Back to Britannia: Football Manager 15
Hi again, everyone.
Upon the demise of my venerable old laptop--at the ripe age of six years--I bought myself a spiffy new machine. One of the first things I did with my new laptop was install FM 15, one of the two versions of the game I've enjoyed most. Then, the urge to write a new dynasty story struck, so here I am.
I've tried managing in all kinds of places, but I always seem to come back to England. The team names, the grounds, the vibe of English football seem to resonate with me. I downloaded a database that includes 10 levels of the English pyramid, and I picked six teams from Level 10 that might be fun to manage.
Then, I handed a six-sided die to my 11-year-old daughter. She rolled a 5, and just like that, I became the manager of Stony Stratford Town, a semi-professional club in Spartan South Midlands League Division One. The club's home ground is Ostler's Lane.
I'm using "fake names." (I like seeing players' faces, not blank silhouettes, on their pages. It definitely increases the immersion factor for me.)
My story will probably be heavy on the words, and light on the images. That's more my style. There are times, however, when a picture is worth at least a thousand words, so I'll throw a few in every once in a while.
Now is one of those times. Here's the club's badge:
By Source, Fair use, File:Stony Stratford Town F.C. logo.png - Wikipedia
9 August 2014
Today is the first match day of the 2014/15 season in the South Midlands League's First Division. We had a fairly uneventful pre-season, playing decently against some bigger teams, and holding one of them--Oxford City Nomads--to a goalless draw. I'm ready for the matches to start counting.
I let my assistant, Kevin Mickelborough, handle the friendlies. Had I looked more closely at Kevin's ability before now, I would have sacked him and brought a new man in. Between us, that item is now at the top of my to-do list. I'm also going to hire a coach, and I've found the man I want already. His name is Denis Mark, and he's a Grenada international with 22 caps to his credit. Hopefully he'll agree to join our staff.
I've had the most success using a bog-standard 4-4-2. I'm starting to learn how the different roles and duties complement each other, so when things go wrong, I'm feeling more confident about making adjustments that might actually lead to better results. That's another reason why I went back to FM 15. I don't have that same level of confidence about my tactical understanding when I play the newer editions.
Dominic Cassidy will get the number one shirt to begin the season. He's a solid 'keeper, good in the air and comfortable enough on the ball to serve as a sweeper keeper. His backup is veteran Sam Smith. Both Cassidy and Smith are mentally tough and hard-working.
Left back Shaun Charles might be the best player in the team. Shaun has no glaring weaknesses, and he is willing to push forward and join the attack. Jordan Draper will start at right back. He's much the same kind of player as Charles, with a little more pace (even at age 33) and a little less technical skill.
Another veteran, Bobby Cresswell, brings strong positional awareness and a willingness to get stuck in to the center of our defense. His partner, teenager Ian Williams, earned the highest average rating on the team during the pre-season. Versatile Luke Knight provides cover across the back line.
Jamie Hackett missed half the pre-season with an injury, but when he's healthy, he is the best option on the left side of our midfield four. His versatility would make him an outstanding substitute, if we can bring in a better player at his position. Brian Street provides lots of pace and a bit of edge on the right wing. He can also play in the center of the park and on the left side. I can also use pacey Richard Williams on the right.
Club captain Max Wallace isn't fast, but he possesses the defensive chops I like to see in a holding midfielder. He also has a good first touch and makes good decisions. I signed Liam Barton after I spotted him at England Trial Day. He is an exceptionally hard-working player with decent pace, and he's fit well with Wallace in the central midfield. Nigel Bowen, an especially skilled passer, and cagey veteran Sam Edwards provide depth.
At this level, I've had some success using a traditional strike partnership: a big, physical target man paired with a nippy poacher. I was pleased to see a forward on my roster who can play either role: Craig Curtis. Craig is currently in fine form, with five goals in six appearances during pre-season. Flashy Liam Hayward was Craig's usual partner until I signed Mark Buzzeo, another player I watched on Trial Day. In lower league football, pace often kills--and "The Buzzer" has plenty of that. Buzzeo is also left-footed, unlike any of our other forwards. John Holyoak is a fox in the box, clever and skillful, and is more eager to track back and help defend than most other strikers.
Neither the pundits nor the good people at Sky Bet fancy us much. The media pick us to finish 15th, and we are one of a large group of teams with 200:1 odds against us winning the league.
The board are asking for a top half finish, which I think is very reasonable.
Upside: Our back four, who are well-rounded footballers rather than specialist defenders, keep things tight in front of Cassidy while contributing to other phases of the game. Charles makes the league's First Eleven. I unearth a dynamic left winger who creates headaches for opposing coaches. Meanwhile, I can mix and match my central midfielders to create positive matchups. Curtis keeps firing in goals, and at least one other striker begins to find the range, too. We earn a spot in the Promotion Playoff, while making a decent run in the South East Counties Senior Cup and winning to matches in the FA Vase.
Downside: Pacey strikers slice through our defense, battering hapless Cassidy until he loses his nerve completely. Bigger clubs unsettle Charles and Wallace, forcing me to sell them in January. The youth intake is meh, offering no hope for a better tomorrow. Stony Stratford battle relegation, but I'm not there for the end of it, having been sent packing on a cold February day.
Unless it's stated otherwise, all the matches I'm summarizing are part of the South Midlands League First Division programme.
9 August: Southall 2-1 Stony Stratford Town
Cassidy, Wallace, Cresswell, I. Williams, Charles, Street, Barton, Bowen, Edwards, Curtis, Buzzeo.
A stocky little striker called Matt Reeves spoiled our trip to west London with a pair of goals. The game was a very even contest, except on the scoreboard--where it counts most. Mark Buzzeo scored for the good guys. Bobby Creswell got beaten badly on Reeves' first goal, but he atoned for it (somewhat) by intercepting 25 passes.
The Southall match turned out to be Kevin Mickelborough's last with the club. I offered him a mutual termination, and he accepted it. The next day, I learned that his replacement, Ryan Brady, had agreed to terms. Ryan represents a significant upgrade, at the same wages we were paying Kevin. And Kevin ended up on his feet, taking over as manager at Irlam a week later.
We got more good news that day. Denis Mark joined us as a coach. He's not a great man manager, but he ticks the rest of the boxes. Just like that, the standard of coaching at the club took two big leaps forward.
16 August: Hatfield Town 2-1 Stony Stratford Town
Cassidy, Draper, Cresswell, I Williams, Charles, R. Williams, Bowen, Wallace, Hackett, Curtis, Buzzeo.
South East Counties Senior Cup, First Round
The Hats are a division rival, and I'd have preferred a less challenging First Round tie. They struck twice, late in the first half; we fought back gamely, with Craig Curtis pulling one back. It was a cracking good match, and I couldn't be too hard on the lads when it was over. We played the last eight minutes with ten men, after Richard Williams left with an injury. Creswell was again a disruptive force with 20 intercepted passes.
23 August: Stony Stratford Town 4-1 Broxbourne
Cassidy, Knight, Cresswell, I. Williams, Charles, Barton, Bowen, Wallace, Street, Curtis, Holyoak.
Today was a Fan Day, and we treated a bumper crowd of 326 to a very entertaining victory.
John Holyoak got his first start and was Man of the Match, scoring once and setting up Liam Barton with an incisive cross. Ian Williams got a goal, and Buzzeo came off the bench to join the party.
This one felt good.
31 August: Edgware 1-1 Stony Stratford Town
Cassidy, Draper, Cresswell, I. Williams, Charles, Street, Wallace, Bowen, Barton, Curtis, Buzzeo.
Edgware Town were the media pick for league champion, so playing them away will always be a tough test. This was the first of two straight matches against the Wares, as we'll face them in the FA Vase next week.
Edgware's Stefan Head used that part of his anatomy to direct a cross past Dominic Cassidy for the Wares' goal, and Buzzeo's shot caromed off an Edgware defender's kiester for the equalizer.
I'll take a point from a trip to the White Lion Ground anytime.
6 September: Edgware 2-3 Stony Stratford Town
FA Vase, First Qualifying Round
It's not quite an hour to the Edgware district, and we returned there for an FA cup tie a week after we played them to a draw in the league. Mark Buzzeo put us on the board first, but Stefan Head equalized--with his right boot this time. Six minutes later, Liam Barton drew a yellow card. Within another minute, he'd drawn another, and as I exploded in my technical area, Liam took the long walk to the dressing room. He'll face a one-game ban for his dismissal, and he accepted the stern warning I gave him like a man.
To their credit, the lads didn't back down. Craig Curtis volleyed home a Jamie Hackett cross, but after two more minutes, Edgware had drawn level again. The crowd roared, and the Wares smelled blood, battering us with wave after wave of pressure. The defense was up to the task, protecting Sam Smith, who got his first start for us in goal.
Just after the hour mark, we drew a corner, and center half Ian Williams rose up and headed Brian Street's delivery in at the far post. From there, we held on for the victory.
We took home £500 for our victory, which made it that much sweeter.
Despite Jamie Hackett's fine performance in the last match, I still believed I needed reinforcements on the left side of midfield. Today, we signed Dave Amos, a 32-year-old veteran free agent. Dave has retained much of his athleticism, he's hard-working and determined, and he's willing to do his part defensively. He can play all along the left side, too.
13 September: Stony Stratford Town 3-1 Bedford FC
Amos was on the team sheet for our return to Ostler's Lane two days later. Buzzeo again put us ahead early, getting his head to a long, looping pass from Nigel Bowen and nodding it in. That scoreline held until the 88th minute. Once again, Ian Williams demonstrated his lethal skill on set pieces, heading home a Sam Edwards corner. Captain Max Wallace added an insurance goal in stoppage time.
20 September: Stony Stratford Town 2-0 Harpenden
The Buzzer's terrific form continued, as he struck for a brace and powered us to our third straight victory. Mark now has six goals in seven appearances in all comps.
I had a talk this week with Richard Williams, who wanted more first team football. I liked the way he approached me, so I told him I'd give him a chance. He thanked me in fine fashion, assisting on Buzzeo's first goal.
We're off next week, so this is it for September...and I like the way things are looking now.
4 October: Stony Stratford Town 1-1 Colney Heath
FA Vase, Second Qualifying Round
The Magpies are a Level 9 club, so a draw isn't a bad outcome at all. Mark Buzzeo got our goal, off a nice pass from Jamie Hayward, who's had an extended run in the side due to an injury to Craig Curtis. Jamie's made an argument for more playing time once Curtis returns, too.
7 October: Colney Heath 3-2 Stony Stratford Town
FA Vase, Second Qualifying Round Replay
The only thing wrong with the above outcome is the fact that it forced our little squad to play again, three days later.
It was an entertaining match. Colney Heath scored first, and we fired back with two goals in rapid succession, through red-hot Buzzeo and strike partner John Holyoak.
Early in the second half, the Magpies drew level, and several minutes later, they got what turned out to be the decisive goal. It was a fluke, a speculative shot from Ted Cardoza that flummoxed Dom Cassidy.
Luke Knight had complained about his playing time, so I gave him a start at right back. He was dreadful, making it clear why he's a backup rather than a regular.
It was fun while it lasted, and we got farther than the board expected.
11 October: Langford 3-3 Stony Stratford Town
For 50 minutes, we were a dumpster fire. Down 2-0 at the half, I lit into the lads and they responded by leaking a third goal five minutes after the restart.
Then, it's as if a new set of players donned our sky blue and navy kit. On 63', John Holyoak, who had indeed just entered the match, took a pass from Shaun Charles and drilled it past the 'keeper. Hayward got the next goal, after a Richard Williams corner pinballed around in the area and fell at the striker's right foot. Then, deep in stoppage time, Bobby Cresswell, whom I'd been thinking about taking out of the first eleven, found the net off another Williams corner kick.
My mood at the full-time talk was much more positive. The team showed real fight, and I let them know how much I appreciated it.
18 October: Stony Stratford Town 2-1 Winslow United
A big crowd welcomed us back to Ostler's Lane, and they went home happy. Buzzeo recovered his scoring touch, converting from the spot to secure the three points. Mark now tops the league scoring table.
Hayward got the first goal, but the Man of the Match was center back Ian Williams, who contributed five key headers and 13 interceptions. We've climbed to fourth in the table now.
25 October: Hatfield 2-1 Stony Stratford Town
The Hats are becoming our bogey side. They knocked us out of the South East Counties Senior Cup, and they just handed us our first defeat in the league since the first week of the season.
Our goal came through Mark Buzzeo, from the penalty spot once again.
I started this save without "adding players to playable teams," because I wanted to assemble the Stony Stratford Town squad myself. But, as I did so, I made a mistake.
I signed too many players who wanted Key Player or First Team status. Now, a number of them who haven't been playing regularly have come to me, either asking--or demanding--playing time. I should have known better.
I have a feeling I might find myself having to offer mutual terminations to a few of the malcontents, and replace them with players who are willing to accept the fact they're backups. I found one of them this month: Jamie Tomlinson, who can play anywhere on the back line and in the midfield. He's 21, and even if he doesn't get much better, he'll handle the jobs I want him to perform just fine.
This makes me wanna go back and launch an old FM save.
I know the feeling. There are some epic FM dynasty threads from several years ago that I enjoy going back and reading. Every time I do, my enthusiasm for the game--and for writing a new story of my own--returns.
It's a great game, and the writers who have described their saves on this board have been terrific Football Manager ambassadors.
Thanks for stopping by...and please feel free to comment anytime.
1 November: Stony Stratford Town 2-1 Wodson Park
We managed only four shots to our opponents' 17, but half of ours wound up in the net. I have four strikers who all believe they deserve to be in the first team (a reasonable expectation on their part, given their squad status), so today I picked Craig Curtis to play beside Mark Buzzeo. Craig was outstanding, setting up Mark for our first goal and scoring the second one himself.
Even better, a bumper crowd of 718 turned up at Ostler's Lane! That's a new attendance record for us, by a wide margin.
Operation Find Players Who Are Content To Be Backups continued, with the signing of midfielder Luke Pike. He began the season at Tividale, who play two divisions higher, but he broke his leg in preseason and was released in October. Luke is 22, and he's primarily an M(C). His first touch is very good and he's an especially hard worker. He needs to work on his marking and tackling, but he'll be a useful reserve.
8 November: Crawley Green 2-2 Stony Stratford Town
This was a fairly unremarkable match. Buzzeo continued his yeoman work from the penalty spot, and after the home side took the lead, Max Wallace responded with the equalizer, eight minutes from time.
I've decided to add a Director of Football to the staff here at Stony Stratford. Welcome Matt Reid, who comes to us from Harrowby United. I will give him the responsibility of finding new players and negotiating deals with them, subject to my approval.
15 November: Stony Stratford Town 4-2 Baldock Town
Craig Curtis continued to make his case for a starting spot, firing in a hat trick. We needed all three of his goals, because our defense was nothing special.
The worst news: Wide man Dave Amos strained ligaments in his knee, and it looks like he'll be out of action for about two months. Jamie Hackett and Sam Edwards will fill in while he's recuperating.
One of our forwards, Liam Hayward, spoke with me about getting more playing time. I asked him to be patient, and he understood. Hayward's professional attitude impressed me, and I'm going to give him a run of games in the first team. Buzzeo, who has scored only one goal from open play in his last six matches, might sit for a while.
22 November: Amersham 0-2 Stony Stratford Town
This one looked like it might end as a scoreless draw, until Sam Edwards opened his account at 76'. Liam Hayward added an insurance goal in stoppage time.
Brian Street, who assisted on both goals, was the Man of the Match with a 9.0 rating, while left back Shaun Charles' eagerness in the tackle (10 in 11 chances) earned him a 7.9.
The three points gave us 24 for the season, good for third in the table. London Lions (27) and Edgware Town (25) are ahead of us.
29 November: Stony Stratford Town 1-1 Risbrough Rangers
When a team that's barely above the drop zone comes to town, we really need to take three points. Rangers entered this match with 12 points, and went home with 13, thanks to a generally lackluster performance from the boys in blue.
Shaun Charles could hold his head up high; he scored his first goal for us and did his job on defense. Bobby Creswell also played well at center half, after a string of mediocre form that nearly caused me to drop him from the eleven.
Still, as the month ends, the board is very pleased with my performance as manager, and I'm even more pleased with how the season is progressing.
6 December: Buckingham Athletic 1-3 Stony Stratford Town
The pitch at The Stratford Fields in Buckingham was a quagmire, enabling us to put on an exhibition of long-ball football at its best (or worst, depending on your particular tastes.)
Liam Hayward displayed a nice first touch on a looping pass from Liam Barton before firing in our first goal. Early in the second half, Sam Edwards released Craig Curtis, whose shot was palmed away by Fraizer Stimson...into the path of Hayward, who tapped in easily for his brace. Edwards' perfect corner was headed home by Ian Williams for our third goal.
I've noticed teams dropping deeper against us. This has previously been very challenging for me, as I've wondered what the best response should be.
Director of Football Matt Reid worked out a deal with right winger James Harris. He's got bags of pace and plays with flair, and he makes very good decisions. He's willing to be a backup, but he's talented enough to challenge for a starting position, too.
13 December: Welwyn Garden City 1-4 Stony Stratford Town
Craig Curtis scored twice, while Shaun Charles and Max Wallace also found the range on a wet, wintry afternoon. Jamie Hackett provided two assists, and was named Man of the Match with a 9.0 rating.
It was a match we were expected to win, and that's exactly what we did.
12 December: Stony Stratford Town 5-4 London Lions
This match had all the makings of a South Midlands League Division One classic: the league leaders visiting their nearest challengers. It did not disappoint.
The pundits tried to goad me into a row with Lions boss Adrian Spriggs, but I wouldn't bite. I'm sincerely impressed with his team, and I have respect for what he's done there.
The supporters were barely aware the match had begun before referee Carl Couzens pointed to the penalty spot. Shaun Charles had tripped Max McIntyre just inside the area. James Husband lasered his penalty into the upper left corner.
We equalized through Mark Buzzeo, who knocked down a long ball from Max Wallace and slotted home.
On the half hour mark, Richard Williams made a jinking run down the right wing, only to be chopped down by right back Graham Crane. Again, Couzens issued a penalty, and Buzzeo converted to put us in the lead.
Couzens wasn't done yet. Eleven minutes later, Richard Williams rose up for a header inside the box, and Alec Wilding shouldered him to the turf. Buzzeo stepped up and confidently put the ball in the back of the net.
I'm beginning to be concerned with Dominic Cassidy. He waved "olé" to a soft shot by Ricky Osei to allow Lions to pull within a goal.
We responded quickly. Wayne Stott saved from Liam Hayward, but he spilled the ball and allowed Buzzeo to lash home his fourth goal of the match.
Back came the Lions. Sam Victory ripped a shot past a nearly-motionless Cassidy, and Scott Cahill rifled home a free kick. Just like that, it was 5-4.
Fortunately, we were able to hold on and secure the result, and with it, we moved to the top of the table!
27 December: Stony Stratford Town 0-1 Southall
Our run of eight games without a defeat ended in our last fixture of 2014. It was a Fan Day--any paying adult could bring a child to the game for half price. A good crowd of 317 turned out, and I wish we could have given them a better show.
2 January 2015
Matt Reid was busy in the days after Christmas, signing three of our players to new contracts. Center back Ian Williams (£45/week), left back Shaun Charles (£60/week), and midfielder Liam Barton (£60/week) are all signed through the 2015/16 season.
Charles is the oldest of the three at 23, while Williams and Barton are both still teenagers. It's good to lock them up for another year.
My job is now Very Secure, according to the latest board confidence update. Even better, most of our players list me as one of their Favourite Personnel.
We're top of the league, and life is good. :)
I'm not a frequent visitor to this sub-forum lately, but fwiw, I did read to this point & found it to be a perfectly solid entry.
Carry on, go Stonies, and all that jazz :)
I'm glad you made your way over here, Jon. I hope you'll stop by whenever you're in the neighborhood.
Thanks for the comment. I think I have a perfectly solid squad here, too. The Stonies appreciate all the supporters they can get!
Change of plans.
Starting the save without "Add Players to Playable Teams" hasn't worked out the way I had envisioned. It did give me the opportunity to build Stony Stratford Town's squad from scratch, which was a lot of fun. However, I didn't anticipate what happened next.
It's halfway through the season, and very few players are being signed by the other teams in our division! Week after week, I find myself going up against a team full of grey guys. Every once in a while, we'll meet an opponent who has as many as three "real" players on the pitch. Many of our rivals have nothing but grey guys.
Now that my team has learned its tactic, the game is almost too easy to be any fun. The greys tend to have very generic profiles, with middling ratings for every attribute. My team has considerably more pace, is much more determined, and works tons harder. That makes a huge difference at this level. I can usually launch a barrage of long balls over the defense and watch my forwards gallop past their markers, bear down on the 'keeper, and make his life bloody miserable.
After the loss on 27 December, Stony won nine consecutive matches, with an aggregate score of 26-4. All four of the strikers who played regularly had a hat trick.
When I look at the league leaders in any statistical category, the lists bear a striking resemblance to our team squad list.
I'm going to go back to Square One. I'm staying in England, but this time I'm going to "Add Players to Playable Teams" so the league I'm playing in offers a richer, more realistic context. I'll be back later this weekend with an update.
Sorry for the false start! :(
Britannia, Part Two
I created a new save, with the same parameters except one: I'm Adding Players to Playable Teams.
This time I let the program pick my club, under three conditions:
So, I'm off to Hampshire to take charge at Andover Town FC.
Andover Town play in the Wessex League Premier Division, which is Level 9. They're known as the Bluebirds.
Opening Day in the Wessex Premier is tomorrow, so let's take a look at our squad's most important players.
Jamie Overson (age 26): Jamie organizes his defense well and has the mental toughness I like to see in a goalkeeper. He tends to have trouble deciding when to come off his line to challenge an attacker.
Paul Watson (age 23): Left back Paul is fit and athletic, and offers a bit of an attacking threat. He'll be a fixture in the first eleven.
Charlie Webb (age 37): Charlie's knowledge of the game should enable him to remain effective despite having lost most of his pace. He's a regular at right back, and he's also my assistant manager.
Darren Almond (age 21): Darren is perhaps our best player. He is brave, tough, and fast. He's not great in the air, but he's still a very good center back for this level.
Mark Wetherald (age 25): A consummate professional, Mark can play either left or center back. He'll team with Almond in the middle, although he isn't much of an aerial presence, either.
Jack Taylor (age 25): Versatile Jack can play anywhere in the back line or in the midfield. He's listed here because he's the closest thing I have to an imposing center half.
Joe Dyson (age 16): Joe is our most promising young defender, with an especially good set of mental attributes.
Joe Clarke (age 18): Joe is an exciting young wide man with bags of pace. He has little interest in tracking back, however, and he'll need to pay attention to that deficiency if he wants to lock down a starting spot on the left wing.
Martin Parkin (age 31): Club captain Martin is big and fast, and he races up the wing like a freight train. He can play on both sides of the pitch, but he prefers the right. He'll start, regardless.
Paul Jones (age 21): Paul has the makings of a midfield destroyer, with a non-stop motor and a willingness to get stuck in. He also possesses the skill to contribute to the offense. He'll start in the middle of our 4-4-2 formation.
Danny Hutton (age 23): Faster and more offensively skilled than Jones, Danny will be the other half of our central midfield pairing. His work rate and determination are both outstanding.
Mark Wallace (age 16): Mark isn't ready for the first team yet, but his pace, determination, and ability to play all across the midfield make him one of our best youth prospects.
Adam Hamilton (age 21): Adam has the speed to bedevil opposing defenders, and he plays with flair and determination. He'll fill the poacher role in my strike partnership.
James Hawes (age 30): My staff don't rate James highly, but I like his size, strength, and well-rounded game. I'll use him as a target man, and he'll be a regular presence on the team sheet.
Alan Barrett (age 25): The most athletic of our forwards, I envision Alan as a dynamic substitute whose pace will be difficult for tiring opponents to contain. He's a good footsoldier who doesn't mind being a backup.
Outlook: We're one of three teams with 2000-1 odds of winning the league, and most of the pundits think we're in for a relegation battle. I think we're a little better than that. We have a team full of lads who will put in a shift. I wouldn't be surprised to see us comfortably above the drop by spring.
Best-case scenario: Led by Almond, who makes the league's First Eleven, our athletic defenders keep us tight in the back. Parkin is too much for our opponents to handle, and Jones and Hutton boss the midfield. Hamilton scores 20 goals, firing us to a solid mid-table finish.
Worst-case scenario: Our defenders are repeatedly bullied by physical opponents, and I can't find a big bloke to come in and restore order. Father Time catches up to Webb, and Parkin loses a step, too. Jones and/or Hutton gets hurt and never finds his game, and Hawes is even worse than our backroom staff think he is. I'm sacked in January, and my replacement can't save the Bluebirds from relegation.
9 August: Andover Town 1-0 Winchester City
We opened our season in fine style. Mark Wetherald scored the game's only goal, pouncing on the rebound when Winchester 'keeper Jay Gill palmed away Adam Hamilton's free kick. Our back four was solid all day long, and Jamie Overson kept a clean sheet.
16 August: Torpoint Athletic 0-3 Andover Town
Southern Senior Cup, First Round
We traveled to Plymouth for this Cup tie, against a Level 10 club we were supposed to have little trouble with. The match turned out as expected. Darren Almond converted a penalty, and both strikers--Adam Hamilton and Jack Walker--found the net. Almond and his fellow center half, Mark Wetherald, were very active, making 32 interceptions between them.
The board is happy, and so am I.
23 August: Verwood Town 1-1 Andover Town
All the scoring happened in the last two minutes of the first half. The Stags drew first blood through wee Anthony Cohen (5'2", 114 lbs). We drew level a moment later, when Darren Almond volleyed home an Adam Hamilton corner.
2 September: AFC Portchester 2-4 Andover Town
Nobody fancied us to win this one, with good reason. Portchester are one of the big clubs in our division, and they'd be playing us at home.
Lately, I've been keeping things very simple when I manage lower league teams. I play a very basic 4-4-2, with only two team instructions: More Direct Passing and Work Ball Into Box. The resulting football isn't pretty, but my players tend to have lots of pace and not much technique, and this style of football seems to suit them.
I decided to try something different this time. I instructed the players to Play Out Of Defense, and told the goalkeeper to distribute to his center backs. We geared back to a Counter mentality, hoping to keep things solid in the back and hit Portchester on the break when/if the opportunity arose.
The results were fantastic! We had 54% of the ball, and we outshot our opponents, too. After giving up an early goal, forwards Alan Barrett and Adam Hamilton powered us into the lead. Barrett completed his brace before the interval, and after the Royals pulled one back, Hamilton hit his second, too. Midfielder Danny Hutton was Man of the Match, with two assists.
Unfortunately, we lost two strikers to injury. Barrett's was relatively minor; his aching elbow will keep him out for three weeks or so. James Hawes got the worst of an accidental collision with a Portchester defender and fractured some ribs. He'll be shelved until early November, at the earliest.
6 September: Andover Town 0-5 Portway Sports
We were run off our own ground by a side filled with grey guys. Jamie Overson had a frightful game in goal. As poor as he was, left back Paul Watson was worse. His 5.2 rating earned himself a lecture from me, and he didn't take it well, pointing out that everybody stunk.
He's not good enough to run his mouth like that.
I brought in striker Darren Lees on a three-month loan from North Leigh, in the Southern League's First Division. Darren is quick, and he's a nifty dribbler. He'll get a good run of games for us, while Alan Barrett and James Hawes are mending.
On the advice of my assistant manager, Charlie Webb, I hired a new scout. James Taylor has seen fire and he's seen rain, and he's seen enough footballers to tell a good one from a poor one. James is much more talented than his boss, head scout Alexander Stanton. Between us, James will probably be offered Alexander's job next season.
I haven't been pleased with my squad's depth, so I took a step to remedy that deficiency by signing Jack "Of All Trades" Walker, a 24-year-old free agent.
Jack has a colored circle in every position on the pitch, except for goal. He's more comfortable playing in the attacking roles. He'll often be our first man off the bench, and I'd be comfortable giving him a few starts, too.
20 September: Andover Town 2-0 Alresford Town
That's more like it.
Center half Darren Almond became our joint high scorer, doing his thing from the penalty spot. Alan Barrett celebrated his return to the pitch by lashing an Adam Hamilton cross past the Magpies 'keeper.
A minute later, he reinjured his elbow and he'll be out for another month or so.
27 September: Loxwood 1-1 Andover Town
Loxwood win on penalties, 6-5
Southern Senior Cup, Second Round
After 120 minutes of football and six rounds of penalties, we're out of our regional cup.
At the end of full time, neither team had scored. Darren Lees had the game's best chance, hitting the bar late in the first half. Our defense seemed to have solved the issues that plagued them against Portway.
Darren Almond finally broke the deadlock on 110', when he knocked down Paul Watson's free kick and lashed it across the face of goal and in. Four minutes later, Loxwood equalized, and on to penalties we went.
Loxwood gloveman Alan Hartford was the hero. He tipped Jack Taylor's rising drive over the bar, moments after he scored with his own spot kick. (His fellow 'keeper, Jamie Overson, made his penalty, too.)
We weren't expected to go any farther, but it still hurts to go out this way.
Before we return to league play, we'll host New Milton Town in the FA Vase.
4 October 2014
Andover Town 1-1 New Milton Town
FA Vase, Second Qualifying Round
New Milton Town are a very competitive Level 10 side, so we didn't expect them to roll over for us. They scored first; Paul Watson's clumsy challenge of New Milton winger Rob Canham inside the 18-yard box gave the visitors a penalty, and Canham drilled it home.
Joe Clarke opened his Andover account by lashing home Adam Hamilton's well placed corner.
I'm a bit alarmed by the fact we managed only two shots against a team from a lower league, but one of ours went in the goal. We'll travel to New Milton for the replay.
7 September 2014
New Milton Town 1-2 Andover Town
FA Vase, Second Qualifying Round Replay
A brace from Adam Hamilton, one on each side of halftime, put us into the First Round Proper. The Linnets pulled one back in the waning moments of the match, but it wasn't enough. The board were delighted, and we put a much-needed £800 into our coffers.
10 September 2014
I've had "versatile defender who can do something with the ball besides hoof it up the pitch" on my shopping list for a while now. I think I found a player who fits that description as well as anyone...that is, as well as anyone who will play for a team in the Wessex Premier.
John Barton is young (age 20). He can play either left or right back, and he has the size (6'1") and attributes to do a job at center half, too. He is hard-working and determined. John was willing to accept a non-contract deal, so I wasted no time adding him to the squad.
Paul Watson is still the first team left back, but I won't hesitate to give Barton a shot if Paul's form continues to slip.
11 September 2014
Andover Town 2-1 Bournemouth F.C.
Six minutes into the match, Mark Wetherald leaped to head a cross and missed it. He also screened Charlie Webb, who was unable to see the football until it caromed off his leg, past a helpless Jamie Overson, and into our goal.
For most of the remainder of the match, it looked like that bit of luck would be our undoing. Youngster Mark Wallace, who'd come on as a substitute, changed the narrative with a well-taken goal in the 73rd minute, and our loanee forward, Darren Rees, finally got his first Bluebirds goal.
Rees' strike turned out to be the decider. The three points put us into the top half of the table!
14 September 2014
Lymington Town 1-2 Andover Town
Fixture congestion? No problem!
Adam Hamilton pounced on a terrible back pass from a Linnets (yes, more Linnets) defender and drilled it past their 'keeper to give us an early lead. Lymington came back with a vengeance, and we spent the next hour absorbing one attack after another before they finally broke us down and drew level.
I brought Jack Walker on in the 77th minute, and Jack made me look like a genius. He took a pass from Alan Barrett on the left side of the area, made himself some space, and lashed a hard left-footed shot past a sprawling Linnets goalkeeper. Three more points for the Bluebirds!
New man John Barton made his Andover debut, and handled it well.
17 October 2014
For a team that was predicted to battle relegation, we're doing very well. Still, I can't help thinking we could easily be a better team than we are.
Danny Hutton sprained an ankle in training, and it looks like he might be out until Christmas. I'd been thinking we needed to reinforce our midfield anyway, and Hutton's injury made it a priority item.
I checked with our scouts to see if they'd discovered any central midfielders with game. I was delighted to learn they'd found four such lads. I signed two of them today.
Darren Davies, age 25, is an active, intelligent player who can perform a variety of tasks in the middle of the park. He's a lot like Hutton, with a little less attacking flair and a bit more savvy.
Our other new arrival is even more exciting. Alan Morton looks like he'll be an absolute beast in our league. He doesn't possess great pace, but he is very fit and as strong as a bear. For a player his age (22), he demonstrates a rare understanding of the mental aspects of the game. He's a bit rough technically, with the exception of a very good first touch, but he's far from a brute. If he were fast, he'd be playing League football. And, he can play M(C), AM(C), or striker.
Alan will be on the team sheet, somewhere, every time.
18 October 2014
Andover Town 1-5 Blackfield & Langley
When we are bad, we are very, very bad. We were bad today.
No Bluebird played all that well, but Mark Wetherald was absolutely horrific. The fans are clamoring for Mark's departure from the first team, and I'm thinking a break might do the lad some good myself.
Both Darren Davies and Alan Morton started the match. They both finished with ratings of 6.5, which were as good as anyone in the team save Darren Rees, who got a 6.7 for scoring a goal that spoiled Lewis Smith's clean sheet.
22 October 2014
Last week, I offered a contract to a midfield destroyer from up in Warrington called Ashley Brassington. He wanted more money than we could offer him, and ended up signing for Mole Valley instead.
We need to be much harder for opponents to break down. We allow them to waltz through our midfield too easily, and we permit them to take way too many good shots. We need a bloke like Brassington, who can boss the midfield, smashing apart attacks before they pose any real danger.
I can't have Brassington, so I found a similar player. He lacks Ashley's unbridled passion for defending, but he might be a better all-round footballer, with the ability to make a clever pass. He can play several positions, which Ashley cannot do well. He's three years younger, too, 29 to Ashley's 32.
Welcome to Portway Stadium, John Mortlock.
25 October 2014
Brockenhurst 2-1 Andover Town
We looked a lot better today, playing a decent Brockenhurst side at their grounds. The lads played hard to the final whistle, on a rainy, gusty afternoon. Alan Morton played in Adam Hamilton, who slotted home during stoppage time; we'd honestly played too well to lose 2-0, so Adam's goal made the scoreline much more reflective of the match as a whole.
My team looked rather different from the usual lineup in August:
GK: Jamie Overson
D: Paul Watson/John Barton/Darren Almond/Charlie Webb
M: Joe Clarke/John Mortlock/Darren Davies/Martin Parkin
ST: Alan Morton/Adam Hamilton
Subs: Francis Bartley, Jack Walker, Paul Jones, Jack Taylor, Alan Barrett
Once this group gels, I think they'll be very good. And, even after some fits and starts, we're still in the top half of the table.
1 November 2014
Colne 1-2 Andover Town
FA Cup, First Round
When I first got the job here, I planned on playing the kids in cup ties, saving the first eleven for Wessex Premier fixtures. Now that we're making a good run in the FA Vase, I've rethought that plan.
We took an early lead through Adam Hamilton, but Colne equalized right after the halftime interval. Ten minutes later, John Barton shoved a Colne player in the area, and the referee pointed to the spot. The penalty was well-struck, but Jamie Overson got his hands to it and pushed it away!
As regular time wound down, we all seemed resigned to meeting back at Portway Stadium in a few days.
All of us except Darren Almond.
The doughty center half got his foot to a headed pass from Darren Lees and tried to slip it inside Andy Williams' right post. Williams made a beautiful save, but the ball fell at Almond's feet. He coolly knocked it in, and we happily boarded the coach for the ride back to Andover.
Our victory earned a tidy £900.
8 November 2014
Andover Town 3-0 Moneyfields
If we are really a mid-table team--or better--we should expect to take the points when the team at the bottom of the league visits our grounds. We did exactly that, and in fine style.
New man Alan Morton partnered Adam Hamilton at the top of our 4-4-2, the pair accounted for three goals in the span of 14 minutes in the first half. Morton struck first; Hamilton replied, and Morton completed the quickfire triple.
Moneyfields' strip--yellow shirt, blue shorts--looks just like our away kit, so for a moment, it seemed like I was watching an intrasquad friendly. Unfortunately for the Moneys' manager, Dan Sweeney, it was the real deal. Dan was sacked after the match.
12 November 2014
Christchurch 1-1 Andover Town
Adam Hamilton ran his streak of games with at least one goal to four. He happily intercepted a hideously poor back-pass and hammered it past the Christchurch goalkeeper for his 11th goal of the season.
The Priory are a solid, mid-table side, and they showed some real quality in the opening moments of the second half. Adam Cox capped a series of sharp passes with an even more impressive goal.
Sometimes a draw is the fairest outcome. This was one of those matches.
18 November 2014
Andover Town 1-0 Fawley
Another bottom-dwelling team came to town, and once again we took care of business.
Alan Morton is turning out to be a wonderful signing. He coolly directed home a pass from Paul Watson for the game's only goal.
22 November 2014
Andover Town 5-1 Bristol Manor Farm
FA Vase, Second Round
Our FA Vase run goes on, after this enjoyable romp over a decent team from the Western League Premier Division.
Alan Morton found the range again, and after 45 minutes we were ahead 1-0. After the interval, we scored two goals that were eerily similar; in both cases, Adam Hamilton got his head on long crosses from Joe Clarke and powered them in.
After an own goal by a Farm defender and a well-taken goal from the intriguingly named Giovanni McPhee, John Mortlock volleyed in a John Barton corner for the first goal of his Andover career.
Well done, lads. You earned another £1,200 for your efforts.
25 November 2014
Newport (IOW) 1-2 Andover Town
We faced a stern test from the Ports, who came into the match in third place. We had climbed to sixth, in the midst of a tight clump of teams with the Ports at the top.
We fell behind in the first five minutes, but almost immediately, Adam Hamilton pulled us level. The deciding goal came on 55', when Hamilton released substitute Jack "Of All Trades" Walker, whom I'd just brought on. Walker fired from the top of the eighteen, and that was that.
29 November 2014
Andover Town 4-1 Petersfield
The pitch at Portway Stadium is looking terrible, but it hasn't been slowing us down. We've now gone seven games without a loss.
Four Bluebirds scored a goal apiece. Two of them, both named Paul--Jones and Watson--opened their scoring accounts. The two other scorers were the ones you'd expect: Adam Hamilton and Alan Morton.
The scoreline stood at 1-1 until past the hour mark, and then we changed into our shooting boots and put the match away.
This run we're on has been a blast! I'm growing very attached to this team, who were expected to fight to stay up and are now battling for the league lead.
This update will be a bit shorter, so I can get caught up.
December turned out to be a busier-than-expected month, with seven fixtures to manage. After a slow start, we regained our form and finished 2015 in style.
On 2 December, we drew 1-1 away to a good Horndean side. Adam Hamilton scored an early goal for us, and the home team equalized just past the hour mark.
Four days later, we hosted Fisher in the Third Round of the FA Vase. We were unable to penetrate their tight defensive shell, and played to a goalless draw. That meant a replay at their grounds in Southwark, and we were terrible, returning home on the wrong end of an 0-3 pasting.
The Tuesday-Saturday pattern continued on the 13th, away to relegation-battler Whitchurch United. Alan Morton hit a brace, and we should have had three points, but Adam Brooks scored the equalizer deep in stoppage time. Even worse, captain Martin Parkin twisted his ankle, and will be out for at least six weeks.
We had only three days to prepare for one of the biggest matches of the season. Totton & Eling had just moved to the top of the league, and they arrived at Portway Stadium on the 16th. The lads rose to the occasion splendidly. The Millers managed only three shots, and Jamie Overson took care of the two that threatened his goal. With ten minutes remaining in regular time, Adam Hamilton got his head to a Jack Taylor cross and nodded it home for a very satisfying 1-0 result that moved us into the second spot in the table.
We got a goal from Alan Barrett on the stroke of halftime to defeat Hamworthy United at Portway on the 20th, and seven days later, Adam Morton's strike allowed us to take all three points from stragglers Fareham Town.
Jack Taylor continues to complain about not getting first team football. It's hard to find a spot for him right now, as center backs Darren Almond and Mark Wetherald are playing well--and we've kept three straight clean sheets. Taylor skipped training on New Year's Eve day, and I issued him a stern warning. He took it like a man; he lists me among his Favourite Personnel. Still, if he pulls that stunt again, he could find himself on his way out of town.
Happy 2015 from everyone at Andover Town Football Club!
After the congested fixture lists we worked through in November and December--seven matches each month--having only four fixtures in January was a bit of a relief.
The good news: We didn't lose all month long, extending our streak of matches without a loss in Wessex Premier Division play to 14.
The not-so-good news: We didn't win a match all month long. Yes, that means we drew four consecutive games.
3 January 2015: Winchester 1-1 Andover
Alan Morton's goal capped a well-played series of passes and gave us an early advantage over a solid Winchester side. Unfortunately, we couldn't keep that advantage, as poor Jamie Overson allowed a shot to trickle from his hands and over the goal line. The weather was wretched, cold and snowy.
24 January 2015: Folland 2-2 Andover
Yes, you read that correctly. We didn't play for three weeks after the Winchester match. We had a free weekend on the 10th, and our match on the 17th had to be postponed because the pitch at Portway Stadium was waterlogged. We thought we had three points in the bag this time. Alan Morton and Joe Clarke scored quickly. The Planemakers' nifty front man, Adam Jeffs, pulled one back on the half hour, and that scoreline remained in place until stoppage time. Lewis Jarvis pulled Folland level with a very late goal.
27 January 2015: Andover 0-0 Verwood
Verwood came to Portway Stadium in disarray, sitting 20th in the table and having recently sacked their manager. They didn't play like a floundering club against us, however. The Stags played on the front foot all game long, and we were actually fortunate to escape with a point. I let the lads have it after the match--one of the few "hair dryer treatments" I've applied this season.
31 January 2015: Andover 1-1 AFC Portchester
Stop me if you've heard this one before. We took an early lead, through an Adam Hamilton goal, only to allow our opponents to level during stoppage time on an own goal--this time via Paul Watson. We took two positives from the match, however. It was good to see Hamilton get a goal; he hadn't scored in six weeks. And, we welcomed captain Martin Parkin back to action.
The Jack Taylor saga has come to an end. He skipped training again, and I fined him a week's wages. After he agreed that the fine was fair, he promptly took another unauthorized holiday. This time I fined him two weeks' pay and transfer listed him. Biggleswade United came calling, and I let Jack go on a free. He's probably worth a couple hundred pounds, but honestly, being rid of his shenanigans is worth more than that.
Now Jack is plying his trade with a team that's 18th in the South Midlands Premier Division table. I hope he likes the view from there. ;)
P.S. The league table below cut off the bottom team. Poor Moneyfields is the other team in the relegation zone, with 16 points from 24 matches. They've won twice and drawn 10 times.
Our unbeaten streak ended at 17 games, when we lost at home to Lymington in our final match of the month. We dropped to fifth in the league, our lowest position in a while. Totton & Eling appear to have things well in hand, so it looks like we'll be returning to the Wessex Premier next season.
7 February: Alresford 1-1 Andover
Mark Wetherald was resolute on defense, and he added a goal as well; his thumping header of an Adam Hamilton corner kissed the post on its way in. Another match, another draw, another point.
14 February: Bournemouth F.C. 0-4 Andover
My October signing of Alan Morton has proven to be a very good piece of business. The powerful target man from the Isle of Sheppey collected a hat trick today and, what's more, he hit them all with his left foot. Not bad work for a lad who is said to be "right foot only." Joe Clarke got the other goal for us.
21 February: Bemerton Heath 0-1 Andover
This was one of the must-see matches of the season. Over a hundred hardy souls turned up at Portway on a cold, rainy day to watch us entertain the Harlequins, who are among the teams scrapping with us for a shot at the league trophy. Adam Hamilton reminded us all that he can score goals, too, with an 88th-minute strike that secured the result for us.
I decided to change things up a bit, and bring in a Director of Football (if I could find a suitable one). I found such a man, Mu Wood, an avuncular chap with a good eye for talent.
Mu found a new man for us straight away. Michael Gill is 24, a central midfielder with good vision and technique and a silky first touch. I'm also very pleased with his mental approach to football. He's a scrappy, terrier-like player, all 5'3" and 134 pounds of him. He made his debut today and played well. He's also our first player under contract through the 2015/16 season.
28 February: Andover 0-1 Lymington
It's easy to write this one off as a case of the lads letting down after the big win against Bremerton Heath, but that's not what happened at all.
This week, Martin Parkin was diagnosed with a stress fracture in his back, which might cost him the rest of the season. The skipper was just regaining his fitness from the ankle injury he received before Christmas. Not having him on the pitch to calm the younger lads down will be a big loss.
From a list of three candidates Mu Wood suggested, I offered a loan deal to Bryn Haynes, a winger who'd fallen out of favor at Paulton Rovers. Bryn is 24, and he's the kind of player I envision as an "Andover man." He works hard, he's determined, he's fit, and he demonstrates teamwork. We're paying £20 of Bryn's salary while he's with us for the remainder of the season.
Mu must know I have a tendency to collect central midfielders, because he found us another one this week. Nick Hanson had been looking for a club all season with no success. I can't understand why nobody took a flyer on him. He has a Jovial personality; I'm not sure what that means in FM, but our coaches think it's a good thing. He is very determined, which I like, and he strikes a mean dead ball. Nick will immediately enter our midfield rotation. He's 27, and should be in his prime.
Both new men were in the eleven against Lymington. Nick was subbed off just after the hour mark when he picked up a yellow card, and Bryn ran out of gas ten minutes later. They'll both be fine.
So will we all. We have a game in hand on the teams right above us in the table, so we might move back up to second if the results work out the right way.
6 March 2015
Youth intake day might be my favorite day of the Football Manager calendar! I've always hoped I could one day stick with a save long enough to see my first youth graduates establish themselves in the club--or fail to, as the case might be.
There are several youth candidates who might have some real potential. The best of the lot might be Graeme Marsh, who combines pace and flair with an exemplary work rate and loads of determination. Graeme can play as a striker, but he's more comfortable playing in an advanced midfield role. My assistant, Charlie Webb, thinks Graeme might be the best player to come through our youth ranks in years.
The staff also rate Jamie Willett, a mercurial winger, highly. He's slightly less polished than Marsh, who might be able to play right away, but his upside is considerable.
I also like Joseph Byrne, a wide man with a resolute personality, and Jason Gill, a scrappy midfielder.
It seems that Webb's personality and coaching style had a significant impact on several of the lads, including Byrne and John Roberts. The youth class is full of players whose Determination is very high, and I like that a lot.
I watched the kids play against our Under 18s, whom I reinforced with several senior players who haven't gotten much playing time. The kids lost, 3-4, with two goals from Marsh and one from Roberts. Gill conceded a very unlucky own goal.
I can afford to offer youth contracts to all the young lads, so that's what I am going to do. That should mean I don't have any more grey guys on any of my three teams.
Remember last month, when I said we'd have to content ourselves with another season in the Wessex Premier? I might have spoken too hastily. Four consecutive wins in March have brought us to within four points of the top of the league. With eight matches left on the programme, we are suddenly back in the race.
14 March: Andover 3-1 Brockenhurst
A resurgent Adam Hamilton banged in a brace, and Joe Clarke, who's been wearing the captain's arm band with Martin Parkin out of action, got a goal. But the star turn went to Adam Morton, who set up all three of our goals.
Mu Wood is presently assembling our 2015/16 team. This week he brought in a goalkeeper, Ross Boden. Ross is tall (6'4") and athletic, and he has very quick reflexes. I plan on having him split time between the posts with Jamie Overson for the remainder of the season. Overson has been very good, but Boden could be even better.
Mu also found a dandy forward, Jamie Tew. His calling cards are pace and versatility; he can play anywhere in the attacking half of the pitch. At age 25, he's in his prime. What's more, he signed for an economical £25/week.
Both Boden and Tew made their debuts in this match.
17 March: Blackfield & Langley 1-4 Andover
This match was postponed from the 7th due to a waterlogged pitch. I'm just superstitious enough to be anxious about facing a team that wears green and white hoops on St. Patrick's Day. Loanee wide man Bryn Haynes relieved my tensions with a hat trick. Fifteen people came out to watch the action on a cold, dreary day. The Watersiders are almost certainly going to be relegated, so perhaps the lack of support isn't surprising.
21 March: Fawley 1-2 Andover
It took fourteen seconds for Bryn Haynes to put us on top, rifling in a volley that hit the crossbar and the upright on its way into the net. The Oilers drew level, and for a long time it looked like a draw was the most likely result. Alan Morton had other ideas. He rose up and headed home Jamie Tew's cross on 89 minutes, and we went home with three more points. For the first time, it seemed like a team was content to sit back, absorb pressure from us, and play for a draw. I often struggle trying to break down teams that play this way against us. We'll see if it continues to happen.
Morton signed a new contract with us, which keeps him in Andover blue for another season.
24 March: Andover 1-0 Christchurch
The Priory are a good side, seventh in the league, and they played a much more ambitious style against us than Fawley had. We generated a number of chances, and Adam Hamilton finally found the net on 80 minutes.
Another new addition made his Andover debut in this match. Our right back, player/assistant manager Charlie Webb, is 38 now, and while he can still do a job, his days are probably numbered. Mark Fleury, fifteen years younger, will be his likely successor. Mark lacks Charlie's defensive savvy right now, but he is fast and technically skilled.
I also picked sixteen-year-old Graeme Marsh for the bench today. Graeme earned his opportunity by banging in five goals in three matches for the Under 18s. I got Graeme about 25 minutes of playing time, and he responded well. His pace created some problems for the Christchurch defenders, and the post denied him his first goal for the senior team.
The day after the Christchurch match, I signed a contract extension that will keep me at Portway Stadium through the 2015/16 season. Whether we go up or not, I'm excited about what the future holds for the club.
We're still hanging tough, keeping close enough to Totton & Eling that they can't comfortably plan their championship celebration just yet.
4 April: Moneyfields 0-2 Andover
The Moneys have struggled this season, with a roster that's primarily stocked with amateur players. They showed some moxie against us, but in the end, our class won out. Michael Gill opened his Andover account, and Adam Hamilton connected for the second straight game. Jamie Overson stopped all seven shots that reached him.
Meanwhile, Totton & Eling lost at home to Whitchurch United, so we closed the gap between our clubs to a single point.
11 April: Andover 1-1 Horndean
Horndean captain Jack Docker put his club on top in the early minutes. On the stroke of halftime, Mark Wetherald volleyed Bryn Haynes' corner past the Horndean 'keeper, who barely had time to move before the ball was in his net. The remainder of the match was chippy and ill-tempered, with the clubs combining for six yellow cards. They're a decent side, and they were clearly up for the match.
18 April: Petersfield 1-0 Andover
A good crowd showed up at Love Lane to watch two of the league's better clubs do battle. Classy midfielder Liam Dawson scored the only goal of the match, a worthy candidate for Goal of the Year. Sometimes you play well, and you still don't get the result. This was one of those matches, a delight for anyone who enjoys a spirited game of football.
Unfortunately, we might have lost Mark Wetherald for the remainder of the season. Pulled hamstrings often take a while to heal. Jacob Matthews will have a chance to demonstrate what he can do, and Jack Walker will probably have an opportunity to start, too.
25 April: Andover 0-0 Newport
This was another challenging matchup, as the Port have established themselves at the top of the table. They have the league's most potent attack; four of their men have bagged at least ten goals. Kudos to our defense and to Ross Boden in goal for limiting them to one shot on target and stopping that single good chance.
We came very close once, when Alam Morton's drive fizzed just wide of Nat Davidson's unprotected right post. I would have loved to take three points here, but I'll settle for one.
On 2 May, we'll travel to Millers Park for a six-point promotion battle with Totton & Eling. It's probably safe to say that our chances of promotion rest on the outcome of this match. If we lose, we'll fall seven points behind with three matches to play. If we win, we're only three points back, and the battle will be well and truly joined.
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