brom were running out of ideas, with pretty much everything going wide, as indeed did some counter chances by us from Matheus and Reach.

But we held on to grind it out and take a three points I would've expected before kick off but feel we didn't deserve, but also feel impressed we did so well to grind out.

There's quite a few emotions to process after that rollercoaster afternoon. But in the interim, we move on. Barry Bannan is one of those we also move on, as after a while of getting frustrated trying to move him on, he agreed a loan move to Oxford, as did some highly rated young prospects. This does leave a gap in my central midfield area, as I feel we are light on the defensive side of that position, and I will be looking to sign an extra deep lying midfielder before the end of the window.

Meanwhile, the first of 4 games in 3 competitions away from home that follow this is potentially exciting, in the form of a Carabao Cup Quarter Final away at Southampton, followed by Aston Villa, Arsenal and the FA Cup tie against Hull City. There's plenty of scope for us to grow, particularly in a table that is still pretty tight from 7th to 18th, and I guess we just have to craft our niche.
noir et blanc armée

Read my FM20 Career WAWAW

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