Can we get promoted with our second chance?

Two games to go. Six points clear of third-placed Blackburn. Surely we’re there. And yet. There’s still a doubt. If we lose our two remaining games and Blackburn win theirs, they’re going up on goal difference. And it can happen. I’ve seen it happen. I’ve caused it to happen. Championship Manager 01/02 (I think) when we pipped Tranmere Rovers to the League One title with a scenario exactly the same as this. So we need a point.

Date: Saturday 29th April 2017
Opponent: Ipswich Town (19th)
Venue: Portman Road
Odds: Ipswich Town=13/8, Draw=2/1, Exeter City=6/4
Weather: Wet, 17C
Referee: Mr. Stuart Attwell

I make one change from our last outing, with a defensive midfielder in Jay Spearing replacing an attacking midfielder in Michel. This has served me well throughout the season and hopefully will again today. A more defensive midfielder should increase our chances of a draw, which is all we need. Although in our last away game with a defensive midfielder in place, we went goal-crazy, so who knows!

Six minutes in and Ipswich win a corner. We clear and Federico Cenci gets the ball. The counter is on. He’s running with it. He crosses the halfway line. He’s 30 yards out. He’s 20 yards out. He’s in the area. He’s 12 yards out. He shoots. He… watches Welch make a comfortable catch. It would have been the perfect start, but not to be. However, can’t be too disappointed – we don’t actually need to score again this season to get promoted. Although it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Three minutes later, it’s the turn of Jonathan Bond to make a catch. He catches a 25 yards shot from Darrigi. Oliver Norwood shoots from 25 yards in the 15th minute and Welch is required to beat the ball away. A minute later, Welch denies Alain Besse from 16 yards.

We’ve had some pressure, but then Ipswich start to apply some and test our nerves. Bond is called into action in the 18th minute when he catches a shot from Majewski 12 yards out. Darrigi finds the side netting in the 25th minute from 10 yards out. A minute later, Majewski opens the scoring from 18 yards. Surely it’s not going to go down to the final day of the season…

On the half hour mark, Bradley Johnson fires in a shot from 25 yards that Welch catches. On the stroke of half time, Norwood takes an outswinging corner. It’s met by Cenci, who is 6 yards out at the near post. He heads it goalwards. It’s in! He’s levelled the score with his 29th goal of the season. We’re going up!!!!

It’s a slow start to the second half. Ipswich don’t really have anything to play for, so hopefully they’ll be happy to accept the draw. I know I certainly would!

The first action of note occurs in the 58th minute when Johnson shoots from 18 yards. Unfortunately, it’s a long way wide. On the hour mark, Cenci meets an outswinging Norwood corner. He’s unmarked and 6 yards out at the near post. He heads it goalwards. It’s… an outstanding diving stop by Welch and he hold on, preventing us from even scrambling in a rebound.

We’re pressing for another goal though. Besse feeds Cenci in the 63rd minute and he shoots instantly from 10 yards, but only succeeds in finding the side netting. With 21 minutes to go, Jagos Vukovic passes to Cenci. His back it to goal. He turns his marker. He shoots powerfully from 18 yards. It’s under Welch. IT’S IN!!!! His 30th goal of the season. Surely that’s the goal that guarantees Premier League football at St. James Park next season!

Morrison looks to hit straight back for the hosts, but he shoots wide from 10 yards in the 73rd minute. Moments later, Johnson plays in Cenci. A chance to secure the score a hat-trick, secure the points and promotion. He shoots from 18 yards and is denied by an outstanding diving save by Welch. We do gain a corner, but nothing comes of it. Johnson shoots from 25 yards again in the 77th minute, but Welch catches.

Majewski comes close to pulling the hosts level in the 79th minute when he shoots from 12 yards. Bond makes an excellent diving stop to keep us in the lead. With 7 minutes to go, Torral crosses from the left. It hits Luca D’Avazo, wrong footing Bond and it’s an own goal. A draw is all we need, so it’s not a disaster. But it could be.

We’re a minute into stoppage time. The away fans are whistling, urging Mr. Attwell to blow the final whistle. We’re defending. We’ll take this and I won’t complain if Mr. Attwell blows up a couple of minutes early. We’ve players behind the ball and Ipswich aren’t going anywhere too fast. McAllister is 30 yards out. He decides that a shot is his best course of action. He strikes it well. But it’s wide. Two minutes later, Mr. Attwell blows the final whistle. WE ARE GOING UP!

Result: Ipswich Town 2-2 Exeter City
Man of the Match: Federico Cenci
Ratings: Gk-Bond (6.7), DR-Zapotoka (7.1), DCR-D’Avanzo (6.7), DCL-Vukovic (6.8, A),DL-Riccardi (6.6), DMC-Spearing (6.6), MCR-Norwood (7.9, A), MCL-Johnson (6.9), AMR-Hayes (6.9), AML-Besse (7.3), ST-Cenci (9.1, 2G). Unused-McCarey, Rentea, Michel, Gazzoli, Marconi.
Attendance: 18,352
League Position: 2nd
Match Stats:

Ipswich #FM12

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Am I disappointed we couldn’t hold on to secure the win? Not really. At the start of the game, I’d have happily accepted this as the final score and result. It’s all we needed to secure promotion, which was the aim. A win would have been nice (and deserved), but I’ve never been happier with a win turning into a draw in the last 10 minutes.

Promotion! #FM12

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Did we even need a draw? Did Blackburn win. Would it have gone to the final day? Who knows. I certainly wasn’t checking.

The results over the weekend see Birmingham secure the league title and Middlesbrough take the final relegation place. Blackburn, Leeds and West Ham will all be in the playoffs, so there’s a place up for grabs on the final day of the season.

Federico Cenci is named in Team of the Week for his double and Man of the Match performance. It’s fitting that he scored the goals that secured promotion. He also signs a new 5 year contract, removing a minimum fee clause. If he does go, I want much more than the £5,000,000 that had been in place.

Bertin Matip resumes full training, but is unlikely to play a part on the final day of the season as he’ll be lacking match fitness. Juho Virkki returns from his loan spell at Hereford United.

Philipp Langer requests to be removed from the transfer list and I agree. Whilst Langer wants to stay, Lasse Karlsen wants to go and requests to be placed on the transfer list. I accept his request.

The awards for April are made:

Player of the Month: Milan Lalkovic (Brighton and Hove Albion)
Young Player of the Month: Damian Evans (Leicester City)
Goal of the Month: Tarmo Kink (Hull City)
Manager of the Month: Sam Allardyce (Birmingham City)

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Ploughing a boring furrow

After a loss last time out, we have a great chance to get back to winning ways in front of our fans.

Date: Saturday 10th December 2016
Opponent: Ipswich Town (19th)
Venue: St. James Park
Odds: Exeter City=4/6, Draw=9/4, Ipswich Town=7/2
Weather: Drizzle, 4C
Referee: Mr. Andre Marriner

The temperatures return to being more seasonal and as well as welcoming Ipswich Town, we welcome the TV cameras. Federico Cenci crosses the ball from the right wing in the 14th minute and it’s heading for Michele Marconi. Just before the ball reaches him, Thompson gets in first and puts the ball behind for a corner. Nine minutes later, the ball reaches Marconi from Michel, but his shot on the turn from 12 yards sails harmlessly over the crossbar. The pair combine again in the 42nd minute; Marconi keeps his shot from 12 yards down this time, but it’s straight at Bunn. He’s unable to hold on and Ipswich clear – Bradley Johnson commits a foul from the clearance and enters Mr. Marriner’s book.

The first action of note in the second half comes in the 58th minute when Gardner plays the ball to Morrison; his shot from 18 yards is saved by Jonathan Bond and we clear the ball to safety. Jonny Hayes replaces Dacian Varga in the 60th minute; Hayes goes to the right wing and Cenci switches over to the left. Bertin Matip crosses from the right in the in the 66th minute and finds Cenci at the far post. He’s 6 yards out, but can only head over as he’s under pressure. Cenci continues to look the most likely to break the deadlock and two minutes later, he cuts in from the left, shoots and hits the far post. The rebound falls to Hayes, who is 8 yards out, but his shot is blocked by a defender at the cost of a corner. Mr. Marriner’s book becomes busier, with Matip, Hayes and Roman Chaloupka entering it in the 81st, 82nd and 84th minutes respectively following fouls on Majewski, Smith and Cullen. Majewski takes a free kick from the right in the 85th minute and he finds Thompson 12 yards out. Thompson connects with a powerful header and Bond doesn’t stand a chance. Thankfully, Chaloupka is on the line and heads clear. There’s still time for Mr. Marriner’s book to be put into action – Dampha fouls Michel in the 92nd minute of stoppage time.

Result: Exeter City 0-0 Ipswich Town
Man of the Match: Lubomir Zapotoka
Ratings: GK-Bond (6.9), DR-Zapotoka (7.4) DCR-D’Avanzo (6.7), DCL-Vukovic (7.1), DL-Chaloupka (7.1, booked), MCR-Matip (6.9, booked), MCL-Johnson (6.5, booked), AMR-Cenci (6.9), AMC-Michel (6.8), AML-Varga (6.7, sub 60), ST-Marconi (6.7). Sub-Hayes (6.8, on 60, booked). Unused-Spasov, Rentea, Pavlov, Keane.
Attendance: 8,714
League Position: 1st
Match Stats:

Ipswich #FM12

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We had the better of the game, but struggled to create clear-cut chances and rarely threatened Ipswich’s goal. I had hoped to return to winning ways against a team near the bottom of the league, but we were unusually goal-shy in front of our fans and the cameras.

The managerial vacancy at Leicester City is resolved with the appointment of Dave Jones, who resigns from 23rd-placed Rotherham United. Gareth Southgate is made the favourite for the vacancy at Rotherham, but my name is in the mix.

The media also have a story about me being interested in signing midfielder Fabio Sinacca from Catania for £3.7m. It’s an interesting story, but I’m not sure how they’ve come up with it. My transfer budget is around £350,000 and Sinacca is not even on my (incredibly extensive) shortlist.

Nicky Holmes returns from loan spell at Newport County. As he returns, the physio reports that Roman Chaloupka is suffering from the flu and will be out for 5-7 days whilst he recovers.

Signing off in style

Our final match of the season (not including the play-offs!!!!) sees us host 17th-placed Ipswich Town at St. James Park as 4/7 favourites in fron of 8,714 fans, one of whom is the Japanese manager, Takahiro Morita (he’s rumoured to be watching Cullen). I make two changes, giving Metodi Spasov the keeper’s shirt ahead of Jonathan Bond, whilst the injury to Michele Marconi results in Philipp Langer starting. It’s a milestone for Langer as it marks his first ever competitive league game (recent changes have seen players scoring, so lets hope he keeps that run up!), whilst Jonny Hayes makes his 75th league appearance for us. Langer is involved in the action, creating a chance for Hayes in the 18th minute, but his shot from 10 yards goes just wide. In the 25th minute, Batt rounds Spasov and rolls the ball into the empty net, but the assistant’s flag is up and it’s ruled out for offside. It certainly acts as a warning though, even if the game is meaningless for both sides. Three minutes later, Hayes passes to Dacian Varga who pulls the trigger from 8 yards; the shot hits Darvell and goes in for an own goal to give us the lead. The rest of the half is what would be expected from an end of season game with nothing riding on it, although Langer does earn his first ever booking in stoppage time.

To mark his debut, he looks to open his goals account in the 54th minute, but his shot from 20 yards goes over. Two minutes later, Sean Morrison (on the left after a throw-in) passes to Michel, who thunders his 9th goal of the season (and 50th career league goal) in from 16 yards to double our lead. In the 66th minute, what I’d been hoping would happen does – Langer opens his account for us from 8 yards. A debut goal will certainly help him settle at the club. However, the eagle-eyed assistant who had his flag up for Batt in the first half has his flag up again and Langer’s strike is chalked off. A minute later, I make a double substitution, with Jay Spearing coming on for Bradley Johnson and Aiman Mustafa replacing Michel. Mustafa goes up top, with Langer dropping into the hole behind, and he’s soon in the action when Bertin Matip plays the ball through to him in the 72nd minute, but he can only shoot straight at Bunn. A minute later, there’s action in our area when Batt shoots from 10 yards. He’s onside and beats Spasov with his shot, but is denied by the post – it’s not his day today! We clear the rebound off the woodwork for a throw-in. With 10 minutes to go, I call time on Langer’s debut and bring on Federico Cenci. We finish strongly, with Matip shooting just over from 25 yards in the 83rd minute, Bunn saving from Mustafa from 8 yards for the expense of a corner in the 86th minute and Cenci shooting straight at Bunn in the second minute of stoppage time. Sean Morrison is named Man of the Match with a rating of 7.9 and an assist, which is good enough to earn him a place in Team of the Week.

Watford secure automatic promotion, whilst Norwich claim the remaining play-off spot. Martin Brandt returns from his loan spell at Torquay, whilst the media report that Fortuna Sittard are interested in signing Kyle Ebecilio. As well as the league season coming to an end, the FA Cup concludes with Manchester City lifting the trophy at Wembley after beating Stoke City 3-0.

Final table #FM12

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We finish 4th, which has completely proved the media wrong as they predicted we would finish 22nd. We also finish in excellent form, being unbeaten in our last 6 games and winning 4 of those, including the last three. Our last loss was at Newcastle, who will be our play-off semi-final opponents…