Month: December 2017

Portsmouth vs Bury: Preview

Last Saturday came and went without a match for Bury (and AFC Wimbledon) thanks to a controversial, late postponement by the appointed referee. That is now in the past and the wait for new manager Chris Lucketti’s ‘second debut’ will now take place on Boxing Day. In the meantime, the Shakers travel to two long-haul destinations, both of which are clubs that only seem to win or lose and struggle for consistency.

Portsmouth have probably been about on par with my pre-season prediction of them. I felt that the bookies making them second or third favourites were a touch on the optimistic side but they currently sit a single place outside the play-off, three points closer to Charlton Athletic in sixth after an impressive 1-0 victory over the Addicks last time out (although the London outfit do have a game in hand). Kenny Jackett has attempted to guard against any complacency ahead of tomorrow’s encounter; he is too experienced to treat any opposition lightly, even though Plymouth Arygle’s triumph against relegation rivals Gillingham meant Lucketti’s men fell back to bottom of the pile through no fault of their own.

Portsmouth vs Bury H 1718

Pompey have conceded just over a goal per game, which is more than respectable given the need to adjust back to the third tier. Luke McGee has in front of him an enviable centre-back pairing: neither are incredibly quick but they are titans in defence. Matt Clarke has great composure on the ball and controlled aggression in the tackle; Christian Burgess possesses brutish strength and can be a menace in the other box, too. They are flanked by Brandon Haunstrap on the left (who is decent in the air despite his short stature) and Nathan Thompson on the right (another force to be reckoned with and he will eat any punts up to Michael Smith with relish).

Ahead of them is a central midfield that tends to start reasonably apart from the defensive line but that will sit in to protect a lead, which they have done with no small measure of success in 2017/2018. Danny Rose is one of the best in his role in the division and his selfless play and copious amounts of stamina mean he is a peerless pivot in Jackett’s setup. Stuart O’Keefe is almost a carbon copy and they will control the game given any opportunity.

On the wings, Gareth Evans will shuttle between the thirds and provide defensive support to Thompson whilst Jamal Lowe will stay the furthest forward. His tremendous agility and skill whilst dribbling can stretch the other team to breaking point and helps create plenty of space for Conor Chaplin in particular. The latter has been utilised more from the bench thus far but with Kal Naismith perhaps a week away from fitness, I’d expect to see him patrolling between the lines behind the lethal Brett Pitman. Another pacey player in an XI with not much shortage of it, he can swap roles with the former Ipswich Town striker in a combination rarely seen at this level. Pitman will be hoping to add to his tally of a dozen in League One and I believe his positioning is the chief reason why he has so many to his name.

vs Portsmouth A 1718.PNG

Although Jermaine Beckford is probably knocking on the door to be thrust back into the thick of it, I think it would be a mistake to throw him back in from the off, especially after a couple of bounce games were called off both this and last week. The same XI that started away at Walsall in the EFL Trophy on the 2nd of December will probably be named once more. Lucketti is not one to make sweeping changes but he must avoid instructing his team to play too directly (and aerially) to Smith because it simply won’t work. He needs Nicky Ajose to stick close to him again and for the loanee to peel off from his markers so the runners from midfield might profit.

As for a prediction, I think a 1-1 draw could be on the cards. Yes, the hosts will enjoy a vociferous, sizeable crowd at Fratton Park but that’s always been the case on the Hampshire coast and what will be key is not allowing the men in blue to dominate proceedings from the off. The improvements made in midfield might just allow Bury to leave with a point.

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Buryball: Kevin Keegan 2.0

If you need a reminder of the Buryball ‘rules’, look here. I’d also recommend reading up on Chapter 1 first…

The excellent second-placed finish in League One did not unfortunately mean a vastly increased budget to work with to even countenance survival. The maiden season had proven that attack was the best form of defence and with no wiggle room in the transfer market whatsoever, I had to rely on some canny loans to augment the largely inexperienced roster. In came the likes of Scott McTominay and Regan Poole from Manchester United. Most of the surplus wage available in the kitty went on securing Steven Caulker on a free after his release from Queens Park Rangers in an effort to shore up the backline against the inevitable onslaught most sides in the Championship would wreak against essentially the same group that slightly overachieved in 2017/2018.

An eight-goal thriller on the opening day at home to Barnsley certainly set the tone for the rest of the campaign; the attacking trio of Harry Bunn, Jay O’Shea and Chris Maguire adjusting to life in the second tier with ease. An early exit in the League Cup probably enhanced hopes of remaining free from concerns of relegation in the early months. Indeed, the autumn period yielded several good results. Tsun Dai filling in for Maguire competently during the latter’s time on the treatment table.

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“ENGLAND PREVAILS!”

Brexit is a big part of playing in the UK on Football Manager with wildly varying outcomes and the ramifications stretch deep into saves. This instance was no different and the ‘headline’ was a strict limit of 17 non-UK players in the first team squad, which sounds generous on the surface but would drastically alter both my plans and the elite clubs in the Premier League.

Keeping the Shakers well above the predicted position of 23rd was beginning to draw envious glances from larger Lancashire neighbours – both Bolton Wanderers and Blackburn Rovers became managerless in quick succession and they approached me directly to take over the reins. Naturally, I declined. December was a tricky, winless month – a 5-3 reverse at Aston Villa was followed by a clutch of consecutive draws.

The vultures were swirling in January upon the reopening of the transfer window, particularly after defeat to Wolves in the third round of the FA Cup predictably ended any flickering interest in that competition. I successfully persuaded Stewart Day to not over my head for a second successive time, retaining the services of Greg Leigh but selling Martin Meaney for £1m, a princely sum for a 16 year-old who hadn’t yet tasted first team action. Form in the league turned a corner to such an extent that the EFL saw fit to award me with Manager of the Month.

A ludicrous third 4-4 draw against Millwall in February was the catalyst to a run-in that only saw three defeats from then on. Somehow, the swashbuckling attacking style had just about triumphed over a paper-thin defence…

Bury were in with a shout of an unthinkable second successive promotion… to the Premier League. All those high-scoring draws had been worth it as it meant only 10 losses were accrued and a two-legged affair against favourites Sunderland beckoned.

A precious 1-0 win at Gigg Lane thanks to the sterling efforts of Eoghan O’Connell meant only a draw at the ‘cauldron’ of the Stadium of Light was required for a trip to Wembley. Things looked decidedly bleak when the Black Cats raced into a two-goal lead after just 12 minutes but the underdogs roared back into the tie and, despite being outshout by a ratio of two-to-one, levelled the second leg through O’Connell (again) and Danny Mayor.

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Eoghan O’Connell was the toast of Tottington…

Brighton & Hove Albion were looking for an immediate return to the top table of English football but in balmy sunshine, they couldn’t make anything of their dominance in the final third…

Amongst all the jubilation of reaching the promised land well ahead of schedule, the chairman handed me the initial budget for an assault on the Premier League. Even within the confines of Buryball, the sums were paltry and a lot of creativity was going to be required to avoid the kind of ignominy Derby County and their supporters suffered a decade prior.

To comply with regulations, a touch over 1,000 seats needed to be added to Gigg Lane. However, I set the club’s sights higher. With my begging bowl, I pleaded with the chairman to move to a new site to help maximise income off-the-field. He only accepted on the proviso that I increased the reputation in the years to come. To do that, I’d need to make the stay at the zenith more than just a blink of an eye… and Kevin Keegan-esque tactics couldn’t work for a second season, right? Right?

Bury vs AFC Wimbledon: Preview

Bury manager Chris Lucketti will be making his home debut for the second time but on this occasion, in the dugout as his side welcome AFC Wimbledon to Gigg Lane. As you’d expect under new stewardship, the atmosphere surrounding the playing side of the club is more positive than at any recent juncture preceding his appointment. The addition of Joe Parkinson as his assistant seems to have gone down well amongst the supporters; ultimately though, they will be judged on the immediate future in terms of league results.

vs AFC Wimbledon H 1718

I don’t foresee any changes from the victory over Walsall in the EFL Trophy first knockout stage last Saturday, presuming Greg Leigh is feeling fit. A more than competent team display with the different units actually resembling units was the order of the day; Nicky Ajose underlined his credentials to carry the burden whilst Jermaine Beckford edges closer to fitness and seemed to have fostered a decent understanding with Michael Smith; a high press against the visitors could reap dividends, particularly if Jay O’Shea can find some space and play it between the compact lines. The early signs augur well under Lucketti’s guidance but it will be a different sort of test tomorrow.

AFC Wimbledon vs Bury 1718

His opposite number Neal Ardley has had what I would consider exactly the sort of 2017/2018 I expected from AFC Wimbledon, hovering just above the drop-zone and finding a reliable source of goals extremely difficult to come by. There have been notable wins (especially in the cups against Tottenham Hotspur, who they will face in the third round of the FA Cup after dispatching rivals Charlton Athletic last week) but consistency has been a huge issue. They of course had to deal with several high-profile departures in the summer and much of the craft and finesse witnessed last year has disappeared along with them.

Their style is very direct (even more so than in 2016/2017). Loanee George Long has been one of the better performers in League One between the sticks and doesn’t have any major weaknesses; the back four are all well-drilled, imposing in the air and content to sit very deep. Jon Meades’ long-throws have some potency, so the Shakers will need to watchful in those situations. The sitting midfield two of Tom Soares and Liam Trotter shuttle amiably when out of possession and provide good cover for their teammates.

Lyle Taylor’s pace can hurt plenty of sides and he will look to get as close as possible to Cody McDonald when the ball is punted up to the latter; his five goals are proof positive of his ability in an outfit that have the fewest shots on target in the entire division. Andy Barcham will look to do the same as Taylor, peeling off from the right to profit from knock-downs and draw markers towards him.

As for a prediction, I’m going for a 2-1 win to the hosts. There is no doubt that AFC Wimbledon will put up a substantial fight in tomorrow’s encounter (assuming the weather stays cold but clear and the game is fine). They should have the measure of Smith in the air but as he proved last time out, if Ajose can prove to be an effective partner for him, his lay-offs might be enough to unlock a dogged and resolute backline.