17 December 2015
2015/16 Midland Football League Premier Division: First Half Results
Two days after our first match of the season, Michael Skubala left for a paid position with Kettering Town. We were without any scouting services for three weeks or so, until we hired Frank Sharps
and Martin Pike
Despite this slight handicap, we began our season in fine form, and I earned the league's Manager of the Month award for August. We could have gone top of the league with a result at Stourport Swifts on 8 September, but we instead absorbed our first loss in league play. We haven't been so close to the lead since.
That dour performance caused me to put the 4-4-2 on the shelf. We've been using the 4-1-2-2-1 (or 4-3-3) since then, with a few tweaks designed to take advantage of the particular strengths of my team as it stands at the time.
Injuries have taken their toll on our season, as several key players have been sidelined at one time or another. Wide man Sheridan Rodgers
tore a calf muscle in mid-September. Three weeks later, goalkeeper and captain Connor O'Keefe
hurt his wrist in a FA Vase tie against Boleshall. Derrick Otim
finished the match in goal, and O'Keefe was absent for nearly two months.
The worst blow fell on 24 October, when striker George Conway
tore the cruciate ligaments in his knee. He won't be back on the pitch until next fall. By that time he will be approaching his 22nd birthday, so he might never play for us again. George had been leading the line with flair, firing in seven goals before he went down.
Not surprisingly, we struggled to find consistency and quality. A streak of five league games without a victory was finally broken with a 2-0 victory over Dunkirk. Conway's replacement, Derrick Otim
, took full advantage of his chance. The Ugandan forward leads the team with 11 goals in all competitions.
Otim's timely goal scoring form was a key factor in our October resurgence, which led to a run of nine games without a loss in all competitions. The highlight was a 2-1 victory over runaway league leader Hereford, the first loss the Bulls had suffered in league play.
Another reason for our improved play might be found in our increasing knowledge of our tactic. An amateur side like us can only train once a week, so it takes a while for the players to learn what to do. In late September, I began asking the team to play a more vibrant, forceful style of football--setting a slightly higher defensive line and closing down more when we're out of possession; seeking to control the game and playing out of the back when we have the ball. Our passing accuracy and average possession are both second in the league, and while I don't appreciate possession for possession's sake, we are playing some attractive football. Teams are starting to play deeper against us, and I'm working on ways to unlock these more closely packed teams.
Here's my managerial avatar, rocking the 'stache for Movember. It's easy to smile when your side is playing well.
So far, it's worked well. It's carried us to sixth place, which I think is a fair piece of work for a team predicted to finish in the middle of the table. We also have at least one game in hand against each of the teams ahead of us on points.
The following players have left the club since the season began:
DR Liam Darville
MC Stephan Hamilton-Forbes
MC Charlie Musselwhite
DL Theo Brown
D/ML Oliver Davies
DL Tom Gilbey
All these lads, except Musselwhite
, were released because they turned 22 years old.
never saw the pitch for us; he was already 24 when the season began. Hamilton-Forbes
started our first five matches and played well for us in the middle of the park. Brown
gave me some problems with his attitude, so I wasn't too sorry when his birthday rolled around.
was a valuable asset while we had him, appearing in nine matches, four as a starter, all along the left side of our formation. Gilbey
was the biggest loss. He won the left back job and became an everpresent starter. Tom played to a solid 6.91 rating and helped solidify our back line.
Most of these players have signed with other clubs, usually on a non-contract deal that pays them when they play. Brown
moved up a level to sign for Winchester City. Davies
did the same thing, advancing to Step 4 with Potters Bar Town. The day after I released him, Gilbey
signed with Highgate United, which means we'll have to play against him.
are still amateurs, playing for Corinthians and Ashford(Middlesex) respectively. Musselwhite
, the only lad I released for any reason other than his age, is still looking for a new club.
I brought in a number of new players, either to replace guys who aged out of our club, to cover for players who were seriously injured, or to provide depth.
MC Luke Wright
MC Ben Grant
AMR/ST Jimmy Warnett
DR/C Kellen Daly
GK Melvin Minter
MC/DM Connor Purdue
D/ML Sidney Adams
DL Dale Minor
are now two-thirds of my starting midfield. Wright
, a former Port Vale man, is a more attacking player, while Grant
, released by Oldham Athletic, is a box-to-box runner. Purdue
gives us additional depth and some old-fashioned bite in the midfield.
is a versatile forward who is also a regular starter. So is Minor
, whom I brought in to replace Gilbey
' roster spot, while Daly
gives us much-needed cover along the back line. I signed Minter
, a clever sweeper keeper, to back up Harry Waldram
when Connor O'Keefe
got hurt, but Melvin ended up earning his fair share of the work between the posts in the captain's absence.
I convinced chairman John Steele
to allow me to bring in another coach. I signed Ross Preston
, a fitness specialist who was previously at Rochdale. I'm proud to say that we have the best coaching staff in the division.