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Number 1 Comments
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

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 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

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.

«This comment has been edited»
noir et blanc armée

Read my FM20 Career WAWAW

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

Read my FM20 Career WAWAW

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

Read my FM20 Career WAWAW

https://lfc.anfield-online.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/premier-league.jpg


Barely any time after last season's over, and still behind closed doors (for now), looks like the Premier League is set to come around for another year.

Be great if a Leicester 2016-esque random winner comes along. Though judging by most people's pre-season guesses, that would be anyone other than Manchester City or Liverpool winning it. And that's assuming we can actually finishing this thing.

Better get on with it I guess.
noir et blanc armée

Read my FM20 Career WAWAW

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

Read my FM20 Career WAWAW

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.

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noir et blanc armée

Read my FM20 Career WAWAW

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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noir et blanc armée

Read my FM20 Career WAWAW

After getting 4 points from games against 3 early strugglers in Leicester, Burnley and Sheffield United, the next few games were a far from ideal choice to try and build any kind of form. Back-to-back away trips to Chelsea and Manchester City, either side of a Carabao Cup tie against Arsenal. Yeesh.

The first in this sequence was the match in West London, against a Chelsea side who are trying to build their way back towards the top end of the table after a few iffy early results.

Seeking to gain a surprise victory in West London were:
Dawson - Iorfa, Worrall, Borner, Fox - Diangana, Bijol, Swift, Penney - Armstrong, Brewster
Subs: Wildsmith, Hector, Luongo, Matheus, Reach, Ambrose, Conway

Two changes to the starting 11, with Bijol and Penney in place of Luongo and Reach. Having toyed with changing, I decided to keep faith with 4-4-2, still with some kind of memories from faith in this method landing us our early draw at Arsenal.

Would we be able to surprise the Stamford Bridge faithful?

https://i.postimg.cc/X7kDCKCY/chelsea-2-1-swfc.png

Not quite. Two goals late in the first half ultimately proved too big a task for us to recover form, even though we weren't a million miles way on the scoresheet.

The expected pattern was for Frank Lampard's team to take the lead and they duly did so. Callum Hudson-Odoi had a shot blocked, Federico Bernadeschi and Sergej Mililnkovic-Savic put strikes wide and Dawson saved a shot from N'Golo Kante.

We nearly hit them for that early on, as on a brisk run away from our defensive quadrant, Diangana saw a shot flash inches wide of the mark.

After that, it was back to defensive duties. Dawson denied Milinkovic-Savic, before Fikayo Tomori and Lautaro Martinez put strikes off target, before a great double chance for Chelsea saw Dawson deny Kai Havertz before Maximilian Wober hit the rebound wide.

Our keeper then had to make the saves to deny Milinkovic-Savic and Hudson-Odoi, before Havertz put one wide after Dawson denied N'Golo Kante.

For all that Chelsea did some very good work in attacking play in open play, Chelsea would grab a not-unexpected opening goal from the more banal set-piece. Worrall blocked a speculative drive by Martinez, and from Hudson-Odoi's corner, Merih Demiral flicked the ball across goal to Martinez, who nodded the ball into the waiting goal.

We weren't a million miles away from an instant equaliser, as Diangana headed over from a sweeping cross by Penney.

Sadly, that proved very crucial. Within seconds of that, we'd conceded a second goal. Hudson-Odoi was the scorer, as the winger received Kante's through-pass and tucked it in.

We still had to ride out a fair quantity of Chelsea chances in the final minutes of the break, with our first shot on target being the first proper attack of the second half, as Kepa Arrizabalaga in the Chelsea goal denied an angled drive from Armstrong.

Tomori then blocked a goal-bound flick by Swift, as we offered a belated response, and nearly came close again after Worrall headed over from a free-kick after a foul by Cesar Azpilicueta.

Indeed, we looked very composed early in the second half, with Brewster seeing a hit at goal turned away by Kepa after a good run to goal.

Chelsea duly responded, with Hudson-Odoi and Bernadeschi put strikes wide before Milinkovic-Savic had a snapshot saved by Dawson.

We still had a glorious chance to get back into things, when Brewster met Fox's cross only to flick an effort wide of the goal.

After a fair number of Chelsea chances were spurned, they did have the ball in our net for a third time when Christian Pulisic turned into the rebound after Dawson denied a strike by his fellow sub Tammy Abraham, but the VAR-induced offside had something to say about that. No goal, to be exact.

With 89 on the clock, we did get the goal we kind of deserved for some decent second half chances. A long ball released Armstrong, who evaded Azpilicueta and pinged in a cross that youngster Conway turned in for his first Premier League goal.

Sadly there was no more to come from us after that, as the game ended with a defeat.

So we move on, with a visit to Hillsborough by Arsenal in the Carabao Cup Fourth Round. Whether this was the end of the line for us is another question.

Looking to spring a surprise on our illustrious opponents and get us one step closer to Wembley were:
Wildsmith - Urhoghide, Iorfa, Worrall, Fox - Matheus, Bijol, Bannan, Harris - Ambrose, Conway
Subs: Dawson, Borner, Palmer, Luongo, Reach, Diangana, Armstrong

We decided to rest players for this one, with Iorfa, Worrall, Fox and Bijol the only 4 to maintain starting line-up places from the weekend defeat at Stamford Bridge.

But while we chose to rest players, Arsenal went extreme, naming most of the line-up they'd fielded at Liverpool the preceding weekend, making the task just that little bit more difficult. Could we nevertheless make things interesting with a shock result?

https://i.postimg.cc/jqphvMfh/swfc-0-2-arsenal-carabao.png

Honestly this felt predictable the moment we saw Arsenal had picked such a strong starting line-up.

Somehow we were still in the game at the break, with the recalled cup goalkeeper Wildsmith making a few decent saves and Arsenal players not having their shooting boots on.

However, such a trend continued after half-break and 9 minutes after the break, the inevitable happened. Worrall did well to block an initial shot at goal, but the ball bounced kindly for Alexandre Lacazette, and the former Lyon man's half-volley duly found its way into the back of the net.

It took us 67 minutes to have a noteworthy shot, with a limp hit by Iorfa going straight to Bernd Leno, coming after Arsenal had blown more chances, with the same player heading wide at a free-kick moments later.

With 74 gone, Arsenal duly made it 2-0 in a simple fashion, as Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang rose highest to meet Juan Bernat's free-kick and flicked it into the back of the net.

Just wasn't one of those days for us. Not that it was about to get any easier, given that the following weekend brought us into the orbit of Manchester City for the first time. That's Pep Guardiola's all conquering beat, who have so far still got a 100% winning record in Premier League matches, have won the last four titles and are defending Champions League winners. Avoiding a hammering might be our best hope for what to get from this one.

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

We tried a 4-1-4-1 as an approach for this one to see if flooding the midfield would help against such formidable looking opponents. Only 2 changes from the Chelsea game though, with Matheus replacing Diangana and Luongo in for Brewster.

Its worth noting that Man City were beaten by a relegated Norwich team in season 1 of this and by Leeds last season. So hope could spring eternal we could do something so very unexpected here. Would it be possible for us to shock this lot on our first try?

https://i.postimg.cc/C5gsM1SQ/man-city-2-0-swfc.png

Christ that was brutal. Moments before their second goal, we did have a goal disallowed by VAR, but no shots at all and having to resort to 32 fouls to try and contain them, which didn't work at all.

We tried to be a very defensive counter-based strategy in this one, but if the aim was to keep Manchester City off the scoresheet for as long as possible, didn't last. With 3 minutes gone, Kevin de Bruyne's free-kick found Lisandro Martinez, who headed it in.

As one might expect, it was only fine saves by Dawson and varying degrees of inaccurate strikes by City attackers that kept the score down to 1-0. A now 30-year-old de Bruyne was pulling the strings in midfield, while a front 3 of Raheem Sterling, Paulo Dybala and Julian Brandt was giving our back 4 nightmares. Hell I think we could've named a back 8 and we still woulda had bother.

If it was a wonder it was only 1-0 at half-time, it was even more of a wonder Man City didn't grab a second after, as the shooting became more accurate but couldn't find a way beyond Dawson.

With 73 minutes on the clock, we had barely crossed the halfway line and were most likely going to fall even further behind. Yet suddenly, with 74 gone, Armstrong lead a rare breakaway, got clear of the away defence to be one-on-one with Ederson, and clipped it into the bottom corner.

But our glorious celebrations were cut short. Along came VAR, which decided our striker had ventured into an offside position while preparing to meet Borner's long-ball forward, and no goal for us. And that's no fun.

It became even less fun when Man City continued to pummel us until belatedly, with 87 minutes on the clock, de Bruyne took matters into his own hands. The talented Belgian midfielder received an infield pass, and a strike from 20 yards duly flew from his foot to the bottom corner.

Honestly, with the amount of ball and chances that team had, we got away with 2-0. It was a properly gruelling afternoon's work.

This also meant 3 defeats in all competitions as we begin to hit a more rocky patch, if not unexpectedly so given that this is a definite step-up in quality of opponents. Its difficult to know whether Everton in our next game is better or worse for our ambitions to recover after that, however. The Toffees have quality players in their ranks, but Eusebio di Francesco brought his side over from Merseyside on the back of 5 Premier League games without a win.

Aiming to deliver an overdue win were:
Dawson - Odubajo, Worrall, Borner, Fox - Swift, Bijol, Reach - Diangana, Brewster, Armstrong
Subs: Wildsmith, Iorfa, Palmer, Luongo, Matheus, Conway, Ambrose

We flicked from 4-1-4-1 to 4-3-3 - another departure from our usual 4-4-2 - with Diangana, Reach and Odubajo replacing Matheus, Luongo and Iorfa.

Everton could be either way - on their day, they could easily destroy us, but they do have a habit over the years of giving points to Premier League newboys. What way would this one go?

https://i.postimg.cc/QNKcwckx/swfc-0-1-everton.png

Oh fucking hell. Fourth straight defeat in all competitions, third in a row without scoring, and in such a painful manner as well.

Andre Gomes hit the bar in the early minutes, but the opening period of the game was very low quality, and it took 20 minutes until another real chance, with Everton's Perr Schuurs sending a header at Dawson.

It took just over half an hour for us to really do anything, when Armstrong had a decent volley only to put it off target. Moments later, our striker's aims for a first goal since September were thwarted after a header was saved by Jordan Pickford. The keeper then also denied Liverpool loanee Brewster before the break, with the same man heading over.

The first half had been very low on quality, but the early bit of the second did flow a little better, and chances came in the early moments, with Gomes firing wide before Brewster had a try comfortably stopped by Pickford.

Everton duly began to blow through chances, with a few off target before Dawson was on hand to tip away Yann Karamoh's angled drive. Our keeper also did make a similarly acrobatic stop to deny Mirko Maric, and another save to deny Karamoh.

It was beginning to look as though the game was set to end 0-0, although with six to go, we came very close as a lash at goal from Armstrong had to be very well saved by Pickford.

Sadly, with 2 to go of normal time, Everton hit us with a crushing blow. A throw-in by Kostas Tsimikas was picked up by a previously pretty quiet Gylfi Sigurdsson, who hit the ball with a wallop from range that left Dawson grasping at thin air and Everton fans with plenty to celebrate.

All we could do was lament yet more misfortune, as we once again struggled to get an attacking game together and we fell to defeat again.

With the November international break here, it makes sense to see the table:

https://i.postimg.cc/mD287k01/pl-table-at-november-break.png

The aim for this early phrase was to pick up 4 points from each of the 3 periods before international breaks. But its just as well we got a decent chunk of points from the opening 2 months because although we still have a decent margin on the relegation zone, its definitely begun to be eroded in the last few weeks.

We do have 3 games after the break that look simpler on paper and are games we'll need to win to give us points towards our survival ambitions. However, a visit to local rivals Leeds, a home contest against our old nemesis Fulham, and then a West Ham side in decent form will not be straight forward at all, and that's saying nothing of the fact our first game after that trio is Liverpool.

But there's no easy games in the Premier League and by hook or by crook, we need the points that'll keep us in this league for a second year. So all we can do is try to reset after this disappointing interlude and go again with new vigour when we return after the break.
noir et blanc armée

Read my FM20 Career WAWAW

After confirming our progression in the Carabao Cup and the slightly unwelcome news our reward is a home tie against Arsenal, attentions had to turn back to getting rewards in the next few games.

First of all was a home fixture against Leicester City at Hillsborough, and with Marcelo Bielsa having difficulty adjusting to life at the Foxes to the point where they were yet to win a game under his charge, we had to believe we at least had a shot of taking rewards against last season's best of the rest.

Looking to try and pile on the Foxes' misery were:
Dawson - Iorfa, Worrall, Hector, Fox - Diangana, Bijol, Luongo, Reach - Armstrong, Brewster
Subs: Wildsmith, Borner, Penney, Bannan, Swift, Harris, Conway

From the defeat by Manchester United a week earlier, we made 4 changes. Diangana, Bijol, Luongo and Brewster got call ups for the injured Matheus and Ambrose, while Swift and Penney were benched.

Would we return to winning ways and pick up a third win of our season here?

https://i.postimg.cc/XJpCmcLn/swfc-0-1-leicester.png

Ah bollocks. We'd already been given warning after a similar strike by Harvey Barnes yielded an offside goal in the first half, but right at the end we made the exact same error.

While they were early strugglers, we expected Leicester to present a challenge and sure enough this was the flow in the early stages. Dawson had to make a decent save to thwart Youri Tielemans while Iorfa and Hector made a few defensive blocks.

On a break, Brewster had a decent try but the striker had a shot deflected into the path of Kasper Schmeichel in the Leicester goal, before we returned to the defensive side of things as Dawson made a good save to deny Barnes.

Leicester had the ball in the back of the net after 20 minutes when Barnes flung a drive from the edge of the box towards goal and Tielemans flicked it into the net. But as is the case in the PL, along came VAR, who duly ruled the Belgian had a miniscule part of his body offside and ruled no goal for the visitors.

We nearly made things worse for our unimpressed guests as Reach had a shot saved by Schmeichel, with the Danish keeper also making a very fine stop to keep out Brewster after our Liverpool loanee went on a mazy run.

With the first half fizzling out, Leicester went very attacking by withdrawing Luka Milivojevic for Jamie Vardy and they duly went on the offensive after the break, with last gasp blocks and inaccurate finishing helping us stay level.

Diangana then nearly made our pressure soaking activities worthwhile, as the former West Ham man saw a decent try saved by Schmeichel.

After a lull, Leicester pressed us, with Dawson making some agile saves to keep the score 0-0 and one near miss as a shot by Haris Seferovic was tipped onto the post, drifted away and then saw a rebound fired wide by one-time Owl Vardy.

Yet we then had chances, with Worrall heading over at a corner before Schmeichel thwarted Diangana.

As we reached the 90th minute mark, it began to look likely to finish goalless but with one either way likely to win it. Perhaps with the ethos a shot is better than nothing, Barnes hit one at goal from 30 yards after receiving James Maddison's pass. Turned out to be the right call for him and a crushing blow for us.

1-0 could've become 2-0 as Dawson denied Julian Draxler in added time, but there was nothing more we had to give after that goal. Rats.

So its back-to-back defeats in league games for the first time since I took over, which is an impressive achievement but one that was naturally going to be tested in this quest to stay afloat.

We had a week or so to lick our wounds, then try to do better in our next game against Burnley. Not that a trip to Turf Moor was going to be that much of an improvement, even though it was only the week before our Friday night meeting in front of the live TV cameras that they'd won their first game of the season.

Seeking better things for us from this away day was this bunch:
Dawson - Iorfa, Worrall, Borner, Fox - Diangana, Luongo, Swift, Reach - Armstrong, Brewster
Subs: Wildsmith, Hector, Penney, Bijol, Harris, Ameobi, Conway

Two changes for this one, with Swift replacing Luongo in the middle and Borner preferred to Hector in defence.

This wasn't going to be an easy one, but could we bring away the points in Lancashire?

https://i.postimg.cc/NMKSCSrb/burnley-1-2-swfc.png

Well it was certainly more dramatic than I was hoping, but we still got the win we were aiming to deliver.

For a game that probably earned raised eyebrows as being deemed worthy of Sky's televising and the millions they give to teams on TV, it started in a very fast way. Chris Wood had a shot saved by Dawson within seconds of kick-off, before Brewster hit one wide, before Johann Berg Gudmundsson headed over.

The fast start would ultimately produced an opening goal after 11 minutes, if in a slightly more clunky manner. There didn't seem to be a lot of danger on when Burnley full-back Loic Nego got an Iorfa cross first, but his lack of control ended up sending the ball just over his own goal-line by just enough to set off the goal-line technology and give us the opening goal of the game.

Burnley's Josh Brownhill put one wide in a close chance for an instant equaliser, before Luongo saw one drive bounce wide and another saved by Nick Pope.

Dawson denied Terrence Kongolo before Worrall put one over the bar. The game was quite open and even, with our goalkeeper later denying Ashley Barnes before the striker had another chance flip wide.

Pope then denied Reach and Iorfa, before Barnes had a hit blocked by Dawson, and in response to that, we broke again only for Pope to deny Brewster.

It was a wonder that the game was only 1-0 at the break, but we assumed a second goal to our name straight after the restart as Armstrong received Reach's through pass and finished it well. Sadly, VAR piped up, and ruled offside against our number 9, keeping the score 1-0.

This gave Burnley a second wind, as Gudmundsson headed over and Charlie Taylor had a shot saved by Dawson. A later spurt around the hour saw Ben Mee, Nathan Ferguson and Dwight McNeil all put chances off target

It looked as though the Clarets had found a way through when Mee bundled in the rebound after Dawson initially turned a McNeil hit onto the crossbar, however a VAR check was again needed and for the second time in our game, the man from Stockley Park ruled no goal.

This had the effect of turning things in our favour, with Pope making saves to deny Worral and Diangana. But this was a flash in the pan from us, and Burnley nearly equalised when Dawson denied Gudmundsson.

Andre Ayew and then Bijol missed opportunities, but with 90 minutes of the clock, this lively game had the ball in the net for a fourth time and only for the second time counting.

Annoyingly, it was against us. McNeil beat Iorfa to Gudmundsson's cross, and headed it past Dawson to equalise for Burnley. Blast.

Yet that wasn't the end of the late drama. Jack Cork was penalised for a foul on Brewster, and from Penney's set-piece, Worral's header across goal floated past everyone into the back of the net. Holy shit what a moment of drama.

After a slight extension to injury time that felt like forever, we'd just squeezed it over the line to confirm victory for Sheffield Wednesday - a third of the season after our August double against Southampton and Crystal Palace, and continuing my ambition of having one win a month (more or less).

With the October international break now here, this was how everything looked:

https://i.postimg.cc/hjwR1xpJ/pl-table-at-october-break.png

10th place in the table and 4 points off the top six. So far, so solid. But we have to keep this going as a number of big tests lurk following the upcoming international break.

For many fans of both ourselves and Sheffield United, the biggest would be the first after the international break. The first Steel City derby of the season, and a first in the Premier League since 1994. So far, we've adjusted to the PL better - we had 3 victories in the opening movements of the season, while Sheffield United have just the one, though this came in the last game before the international break after they beat Wolves at Bramall Lane.

With this the only game of Super Sunday, the eyes of the football nation were turning to this corner of Yorkshire to see if we could put on a show.

Aiming to provide our fans with Christmas in October were:
Dawson - Iorfa, Worrall, Borner, Fox - Diangana, Luongo, Swift, Reach - Armstrong, Brewster
Subs: Wildsmith, Hector, Penney, Bijol, Matheus, Ambrose, Conway

A few changes to the bench, but an unchanged first 11 for this match.

With the eyes of the nation draw to Sheffield, could we claim victory in this contest?

https://i.postimg.cc/VLX2J50F/swfc-0-0-sheffutd-s2.png

Wasn't really a good advert for the rivalry or the league to be honest. There were a few decent chances but it lacked the all action excitement I had perhaps expected.

We did make some decent early running, with Armstrong having one shot denied by Jack Butland and another flash wide.

Sheffield United's first chance was headed wide by John Egan, before Luongo had a hit blocked by Chris Basham, and then, as the game began to open up, Rafael Borre had a shot kept out by Dawson and Adam Hlozek fired wide at the follow-up corner.

Butland then denied Brewster before Matt Miazga's block thwarted Fox and the defender also blocked a hit by Brewster as the first half dwindled to its conclusion.

Reach hit two strikes off target in the opening minutes of the second period, with Hlozek and Miazga doing the same at the other end of the pitch.

The second half duly drifted along for a while, although perhaps the chance of the half fell our way after Armstrong had a great chance blocked by Butland.

The game began to look set to finish 0-0, although Dawson had to make a very good stop to deny Borre.

Hector made a good block to thwart Felix Nmecha just before a firm hit by Iorfa was denied by Butland at the other end.

This was the start of a burst of attacking play from us in injury time, with Butland making 2 good saves in injury time to keep out Penney and Diangana.

But there was no way through, and a bit of a dud of a game ended goalless. Not a disaster, but I think we could've done a little better than a point, even if we're not about to turn our noses up at such a reward.

Having now faced the last 3 teams in a row to register a league win this season, 4 points is a reasonable return but is honestly lower than ideal. We can't say the next games will be easier for us though, given its back-to-back trips to Chelsea and Manchester City either side of a Carabao Cup game at home to Arsenal.

Its not an ideal sequence, put it that way. We've just got to wing it and hope we get lucky.

«This comment has been edited»
noir et blanc armée

Read my FM20 Career WAWAW

After refreshing over the international break, its safe to say we would be greeted back on the other side with two tough examinations. First was a trip to Arsenal, who have thus far made a 100% winning start under new boss Paulo Fonesca, and they follow that up with Manchester United, who are looking to avenge missing out on the title on the final day the previous season. These two games are the initial meetings with the two teams will face in our last two games, so it would be interesting to see if we can make an impression against them.

First of all was the Emirates, and an Arsenal side that will in no doubt be a tall order to get the better of.

Looking to spring a surprise on the North Londoners were:
Dawson - Odubajo, Iorfa, Hector, Fox - Matheus, Luongo, Reach, Penney - Armstrong, Brewster
Subs: Wildsmith, Worrall, Swift, Bijol, Diangana, Harris, Ambrose

I considered going for a more defensive formation but instead the starting 11 is the same that began the win over Crystal Palace in the last game before the break.

So how would our first test against a big six side go?

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

How about this for an unexpected turn of events? With Arsenal scoring two goals in quick succession in the opening few minutes of the second half, my instinct was that we were on route for a pointless affair. Instead, we sprung a surprise on our hosts. It may've been helped by getting a penalty for the third game running, but its still excellent to see our spirit for comebacks last season extends to the top flight.

As was perhaps to be expected, Arsenal made the early running. Young Brazilian defender Sergio headed over at an early corner before Hector Bellerin had a shot blocked.

The first half was a fairly slow endeavour but was perhaps unsurprisingly lead by Arsenal, with Dawson denying a speculative try by Gabrielle Martinelli, before Mario Pasalic and Sergio headed over from corners, while the best opportunity then saw Dawson pull of a block to thwart Nicolas Pepe.

The strangely quiet Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang would be denied by Dawson straight after half-time, before Ainsley Maitland-Niles saw a shot go wide.

Aubameyang would then hit us where it hurt as Arsenal opened the scoring four minutes into the second half. Luongo did well to block an initial shot by Pasalic, but Martinelli held the ball up and squared it for Aubameyang to finish.

It was two with moments, as Bellerin's cross picked out Martinelli, who fired home a fine strike via the crossbar.

Dawson then denied Aubameyang, as it began to look like we might be at risk of being mauled by the Gunners with all their attacking talents.

But then came another shocking twist, as on our first real foray into the Arsenal penalty area, we were given a penalty. A foul by Sergio on Diangana just after we brought him on saw us given a penalty, and from 12 yards, Hector beat Bernd Leno.

Brewster then fired over when well placed to grab a quick equaliser, though we then returned to being on the backfoot when Martinelli forced a save out of Dawson and a better save to deny Benjamin Pavard at a corner.

Arsenal continued to pepper a goal but pretty much everything threw at us was off target, and we came close to spring a surprise on our illustrious hosts when Diangana had a shot saved by Leno.

Dawson made a save to keep out Aubameyang, and our ability to resist Arsenal's attacking waves proved very crucial when we grabbed a surprise equaliser with six minutes to go.

We won a free-kick for a foul on Diangana, and Penney's cross picked out Armstrong, who flicked a header into the back of the net to put us level and see pandemonium in the virtual away end.

Our joy was nearly short live, as Dawson had to make a good save to keep out Reiss Nelson, while we almost bagged a shock winner after Leno denied substitute Ambrose, although he was offside anyway. Matheus however was not offside, and it did need a great save from Leno to thwart our Brazilian winger.

While we couldn't bag a shock winner, we still did superbly well to grab something off Arsenal from 2-0 down against a side who had won 4 out of 4 in the early stages of this Premier League season. It shows a decent side to us ahead of the next few busy months of football.

We would need similar one week later, as while Manchester United had dropped points in their preceding league games against Wolves and Everton, they still had an armada of dangerous talent to give our defence another rough afternoon.

Aiming to nevertheless spring a surprise on Carlo Ancelotti's multi-million pound collection was this group:
Dawson - Iorfa, Hector, Worrall, Fox - Matheus, Luongo, Reach, Penney - Armstrong, Ambrose
Subs: Wildsmith, Odubajo, Borner, Swift, Bijol, Diangana, Brewster

Two changes to the starting line-up, with Worrall earning a recall after fitness issues to replace Odubajo, and Ambrose preferred to Brewster up front.

Manchester United may be missing captain Paul Pogba due to injury, but still lined up with a very imposing list of star opponents and gave us a second consecutive weekend of big challenges for us to face. Would we rise to the occasion?

https://i.postimg.cc/SsRK7NTL/swfc-0-1-mufc.png

We weren't far away from getting a point, but given Manchester United had over 30 shots in 90 minutes, a point would have as much been thanks to their wasteful shooting.

The pattern was set early on. Bruno Fernandes had a shot blocked, Franck Kessie hit one wide, and Dawson denied Aaron Wan-Bissaka.

Yet we could've sprung a surprise on the visitors early on, as a flying run ended with Ambrose culminated in the French striker's firm shot being diverted wide by David de Gea.

Ousmane Dembele would be denied by a firm stop from Dawson, before de Gea had to do likewise to stop a flying effort by Fox and Luongo hit one wide.

Armstrong had a shot charged down by Sergio Regullon as we had a decent amount of shots, though it was still the case our defence was getting tested, with Dawson doing very well to deny Marcus Rashford.

Moments after Victor Lindelof headed a corner owner, Worrall did likewise at the other end, before Manchester United blew a great chance when a well placed Andrea Belotti put a sitter wide after being found in place by Saul Niguez.

Matheus then saw a chance well denied by de Gea, though this still came after the visitors blew a few chances. Our Brazilian winger would then again find de Gea a firm barrier in his way, but we were still doing well to put chances together.

It then went back to being backs against the wall. Kessie saw a header saved by Dawson, with our keeper also denying Lindelof, before we then suffered a blow as Matheus was taken off injured.

Things still progressed with the away side knocking hard on our door. Rashford had one shot blocked before his rebound cannoned off the post, Mason Greenwood had a shot saved by Dawson, Saul had a shot blocked by Luongo, James Rodriguez forced Dawson into a save, and then Dembele, Greenwood and Fernandes all fired wide.

It was beginning to look like one of those days for Carlo Ancelotti's side, with Dawson again doing well to deny Greenwood and Dembele.

But then finally, with 8 minutes to play, the away side would get the game-winning moment. It would also be crushingly simple. Rodriguez swung in a corner that picked out Lindelof up from the back, and the Swedish defender beat Dawson from the corner to put the away side in front. Annoying, but probably overdue.

After doing little in the second half, de Gea was belatedly tested with a firm stop to deny Liverpool loanee Brewster, before Manchester United tried to press for a second, with Dembele firing wide and Dawson denying Greenwood.

In the end, there was no repeat of our Arsenal heroics and Manchester United saw us off.

We had a few days to recalibrate after that, with a distraction in the form of a Carabao Cup Third Round tie against Championship side Blackburn Rovers at Hillsborough. This game brought with it a meeting against the side who we were beaten by late in the season that seemed to be a major blow to our Premier League aspiration.

Nominated to try and avoid similar misfortune against Rovers was this bunch:
Wildsmith - Odubajo, Worrall, Borner, Palmer - Harris, Bijol, Swift, Ameobi - Ambrose, Conway
Subs: Dawson, Hector, Iorfa, Reach, Bannan, Armstrong, Brewster

9 changes from that defeat by Manchester United, with Worrall given another start to build up his fitness and Ambrose preferred to Brewster again.

So, despite all our alterations, would we get the job done against a side in midtable after a mediocre start to the season?

https://i.postimg.cc/Hk5Hm8KP/swfc-1-0-blackburn-carabao.png

Well, we got victory and a selection headache, as our 19-year-old youngster Conway is doing the business in this competition. 2 games in the Carabao Cup, two goals for the former Atlanta United kid.

However, as was the case in the last two games, we had less shots than our opponents, which can't be that good for our self-esteem.

We'd been second best in the opening stages, but moments after Bijol was denied by Jordan Archer with our first real chance, we struck the opener in some style.

Youngster Conway received a pass by Swift and had a pop from 25 yards. Turned out to be the right call, as it flew from his foot at great speed into the back of the net. Top man.

Annoyingly, we would be hit by another injury blow when Ambrose suffered an ankle injury and had to vacate the pitch.

Lewis Holtby and Ben Brereton had posed us with a little danger in the first half, but we managed to deal with it reasonably well. On a rare go in goal, Wildsmith was holding up reasonably nicely.

A lot of the onus in the second half was on Blackburn Rovers to try and equalise, and they had plenty of chances, but they weren't really accurate, and we coasted home to a second win in this competition.

So we move on. Round 4 was drawn on the morning of our next game, and gives us the big test again in the form of Arsenal at Hillsborough. Given we achieved a noteworthy result in annoying the Gunners a few weeks earlier, I suspect they might fancy a spot of revenge.

Still a few tests in advance of that though. Next up is a Leicester side now managed by Marcelo Bielsa but who only have one point from their first 6 matches, then a potentially difficult trip to a Burnley side who only have 2 points from the same timespan, and then its some big ones after the international break, in the form of a Sheffield Derby at home, even if Sheffield United currently sit bottom, and then Chelsea, that Arsenal tie and Manchester City all in a row.

Its a curious contrast then - the current bottom 3 followed by 3 sides who could probably buy our squad and still have change. Ideally, we'd need to get points from those 3 games before that trio, but I'll take anything that continues our decent form early on for our Premier League return.
noir et blanc armée

Read my FM20 Career WAWAW

Progressing nicely then. And decent to be doing well against PL teams in the Cups. With any luck the journey will continue to go so smoothly.
noir et blanc armée

Read my FM20 Career WAWAW

We get a break now from the Premier League for one midweek run as we travel to the Bet365 to face Stoke in the Carabao Cup. If nothing else, it keeps them up as familiar opponents, given we beat them there in our 2 Championship seasons, in similar circumstances where we scored a first half goal then ground out things from there.

Looking to avoid being on the wrong end of a cup upset would be:
Wildsmith - Odubajo, Hector, Borner, Penney - Harris, Bijol, Luongo, Ameobi - Ambrose, Conway
Subs: Dawson, Iorfa, Fox, Reach, Diangana, Armstrong, Brewster

From the win at Southampton the previous weekend, we made 9 changes as we look to keep key players fresh for the weekend's game against Crystal Palace. The only duo to stay in would be Penney and Luongo.

Also of note was a debut for 19-year-old English-born US youth international Jackson Conway, who I signed after his release by Atlanta United in January and was promoted to the senior team over the summer. We also gave a post-injury start to our new signing Bijol and a full start for Hector, who had a brief cameo as a sub at Southampton. There was also a start for Kadeem Harris, who is still on the recovery trail from his injury and who we're going to keep around. Though this is after QPR rejected an attempt to include him in a deal for Bright Osayi-Samuel and Rangers did likewise for an attempt to by Ryan Kent.

Could we see off the Potters and avoid being knocked out at the first time of asking?

https://i.postimg.cc/nLKhk0zM/stoke-swfc-carabaocup.png

It wasn't quite as smooth as it could've been, but its still a win and progression to Round 3.

Both keepers were busy early on. With a rare start, Wildsmith denied Harry Souttar and Joe Rothwell, while Amund Michelsen in the Stoke goal did well enough to block Ameobi's header.

A low quality first half saw Stoke broadly do better, with Josh Sims and Rothwell particularly dangerous, though in truth it wasn't really one where either side consistently had enough chances to find a way through to goal.

Stoke got the opening goal just over 10 minutes into the second half and it came in very messy circumstances. Tyrese Campbell's header struck a post, bounced off Wildsmith, and over the line.

We belatedly woke up in response. Hector fired one wide before we found our way level, as Conway grabbed his first Sheffield Wednesday goal. The youngster raced onto a long ball forward by Borner, got one-on-one with the Stoke keeper and clipped it into the net.

The home side nearly re-took the lead immediately, with Wildsmith denying Campbell before Rothwell put the rebound wide.

We made a few changes that gave us more forward impetus but penalties looked likely until we struck on 88 minutes. Harris played in Odubajo, whose swinging cross picked up Luongo. The Aussie midfielder met it with a looping header that crept over the Stoke keeper and in.

From there, we duly kept Stoke at arms length, and held out to see them off on our way to the Third Round of this competition.

With one Championship side seen off, another will wait in Round 3 as we drew a home tie against Blackburn Rovers. Thankfully we get them at Hillsborough, having lost both our visits to Ewood Park thus far.

That of course will be something to worry about later down the line. Before that tie are 3 more Premier League games, the first of which was before the international break. We welcomed Crystal Palace to Hillsborough, with the Eagles having a second stint under Alan Pardew. Sadly, they would not bring us the chance to welcome back first season hero Connor Wickham, who is on the transfer list but doesn't seem to have any willing buyers.

Aiming to stop the Eagles from soaring in our neck of the woods would be this group:
Dawson - Odubajo, Iorfa, Hector, Fox - Matheus, Luongo, Reach, Penney - Armstrong, Brewster
Subs: Wildsmith, Palmer, Bannan, Bijol, Diangana, Conway, Ambrose

I would ideally have preferred to name the same 11 that started at Southampton, but Worrall has not recovered from an injury. The original plan was to partner Hector and Borner with Iorfa at right-back, but the latter is unwell and missed out, so Iorfa moved inside and Odubajo gets the nod ahead of Palmer at right back. We also gave Bijol and Conway a go on the bench.

In another life, we could've been in the away dugout as we turned down an interview at Palace. Could we show them what they missed out on?

https://i.postimg.cc/9fXNzQv0/swfc-2-1-palace.png

Sure we did. Its 3 wins in a row in all competitions and 2 in the Premier League, which is certainly what we want to see. 7 points already, so 33 to go before we meet the base requirement to keep us up.

The opening stages had been tight. Odubajo blocked a shot by Mamadou Sakho, before Dawson did well to deny Maximilian Meyer and straight from his goal-kick, Brewster ran through and had a snapshot saved by Vicente Guaita, with Palace's keeper also denying Matheus.

Just after the half hour would then come a definite Match of the Day talking point moment. At the end of our counter from a Palace set-piece, Armstrong had the ball but was forced wide and played it in for Matheus. He was body-checked by Adam Masina, leading to Stuart Atwell to give a penalty that was upheld by VAR.

As much of a talking point was who would take it. My assumption was that as Armstrong scored a penalty at Southampton the previous week that he'd take it, but instead centre-back Hector stepped up. But before I could process this bizarre twist of fate, the Jamaican had stepped up and beaten Guaita.

Palace would dominate the rest of the half and would equalise in the final minute of regular time in the first half after Patrick Roberts and Juan Hernandez had missed chances. It was a moment for Dawson to rue, as the keeper did well enough to save Wilfried Zaha's shot at the end of a decent run, but Dawson parried it straight to Hernandez, who slipped it into the bottom corner.

Yet if Palace hoped that would be the springboard for a similarly fast start to the second period, they would be mistaken. Within 2 minutes of the restart, a long ball forward by Fox released Brewster, who evaded Sakho and placed a firm drive past Guaita for his first goal since his arrival on loan from Liverpool.

Zaha hit a shot wide minutes after our second goal, before Guaita made a good save to deny a fine clip at goal by Armstrong after his own solo run. The keeper would then deny our record signing again a few minutes later.

Palace then had a go, with sub Andros Townsend and Hernandez firing wide, before we came close after Brewster saw a shot blocked by Guaita in response.

With just over 20 minutes to go, Palace's ambition to equalise got a hit when they were reduced to 10 men. Luka Milivojevic got booked just after the half-hour for a foul on Brewster and clearly hadn't learned, given the Serbian again fouled Brewster to earn a second yellow and with it an end to his afternoon.

Curiously, getting sent off would be Milivojevic's last act in a Palace shirt. On deadline day a few days later, he ended up getting sold to Leicester, who will be unable to use him for their first post-international break game because of said red card.

We nearly piled on the misery as Guaita denied Brewster, while Dawson denied Zaha as Palace nearly equalised despite their missing man (and a weirdly asymmetric formation where they played with no left winger).

Diangana and Zaha would have shots blocked late on, but it was all over soon enough and we had ourselves our second win of our Premier League season. Sweet.

All of this means the table will look like this going into the first international break of the season:

https://i.postimg.cc/FRTfmD01/pl-table-after-opening-month.png

Of course, we are a long way from the end of the season and if we are still 7th after 38/38, we will have done incredibly well. But 2 wins from our opening 4 games is still an excellent return so far.

Deadline day would be fairly quiet in England for the most part, although a few were active. Liverpool signed Jadon Sancho and Wilfred Ndidi, Watford signed Allan Sant-Maximin, Joe Rodon and Valentino Lazaro, Manchester City signed some Brazilian and Argentine prospects, Milivojevic made his move to Leicester, and we had one signing ourselves.

Much more modest, of course. We made a signing for Palace's transfer listed ex-Reading midfielder John Swift, who we signed for £2.1M with an appearance bonus. He's a more modest acquisition, but I felt we needed an extra centre midfielder as back-up, and also to allow us to use Adam Reach more in his preferred wing position and he fit the bill.

As is often the case, our U23s manager signed somebody as well. Its been quite a regular feature after all in this window.

But in any case, with our signings all made, we've made a half-decent start to life back in the Premier League and while we have the PL's lowest wage bill - by some margin even to our fellow new boys Sheffield United and West Brom - we at least won't be setting a new "lowest win" record.

Post-break is going to be a bit more rough, mind. An Arsenal side who have made a 100% winning start, Manchester United team with tons of top class talent, Marcelo Bielsa's Leicester City and a Burnley side I have no doubt will improve after starting bottom.

Still, we can't push back facing these kind of challenges forever. It'll be an interesting step as part of this challenge to see where we're at after our fine start, and we now have to make things count.
noir et blanc armée

Read my FM20 Career WAWAW

Our first game in the Premier League would be the last of the season's opening weekend. So we had a fair wedge of time to build up potential anticipation.

First game saw Manchester City look to push on from winning the first two Premier League titles of this save and last season's Champions League by beating West Brom 4-0, while our city neighbours and fellow new boys Sheffield United scored first at Spurs only to lose 2-1. Perhaps the attention grabbing result of the opening weekend however was Manchester United beating Southampton 7-1 at Old Trafford, even if the game was dictated by the Saints having a player sent off after 5 minutes.

But for us, our first game in the Premier League saw us travel to face Wolves at Molineux against a side looking for better things after midtable mediocrity last season. They are one of 2 PL sides we've already faced, after they beat us in last season's FA Cup.

Our first teamsheet as a Premier League side was:
Dawson - Iorfa, Worrall, Borner, Penney - Luongo, Bannan, Reach - Diangana, Ambrose, Armstrong
Subs: Wildsmith, Odubajo, Fox, Hector, Matheus, Ameobi, Brewster

Our first line-up as a Premier League side isn't far removed from what we'd be bringing along last season. We have debuts for Armstrong and Worrall, and a start on his return for Diangana, while their fellow new boys Brewster and Hector are on the bench. Bijol will need to be bedded in after sustaining hernia in pre-season.

There's a lot of hype for our first game as a Premier League side. Would we manage to pull of a great debut result?

https://i.postimg.cc/cCd9MQBS/wolves-2-1-swfc.png

Well, we weren't embarrassed, which was something I was wary of. Still not the win I was hoping for though.

Juanmi was denied by Dawson inside the opening minute, before Penney had a drive denied by Rui Patricio.

Rafa Benitez's side were likely to start with the big pressure, with Jonny crashing a half-volley wide before Adama Traore and Morgan Gibbs-White hit efforts off target.

Penney saw a chance for us just flash off target, but Wolves had enjoyed two chances before that and it wasn't much of a surprise that they went in front.

Diogo Jota scored the opener for Wolves, as he received a decent pass by Joao Moutinho, skipped past Worrall and beat Dawson to put Wolves in front.

Dawson was forced to deny an effort by Ruben Neves, as it continued to be the case that Wolves were the likelier team to score as was the case in the previous year's cup tie.

But then we managed to scramble ourselves level. Reach got a header on Penney's cross, and in trying to get the ball away under pressure from Diangana, Traore turned the ball over his own goal-line for an own goal to bring ourselves onto level terms.

Things could've been even better, after Penney was denied by Rui Patricio with a crisp free-kick.

Worrall and Ambrose came close, as we did begin to hold our own relatively well. Doherty put in a firm block to deny Armstrong, and straight after the break, Rui Patricio did well to stop Ambrose.

Moutinho was denied by Dawson and Traore hit one wide before Ambrose was again denied by the Wolves goalkeeper in a lively contest.

But as the game began to slow down, Wolves looked the more composed and would take the lead with just under 20 minutes remaining. Moutinho's through-pass was flicked on by Willian to Jota, who was able to get in a shot that eluded both Borner and Dawson, and crept in to put the home side back ahead.

Our attempts to come back into it would see Brewster have two efforts saved by Patricio (although one was offside), Neves do well to block a shot by Ambrose and ex-Wolf Iorfa head over at a corner.

But there was to be no dramatic late Sheffield Wednesday equaliser and on the opening day of the season, we slip to defeat. We weren't embarrassed, but I'm not sure that's a consolation.

We had a week to work out what we've learned, come back with a new approach and try again one week later against Watford at Hillsborough for the first Premier League game there in 21 years.

Making the team for the return of the top flight to this corner of the city would be:
Dawson - Palmer, Iorfa, Worrall, Penney - Matheus, Luongo, Bannan, Reach - Ambrose, Armstrong
Subs: Wildsmith, Borner, Fox, Harris, Diangana, Ameobi, Brewster

From the first game of the season, our shuffle saw a switch to 4-4-2 and starts for Matheus and Palmer instead of Diangana and Borner.

Against a Hornets side managed by Steven Gerrard in front of a packed Hillsborough for the first home game of the new season, what could we manage to do?

https://i.postimg.cc/bNrX7h1j/swfc-0-0-watford.png

There really is little point ruminating on this game for too long. Neither Dawson or Watford goalkeeper Pontus Dahlberg really had much to do, and while we do grab our first point of the Premier League adventure, its almost guaranteed last on Match of the Day and probably last on the Quest TV EFL highlights show as well.

After a game that stumbled along, there was a fair flurry of chances in the final 10 minutes, but really, any winner would kind of have been undeserved given neither side did that much to entertain the crowd and all of the Premier League's international audience members.

So let's move on. Our third game of the season would see us make the trip to St Mary's to face a Southampton side looking to recover from their opening day humiliation.

Named to try and pile on the misery for Thomas Frank's Saints were:
Dawson - Palmer, Iorfa, Worrall, Fox - Matheus, Luongo, Reach, Penney - Armstrong, Brewster
Subs: Wildsmith, Borner, Hector, Bannan, Harris, Ameobi, Ambrose

Two alterations for this one. Brewster gets a first start and partners fellow summer signing Armstrong in attack, while despite being transfer listed, Fox gets a start over Bannan, who gets dropped for being the worst trainer. To compensate, Penney is pushed forward into midfield after playing at full-back in our first two games.

Is game number three the moment where we grab the first victory?

https://i.postimg.cc/qvZ2184T/southampton-0-2-swfc.png

Why yes it would be. We changed the direction of the game to some degree by scoring inside the opening minute, but it was a cracking performance all round that justified the rewards we take back up north from Hampshire with us.

That penalty would be given virtually straight away. Matheus made a flying run down the right flank, and was wiped out by Saints full-back Dalbert, with the penalty given by the on-pitch ref and backed up the extra official in the Stockley Park booth.

Up stepped Armstrong, and our record signing beat Fraser Forster from 12 yards to grab his first goal since changing blue-and-white halves for blue-and-white stripes.

Seeking an immediate reaction, Southampton did press with Alfredo Morelos firing wide and Nathan Redmond being denied by Dawson., while Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg would also lash one wide and our keeper then denied Shane Duffy.

Matheus lashed a volley wide on a breakout move, before Dawson had to deny Liam Moore and our keeper also had to thwart Moussa Djenepo.

After a quiet remainder of the half, Duffy headed over and Djenepo was denied by Dawson at the end of a fine run, as we managed to stumble into the break with our advantage intact.

Djenepo would be wayward with his shooting just after the break with the Saints hopeful of making things happen, but instead, it was us who would bag a second goal.

As well as a second goal for us, it would be a second goal for Armstrong, who received a long punt forward by Dawson, broke away from the Southampton backline, and flicked it past Forster.

Southampton introduced Danny Ings in their attempts to grab a goal back and within seconds he had a fine strike saved by Dawson.

We weren't being overwhelmed however, with Forster making great saves to deny Brewster and later Iorfa. Brewster then saw a shot blocked by Jonjo Kenney, before a snapshot by Iorfa at the corner was denied by the home goalkeeper.

On the hour mark, Armstrong had the ball in the net for what looked like being a hat-trick, but sadly our new record signing's celebrations were cut short by VAR, who ruled he'd strayed offside before reaching an excellent cross by Fox.

Within seconds, Southampton nearly went from being 3-0 down to nearly being back to within one, as Dawson made a fine save to tip sub Michael Obafemi's shot onto the post.

Dawson would then deny Morelos, before Harris forced a save out of Forster in response, and the Saints keeper also kept out Brewster.

In the final 10 minutes after a lull, Harris was denied by Forster, but the chances were mainly falling for Southampton. Hojbjerg hit a decent try wide, while Ings would be denied by Dawson.

Despite losing Worrall to an injury, we were still seeing things through, although not always comfortably. Twice in quick succession, we cleared shots off the line - first Iorfa did this to keep out Hojbjerg, before the same player got something on Ings' header and an offside Obafemi was denied by Dawson.

After that, there was no way back from Southampton and when the full-time whistle was blown on proceedings, it was us who had the rewards. A first Premier League victory of this career, and 4 points from our opening 3 games. A decent return indeed.

This does provide a promise that in games where we need to, we can scrap points together and hopefully get enough to ensure that by game 36, we have more than a six point lead on the bottom 3. This caveat has to be made because the fixture gods gave us a double header of Manchester United and Arsenal to finish the season, which is far from ideal if we need something to stay up.

Still, its an excellent start to our season. We have enough time to see what we can do, starting with a Carabao Cup tie at Championship side Stoke City and a game against a Crystal Palace side who nearly pinched me a few weeks from the end of the season as we look to get the points we need. Its a promising start, but it is only just a start. Let's see how we continue from this moment.
noir et blanc armée

Read my FM20 Career WAWAW

Well done on getting promotion and bagging the title.

Hopefully this will lead to bigger and better things for the Owls. If you can get a top seven finish that'll be an awesome return but I guess a comfortable mid-table finish in the top half would be consolidation personified.

Thanks for the praise.

Honestly I'd take 17th right now, but we'll give as good as we get.
noir et blanc armée

Read my FM20 Career WAWAW

Good start and if nothing else I admire the ambition of being UCL-bound. Good luck with said challenge.
noir et blanc armée

Read my FM20 Career WAWAW

Its tempting to have that existential dread of thinking promotion might end up being the easy part.

Turning a side twice predicted to be midtable into first play-off losers and then shock division winners was good, but the squad had baseline potential to be involved in a tight division. Throwing us into regular conflict with the likes of Manchesters City and United, Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea, Spurs, etc is its own test.

Our end of season awards does indicate a team that has half-decent potential for building, but unquestionably I'm going to need investment to turn this bunch into a team that can compete in the Premier League rather than stink the place out and limp out with little more than an "Oh well, it was nice to see the big team's stadiums".

https://i.postimg.cc/4yPFCbc4/end-of-season-awards.png

To some degree, this actually presents its own challenge as, for the first time, I have a transfer budget. £33million may be low budget by the standards of the modern Premier League, with all of its ludicrous riches and whatnot, but its still leaps and bounds beyond the budget I had to play with in my first two seasons in charge, which were both less than £100K.

My wage budget has however been eaten up a bit. Straight after promotion, a number of key players piped up wanting big pay rises. In truth, I should've waited to bring in new players to do so, but this isn't the approach I took. Cameron Dawson, Liam Palmer, Dominic Iorfa, Julian Borner, Massimo Luongo and Adam Reach have ergo all been given big increases to a PL-level. How many of these will still be here in 2 years is another question, especially if we wind up failing to make the grade.

Some players have however made their exit. We initially allowed Sam Surridge, Dwight Gayle, Grady Diangana, Oliver Skipp and Angel Gomes to return to their parent clubs, while Sam Hutchinson and Keiren Westwood have lead the freebies. One noteable other one was Tom Lees, who I considered keeping but decided a now 31 year old player my coaches rated as League One standard was no longer worth it, despite him being club captain. Its a shame, but it felt sadly like a necessary evil to move forward.

The only player meanwhile we could find a buyer for is Fernando Forestieri. After spending most of last year unable to find a willing buyer after falling out of favour and handing in a request to move on, we finally caught a buyer a few weeks into pre-season. League One Bristol Rovers have given us £600K for his services, ending his 6 year association with the club, though we do have to subsidise part of his wage to get him to go away.

First choice left-back Morgan Fox is out of contract at the end of 2021/22 and has made a request to leave, but with the jump to the Premier League seeing his transfer value rise up, it means a player who we turned down a £5M fee for in January is now valued at double that, so we found very few takers. And by few, read none.

So, who's new?

First into the door and my first signing I've paid an actual transfer fee for is Slovenian international holding midfielder Jaka Bijol. The midfielder was going cheap at Russian side CSKA Moscow, and moves to England for £3.7million. Sadly however he will miss the opening month after suffering a hernia in pre-season training.

The next arrival was Jamaican international defender/holding midfielder and one-time Owls player Michael Hector. Transfer listed by Fulham, he moves back to Hillsborough for £425K, though annoyingly missed all of pre-season as he was away with his national team.

It felt however as though Hector would not be enough for our defensive unit. We would see a number of bids for players rejected, but the one that eventually came through was Nottingham Forest's Joe Worrall, who joins for £5M. The defender rejected Leeds to move to our side of Sheffield, which is a pleasing development, and he should provide a good leader.

Up-front, I again found myself in the position of wanting two new strikers. First through the door is our big ticket signing of 2021-22, as we spent £10.5M on Blackburn's Adam Armstrong, who can play through the middle or in a winger position, with a goal bonus of around £1M as part of the deal if he scores 20. He has to hit the ground the running, but he looks like a very handy option.

Before we brought in a second striker, I also recruited a return for Grady Diangana. The initial loanee we tried to bring back was going to be Sam Surridge, but Bournemouth wanted too much. However, the feeling was we needed an extra winger, and after impressing on loan last year, we recruited the West Ham player for £6M.

Our final addition before our first game was the last of all, joining the morning of our final pre-season friendly, and is our only loan. We've pulled off the signing of Rhian Brewster, who is on a season-long from FA Cup winners Liverpool, and should give our forward contingent a bit of forward momentum.

It wasn't necessarily the plan to primarily sign English players, particularly given we had a few bids rejected for other players over non-English nationality, but given it fits our home-grown quota, I can live with it.

Our team style looks like this going into the year:

https://i.postimg.cc/vBsthgKQ/team-report-s2.png

We've trialled out 4-3-3 as an option for the PL, which is a league I suspect 4-4-2 may not be cut out for. I do think we have a lack of PL quality, plus we also need an extra central midfielder. But we have to try at least - we got here by winning the league ahead of sides that should really have crushed it, so we did something right.

The window is open until August 31st, and we do have enough in our budget for one extra signing after spending £25M so far and we have space, given we currently have a squad size of 20 players over 21, although we do have a few under. But we'll have to see what we get up to before we consider trying to land an extra player or two (budget willing ofc).

It is also worth noting our U23 boss has been busy of his own accord, signing 5 players for the U23s, though potentially with reason - this is the season we make our debut in the EFL Trophy. They've been put in a group with Notts County, Carlisle and Grimsby.

As ever, the window has been busy in the Premier League:

https://i.postimg.cc/mg490fww/pl-summer-window.png

The big names have their usual busy behaviour - a club record fee from Manchester United for Ousmane Dembele, a club record fee from Chelsea for Kai Havertz, a club record fee from Manchester City for Julian Brandt, etc. We may be the busiest for incomings, but this is a hugely different scale to last season when we had to play the loan/free market (shrewdly, as it turned out) and there's still 3 weeks of this left over.

To warm up with this was pre-season, and as happened last year, the board kept adding friendlies I have to keep cancelling, given at multiple points we had over 10 friendlies, which would've been excessive. We didn't want to enter our first game of the season all out of puff from a stupid deal of friendlies. And once again, our first run of friendlies arranged by me ended up being the main run of the schedule.

When we eventually figured it all out, this is how we did:

https://i.postimg.cc/tRD81p11/pre-season-and-first-fixtures.png

So close to a clean sweep. Arranged with our usual trio against local non-league sides Stocksbridge, Sheffield FC and Chesterfield, we had a pre-season training camp in Portugal and scattered this with 3 other friendlies. Two against lower sides, and one against a Liga NOS team, though we won all 3 in Portugal and all 3 local games.

We then had two big ticket games back-to-back, against last season's Spanish and Dutch champions respectively, in Atletico Madrid and Ajax. A week before, Atletico beat Sheffield United at Bramall Lane in another friendly but we managed a fairly unexpected victory despite being second best. Ajax managed to be in the inverse - we were the better side but lost.

As for the fixtures, we will start against Wolves at Molineux on a Monday night match, against a side now managed by Rafa Benitez after they dismissed both Nuno Espirito Santo and Paulo Sousa over the course of 2020-21 for only managing 10th.

This opener is followed by games against Watford, Southampton and Crystal Palace for our August schedule, and we ideally need to win games from an opening four that does not feature any side who finished in last year's top six, while our opening Carabao Cup tie is also somewhere in the mix. Our first clashes with big six teams are against Arsenal and Manchester United straight after the September international break, while its mid-October when we have our first Sheffield Derby in the top flight.

This is not going to be easy. But this is what we wanted and what we were dreaming of even after lowlights like being thrashed by Reading or that reverse at Blackburn on Good Friday that seemed to hurt our promotion hopes. Failing to turn up would just be cruel, and I want to believe we can do it, even if my expectations are low. We're not going to try and aim for the top half finish Leeds got last season - simply doing what Fulham did by scraping survival will suffice.

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noir et blanc armée

Read my FM20 Career WAWAW

Victory over Nottingham Forest has set up a potentially major juncture in our season, as victory over Blackpool at Bloomfield Road sticks us second with three to go, and with it, potentially 3 wins from promotion and with it ending Sheffield Wednesday's exile from the Premier League, which stretches back to 2000.

Hoping to make it one small step for our season and one big leap for our season were to be:
Dawson - Palmer, Lees, Borner, Fox - Diangana, Luongo, Reach, Penney - Surridge, Ambrose
Subs: Wildsmith, Iorfa, Odubajo, Bannan, Matheus, Gomes, Gayle

The changes from the weekend triumph were to give Sturridge and Palmer starts ahead of the rested Gayle and Iorfa.

We know what we have to do. Can we deliver?

https://imagizer.imageshack.com/v2/xq90/924/NWMDvV.png

Yes we can. And with it, we're now in prime position to take that coveted automatic promotion spot.

Our hopes and aspirations would get a boost with a goal inside the opening 3 minutes, as Diangana was found by a great ball from Penney and turned it into the Blackpool goal.

Former Owl Gary Madine would fire wide when well placed before Ambrose saw a strike saved by Blackpool keeper Martin Chudy. Wes Burns would then be denied by Dawson as the game continued its quick opening.

Blackpool were creating, with Jake Forster-Caskey having a shot go wide before Fox had to clear a header by Madine off the line and the striker then put one wide.

Diangana skimmed the top of the bar with a strike, before a flick from Surridge went over the bar. A great chance for two came when Reach was played in on goal only to be denied by Chudy before Penney hit the rebound wide.

Chudy then also denied Ambrose, before Borner and Surridge put attempts wide, while Matty Virtue saw a strike on goal well saved by Dawson.

Each side would trade a strike in the opening minutes of the second half, with Dawson denying Madine before Chudy kept out Surridge, while Dawson then kept out Forster-Caskey and Chudy again denied Surridge.

Blackpool had the better of a second half that was less frantic than the first, but with 22 minutes remaining on the clock, we broke through to bag a second goal. Ambrose added another to his collection, as our top scorer broke an offside trap to run onto Palmer's long ball and flicked a shot into the bottom corner for our second goal.

Lees flicked a header off target before Joe Nuttall saw two attempts saved by Dawson as Blackpool tried and struggled to find a way back.

The home side did grab a goal for their efforts late on when former Owl Jordan Thorniley turned in a corner, but it would be too late to grab something and we left with a victory. Excellent result that puts us second with three to play.

We now need to keep this going. Next up for us is Millwall, who have won 3 in a row - including a sensational win over Sheffield United - as they desperately fight to try and stay in the Championship.

Selected to try and see off the struggling South Londoners was an 18 made of:
Dawson - Iorfa, Lees, Borner, Fox - Diangana, Skipp, Bannan, Reach - Surridge, Ambrose
Subs: Wildsmith, Palmer, Penney, Luongo, Matheus, Gomes, Gayle

Three changes to keep up the energy - Bannan, Reach and Iorfa in for Luongo, Penney and Palmer as we seek to build on this and get a fourth straight win.

With this fight escalating, can we grab the result we so desire?

https://imagizer.imageshack.com/v2/xq90/924/pWHqtV.png

Wasn't really in doubt. We could've won by a bigger margin, but 1-0 will do for us.

Jed Wallace touched the bar early on as Millwall tried a way through, before we took the lead as Surridge had one effort go wide and another deflected wide.

A great sweeping ball from Iorfa then picked out Ambrose, but he headed the ball over.

With 26 on the clock, it was our top scorer who would do the business once again. Ambrose's 20th goal of an extremely impressive debut season in blue and white came when the Frenchman was picked out by Reach, and duly flicked it into the goal.

Iorfa was so close to putting us 2-0 ahead put his effort clipped the post, before Mason Bennett had a shot deflected and Millwall team-mate Wallace hit one wide.

Diangana had a shot blocked before Kieran O'Hara in the Lions goal made a decent stop to deny Reach and another to keep out Ambrose.

Bennett had a shot saved by Dawson before Tom Bradshaw had one deflected wide, while Jake Cooper had a shot saved by Dawson.

Millwall had a smattering of half-chances drift off target before Cooper came a lot closer, as his header at a corner clipped the woodwork.

Reach and Surridge failed to get chances into the goal late in the half, with Reach then doing so again after half-time.

Ambrose then had two drives blocked by O'Hara, before Lees hit the bar at a free-kick, although he was offside.

Millwall's keeper would then be on hand to deny Surridge and Lees, before Surridge hit one off target and O'Hara would then be a thorn in our side again to stop a shot by Diangana.

While we couldn't make it 2-0, Millwall's attack didn't really offer anything to equalise and neutralise our single goal advantage, so with it we had the victory.

A big surprise would then come at full-time, however. We were so focused on Sheffield United and Preston below us that we weren't paying attention on West Brom, and when it came through they were beaten 3-0 at home by Newcastle, it suddenly turned out we had moved to top spot in the Championship with 2 games still to play.

This unexpected development is rather delightful. But now we have to keep it going, starting with a Friday night trip up to Newcastle. Their win at the Hawthorns indicated it would not be easy against a Magpies side who knew nothing but a win would end their play-off hopes.

Trying to take a big step towards giving us pole position for automatic promotion would be:
Dawson - Palmer, Iorfa, Lees, Fox - Diangana, Skipp, Bannan, Reach - Surridge, Ambrose
Subs: Wildsmith, Borner, Penney, Luongo, Matheus, Gomes, Forestieri

Our single change is Palmer for Borner. One other alteration is a necessary one for our bench, as Gayle being on loan from Newcastle means we can't use him, so its a rare appearance for Forestieri, who makes the bench.

The victory we managed against Newcastle in December was a genuine thriller, but if it means it gets us promotion, I'll take a nervy 1-0 win. What can we do here?

https://imagizer.imageshack.com/v2/xq90/924/zbpitK.png

We're now one more win away, and dropped points for our rivals will send us up regardless. By Christ we got lucky in this - bombarded for most of the 90 but broke away to grab our 2 goals. But at this stage, it matters more that we win rather than how we win, and in that regard, we can be happy with how its gone.

Newcastle began their attempts to build on their win over West Brom straight away. Cheikhou Kouyate saw a header saved by Dawson, Palmer had to block a shot by Jean Phillipe Gbamin and Ethan Ampadu headed over.

Florinel Coman was particularly dangerous as he stood in for the injured Allan Saint-Maximin and Miguel Almiron, with the Romanian seeing a header skim the top of the bar and another loop over moments after Diego Rolan was denied by Dawson. Our goalkeeper would then deny Rolan again.

But we began to contain Newcastle's pressure more in the final minutes of the half and then, with our first real meaningful chance, we went in front. Reach was found by Diangana's searching cross, and the one-time Middlesbrough midfielder beat Martin Dubravka to put us ahead.

Taiwo Awoniyi was denied by Dawson and Ampadu headed over as Newcastle almost hit back to level in first half stoppage time, and with Rolan and Gbamin missing chances early in the second period, it looked as though we would continue to be on the defensive.

But a curveball came when we moved 2-0 in front. Tosin Adarabioyo fouled Ambrose, and a lash at goal by Fox flew from his left-foot into the back of the net.

Coman and Gbamin missed chances before Dawson denied Adarabioyo, with our keeper then again denying Gbamin as it continued to be the case Newcastle were pressing.

Having soaked up that pressure, Surridge could've made it 3-0, with a good save by Newcastle's Dubravka denying him the chance to do so.

Dawson denied Rolan before Penney just flicked the ball wide when well placed.

Newcastle did get their name on the scoresheet in the second minute of added time when a bullet from Sean Longstaff flew past Dawson.

This should've set up a grandstand finish, but it didn't. Indeed, the nearest to a goal came when Penney hit one wide, and we saw the job through to take a real grind of a victory at St James' Park, and with it put us potentially one win away from the Premier League, and as champions to boot.

With this taking place on Friday night, we had the Saturday to ourselves and to see if the results coming in would mean we didn't need to beat Middlesbrough. Results going our way could guarantee our promotion as champions already. So when we advanced, the moment of truth had arrived and...

https://imagizer.imageshack.com/v2/xq90/922/IKTaAA.png

It all went our way and we've done it! Not only are we promoted, but we're champions as well! YES!

West Brom lost 2-0 at Derby, Sheffield United drew 2-2 at Cardiff and Preston lost out in a 5 goal thriller at Barnsley. Which means, at the end of it all, Sheffield Wednesday will be a Premier League side.

The board had only expected us to come mid-table, with plans for the great promotion assault to be 2 years from now, but instead, Sheffield Wednesday will be a Premier League side in 2021-22. Celebrations time!

The trophy would be presented of course after one final assignment, which would be against Middlesbrough at Hillsborough.

Aiming to give the fans one final encore hit for the road would be:
Dawson - Palmer, Iorfa, Lees, Fox - Diangana, Skipp, Bannan, Reach - Surridge, Ambrose
Subs: Wildsmith, Borner, Penney, Luongo, Matheus, Gomes, Gayle

Same team that beat Newcastle, but with Gayle back ahead of Forestieri on the bench.

So would we say goodbye to the second tier in style?

https://imagizer.imageshack.com/v2/xq90/922/sXrbTn.png

One more for the road - our sixth win in a row as we confirm our title victory in style.

Our strikeforce of Ambrose and Surridge had chances before we finally took the lead around the quarter hour, as Ambrose headed in Palmer's cross to put us in front.

An opening first half did see Middlesbrough test Dawson a few times, but we still came close through Diangana a couple of times before our second goal, which went in 11 minutes before half-time. Reach intercepted a poor defensive clearance before laying it off for Bannan, who drilled a low strike into the bottom corner.

Two would then become three just after the break, with Reach grabbing a second assist as his header was turned in by Surridge to give us a greater cushion on the scoreline.

This would be the final goal of the season. Middlesbrough had more of the chances but they didn't really hurt us, and as a result we celebrate our Championship title with a stylish coronation.

With all said and done, the final table at the end of the 2020-21 season has this look:

https://imagizer.imageshack.com/v2/xq90/922/ODrJDj.png

After a crazy finale to the season and such a close fight, we are not only promoted but go up as champions of the second tier - no mean feat given we only lead the way in 3 weeks of the entire season. Indeed, a late collapse in form by West Brom is the main reason for why we look so far ahead - they failed to win any of their last 5 games, adding to an earlier run of 5 defeats in 6.

A 1-0 win for Sheffield United against Blackpool in their final game of the season means they take the automatic promotion spot behind us, ensuring a first Premier League Sheffield Derby since 1994 - a fair while in coming, you might say.

West Brom, QPR, Preston and Norwich will take part in the play-offs, with Reading, Bristol City and Newcastle narrowly missing out. Millwall, Portsmouth and MK Dons are relegated, with Swansea, Barnsley and Blackpool managing points to book their survival even before the final day of the season.

A few weeks later, we would find out that West Brom managed to recover from their late season collapse in form to beat Norwich in the 2 legged semis and then QPR in the final at Wembley to follow us 2 Sheffield sides into the top flight of English football. We will be taking the places of Brighton, Brentford and Bournemouth, who drop out of the top 20.

Impressively, Leeds managed to finish 9th on their top flight return, while Fulham also stayed up, as did a Crystal Palace team who tried to interview me as a potential manager at one point.

Its going to take a lot of work to get this squad ready for Premier League football, and tests against a Manchester City team that now have 4 straight titles, plus their neighbours, Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool, Spurs, etc. Hell it'll take work to get us on par with Villa and Wolves, judging by our poor results against them in the FA Cup.

But we think we can do this. Hell, we got this far. And so we must begin the reboot ready for season 3.

«This comment has been edited»
noir et blanc armée

Read my FM20 Career WAWAW

Originally, the EFL scheduled our Blackpool game to take place over the international break, but a smattering of call-ups proved to be just cause to get the game rearranged.

This would ordinarily have meant the uninteresting pause to build up fitness for fringe players in our U23 teams games and work out ideas for how to see off the competition in our forthcoming games. But then a curveball turned up.

https://imagizer.imageshack.com/v2/xq90/922/UR4Ll0.png

A few weeks ago, I was linked with the job at Crystal Palace after they sacked Sam Allardyce. At the point of this international break, they are 3 points from safety and after failing to win any in February and March, they will need a confidence shot. Yet Steve Parrish has decided I was suddenly worth of interviewing for the position.

It was perhaps a little tempting - a reunion with Connor Wickham and a genuine shot at Premier League. But I chose to decline, feeling that they needed somebody else with PL experience and that it would just hurt my prospects to jump too soon and balls up their survival shot. So I politely declined. In the end, they made the surprise choice to bring back Alan Pardew after his stint with ADO Den Haag, which ironically means they've brought back the man Allardyce initially replaced in 2017, meaning in this game file they've both returned to Selhurst Park after having stints there in 2016-17, but in the reverse order to that campaign.

Having brushed that off, attention turned back to our close fight to try and get into the top flight. Our first game back after the international pause would take place on Good Friday, as we travelled across the Pennines to face on Blackburn Rovers at Ewood Park.

Seeking victory at Ewood Park was this bunch:
Dawson - Iorfa, Lees, Borner, Penney - Diangana, Skipp, Luongo, Reach - Surridge, Ambrose
Subs: Wildsmith, Odubajo, Palmer, Fox, Ameobi, Matheus, Gayle

From the draw at their north-west neighbour Preston in our last game before the international break, we made just the one switch by changing up our right back position, with Odubajo subbed out for Iorfa.

At this point, every dropped point for all ourselves, Preston and Sheffield United could be crucial. This is high stakes football. Could we live with the pressure?

https://imagizer.imageshack.com/v2/xq90/924/tlGwez.png

Well this was far from ideal, especially with Sheffield United recording a comfortable win over Portsmouth. Preston did lose, making it not the absolute worst, but any defeat at this point threatens to torpedo everything and this is the worst possible start to the final stretch.

Javi Gracia's Rovers had lost each of their last 4 games as their season seemed to be running out of puff, and we did come close early on when Reach hit a decent volley over before Ambrose had a shot deflected away.

Clearly, the home side were looking for a better reaction after their recent slowdown, with Lewis Travis, Lewis Holtby and Ben Brereton all flashing ones wide, before we had the first one on target as Surridge tipped wide by Vaclav Hladky at the end of a fine run.

Then things got away from us. Adam Armstrong's shot deflected wide off Borner, and from the following corner, Derrick Williams beat Luongo to Holtby's corner and put it past Dawson.

We have come back a fair number of times this season so I was hopeful of a way through, with Ambrose and Borner missing chances either side of Brereton doing likewise for Blackburn.

Later down the line, Hladky denied Luongo but our momentum was hardly blowing Blackburn away. Indeed we could've had fallen two down after Joe Rankin-Costello saw a lash at goal saved by Dawson.

We brought Ameobi on at half-time and he would have a shot saved by Hladky, although this fell in-between 2 strikes by Armstrong resulting in one going off target and another being easily stopped by Dawson.

However, the problems mounted when Blackburn scored a second goal just after the hour mark. Ambrose gave away a free-kick, and from Holtby's delivery, an initial shot by Darragh Lenihan was blocked but fell to Kevin Stewart inside the six yard box. Our one-time target couldn't miss. 2-0. Balls.

Penney had a shot saved as we tried to get one back before sub Gayle was also thwarted, before we had another momentum check when Ameobi was injured in a collision with Holtby, necessitating a third sub just as I was trying to make a different alteration.

Moments after Dawson denied Brereton's volley, we thought we had our way back on 84 minutes when Ambrose turned the ball in, but we had the goal controversially chalked off as the Frenchman was ruled offside when he met Surridge's through-pass.

Things still could've been more miserable for us, on par with the debacle at Reading in early February, as Dawson denied Onel Hernandez before Rankin-Costello hit one wide.

That game just didn't work and nothing really got well for us. Its our first defeat since that galling pasting by Reading in February. But the Easter double header gives us quick time to try and focus our attention on another challenge, with Easter Monday bringing us a home meeting with Birmingham City.

The shuffle to try and reboot after that Good Friday debacle were to be:
Dawson - Palmer, Lees, Borner, Fox - Matheus, Skipp, Reach, Penney - Surridge, Ambrose
Subs: Wildsmith, Odubajo, Iorfa, Luongo, Diangana, Gomes, Gayle

Three changes for this reshuffle, with Matheus for Diangana, Fox for Luongo (which pushes Penney forward and Reach infield) and Palmer to replace Iorfa. With Gomes now fit, it also meant we gave him a slot on the subs bench.

The massive failure that was Blackburn cannot become a trend - a run of defeats could not only see us lose out in the race for automatic but maybe even fail to reach the play-offs, as our fight with Preston and Sheffield United has a slight advantage but not by enough. Can we get something here?

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By the skin of our teeth, we did - a necessary result given Preston and Sheffield United both won.

Birmingham nearly piled on some more misery early on, when Alvaro Gimenez saw a shot saved by Dawson. Meanwhile, Surridge hit one wide early on as we tried to work out what we would do.

After a quiet period with only one or two half-chances, Birmingham had a very good opportunity to take the lead only for the build-up to produce a meh kind of shot by Ivan Sunjic, who hit a simple one at Dawson.

Ambrose had a shot blocked before the away side saw Gimenez denied by Dawson, while Reach and Ambrose then missed opportunities as what was a close game began to open up a bit.

Our first real chance came in added time, and was a fairly simple one for Luca Zidane, who claimed a header from Reach.

Zidane would then be called up again 10 minutes after the break to deny a chance for Surridge after he broke free, already cueing up a wariness we were facing another frustrating game against him after failing to break him down in the reverse fixture earlier in the season.

The second half however was characterised by a lot of uninspired drift. We brought in Diangana as one of our attempts to get a lead, and our impressing January arrival saw a little strike blocked by Marc Roberts.

Dawson then had to make a great save to deny Gimenez, before the Spanish striker fired a further shot wide of the mark.

It looked like the game was heading towards a draw, but then, moments after Zidane denied Ambrose, we found a way to goal. Initially, it looked as though Dean had intercepted a long ball forward by Lees, but then Diangana was first to the loose ball, evaded a defensive handler and poked it in to put us ahead.

Jude Bellingham and Odin Bailey missed chances late on to level, with Bellingham and Jeremie Bela doing so in added time as well.

Full time brought a huge sense of relief. We had the three points and it was not pretty, but it was sure damn effective. We needed the win, we got one, we succeeded. Game on.

Our next game was one week later against midtable Nottingham Forest at the City Ground, with this game taking place as an evening kick-off for live TV. This suddenly gave us an indication of what we needed, as we found out Preston and Sheffield United surprisingly dropped points in advance of our game, we suddenly had a huge boost to pick up a win.

The 18 chosen to try and get the job done in Nottingham on Saturday night would be:
Dawson - Iorfa, Lees, Borner, Fox - Diangana, Luongo, Reach, Penney - Gayle, Ambrose
Subs: Wildsmith, Odubajo, Palmer, Bannan, Matheus, Gomes, Surridge

The 3 changes we made would be Gayle for Surridge, Iorfa for Palmer, Luongo for the suspended Skipp after he picked up a 10th yellow of the year in the Birmingham game.

We knew in advance of Sheffield United suffering a shock reverse at struggling Millwall and after Preston had dropped points at out-of-form Newcastle in a Friday night game, although we began 5th after QPR beat Middlesbrough at the same time. Could we take the win we needed to move ourselves into a great position?

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Yes we did. At this point questions of style have to go out of the window - we needed a win, we got it. We did have to withstand a lot of pressure from Nottingham Forest over the 90 minutes, but a goal in each half did the trick.

Forest had an early chance when Ko Itakura had one saved by Dawson, before our first opportunity saw a strike by Penney just go wide.

Nuno da Costa and Jota had opportunities in quick succession saved by Dawson, before Joao Carvalho had one shot go wide and another from a free-kick nicely tipped wide by Dawson.

A rare break by my players saw Brice Samba deny Diangana, before Dawson denied Carvalho, Joe Lolley's shot was blocked by Fox and another shot by the same player bounced wide.

Jota and da Costa would have efforts fail to turn into goals late on, and after this bombardment, the latter stages of the half saw us largely reduce the tempo to something on our level.

But then we broke away to grab a goal in first half added time. Ambrose was perfectly picked out by a sweeping cross from Diangana, and our top scorer added another to his collection.

Ambrose nearly made it two after our French striker lashed one off target within seconds of the restart, before Forest had a go again, with Dawson denying a Ryan Yates strike and a free-kick from Carvalho.

Forest's profligacy would hurt them further. Just before the hour, Reach was first to Matty Cash's clearance and played it to Penney, who drilled an excellent strike beyond Samba and into the goal to put us 2-0 up.

We could've even given ourselves further scoreline security after Ambrose was found but headed over.

One goal for Forest with their amount of possession and shots could really have changed the game. Dawson made save to deny Jota before Yates punted one over the top.

Jota and Thiago Silva continued their lack of accuracy, and it nearly ended up with us making it 3 after Samba made a good save to deny Luongo, before a fine intervention by Borner frustrated Carvalho.

For the second away game in a row, Ambrose had a goal ruled out for offside, as he turned in a pass by Fox only to trigger the flag.

There was still time for Forest to have chances, but they didn't hurt us and we had our just rewards for a fine defensive display in the form of 3 vital points that in the wake of the earlier results are a big deal.

The table will be shown to demonstrate why ahead of our re-arranged trip to Blackpool the following Tuesday:

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This win has suddenly has put the ball in court. Victory at Blackpool in the game in hand on Tuesday night will put us second with an equal number played and while it does the trick of guaranteeing we can finish no lower than 6th, it suddenly means a lot more. We're basically now 4 wins from the Premier League, which is a huge incentive for this lot to chase.

Not that we can get that far ahead of ourselves - first we have to beat a Tangerines side fighting for their lives, then a Millwall side that may still have a mathematical chance of survival and caused us bother in our first meeting, a Newcastle side that still has PL quality despite struggling for form since late February and a Middlesbrough team that are trying to impress a new manager.

We're not there yet, and thinking its automatically gonna happen will cost us. But suddenly, the path is so much clearer.

«This comment has been edited»
noir et blanc armée

Read my FM20 Career WAWAW

While February was something due to the large quantity of games, and April will likewise pose a similar volume issue, March is relatively quiet with 4 games. However, 3 of these 4 are against teams directly up with us in the promotion chase. Bristol City, West Brom and Preston are all teams in with a shout of promotion. 12 points from these would be amazing stuff.

First in the list is an away match against Bristol City at Ashton Gate, with the Robins in the tussle for the top 6 to make it back-to-back play-off entries.

Aiming to triumph in the South West would be:
Dawson - Odubajo, Iorfa, Borner, Penney - Diangana, Luongo, Reach, Gomes - Surridge, Ambrose
Subs: Wildsmith, Palmer, Lees, Fox, Skipp, Matheus, Gayle

Just a single change to the side who drew with Barnsley in our last game in February, with Surridge replacing Gayle up-front.

So far, Bristol City have been favourable opponents for us, with 3 wins out of 3. Could we continue our 100% streak?

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Well it wasn't a win but considering we were very much second best, we weren't far off grabbing 3 points. I got asked if it was down to a late switch from 4-4-2 to 4-4-1-1 but I'm not buying it - they probably deserved to win on stats but we did well to hold them back.

Our afternoon wasn't made easier when Gomes limped off inside the opening 10 minutes, with our loanee from Manchester United suffering a twisted ankle. Not ideal.

We had enjoyed the first chance, as a few minutes before this, Surridge saw a shot saved by Daniel Bentley in the Robins goal.

As the half continued, however, the home side began to pose us more bother. Harry Pickering headed one over, Tomas Kalas had a shot blocked by Odubajo and Dawson did well to deny Nahki Wells.

We broke away to see Surridge denied by Bentley, before it continued to be the case that we were more occupied defensively than offensively.

We would get to the half level, and after Marco Stiepermann had a shot blocked, we would strike first. Dawson's kick out was flicked on by Ambrose to Diangana, and the West Ham loanee broke free to finish past Bentley.

Within two minutes, Bristol City continued to press us, with Michael Duffy seeing a cracker denied by Dawson, and moments later, Kasey Palmer blasted one wide.

Dawson then denied Neco Williams and Stiepermann, before Kalas headed over and Adam Nagy did likewise. Indeed, we were very much second best at this point.

We weren't far away from grabbing a second goal, as Odubajo was released by a flowing move down our right flank and saw a drive saved by Bentley.

After that, it was back on the defensive, with Dawson making good saves to deny Andreas Weimann and Palmer, before Matt Penney then had a great shot saved by Bentley on a break.

Bentley then also denied Reach, before Bristol City began to have less and it looked like we might be about to ride it out and take a somewhat fortunate win.

But no. Ambrose was picked off by Kalas, and the long ball by the defender released Wells. The striker held off a covering defender before beating Dawson in the one-on-one to equalise for Chris Hughton's side. Damn.

It was such a strange game in retrospect - so close to a victory we wouldn't have really deserved, but very much would've taken.

Not that the challenges would get any easier from there, considering next weekend saw West Brom travel to Sheffield. Such has been the recent compression of the table that West Brom have become very much potentially in reach of us chasers. They were unbeaten until losing at Bramall Lane in January, but further defeats to Forest, QPR, Bristol City and Wigan, as well as the slightly inauspicious sight of them failing to beat struggling MK Dons, means they aren't as home and dry as they looked.

Aiming to triumph against the boys from the West Midlands would be:
Dawson - Iorfa, Lees, Borner, Penney - Diangana, Skipp, Luongo, Reach - Surridge, Ambrose
Subs: Westwood, Urhoghide, Palmer, Fox, Ameobi, Matheus, Gayle

Two switches for this one, with Lees replacing an injured Oduabjo and Skipp for an injured Gomes.

We managed to beat West Brom home and away last season but we're not going to just expect them to roll over for us. Still, could we win?

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Blimey - this might be one of our best home performances since I took the job. We scored inside the opening minute, and barely let West Brom do anything from there.

It was Ambrose who flicked us in front pretty much straight away. We flew to the Baggies' box straight away, and Diangana saw a shot tipped onto the post by Sam Johnstone, with our French striker turning in the rebound.

We would continue in this vein. Reach had a drive blocked by Ciaran Clark, Johnstone put in a save to keep out Penney, Luongo lashed a drive at goal that Johnstone kept out with Ambrose missing the rebound, and the Baggies keeper making further stops to deny Penney and Diangana.

It was a sensational opening and still we pressed, with Surridge having a first-time hit well stopped by Johnstone in our next chance.

With 25 gone, we'd had a lot of running and chances for just the one goal, but finally, we broke through. Luongo played in Penney, whose cross found Surridge's feet. It looked like the angle was against our Bournemouth loanee, but he tried his luck and beat Johnstone for 2-0.

West Brom's first real chance saw Anton Nedyalkov volley over, before Charlie Austin had a shot saved by Dawson moments after Penney hit the post. The keeper also denied Jonathan Leko as the visitors belatedly woke up.

Clark hit the bar at a corner and Leko had a shot saved by Dawson, but the Baggies still had work to do from being two down at the break.

Instead, they took too long to get going after the break and would soon be three down. It was a moment to shine for Diangana, who was able to carry the ball a long way after an away move broke down, regained the ball after seemingly losing it to a covering defender, and he duly lashed it past Johnstone to score against the club he'd spent the previous year on loan with.

Our two best chances for number 4 saw Surridge denied, while West Brom would still have a smattering of opportunities - the most noteworthy coming after Elias Kachunga was introduced off the bench - while Dawson had to make some decent saves. But the game was won, and we had an excellent victory towards our promotion aspirations.

This result did actually get me an admirer. On the same day, Crystal Palace sacked Sam Allardyce and I was linked with the role with the Premier League strugglers seemingly on the basis of this alone. However, I want to see this through and declined, much to my board's pleasure. If they back this delight up with more money next year, would be much obliged.

We had a few days to bask in this and then prepare for the very difficult challenge, as March brought us a clash with Stoke City, who look set for a season in midtable.

Aiming to see off the Potters and grab further points in our drive up would be:
Dawson - Iorfa, Lees, Borner, Fox - Diangana, Skipp, Luongo, Penney - Surridge, Ambrose
Subs: Westwood, Urhoghide, Oduabjo, Reach, Ameobi, Matheus, Gayle

Just the one change, with Fox for Reach, with Penney being brought into the midfield four.

It would be easy to coast after 4 points from games against promotion chasers Bristol City and West Brom, but Stoke were a challenge nevertheless. Could we get the result we wanted?

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Bit of a disappointment, all told. We weren't terrible but we did fail to reach the heights of the win over the Baggies a few days earlier.

We weren't far away from another lightning start as we managed against Stoke, as Diangana had a shot tipped onto the post by new Stoke keeper Joel Pereira, before Penney had a shot deflected wide.

However, Stoke weren't in the mood to lie down and let us trample all over them. Dawson made good saves in quick succession to thwart Serdar Gurler and Nathan Collins, as well as a more simple save to keep out Tommy Smith.

Ambrose then had a crisp drive well stopped by Pereira, but Stoke continued to look the better going forward. The away keeper had to deny Stiven Plaza and Thibaud Verlinden, while Bruno Martins Indi headed over at a corner.

Smith then had a snapshot tipped onto the bar by Dawson, but it looked as if the attacking momentum was drying up until Stoke scored in first half added time.

It was a pretty simple goal as well, as a cross by Verlinden found Gurler, who evaded a dozing Fox to head it into the back of the net.

Stoke then nearly piled on the misery, as Philippe Sandler saw a hit from a long way out just crash into the stands.

Pereira then denied Diangana as we belatedly offered something, before Borner and Luongo hit near-identical shots off target.

Stoke's goalkeeper then made a decent stop to deny Surridge, before a great tackle by one-time transfer target Josh Tymon made a good block to deny Diangana.

We threw on Gayle to play all 3 of our main strikers, and it yielded near instant rewards. A swinging cross by Surridge picked out the newly arrived Gayle, who flicked the ball past Pereira.

Each keeper traded late saves, with Pereira denying Ameobi moments before Dawson kept out Martins Indi.

Ultimately, we were not to be split, which I could only view as a disappointment as I wanted to warm up for our big game with Preston at the weekend on the back of a win. The buzz from beating West Brom could still be there, but it wasn't the same as it would've been had we seen off the Potters.

Preston would certainly not be easy. The gang from Deepdale would be difficult enough, as we've yet to beat them in any of our meetings, but they have been a form team of late. They warmed up for us with 3 straight wins, having previously 6 in a row to take a huge position in this tussle for the top flight.

Aiming to grab our first win in this save over Preston were:
Dawson - Odubajo, Lees, Borner, Penney - Diangana, Skipp, Luongo, Reach - Surridge, Gayle
Subs: Wildsmith, Iorfa, Fox, Palmer, Matheus, Ameobi, Ambrose

From the Stoke game, we shuffled Odubajo, Reach and Gayle into the starting 11 for Iorfa, Fox and Ambrose.

This would be a huge statement way to finally end our Preston hoodoo. Could we achieve that here?

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Ah so close. We did well to take a great position in this contest but just couldn't force a way through.

Declan Rudd in the Preston goal denied Surridge in the opening few minutes, before Dawson was forced into a stop to keep out Danny Redmond's cross-shot.

We soon began to up the ante, with Luongo, Surridge and Diangana having shots off target in quick succession, with Preston's Patrick Bauer doing likewise.

The chance of the half came for Surridge just before the half-hour mark, with Rudd keeping him out when the Bournemouth loanee looked well place to slot us in front.

Rudd then denied Surridge again, and would also keep out Gayle before the break and then block Surridge again. Callum O'Dowda and Reach would then lash efforts off target as the game reached the break.

Jordan Rhodes had been anonymous after getting a surprise start against his former club, but he came close just after the break with a shot well blocked by Borner.

Redmond came close with 2 strikes for Preston, before Rudd would yet again frustrate Surridge, whose poor afternoon in front of goal continued.

Lees and Borner would miss the target with chances, as would Reach, and later at the other end, so would Preston sub Ryan Ledson.

Dawson had to make a fine stop to deny O'Dowda late on, but moments after Rudd denied Matheus, the Preston winger would fail to complete the day as he left injured after Preston had made all 3 subs, leaving them a man light for the final 3 minutes and added time.

This should've theoretically given us an advantage, but didn't. Our best chance was missed by Ambrose, but a better one fell for Preston after great work by Sean Maguire teed up Rhodes, who duly missed the target.

At this stage of the season, either one of us two sides - who have the most draws of any Championship sides - kinda need the wins more than results like this. A point is a point, but I can guarantee both of us can see ourselves in next year's Premier League and recognise their ambitions would've been better served by winning this encounter in the Lancashire rain.

With our game in hand at Blackpool over the international pause postponed due to a few of our players getting international call-ups, we can look at the table:

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Our ambitions would undoubtedly have been better served with another victory, given we've drawn 5 out of our last 6 games and have now drawn the most of anyone in this league, despite having the fewest defeats.

The picture is still tight, mind. Our 3 way tussle with Sheffield United and Preston is still split by just 4 points with 6/7 games to go (we have one less), with QPR just 3 points behind us. Leaders West Brom in turn are just 2 ahead of Preston, while QPR in 5th sit just 3 off our team. A very close fight between Newcastle, Bristol City, Norwich, Reading and Birmingham for the final play-off spot is going on, with that group split by just 3 points.

Its all very exciting as we move into April. Two games in four days kick us back up, against Blackburn and Birmingham, followed by Forest and the rescheduled visit to Blackpool, knowing that while we're not in the driving seat, we can still get ourselves closer to 2nd. All we have to do is stumble our way there.

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noir et blanc armée

Read my FM20 Career WAWAW

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