Fighting on two fronts

After the ‘Battle of The Airfield’, we’re grateful for a ten day break between games as it gives David Nixon a chance to recover from his dead leg and for Wayne Carlisle to regain his fitness after limping off. Llanelli take advantage of a break as well and appoint Scott Ramsey as their manager.

After our break, we welcome third-placed Bangor City to Park Hall. We’re 1/3 favourites to win, but I’m a bit concerned as Darren Otten is playing and Lee Evans is refereeing. I make one change, with Kofi Poyser coming in for the injured Lucas Akins. Amongst the 205 in attendance is Mike Newell, the Wycombe Wanderers manager, who is reported to be interested in signing David Mooney. The fifth minute sees some head tennis in the Bangor penalty area, which eventually results in a header out of the area; it falls to Conor Hourihane who thunders in a volley from 20 yards for his second goal of the season and a dream start. Two minutes later, Mooney plays in Poyser, but he can only shoot wide from 30 yards. Poyser has a chance to make amends in the 15th minute when a cross from the left by Otten finds him unmarked on the 6 yard line, but the keeper gets out quickly and smothers the ball. Marco Pelosi puts an inswinging corner from the right into the near post in the 19th minute and Steven Smith goes down – penalty! Darren Otten steps up and fires it low to the keeper’s left for his 8th goal of the season. Mr Evans is involved in the next incident of note, booking Collins in the 24th minute for fouling Scott McBride. Pelosi is involved in the action again in the 25th minute as a diagonal ball finds Wayne Carlisle, who centres for an unmarked Poyser who scores his 4th goal of the season from 10 yards out. 3-0 inside the opening half-hour – brilliant! Conor Hourihane becomes our first booking of the game in the 27th minute. Bangor win a corner in the 42nd minute and an outswinging corner from the right finds Long, who reduces the deficit from 5 yards out with a header. Otten comes close to restoring the three-goal cushion in the 44th minute, but he shoots wide from 18 yards; he shoots just over from 20 yards in stoppage time. In the 52nd minute, Hourihane slides Mooney in and Johnston makes a last ditch tackle; Mooney goes down and Mr Evans blows his whistle – penalty! Johnston picks up a yellow card for his trouble. Otten places the ball on the spot and goes low to the keeper’s left again and hits the post… but it’s the inside of the post – 4-1! It’s Otten’s ninth of the season. Collins is summoned over by the referee in the 56th minute for a foul, but Mr Evans lets him off with a warning. Reed runs unchallenged down the right of the pitch in the 59th minute and beats Aaron McCarey at the near post to cut the gap to two again as I wonder where the defence went. Wilson is added to the book in the 62nd minute. In the 67th minute, Otten gets the ball and shoots from 25 yards – he beats the keeper at his near post for his 10th of the season and his hat-trick. The game peters out after our fifth, but David Nixon picks up a yellow card in the 88th minute. Darren Otten is unsurprisingly named Man of the Match following his hat-trick and a rating of 9.5. Perhaps more surprising that Otten’s hat-trick is that he doesn’t get booked by Mr Evans (I hope no-one from the Welsh FA is reading this!) Even better news is that we’re top by 6 points following our victory, although Carmarthen were not in action and have a game in hand over us.

Cheltenham Town are worried they might lose Mark Yates at the end of the season and my name is in the mix as a possible replacement. Darren Otten claims Player of the Month (3 games, 5 goals, rating of 8.13) and is named in Team of the Month, along with Marco Pelosi, David Nixon, Joseph Oastler, Paul Robson and David Mooney. I get named Manager of the Month. Some of our fans go slightly overboard with their praise of Otten though:

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Happy with Otten #FM

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He’s in fine form and young, but leading the line? He’s my ball-winning midfielder!

Three days after our convincing victory over Bangor, we welcome Haverfordwest County to Park Hall for the Welsh Cup quarter final. We’re 2/5 favourites and I make eleven changes. Bagsan Graham scores his first goal for the club in the 9th minute from 25 yards to the delight of the 252 fans in attendance. Little of note happens after the goal, with the exception of Jeff Whitley shooting over from 30 yards in the 31st minute and Matty Williams being played in by Graham in the 41st minute, but the keeper tips it over. The first half lacked excitement and it continued through the second half. Haverfordwest have a chance in the 60th minute when McLaren runs from deep, but he elects to shoot from 25 yards and it goes wide. In the 67th minute, I bring on Paudie Quinn for his return from injury. Richie Partridge has a free kick in the 73rd minute from 20 yards out, but it’s straight at the keeper. Matty Williams plays Graham in on goal in the 78th minutes and he selflessly squares the ball to Paul Robson, who rolls the ball into an unguarded net for his 4th goal of the season. Graham adds the icing on the cake in the 84th minute when Robson picks up a pass from Williams and fires straight at the keeper; Graham picks up the rebound and gets his 2nd of the game and season from 16 yards – an excellent way to end a 454 minute goal drought! Graham is named Man of the Match with his 2 goals and an assist, getting a rating of 9.3. Our semi-final opponents will be Bangor City. Whilst we’ve been in Cup action, Carmarthen have been in league action and record a victory, cutting the gap to three points again and nicely setting up our next league match away to them.

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Can the lads show bouncebackability?

After our 5-1 thumping at Carmarthen, it’s not too surprising that we don’t walk away with any end of month awards. However, Paul Robson and David Mooney do make it into the January Team of the Month.

They say that after a big loss, the best thing to do is get straight back into action, which is just as well because the 4th Round of the Welsh Cup is just three days after our visit to Carmarthen. We welcome Port Talbot Town to Park Hall and I make 11 changes, which includes Darren Otten returning from suspension, Scott McBride making his first start since coming back from injury and Steven Smith making his debut. We’re 1/3 favourites, but after our last performance, I’m not feeling all that confident. We start off in the snow and in the 4th minute, Bagsan Graham plays in Kofi Poyser, but he shoots straight at the keeper. The snow soon turns to rain and the football on offer is less inspiring than the weather. The game sprang into life just before half time, as in the 44th minute, Scott McBride crosses from the left wing and Kofi Poyser heads in from 6 yards out for his 3rd of the season. Things get better almost immediately as in stoppage time, Darren Otten fires a free kick through the wall from 25 yards out into the keeper’s bottom right for his 5th of the season. We almost extend our lead further in the 50th minute when Bagsan Graham cuts the ball back from the right bye-line; the cross hits a defender and hits the post before being cleared to safety. The 54th minute sees the first card of the game as Clifford gets booked for fouling Poyser. A 2-0 lead is always said to be a dangerous scoreline, which Danny Holmes proves in the 64th minute when he plays a diagonal ball across our penalty area and Mirzai intercepts with a header on the 18 yard line that loops over Aaron McCarey and cuts our lead in half. Two minutes later, McBride has a chance to restore our two-goal lead, but can only head wide from 6 yards when unmarked at the far post. Danny Holmes’ afternoon gets worse in the 67th minute when he gets booked, although Clifford ends up with the worst afternoon when he fouls Poyser (again!) in the 73rd minute and the referee produces a yellow card and then the red. We comfortably see the game out to the delight of the 406 in attendance, but without really threatening further. Kofi Poyser is named Man of the Match with a rating of 8 and the contribution of a goal and an assist.

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Table split

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After the distraction of the Cup, we return to the league and the game against Carmarthen was the last one before the table splits into two. We start at the top of the table and the first of our final 10 league games is at home against the team we have also drawn at home for the quarter final of the Welsh Cup, fifth-placed Haverfordwest County. We’re 1/3 favourites and some more regular faces return to the starting line up, although Aaron McCarey, Steven Smith, Darren Otten and Scott McBride remain in the starting eleven. Lucas Akins returns to the starting eleven and makes his 75th career league appearance. Despite being favourites, it’s Haverfordwest who break the deadlock in the 14th minute when an outswinging corner from the right finds Gascoigne, who lashes the ball in from 8 yards. Ten minutes later, David Mooney is played in, but his shot is straight at the keeper. David Nixon picks up a booking in the 36th minute. In the 39th minute, David Mooney dribbles to the right of the area and crosses along the floor; his cross is met by Lucas Akins sliding in at the far post from 10 yards out, who celebrates his 75th career league start with his 7th goal of the season. We continue with the pressure and in the 49th minute, Mooney dribbles into the area again and Davies brings him down. The referee has no hesitation and points to the spot. Darren Otten finds the side of the net to the keeper’s right for his 6th of the season and to give us a 2-1 lead. A one-goal lead is always precarious and there’s a scare in the 55th minute when Collins takes a free kick from the right and finds Evans at the far post, who heads just over from 8 yards. Thankfully, we’re able to establish a two-goal lead in the 76th minute when Darren Otten slides in David Mooney, who fires the ball past the keeper for his 16th goal of the season and also his 75th career league goal, which he scores in front of 218 fans. Mooney has a chance to grab his 17th of the season in stoppage time when Ibrahim Farah plays him in, but he shoots straight at the keeper. Despite this, David Mooney is named as Man of the Match with a rating of 8.6, helped by a goal and two assists. The victory has us top by three points as Carmarthen beat Bangor and leapfrog them into second.

There are U21 international friendlies mid-week and Darren Otten and Aaron McCarey get call-ups for Wales and the Republic of Ireland respectively. Otten comes on as a substitute and records a rating of 6.6 as Wales U21s draw 1-1 at Chinese Taipei U21s. Aaron McCarey is also a substitute, recording a rating of 6.7 as Republic of Ireland U21s lose 3-0 at Italy U21s.

Both are available for our next league match, which sees us travel to The Airfield to take on fourth-placed Airbus UK. We’re 1/2 favourites, but Airbus UK decide to take a physical approach to try and level the odds in front of their 107 fans. Wraighte picks up a yellow card for the hosts in the 7th minute and a minute later, Lucas Akins shoots tamely at the keeper from 20 yards. In the 10th minute, David Nixon goes off injured and five minutes later, Edwards picks up a booking. In the 21st minute, Akins hits a much better shot (this time from 30 yards) that beats the keeper, but unfortunately not the crossbar. We continue to put the pressure on and in the 31st minute, an inswinging Darren Otten corner finds David Mooney at the near post and he finds the net. Sadly for us, it’s the side-netting. Three minutes after Mooney finds the side-netting, Akins finds the crossbar again, this time from 25 yards out. It proves to be his last effort of the afternoon as he becomes our second injury of the afternoon. Bagsan Graham replaces him and shoots just wide in the 53rd minute. Three minutes later, Conor Hourihane crosses from the left and finds Wayne Carlisle unmarked at the far post and he makes no mistake from 6 yards out and scores his 5th goal of the season. We have a great chance to make it 2-0 in the 59th minute when Bagsan Graham picks up a loose defensive header, but he can only shoot straight at the keeper. Wayne Carlisle becomes our third casualty of the afternoon in the 65th minute in an incident that also sees Wraighte pick up his second yellow card of the afternoon. In the 71st minute, Bagsan Graham crosses from the right and Paul Robson heads just over, missing the chance to score on his 50th league appearance for us. In stoppage time, Bagsan Graham is fouled in the penalty area and Darren Otten wraps the victory up with a penalty low to the keeper’s left that hits the side of the net before the back for his 7th goal of the season. Joseph Oastler is named Man of the Match, with a rating of 8.5. We remain top by three points.

After the battle at The Airfield, the physio comes with his report. Wayne Carlisle is not out for any period of time, David Nixon is out for 6 days with a dead leg, whilst Lucas Akins has a pulled hamstring and will be out for 5-6 weeks, so there will definitely be a change or two before our next game at Bangor in 10 days time. In news around the league, tenth-place Llanelli sack Andy Legg. Whilst in no danger of relegation due to Bridgend struggling so much, they were joint favourites for the title at the start of the season, so to be in 10th with 8 games to go has seen the patience of the board run out.

Pre-season complete

Another new face joins the squad, with goalkeeper Aaron McCarey joining us after having been released by Wolves. It’s the third goalkeeper I’ve signed, but I like to have strength in depth just in case. Jan Sebek will remain first choice and McCarey is likely to take the place of Andrew McNeil as the keeper on the bench.

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McCarey

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We welcome League 2 Shrewsbury Town to Park Hall Stadium in our penultimate pre-season game (and final pre-season game at home). We’re 11/5 underdogs for the game. The 11th minute see McCrae pick up a yellow card for pulling back David Mooney. Disaster strikes in the 19th minute as Paudie Quinn goes off injured; he’s suffering from a hip injury and I’ve sent him to see a specialist, so he won’t be making his debut for three months. The 30th minute sees Richie Partridge break down the right and feed Mooney. The keeper starts to come out and Mooney squares for Matty Williams, who is 25 yards out and lifts the ball over the stranded keeper and into the net. A delightful goal and I’m sure the majority of the 817 fans in attendance love what they’ve just seen. Williams nearly doubles our lead 6 minutes later after a cross from the right, but he heads just over. Williams has a further chance in the 61st minute as Jeff Whitley plays him in, but he can only fire wide. Five minutes later, Bradshaw shoots from distance, but it poses little danger to our goal. Phil Rayner tries his luck from 20 yards in the 78th minute, but his shot goes just wide. Bagsan Graham tries his luck from 5 yards further out 3 minutes later with the same result. We claim a 1-0 victory and out-shoot Shrewsbury 8-3, but only 1 shot (for both teams!) is on target – an area we need to work on if we’re to be winning the league. Matty Williams claims Man of the Match with a rating of 8.3 and the game winning goal.

There’s another new face in the squad, as veteran right midfielder Wayne Carlisle joins the club. A lot of the signings I’ve made have been younger players, so Carlisle will bring a bit of experience to the squad. Carlisle had been at Mansfield, but has played at several other clubs through his career.

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Carlisle

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Our final match of pre-season sees us travel to Luigi Razza, home of my former employers, Vibonese. We’re 6/4 favourites, but Vibonese start the better as Bernardo has a 1 on 1 chance saved in the 3rd minute. We soon create a chance of our own, with Joseph Oastler picking out Jeff Whitley on the edge of the area with a pull back from the right, but Whitley’s effort is wild and no threat to the goal. In the 12th minute, Bernardo races clear of our defence, but shoots wide. Bernardo remains a goal threat, but the final product is lacking, something that I was frustratingly familiar with. A 32nd minute cross from Wayne Carlisle is met by David Mooney sliding in on the 6 yard box line, but his effort agonisingly hits the post and it’s cleared for a corner. Eleven minutes later, it’s the turn of Vibonese to threaten with a cross from the right as Legrenzi finds a sliding Malafronte; his shot hits Jan Sebek. I berate left back Marco Pelosi until I realise it was the linesman who wasn’t closing Legrenzi down; the officials are all in white, which makes distinguishing them from my players in white and green close to impossible. Vibonese take an adventurous start to the second half as Bernardo runs forward from kick off and shoots from 30 yards, forcing Sebek to tip the ball over. A couple of yellow cards follow as De Martino trips Darren Otten in the 63rd minute and Joe Jones fouls Malafronte on the halfway line 2 minutes later. Kofi Poyser picks up a rib injury that will keep him out for 2 weeks – not as big a loss as Quinn, as he was not going to be starting any games and even the bench was unlikely. Lucas Akins, his replacement, shoots wide in the 75th minute. Grimaldi collects the third yellow card of the game in the 77th minute by fouling Richie Partridge. Paul Robson collects the fourth yellow card of the game in the 89th minute; Petrucci take the resulting free kick and Perna rises highest and heads home from 12 yards. Perna’s goal is enough to give Vibonese the win and him the Man of the Match award with a rating of 7.4.

Pre-season is now over and I receive the final total for season ticket sales; 83 have been sold, down by 3 from the previous season. We’re set to begin our league campaign away at Port Talbot and hopefully it will be a winning start.

Start of pre-season

Pre-season is upon us! Before the action begins, there is still time for me to complete a couple of signings. First in is central midfielder Conor Hourihane. I’ve brought him in to partner Quinn in midfield. Hourihane had been at Ipswich and had a trial at Shrewsbury before I signed him.

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CM #FM

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The midfield is further strengthened by bringing left winger Scott McBride to Park Hall Stadium.

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ML #FM

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McBride joins us from Raith. He is another signing that has generated interest, with TNS favourite Ken McKenna being amongst those looking forward to seeing him in action.

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Spur us on #FM

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Both go into the team for our opening pre-season fixture against Scottish Premiership outfit Kilmarnock. We are 10/1 underdogs, but start well. David Mooney has an effort tipped around the post in the 4th minute and three minutes later fires wide after being played in. We continue to defy the bookies as the next good effort comes our way as well, Paudie Quinn firing wide this time. A minute later and Kilmarnock have their first chance, but Jan Sebek stands strong and pushes away a 1 on 1. Kilmarnock have another 1 on 1 chance in the 32nd minute as Joseph Oastler is down awaiting medical attention, but Sebek saves again and thankfully it’s nothing serious for Oastler, who is starting at right back following the strengthening in other areas. Kilmarnock go close again a minute later as Sebek parries and we scramble it out for a corner, which is headed wide when it comes in. Sebek makes his third 1 on 1 save in the 35th minute as Kilmarnock launch a long ball from the back that catches our defensive line out.

The second half starts at a slower pace, although bursts into life in the 54th minute as David Nixon tackles McKay from behind, conceding a penalty and earning a straight red card in the process; not the first time in my Football Manager careers that a centre back has managed this in his first game for me. Thomson steps up for Kilmarnock and hits a low effort into the bottom left corner – Sebek goes the correct way, but is unable to reach it. Little more happens (beyond substitutions) until the 75th minute, when a 20 yarder from Dayton hits the back of the net, with Andrew McNeil able to get a hand to it but only push it further into the corner. Despite being a man down and two goals down, we still continue to look to score; Bagsan Graham has a great effort in the 76th minute that finds the side netting; it looks as though the keeper had it covered, but a reminder to them that a 2 goal lead can be dangerous. In the 84th minute, Danny Holmes picks up a yellow card for pulling back a Kilmarnock player and the last chance of the game goes our way as some good work between Ibrahim Farah and Graham sees the latter have a 1 on 1 effort pushed away by the Kilmarnock keeper.

A 2-0 defeat, but quite a pleasing start as Kilmarnock were expected to put a few past us and win comfortably. I thought we looked quite good, especially as there were a number of new faces pulling on the TNS shirt for the first time. However, our finishing let us down and will need to improve, but thankfully there are still pre-season games for us to iron the finishing issues out. Our next pre-season game in two days time will see us welcome Hamilton to Park Hall Stadium and will be a chance for triallists to persuade me I should sign them.

Unofficial Bank Holiday Monday!

Fabio Capello’s England ended 46 years of hurt by beating Bosnia and Herzegovina 2-0 in the European Championship Final. Arguably more remarkable than England winning the tournament was the fact that they won their Quarter Final against Russia by triumphing on penalties. I was able to attend, though sadly didn’t seem to be name-checked. England started well and in the 8th minute, man of the match Steven Gerrard picked up a through-ball and coolly slotted past Begovic. England seemed to be enjoying more of the game, but few great chances came their way, the most common shot being a strike by Frank Lampard from distance that flew over the bar. It might only be a game (according to some!), but every time it happened, I had the image of a close-up on a wistful-looking Lampard trying to work out how it didn’t fly in. The 65th minute saw Gabby Agbonlahor put through with just Begovic to beat, but his shot hit the crossbar. It was the kind of miss that makes you wonder if it will be a turning point, but a corner 5 minutes later saw Rio Ferdinand fouled and Lampard made no mistake from the penalty spot. Incredibly, despite leading by 2 goals with 20 minutes, Capello started looking for more options in the final third, which lead to Bosnia having a few more efforts (most of their previous efforts had been from distance), but Joe Hart was equal to everything thrown at him.

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England win Euros #FM

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Following England’s triumph, Capello took the most sensible course of action that would be available to an England manager in his position by retiring, safe in the knowledge that he would never have to buy a drink in his life and leaving his successor the unenviable job of having to win the World Cup as a minimum, but preferably by playing exciting football and putting the world’s best to the sword.

On the TNS front, the squad continues to take shape. Defender David Nixon is the latest face in the door, having been released by Morton; I’m sure their loss will be our gain.

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Niton #FM

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The fans are pleased and I am enjoying their adulation, although I can’t help but think that describing a centre back as, ‘an exciting signing’ is putting a bit of a burden on the lad – he’s there to stop the goals, not beat three and rifle in 30 yarders (although if he does, I certainly won’t complain too much!) I’m assuming that they’re just pleased that we’ve made such a good signing.

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Fans happy with Niton #FM

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