Tag: footballmanager

Buryball, Chapter 7: More Reasons to Praise Morris, Son

“Buryball? Eh?” Confused? Read Chapter 0 for a short precis.

Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6

At the midway point of the campaign, here are a few league-only player and team stats as a measure of how 1885 Bury are faring beyond the table itself:

Player Stats:

Top Scorer: James Morris – 13 (joint 1st best)
Most Assists: no player in the top 20
Most Player of the Match Awards: James Morris – 5 (joint 3rd best)
Highest Average Rating: James Morris – 7.11 (10th best)

Team Stats:

Goals For: 28 (joint 11th best)
Goals Against: 23 (joint 4th best)
Pass Completion Ratio: 72% (1st best)
Shots on Target Ratio: 39% (6th best)
Shot Conversion Rate: 7% (22nd best… the worst!)

 

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James Morris gets his reward for a superb December, scoring six goals in just five matches

(1885 Bury score first):

Curzon Ashton (a): 3-1

Near neighbours Curzon Ashton employed a narrow 4-3-3, a shape rarely seen at any level in English football. It was precisely that lack of width that led to a penalty for the Shakers, and top scorer Morris got his 18th of the term despite the best efforts of Cameron Mason. In a very dominant showing, Morris assisted Dylon Meredith for a simple headed second at the far post. Luke Jordan did his best to dispel that narrative, capping off a solo run with a cut inside and neat finish to reduce the arrears. James Hudson fed Morris from the other flank for a third; however, Jason Fletcher was taken off injured with all three subs made, but other than a concession of territory, no real effect was seen. Nine games unbeaten now…

Kidderminster Harriers (a): 0-0

17 points off the leaders (and occupiers of the sole automatic promotion spot), and in a tightly-fought contest, 1885 Bury had Lewis Landers to thank on several occasions for earning a stalemate.

Hartlepool United (a) <FA Trophy 2nd Round>: 0-2

The next match on the road pitted the Shakers against higher tier opposition in the form of National League outfit Hartlepool. Well-known lower league veteran Jason Kennedy crashed in the first for the north-eastern club. Rumarn Burrell thought he’d added a second before the 10th minute mark, but it was disallowed for a clear offside. Altin Zeqiri did ensure clear daylight after a good switch from the left flank. Morris could’ve done better with a rare opportunity late on, but the hosts were well worth their win. The result of that is passing the club vision for the competition, but not exceeding it.

Farsley Celtic (h): 2-0

Morris reached his 20th whilst still in January in this fixture (no small feat regardless of the level), and was quickly followed by a Meredith rebound to solidify the advantage. Hudson did his very best to engineer a way for Farsley to get back into the match with a red for a rash tackle, but they could only muster one shot on target in the 90 minutes.

Alfreton Town (h): 0-0

This match was like a throwback to the ‘dark days’ of October – having the majority of possession, creating more chances, but simply not finishing them off. Alfreton were sturdy opposition, putting up a decent fight of their own without landing many blows.

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Firmly entrenched in the play-off picture

Can an unlikely run to the title be mounted without any cups to distract my young squad? Find out tomorrow if it becomes even plausible…

Chapter 8…

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Buryball, Chapter 6: Hudson Bae

“Buryball? Eh?” Confused? Read Chapter 0 for a short precis.

Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5

As the nights start to really draw in, the board have put me on a C+ grade, which always felt at school like a bit of a mickey-take whenever I got it (which was frequently in most subjects). I’m hoping the holiday season will be bringing very good tidings for my young squad as I seek to at least meet the minimum requirements in the league of gate-crashing the expanded play-off picture.

(1885 Bury score first):

Bradford (Park Avenue) (a): 3-2

Brad Dockerty put the willies up the youthful Shakers early doors by powering in a header, only to be deemed very marginally offside. Dan Mooney then rattled the bar with a similar effort, and both of these were against the general flow of the first half. Leading scorer James Morris, back in for the transfer-listed Joe Thompson, showed his budding skills in front of goal once more, latching onto a loose ball in the area to toe-poke home. That seemed to put the tie beyond Bradford, but a superb solo run and finish from Joe Hawkes levelled things up. Despite the paucity in the ‘goals for’ column, the tactic seemed to be coming together. Some intricate approach play between the attack-minded four resulted in a close-range tap-in by Ellis Hudson to regain the lead. It didn’t last. Oli Johnson notched a very similar strike to Morris, but the latter was not done. One poor backpass went unpunished, but not a second one. A calm finish made it 3-2 deep into injury time.

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Not great, not terrible – the first youth intake preview

Kidlington (a) <FA Trophy 1st Round>: 1-0

The Oxfordshire-based Southern League Division One Central outfit were the next opposition, and a win in this game was paramount to meeting the club vision. Despite the gulf in divisions, I felt it necessary to name a strong XI for the encounter. Territorial and shot dominance in the opening period didn’t yield a goal, and Morris was guilty of missing two sitters just after the restart. He then conspired to hit the woodwork from three yards out, and I was beginning to wonder if a replay would be required (one of the quirks of the FA Trophy is that both teams have to agree whether to hold extra time – Kidlington did not agree prior to the fixture taking place). Centre-back Cameron Taylor finally broke the deadlock in the 71st minute from a Hudson free-kick – that proved to be sufficient to squeak by.

The second round draw meant a third away trip in a row in the competition, this time against higher tier opposition – struggling Hartlepool United in the National League. The game will be a real test of the team’s (improving) credentials.

Brackley Town (h): 2-2

A cagey affair in the first quarter came to a close with an own goal by Gareth Dean for the visitors, who was under no pressure at all when he guided Dylon Meredith’s cross beyond his despairing goalkeeper. The ex-Burnley prospect then got in on the act himself, turning in a square ball by Ross Woodcock. Lewis Landers preserved the rare two-goal advantage with a smart save from a direct free-kick after the break. Lee Ndlovu halved the deficit with a strike out of nowhere, and unfortunately, it was merely the precursor for the equaliser from Matt Lowe, ensuring the Shakers were back out of play-off contention.

That was the trigger point for the squad being unhappy with my management, but I think I bought some time with an admission that things hadn’t been up to scratch (even though results and performances have improved recently).

Blyth Spartans (a): 3-0

The first of three festive fixtures saw some great switching between the wingers, but it was Morris who bagged his 14th from a long punt forward from Alex Honeyball. Jacob Fletcher added another with a volley from outside the box in the second half. Hudson should’ve sealed it, but only conspired to find the inside of the post. Blyth offered nothing whatsoever, and Morris did get the vital third to prevent any sniff of a comeback as had been witnessed in the game prior, although Tom Devitt did get a consolation in the fifth minute of three minutes of injury time.

Gateshead (h): 2-1

The Heed started in earnest, having the lion’s share of the early shots on goal but without profit. Turning the season in general on its head, 1885 Bury took advantage of that profligacy, Hudson and Meredith combining once more to great effect. Cameron Sangster ensured that lead was short-lived, bundling in an ugly fashion from a corner. Morris ballooned over in the six-yard area. Landers kept the Shakers in the tie with a save from a similar chance. Ex-Bury centre back Michael Nelson smashed the bar with the resultant set piece. A ding-dong affair went the distance… until Morris made amends for his earlier gaffe, heading home from a Cameron Esien cross.

Spennymoor Town (h): 2-1

A few changes were required to keep some players refreshed. Francis McAughtrie’s reintroduction could’ve gone better straightaway, but missed a gilt-edged opportunity. Michael Collins opened the scoring for Spennymoor instead, and only a late comback courtesy of Simeon Oure and Morris once more kept the engine of recovery ticking over.
(N.B. The game didn’t save properly after the first result, which was 1-0, hence the change in scoreline/scorers).

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A far healthier position to see in 2020…

Now firmly entrenched in the play-offs, but 14 points off the sole automatic spot. Can the good form continue into the new year? Check back tomorrow in Chapter 7!

Buryball, Chapter 5: El Sackico

“Buryball? Eh?” Confused? Read Chapter 0 for a short precis.

Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4

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FM20’s words, not mine!

The ‘B-‘ from the end of September has slipped to a ‘D’ in the view of the board. There’s going to be no grace period for working towards getting results in a newly introduced tactic. They have to happen now.

(1885 Bury score first):

Leamington (a) – 3-2

Ah, Leamington. We must stop meeting like this. Thankfully, James Morris headed in his 10th of the season after two minutes, and the onslaught on the hosts’ 18-yard box continued. Maybe the players actually wanted to preserve my job after all. Winger Fergus McAughtrie is one of a litany of individuals who just hasn’t lived up to their talent on paper, but even he put his desperately poor form behind him for this encounter with a looping header for the second goal. After the restart, Jack Edwards reduced the arrears, profiting from a well-worked corner routine. Lucas Tomlinson then beat the offside trap to level with a touch over quarter of an hour left. I had to go for it, with so much on the line… and just when it seemed all hope was lost, Ellis Hudson went on a marauding run and blasted in from an acute angle. An actual win. Three actual goals!

Darlington (a) – 0-1

A fortnight separated the first two games in November (thanks to already bowing out of the FA Cup), allowing the squad to almost be back to full health. Darlington, who have been able to drop their year founded moniker after reforming, sat in second before this fixture, but I still felt like I had to ignore Anthony Johnson’s advice to adopt a more cautious approach. Okera Simmonds punished that arrogance, stepping into the space vacated by the out of position James Cook and finishing coolly. Whilst certainly not overawed by the opposition, the Quakers did have the lion’s share of the better opportunities, and should have won by a larger margin.

=============

The elections to be the new chair of the fan-owned club belatedly came to a close after what felt like an eternity.

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The next message said ‘there are no plans to make any further investment into the club’, but that’s okay, actually.

Biggleswade (a) <FA Trophy 3rd Qualifying Round> – 2-0

Curiously, the draw for the FA Trophy was only made a few days before the fixture was due to take place, pitting 1885 Bury against Biggleswade, members of the Southern League Division One Central (tier eight). Only formed three years ago, the Bedfordshire outfit were one of the most local to me before I made the move to the Forest of Dean. Despite the two-division gulf, this game felt like a throwback to the dark days of October – all the possession, the majority of the shots, but no goals to show for it. With extra-time embarrassingly looming, Morris once again made the difference, volleying in from a Hudson cross. The right-winger then added a second. The minimum expectation is to reach the second round proper, and with my failure to meet a similar goal in the FA Cup, more emphasis is going to have go on the competition than I’d originally envisaged.

Southport (h) 1-0

Ah, where was this performance hiding? The Sandgrounders started the game firmly ensconced in the play-offs, but were dominated from the off at Pilsworth Park. Zehn Mohammed, formerly of Accrington Stanley, made a horror tackle on Thompson whilst the striker on the break from a Southport corner, forcing the visitors to play out the final 30 minutes a man short. The breakthrough came from a corner of 1885 Bury’s own, Jacob Fletcher nodding in from a Cook centre.

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Still on the outside looking in…

Will Christmas bring good tidings for the Shakers? Can I get back into the play-offs? Find out on Monday in Chapter 6!

Buryball, Chapter 4: ‘Meat Pie, Sausage Roll, C’mon 1885 Bury, Give Us a Goal!’

“Buryball? Eh?” Confused? Read Chapter 0 for a short precis.

Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3

According to the monthly managerial summary, my start to life in the National League North has been graded as a ‘B-‘, with particular criticism reserved for the ‘less than exciting tactics’ to date. What a load of rubbish – I only gave the board and fans a 10-goal thriller the other week! What more do they want? An average of a goal a game in the league?

Oh.

(1885 Bury score first):

Kettering Town (h) – 0-2

The visitors to Pilsworth Park ‘boasted’ a certain Joe Skarz in their lineup at left-back. The two-time Shaker in real life has seen injuries catch up with him, hence the drop to semi-pro. He was the one laughing however when his opposite number Ross Woodcock was dismissed for unnecessarily pulling back Daniel Nti when already on a yellow. Simeon Oure, carrying a slight knock, was sacrificed for defensive solidity. I needn’t have bothered when a route one free-kick routine left Callum Maycock with the simplest of headers to nod into the far corner approaching the hour mark, leaving me a man light, a goal down, and in a tactical dilemma. Ultimately, I decided for a slightly more positive posture, attacking down Skarz’ flank. Maycock again profited from a dead ball to wipe out the slim positive goal difference I had enjoyed in the league, and whilst defeat wasn’t a disaster under the circumstances, it again made me rue how costly some of the red cards have been this campaign already. Woodcock then bleated about how unfair fining him a day’s wages was, but I was in no mood for clemency.

Leamington (h) <FA Cup Qualifying 3rd Round> –  0-0

The pressure was back on a bit to deliver a result and passage to the fourth and final round of qualifying before the ‘proper’ stage of the FA Cup. James Cook, whose signing has not been popular with fans, was demanding more gametime. I put him to cover in behind the defensive line as a bulwark against balls being launched over the top. Left-winger Fergus McAughtrie had a goal controversially chalked off for offside when he looked dead level, and that was the height of the approach play for almost the entire match, barely even registering a shot afterwards. Leading scorer (a relative term) James Morris also had a strike disallowed, but in truth, the Shakers were fortunate to earn a replay, completely nullified by the opposition.

Leamington (a) <FA Cup Qualifying 3rd Round  – Replay> –  0-0 aet (8-7 pens)

The prize on offer for the victors of the replay is a trip to Chorley in the tier above. It was clear how much both teams wanted it – not a single highlight in the first half. Connor Gudger smashed against the post for Leamington to remind the spectators that there was something resembling a football match on display, although there was little else to stir them. Extra time at least meant being able to make a fourth sub to stem the fatigue creeping in to the part-timers’ bodies, and their task was made a touch easier by a tired tackle by Jack Edwards, reducing the hosts down to 10. There was no choice now but to go for it as a shoot-out would not bring any kind of advantage… but it made no telling difference. Leamington elected to take first, and after two goes each, it was 1-1. After four attempts, it was 2-2, Callum O’Neill saving twice, the Shakers’ takers hitting the post or blasting wide. Sudden death wasn’t looking like separating the teams either, with the scores now up to 7-7 from nine attempts apiece. O’Neill shut out his opposite number, and Harry Bircumshaw finally tucked away the winning penalty!

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Phew!

Gloucester City (a) – 1-0

It was then back to the bread and butter of the league after the euphoria had died down and the dark fruit cider had been imbibed. The games coming thick and fast necessitated a few changes to the starting lineup in an attempt to actually score a goal in normal play. Zack Kotwica missed a gilt-edged chance for the hosts (who actually have to play in a different county because of flooding 12 years ago), but aside from that, it was 1885 Bury who were playing the better football, helped in no small way by Morris’ restoration to the team. Vincent Harper inexplicably chested into his own net from a Woodcock free-kick to give me a precious lead, which I then tried to hold onto by bringing on target man Challis Johnson to partner Morris. It did just that, but still provided very scarce amounts of entertainment for the travelling supporters.

Hereford (a) – 2-4

A trip to another reformed former EFL club was a welcome one… at least until they won and converted a second minute penalty. The Bulls then got another one just four minutes later, but thankfully, Tom Owen-Evans wasn’t able to double his side’s tally. Keiran Thomas then played exactly the sort of ball over the top that I’d tasked Cook with cutting out… but he didn’t, and Brad Ash made it two-zip. Ryan Scholes-Beard, fired up from the half-time rollicking, cut their advantage in half with a volley after a great knockdown by Morris. Owen-Evans turned provider to a completely unmarked Jordan Nicholson 60 seconds later. Centre-back Martin Riley heaped further misery soon afterwards, and Morris’ own striker after good hold-up play by sub Joe Thompson meant very little in the end.

Chorley (a) <FA Cup Qualifying 4th Round> – 0-3

As you’d expect, the Lancashire outfit set their stall out from the beginning, taking the game to the young Shakers. Oliver Crankshaw, who was completely bossing Ify Ofoegbu, exploited some defensive sloppiness to give the Magpies the lead. In truth, both full-backs were having a torrid time, and I used all my substitutions to try to salvage a replay, only for Oure to then limp off… sigh. Crankshaw assisted Chris Holroyd, who had a ‘memorable’ spell on loan at Gigg Lane in 2010/2011, and then blasted in a third for Chorley late on. Technically, the exit made it a side bearing the name of Bury’s worst performance in the famous competition for 128 years.

AFC Telford United (h) – 0-0

Back to the tactical drawing board. I can’t escape the fact that the squad were signed in mind to fit a 4-2-3-1, but the emphasis on controlling possession just wasn’t creating enough chances, nor winning the ball back quickly to relieve pressure on the defence. Hitting the woodwork twice in the first half was only adding to my frustration.

Altrincham (h) – 0-0

A sense of déjà vu crept in, further compounded by a Thompson penalty miss. 22 shots and no goals…

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It’s getting a bit depressing now…

Will the tactical overhaul eventually lead to a glut of goals? Check back later on Friday to find out!

Chapter 5…

Buryball, Chapter 3: Own Goal Bonanza!

“Buryball? Eh?” Confused? Read Chapter 0 for a short precis.

Chapter 1
Chapter 2

Straight after the Farsley Celtic draw, star man Denilson Carvalho picked up a foot injury, keeping him out of most of September’s fixtures, the first of which was a tasty looking one against…

(1885 Bury score first):

York City (h) – 1-0

The Minstermen were up in third prior to the encounter; Bury and York games had once been testy affairs, especially between the two sets of supporters. Having the new entity in the same division could rekindle the ‘rivalry’ once more, and the reformed Shakers struck first. Harry Bircumshaw had been impressing for the U23s in scratch games, so I decided to give him the nod for the vacant berth behind Morris. He made the decision look extremely wise with quarter of an hour gone, rifling in a cut-back by the overlapping Ify Ofoegbu. Visiting wing-back David Ferguson almost restored parity just a few minutes later – his audacious lob from an acute angle bounced off the crossbar. These passages constituted the only meaningful highlights of the game, taking 1885 Bury to within two points of York and into the expanded play-off positions.

Alfreton Town (a) – 0-1

7th vs 6th at North Street in Derbyshire saw David Lynch (no, not that one) let loose from 30 yards for the Reds before an unmarked Josh Clackstone got the opener just before the stroke of half-time. Amari Morgan-Smith thought he’d doubled the hosts’ lead, only for the linesman to flag for offside. Clackstone and 1885 Bury sub Joe Thompson both spurned golden opportunities to change the complexion of the game deep in the second half.

==========

What was becoming crystal clear at this juncture was the lack of goals – at both ends; just seven for and six against in the first nine games wasn’t terrible on the face of it, but it did feel as though I was being left in the dust by possible competitors for promotion. I switched up the shape to a 4-2-4, relying on the midfielders to sit deep and spray the ball wide to the flanks.

The draw for the second qualifying round for the FA Cup was made in between the Alfrteon and Guiseley fixtures, pitting my young pups against Cambridgeshire-based Histon, currently plying their trade in the Isthmian League North Division (tier eight). The minimum expectation of the board is to reach the first round proper…

==========

Guiseley (h) – 0-0

The strategic and tactical adjustments were in full evidence early on at Pilsworth Park. The Oure and Morris combination were getting plenty of shots off but with nothing to show for it. The pattern repeated itself until the final whistle; the shoot on sight policy was beefing up the stat, but not where it mattered.

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18 shots, 2 on target… eesh.

Boston United (a) – 0-0

Fringe full-backs Ross Woodcock and James Yates both saw fit to come to my door prior to the trip down to Lincolnshire to demand more playing time – luckily for me, they don’t operate on the same flank. Unusually, centre-back Alex Honeyball is the best direct free-kick taker in the XI, and tried his damnedest to channel Siniša Mihajlović with a curling effort that whistled just over the bar. Boston didn’t have a single shot in the first half, but went unpunished for their paucity. Morris then hit the inside the post after a clever through ball was played into his path by the brilliantly named vice-captain Scholes-Beard. This seemed to wake the hosts up, and Jordan Thewlis made a hash of two opportunities in quick succession. Morris again hit the upright when connecting with an Oure inswinger. Surely it’s only a matter of time for his luck to change?

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Fresh on the back of Anthony Johnson studying for a higher badge, the chairmanship is up for election…

Histon (a) <FA Cup Qualifying 2nd Round> – 7-3

The onus was very much on me to inspire a dominant, goal-filled performance from the profiligate troupe; Morris appeared to have ended his drought in the 12th minute from a simple square pass by Bircumshaw, only for it to be credited as an own goal. Dylon Meredith then had the great idea of booting a clearance against goalkeeper Callum O’Neill – two goals and neither in the right end! Morris did confirm his name on the scoresheet, making the most of a mistimed header at the second attempt. Honeyball headed in his first for the club from another Oure assist, and the latter provided Morris with the second of his opening period hat-trick. Scholes-Beard got the sixth from the spot before Cameron Taylor felt sympathetic towards the outclassed hosts, heading into his unguarded net for a third own goal of the match! Sub striker Challis Johnson got off the mark for 1885 Bury with a towering header, and Zac Werndly grabbed a consolation. 10 goals all in all, almost the same amount as combining the for and against columns in the league deep in October…

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No, not making it up…

The draw for the third qualifying round was (reasonably) kind, pitting 1885 Bury against 21st-placed Leamington in the same division at home.

King’s Lynn Town (h) – 2-1

The only noteworthy incident in the first 45 was Meredith going off injured. Morris carried on his new-found form and confidence, however, taking the ball round the ‘keeper to slot in the opener after brilliantly controlling a pass from Scholes-Beard. Jordan Richards grabbed the equaliser from an incisive breakaway before the hour mark, and Aaron Jones gifted 1885 Bury the win in injury time with an underhit backpass to Brad Watkins – Morris grabbed his fifth in two outings. The win was costly, however; Meredith’s injury was confirmed as a twisted ankle, ruling him out completely of Chapter 4 on Friday…

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Glass full: just outside the play-offs and a superb defensive record; empty: scored precisely the same as the two relegation candidates…

 

Buryball, Chapter 2: Morris is a Dancer

“Buryball? Eh?” Confused? Read Chapter 0 for a short precis.

Chapter 1 is here.

After three hours’ ceaseless searching, the quest for a Director of Football ended in the form of Mark Wright. Yes, the former Liverpool centre back from my childhood in the 90s who seemed to have perfected the art of putting through his own net. Thankfully, he’s not terrible in his new position, so he should be of some use. His appointment has not shifted the bookies’ pre-season odds – 1885 Bury are predicted to come 22nd… out of 22. Whilst having to knit together 29 extremely youthful individuals into something resembling a squad probably has something to do with it, 175-1 does seem a bit long.

I also agreed to pay out high collective bonuses to the team in order to further incentivise progress in both league and cup competition. Doing so doesn’t contravene any of the five tenets of Buryball, especially as the differences are so small.

It then came time to choose my captain and vice for the campaign. I’m sure you’ll agree that the names of the players augur well…

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Games in the National League come thick and fast; August alone contains seven, starting off with…

(1885 Bury score first):

Brackley Town (a) – 1-0

An encouraging start down in Northamptonshire. Local lad Denilson Carvalho capped off a fine performance on his debut by grabbing the decisive goal, making the most of some slack marking to rifle home from a Simeon Oure corner. 61% possession on the road is a great platform to build on as well, and it’s likely to be a style that will frustrate the opposition on good days, and the Shakers faithful on bad ones.

Blyth Spartans (h) – 0-0

Ah, Blyth Spartans – a name that still makes fans of a certain age shudder. The visitors’ tactic was the archetypal one for the sixth tier – put 10 men behind the ball and lump it long to the target man. It worked a treat, nullifying the Shakers’ attacking threats. Not a single clear-cut chance was created by either side, but Blyth could’ve won it at the death – a free header at the far post hit the side netting…

Gateshead (a) – 1-0

Another side that know all about financial problems, and also boasting a sprightly central defensive partnership of Mike Williamson and one-time Bury player Michael Nelson at a combined age of 74. James Morris latched onto the latter’s dawdling to strike in the sixth minute somewhat against the general run of play in the first half. The keep-ball in the second period was beginning to sway things back in my favour, although a slew of opportunities came and went to increase the lead.

Curzon Ashton (h) – 2-0

Possibly the closest thing to a derby in the National League North, local hospitality was not offered on the pitch. Morris was the beneficiary of another Oure corner, latching on to a loose ball to nod home in the fifth minute – clearly, the extra training sessions dedicated to attacking set pieces were having their desired effect. Nicky Wroe (a former Bury loanee in 2006/2007) made Curzon’s task all the more difficult with a red card for a two-footed lunge. Oure and Morris combined once more for the former to volley in a second after a headed one-two. Four clean sheets in a row!

Spennymoor Town (a) – 1-3

Very little in the way of noteworthy action at either end in the opening 45. The encounter exploded into life when Oure was brought down by Stephen Brogan inside the area 10 minutes after the restart, and Morris made the most of the resultant spot-kick, tucking in his third of the nascent campaign. Spennymoor had several half-chances to level things up before right-back Ify Ofoegbu hit the woodwork. Lewis Landers was finally beaten in the 85th minute, courtesy of a wonder strike from 20 yards by Max Anderson. Brogan made amends for giving away the penalty by giving the hosts the lead in injury time, which was further cemented with the last kick of the game by Andrew Johnson.

Kidderminster Harriers (h) – 0-1

Fellow play-off hopefuls Kidderminster won a penalty after a needless push by Ross Woodcock from a free-kick, which Noah Chilvers duly dispatched. The youngster could’ve put the game beyond doubt in the second period but fluffed his lines. Nevertheless, it was a powder-puff performance that left with some concerns.

Farsley Celtic (a) – 1-1

Tom Heardman never kicked a meaningful ball in anger for Bury during his loan spell from Newcastle United in 2017/2018, returning to his parent club even before August was out. On this game however, he proved to be a thorn, just about staying onside to arc a shot into the far corner for Farsley. Skipper Winner Luabu sent a rocket against the bar as the Shakers piled forward in search of an equaliser. In the 86th minute, it arrived; Alfie Raw stole possession deep in the West Yorkshire outfit’s half, squaring it for Joe Thompson to stroke home. Dylon Meredith immediately killed any prospect of finding a winner with a horror tackle, receiving his marching orders as the game petered out.

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9th place and a steady start…

Can the new Shakers build on their upper mid-table position in September? Find out on Thursday…

This way to Part 3…

Buryball, Chapter 1: Anthony & the Johnson (Redux)

“Buryball? Eh?” Confused? Read Chapter 0 for a short precis.

This is a reworked version of Chapter 1 – there were a number of issues with the save – changing/lowering the club’s reputation made it almost impossible from the outset; adding people as liked/disliked made them out to be alumni of 1885 Bury; I hadn’t loaded the ‘real name fix’ for some of the clubs – if I ever made it to the top table, Juventus would be Zebra, for example; the full release has fixed some minor bugs, too.

The people spoke. 1885 Bury would start in the National League North. A good thing, too, considering I got the official full release date of Football Manager 2020 wrong – it’s actually next Tuesday, not the traditional Friday that most video games come out on.

Still, a promise is a promise, and the game being in beta shouldn’t affect how the story unfolds too much. In case you’re unfamiliar with how Create-A-Club works on the Football Manager series, it lets you import your own logos (and kit if you’re particularly savvy) onto an existing club that you can then change pretty much every facet of, from little things like their likely minimum and maximum attendances for the league they’re competing in to the name and personnel.

For the purposes of Buryball, I wanted as clean a slate as possible, and crucially, to ‘replace’ a fan-owned club. The obvious candidates were Chester – the club culture is blank, which is a new and key feature of the game in this edition, and is amalgamated with the philosophies of previous years to give a more nuanced, easilly quantifiable assessment of how you’re performing in your role.

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Sorry, Seals! (To view any image in full size, open in a new tab and remove WordPress’ dimensions at the end of the URL).

The next step was to change the identity:

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The home and away shirts are modelled on the Legends Game that took place last month; the third kit is a close approximation of the first one ever worn by a club called ‘Bury FC’

For me, this had to go a bit deeper than simply the colours and stadium name (one of the locations that always used to be mooted if Bury did move grounds was in Pilsworth, an industrial estate in the east of the borough with motorway links).

When I finally got to the game proper, the club vision was laid out to me, and the task at hand was stark:

Vision 1920.png
Yeah, best of luck with that.

From next to nothing (no players, a skeleton crew comprising a backroom staff – I kept Shakers fan and ‘assistant manager’ Anthony Johnson on), I had seven weeks or so to assemble a squad capable of making the play-offs at a minimum in a notoriously tricky division. What’s worse, it seemed as though for a few of those weeks that I wouldn’t even be able to hire a Director of Football (granted, not many sixth tier clubs have one, but I always prefer having one on FM) – literally none were interested, so I had to place an advert in the vain hope of securing even an insipid one.

As for making signings, I decided to devise a tactic first – a contemporary 4-2-3-1 that favours using the flanks and retaining possession; it is sure to be tweaked and added to over the course of the campaign, and in time, I should have a solid ‘Plan B’. As there’s no academy in place (yet), I opted only to sign those under the age of 21, with hopefully a few of them developing well enough to be sold on for a profit that can then be invested primarily in the infrastructure if/when my standing is good enough with the board.

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Brackley Town await in the first ever competitive fixture for 1885 Bury., and it also represents many of the roster’s senior bows. Check back later tonight to see how it went, as well as the rest of August 2019 in-game…

Read Part 2 here!

Buryball, Chapter 0: Buryball is Back on Football Manager 2020!

It’s that time once more. With this year’s edition of Football Manager released officially in two days from now, I have listened to all my fans* who begged and pleaded with me to bring back my unique take on the ‘Moneyball’ philosophy, and how it can be used and refined with Bury.

Of course, this season is different. It will have escaped no-one’s attention whatsoever that the Shakers in real life were expelled from the EFL back in August, which from an FM perspective put my continued voluntary position as researcher for the club in serious jeopardy. Like everyone else, I have no idea what the short-term future holds for the ‘old’ (limited) company, although my bet would still be on (a very drawn out) liquidation.

I am but one of over 200 people involved in some small way with setting up a phoenix club, but as the likelihood of any FA application would place the new entity in either the eighth tier (Northern Premier League Division One North West) or ninth (North West Counties Premier Division), they would only be included in Football Manager 2021 on the database, and not a playable club in the base game.

That said, there are always downloadable add-ons on the Steam client; one of the most popular of these is the enfranchisement of all the clubs from the 10th tier up – that is the lowest step where all divisions run in parallel. In total, it brings another 893 English teams into the playable fold, and there is more research than ever that goes into ensuring the data that far down is accurate.

How does any of that affect Buryball, you ask? Well, the ‘old’ club are still on the game, sans any coaching staff (except Paul Wilkinson), official badge or kits. I’m unsure what the mechanism is for a side being promoted to the National League North/South on the base game. From an anecdotal perspective, I have play-tested Leicester City in the beta, and in the third season, Bury are still not back in the league system.

It is possible to use an in-game editor to manipulate events so that they’re returned to the ‘fold’, but I think that goes against the spirit of things somewhat. My preferred option is to use the ‘Create-A-Club’ mode, which lets you edit an existing club from the start, change the colours, badge, stadium, and so on. The biggest dilemma is whether to do this in the National League North or one of the lower tiers mentioned aboveI’ll be putting a poll out on Twitter after publishing this blog to let you decide.

So… what exactly is Buryball, anyway? In previous editions, it was my twist on the mantra of finding hidden gems, developing young players, and selling them on if a bid came in above their in-game value. Obviously, if I start out in the ninth tier, that will be harder to do at first – it might be that the vast majority of the personnel are on amateur contracts, not drawing a salary at all. It could make for a challenging start.

The aim of the save isn’t simply to get back to the EFL. It’s to do it in a sustainable way. Therefore, these are the rules I must follow during my stint in charge:

  • Net wage spend is more important than transfer spend, but…
  • The club cannot make a net loss in the transfer market outside of the first season in the Premier League (should I get that far).
  • Primarily, invest in infrastructure over new players.
  • The best way to improve a team is by identifying and replacing the weakest links, rather than by splashing out on making the best links even better.
  • Most fans value seeing players come through the youth academy system over other 16-20 year old signings, especially those who are on loan.

On reflection, I had too many rules when I’ve attempted this before – stripping them down to five makes them both more memorable and pertinent to the game.

As I detailed on Monday, I’m looking to be writing/publishing something on here or elsewhere every weekday. For that to work with Buryball, each chapter will probably encapsulate a month or so of in-game time. I hope you’ll find this redux enjoyable, and if you have any questions, suggestions, or feedback, do feel free to let me know!

Direct link to Part 1 here!

Buryball 2.0: 2-3 or Not 2-3

For Part 1 (including an explanation of Buryball), click here. For Part 2, click here.

When you’re desperate for any kind of result in League Two, a trip to Sincil Bank to face Lincoln City would be way down the list of preferred destinations. Danny Mayor was thankfully fit enough to be named in the first XI, with Stephen Dawson having to settle for a place on the bench on the advice of my coaching staff.

Once more, things started brightly. Nicky Maynard finally grabbed his first goal for the Shakers, burying a header in the fourth minute, connecting with a pinpoint, deep cross on the right flank by Nicky Adams.

Maynard 1st Goal 1819
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Sadly, the advantage lasted barely 120 seconds. Bruno Andrade, one of the exceptional talents in the division, was already tormenting Tom Miller, beating him for pace and centring the ball low for Kellan Gordon to stroke into the net.

The Imps were well on top for the remainder of the first half, and took the lead on 35 minutes. Andrade was the architect once more, and with the air raid siren blaring (in my mind at least), he could easily find the ominous, ever-present aerial threat of Jason Shackell, who makes winning the ball anywhere above head height look ridiculously simple. 2-1 to the hosts.

Bury were being dominated in possession and on clear-cut opportunities. My only option was to bring on Dawson in place of Jamie Barjonas, and hope that he was up to the physical demands placed upon him, both by the opposition and having only really just resumed full training. Similarly, Nicky Adams was being pushed back by Andrade, so I exchanged him for his namesake Joe, opting to keep him up there to provide another out-ball.

It was the other flank that saw an immediate benefit. Danny Mayor collected a hopeful punt by Adam Thompson (on the volley!), and in his classic style, ran at the home side’s backline, before checking onto his right foot and arrowing the ball into the far corner. Game on.

Yet again, it wouldn’t last. John Akinde had been relatively quiet up to this point, but he pounced on a half-cleared corner by Miller, squaring it for Lee Frecklington who, under pressure, laid it back off to Andrade. Joe Murphy was unsighted, and the game was lost, but not before one further chance for the visitors. Mayor made a darting run to be in the right place for an Eoghan O’Connell long diagonal pass, and watched in despair as his shot was saved by the strong, outstretched hand of Sam Slocombe. Four games, four defeats…

Chris Sang, ninth choice out of eight in the striking department, opted to join Ashton United on loan until the end of the season, and only a miracle will see his contract renewed when it expires upon his return.

So, to Crawley in the pouring rain four days later. Two chances went begging in the early exchanges for the beleaguered Lancashire outfit. Callum Styles, not known for his scoring prowess at senior level, drilled just wide whilst atop the on penalty spot. Minutes later, Thompson had a header cleared off the line, conspiring to do the same in his own area to ensure parity was kept… for moments more. The subsequent corner was tossed in by Luke Gambin, and Murphy raced through a crowd of players… only to miss it completely. Ollie Palmer lit a cigar and had a read of the local paper before remembering that he still had to ensure the ball crossed the line to make it 1-0 to the Red Devils.

Shot accuracy was a concern in the first period, not chance creation. 10 efforts came and went, but only one was on goal. Styles rattled the crossbar from a Mayor pullback, but that was the most trouble Glenn Morris had to deal with after the early let-off.

A slither prior to the hour mark, Maynard levelled the score. Styles released Mayor to his left, and with a low cross on his weaker foot, found the journeyman forward at the near post, glancing the ball in from all of two yards. Dawson again made a cameo from the bench at that juncture, and he was joined by Callum Hulme and Caolan Lavery in a switch of shape and emphasis to a more positive 4-4-2.

1-1 Maynard 59 mins, Styles releases Mayor, low cross on weak foot byline glanced in at near post; Dawson, Hulme and Lavery on 4-4-2. The Sheffield United loanee showed some good understanding with Maynard, with the former spotting Nicky Adams’ run off the ball in the half-space, and with his penetration left unchecked, the ball was eased into his path and finished with aplomb into the far corner.

All I wanted at that point was some calm from the team, taking no needless chances in defence especially. No such luck. O’Connell, with time and space, was robbed out wide by Dom Poleon. The Irish centre back was given a temporary reprieve by the versatile forward’s poor shot when one-on-one, but he did force a corner…

George Francomb took it from the left, and in a move clearly practiced on the training ground, Bondz N’Gala, with his back to goal, cushioned a header for Josh Payne to slam into the net. Matters got worse when Jimmy Smith was allowed freedom of right flank and the county of Essex, crossing in for Ashley Nathaniel-George to pile on the misery. 19 shots on the road, two more goals… and yet another 3-2 loss. Argh.

2-3 2-3 0-1 2-3 2-3 1819
Stop laughing at the back!

The perfect tonic for the malaise in the league is often a cup competition, evoking all the clichés about form going out of the window. Marco Silva’s Everton sat 10th in the Premier League with a symmetrical record from their opening three fixtures, and, likely because they’re in that first clutch of teams outside the ‘Big Six’, were taking their encounter with Bury very seriously indeed. They fancied their chances too, lining up in a decidedly attacking 4-2-4 and with an intimidating lineup, sporting Bernard and Theo Walcott on the wings. Yikes.

Tom Davies was tasked with pulling the strings in the two-man midfield. Not known for his aerial prowess, he nevertheless latched onto a Walcott set piece, producing a smart save from Murphy. The Irish goalkeeper quickly threw the ball long, and it eventually found Mayor 25 yards out, who hit it first time, crashing against the bar. Further opportunities weren’t at as much of a premium as I’d have anticipated prior to the match, probably as a result of the Toffees’ cavalier approach. In a carbon copy move from the last game, Maynard profited once more from an accurate centre by Nicky Adams, giving the basement club a shock lead… lasting less than a minute.

1-0 vs Everton 1819
The elation was the very epitome of ephemeral

If you can imagine this scenario, Walcott’s pace and trickery were too much for Chris Stokes, and the intelligent positioning of Cenk Tosun allowed him to find himself goalside but not offside, muscling in front of Thompson to equalise.

Tosun turned provider for strike partner Dominic Calvert-Lewin, drawing Miller out of his conservative proclivities, and in doing so, Thompson had to at least attempt to cover, but was stuck in no man’s lad, unable to prevent the cross, unable to prevent the finish. 2-1 to Everton.

In terms of clear-cut chances however, the two teams were equal. Barjonas released Maynard over the top, breaking their offside trap. England’s #1 Jordan Pickford dived superbly to keep out his effort, and in a similar move minutes later,  could only hit the side netting. The whistle for half-time below, and despite now being behind, I was encouraged by the overall display, having outshot a top-tier side on their own turf. Unsurprisingly though, both full backs had been given the runaround and were heavily fatigued, prompting a triple substitution to freshen things up.

For a fourth time in the game, Maynard had got the better of their star-studded backline, taking a superb long pass from Saul Shotton into his stride, kissing the post with his attempt. Then, Thompson showed his credentials at the other end, blocking Calvert-Lewin’s goalbound effort with an outstandingly timed block. That was as good as it was going to get, sadly, as the hosts’ vastly superior quality was beginning to tell.

Bernard made it 3-1, prodding home a rebound after his initial effort had been saved. The fourth had a touch of fortune, as the much-maligned Phil Edwards, on as a sub, actually stopped Cenk Tosun in his tracks… but the ball bobbled inadvertently to an unmarked Walcott, lashing home to put the tie to bed.

The rout was complete when Dawson cheaply surrendered possession in the middle of the park, leading to yet another breakway. Oumar Niasse’s close control broke the line, and fellow sub Gylfi Sigurðsson made the most of the gift.

5-1 Everton 1819
The scoreline doesn’t tell the whole story, but in the end, it doesn’t even matter

Three international call-ups in the fourth tier can let you request a postponement, and I decided to do just that. I couldn’t countenance being our players light with potentially no points on the board at home to Grimsby Town. Most notable of that group was Styles being drafted into the England U20s setup.

Grimsby Postponement 1819Lucketti Temerity

On the eve of a vital clash with Morecambe, ex-boss Chris Lucketti had the temerity to question the current management and form. Given that he chalked up one point in nine league matches, he should’ve kept his thoughts to himself, and it only hardened my resolve to go ‘two better’ than him immediately.

For this one, I reverted back to a 4-3-3; Stokes needed rest after suffering a knock midweek, leaving me a choice between not playing to Callum McFadzean’s strengths… or handing out another debut to a more naturally suitable candidate. I went with the latter despite the inherent risk, and Jack Hatton became the latest to emerge from the academy’s production line.

The Shrimps went on the attack from the off and were sucked in. The Shakers didn’t have any blisteringly speedy players in their side, but were still fleet of foot enough on the counter to open the scoring, Mayor using his instep to roll the ball in from a Nicky Adams’ pass. The ‘League Two Eden Hazard’ doubled his tally and his side’s lead, turning on the style with his classic dribble, cut inside and finish.

Two became three in no time at all. It was all-too apparent that Jim Bentley’s charges were terrified of Mayor’s forays forward, and this time he was the instigator, switching the ball to Nicky Adams on the right, and he kept up the pace, whipping in a wicked cross for Maynard to ease in.

Even three up, I wasn’t confident of gaining victory. If there’s one sure way to score against Bury, it’s from a corner. Andrew Tutte’s delivery came back to haunt his previous employers, Joe Piggott taking full advantage of Josef Yarney’s clever flick into his path. Barjonas had a shot that kissed the post before the break, and I made the conscious decision to keep attacking in the second period, having more belief in the likelihood that the Shakers could add to their tally over preventing their county rivals not staging a comeback.

Dawson is not renowned for his potency in front of goal, but he showed good intelligence to react to a chested pass inside the six yard box from Adams after another well-executed free-kick routine, notching his first of the season in the process. Maynard followed Barjonas in striking the woodwork, his angled shot coming after some good work by the Glasgow Rangers loanee to keep the chance alive.

With little left to lose, Bentley was encouraging almost everyone in a red and black shirt to press forward. Upon seeing this change of emphasis, I drafted in Cameron Hill for his bow on the league stage, placing him as an anchor man to rove between the defensive lines and snuff out the danger. This just made Morecambe look wider when transitioning, and they cut the deficit to two from another corner. On this occasion, Yarney was the scorer, nodding home from Carlos Mendes Gomes’ set piece.

They then conspired to reduce the lead to a single goal, Piggott hitting his shot across the ‘keeper. Fortunately, that was as far as they went, and the game finished as an eight-goal thriller when Maynard was fouled in the area by Yarney, tucking away the penalty himself. At last, a win in the league and off the foot of the EFL in the process. Still, conceding 16 goals in only six matches needs addressing by hook or by crook.

5-3 L2 Table 1819
Nosebleed time!

This resulted in three players being named in Team of the Week, including Murphy, batting away a slew of chances for the Seasiders at critical junctures.

TOTW 1 1819

A 1-0 loss to Carlisle in EFL Trophy inspired few talking points. In truth, it was a poor performance by both sides, hampered from my perspective by a lot of fatigue in the U18s I chose to put out there.

Hopefully, the win and week off from first team action will allow some time to devise and implement some better strategies when defending corners, and restore to full fitness the vast majority of the squad. Be sure to look out for Part 4, which rounds off September’s games!

Buryball 2.0: The Youth Movement

In the first chapter, I cover the pre-season build-up to the inaugural campaign of Buryball 2.0!

A reminder of the rules of Buryball, with some of the comments below each point tweaked to reflect the real world at Gigg Lane:

1. Net wage spend is more important than net transfer spend.

The first criterion is unlikely to be that much of a factor (in the first season at least). What it means in practice is that I could sign a player for a high fee as long as their salary was relatively low as that is what will affect the bottom line in the long run

2. Don’t needlessly splash out on new players or sell old ones when you take over a club – the ‘New Manager Syndrome’.

Suffice it to say that I won’t be falling into that particular trap, especially given the generally huge turnover of players at Bury in the last five years and the lack of a transfer budget. Most fans agree that the talent in the squad is there in real life and given how accurate the stats in Football Manager are these days, it’s bound to be reflected on the game. Given that the aim will be to guide the Lancashire outfit to immediate success, the notion of applying for another position is off the table.

3. Don’t buy players who impressed at international tournaments: they’re likely to be overvalued and past performance is no indication of future performance, especially when they’re playing with a different team – there are different incentives and a different tactical set-up at tournaments and it’s a super small sample size.

Again, this is unlikely to affect my management of Bury in the short to medium term but it is an important point to note. Long-term tracking of players decreases the need to scout tournaments, which are often a seller’s market.

4. Some nationalities are overrated, like Holland, Brazil and England.

I believe this comes from historic performances and styles of play of the national sides throughout the second half of the 20th century and the conflation of that archetype to any player representing that country on the game regardless of their ability level. There might now be a bit of a shift towards Belgium and France in contemporary terms. On the face of it, this won’t affect my recruitment, but you might be surprised how many players in the lower leagues are from places with a reputation (past or present)) for playing eye-catching football. With English players, it’s hard to avoid them coming through the academy (more on that below), but is something to keep in mind where it doesn’t conflict with other criteria. Another factor that will play out early in proceedings is good old Brexit, the terms of which could seriously affect the ability to recruit from the EU.

5. Sell your players at the right time: when they’re around 30 years old, goalkeepers aside.

This will be absolutely fundamental to making it a success. Bury will start the game in significant debt and need to make significant returns on the roster in lieu of having much in the way of generating income on non-matchdays. There is a significant contingent of outfield players that are 30 or over, which will need to change as seamlessly as possible, without needlessly rushing through changes.

6. Use the wisdom of crowds: ask all your scouts and a Director of Football if you have one about players.

Lee Dykes will be called upon to offer his scouting recommendations, as well as help facilitate both player purchases and sales. In the fullness of time, the scouting network will increase in number and coverage.

lee dykes.jpg
Dykes’ role, and that of any Director of Sport/Football in the modern game, is becoming increasingly visible and important further down the pyramid, although it’s still not as commonplace in England as it is on continental Europe

7. Buy players in their early twenties, which avoids the problems with not developing properly and means previous statistics have greater value.

Contingent to a certain extent either on having a productive academy or ‘sacrificing’ it to leverage more financial resources into recruiting players at an older age. It’s one of the easier points on this list to ‘buy’ into, and Dykes’ hiring, coupled with a necessary budget reduction following relegation, have led to a change in policy. This age bracket and ‘type’ of individual will make up the bulk of my signings over the course of the story.

8. Strikers cost more than they should.

Typically, the most highly valued players are the ones primarily tasked with putting the ball into the net frequently. That goes almost without saying. However, if all the other pieces in the jigsaw are there, it should mean that goals are more evenly distributed throughout the team and for that reason, less emphasis is placed on spending every penny on a ‘guaranteed 20-goal striker’. It also means finding value in players where in the most difficult part of the market by picking up transfer-listed individuals or those who have been overlooked, which is central to this philosophy. Luckily, the Shakers have plenty of depth in this department!
9. Sell any player if a club offers more than they are worth and try to replace them before they are sold.

This applies at any stage of their career. It’s also contingent on a desperate competitor not snatching your want-away star player in the dying embers of the transfer window but there should be a degree of foresight in those cases. It can also be a hard sell to fans and the dressing room itself in the short-term but again, it’s one of the pillars of Moneyball.

10. Don’t buy players if you don’t need to: develop a youth network and try to develop your own players.

To expand on above, this also means putting much more resources and stock into coaching than a ‘quick fix’ transfer. You will see below that there are some specific roles and areas that even Bury’s still-bloated roster doesn’t have adequate cover for. The option to retrain an existing player into a particular niche if they have the attributes for it, which might be the only option when finances are very tight and a youngster isn’t quite ready to make the step up.

The first thing most virtual managers will notice about the U18s is that whilst they’re not the most numerous, there is no shortage of exciting prospects amongst the group, hence the name of this chapter. Certain ones will be fast-tracked to the first team, both to test their mettle, and to satisfy the criterion directly above this one. The Shakers have gained a reputation as a vendor of teenage talent in the past five years, and it will need to continue in order to balance the books.

11. The best way to improve a team is by identifying and replacing the weakest links, rather than by splashing out on making the best links even better.

The old adage about a chain only being as strong as its weakest link is certainly true in football; savvy opposing managers will instruct their charges to ruthlessly exploit weakness and uncertainty. With the ‘correct’ age demographics already mostly in place at the club, the existing group should improve on an individual and collective basis anyway. It’s then a case of gradually uplifting the slightly worse links.

All of the above are existing maxims in Moneyball (and the latter two are from Soccernomics), plus these pair that are specific to the die-hard fans at Gigg Lane:

12. Bury fans value work rate in a player above all other attributes.

This is easier to ‘eyeball’ in specific areas of the pitch for the average punter; that said, a balance must also be struck over what work rate constitutes – covering the greatest amount of distance on the field without making much impact on proceedings can only be tolerated so many times. Nevertheless, it does mean I’ll be unlikely to sign anyone with a prominently low stat in certain positions.
13. Bury fans value seeing players come through the youth academy system over other 16-20 year old signings, especially those who are on loan.

A great fit for Buryball 2.0; all three loanees are 20 and under in 2018/2019, but it’s unlikely that I’ll be looking to bring in as many as that in future seasons, and will probably instead look to extend all three deals until the end of the campaign. The loan market will only be dipped into after careful consideration of the 10th point on this list.

Buryball 2.0

Chairman Stewart Day greeted me immediately upon the announcement of my appointment, before slapping me with the news that you only have a surplus wage budget of about £2,000 to play with over the course of the upcoming term. I made the decision to disable the first transfer window, as I’ve never liked it being enabled on the game, even if the side I’ve taken control of is desperately crying out for new faces. I used it to add a couple of scouts, as I can’t have Dykes as the sole person tasked with identifying prospective signings. I also beefed up the medical staff, as that’s another area sorely lacking off-field.

The (minimum) expectation is automatically set to automatic promotion! I had a feeling after doing the research for the club that it would be to reach the play-offs, which would’ve been an eminently more achievable task. A decent crack at the top three will rely heavily upon some of the younger guys hitting the ground running, and avoiding injuries to key stars in a squad full of highly prone players.

I surrendered training to assistant manager Rob Kelly, with frequent updates set up to ensure he devises plans suitable for each person, and to maximise the time I have to devise tactics and manage egos away from Carrington.

An early look at the League Two odds suggest the bookies see it as a four-way fight for the three automatic spots on offer, with MK Dons slightly shorter than the chasing pack. Chuks Aneke is also the favourite to be the top goalscorer, with Nicky Maynard his closest challenger. Current real-life leader James Norwood for Tranmere Rovers doesn’t make the list.

 

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I delegated friendlies to Kelly, and whilst the only desire I have for warm-up games is to avoid serious injury to any of the likely XI for Yeovil Town, a 2-0 loss to TNS (The New Saints) wasn’t exactly an ideal way to kick things off. Fortunately, that was the only reverse suffered over the five matches, besting traditional opponents Radcliffe 3-1, as well as another local side in the shape Ramsbottom United 5-0, with Danny Mayor grabbing a hat-trick. Most impressive though was beating two full-strength third tier outfits AFC Wimbledon and Peterborough United, 3-1 and 2-1 respectively.

Sadly, the squad didn’t come out of the programme unscathed. Stephen Dawson, so out of favour in reality, is actually the crux of ensuring my strategy doesn’t commit too many bodies forward when in transition from the second to the final third. Joe Murphy also suffered a knock, but should be fully fit in time for Darren Way’s charges to come to town. Below is an insight into my preferred formation and tactic for most games:

tactics1819

The premise is that all four defenders don’t stray too far from their own 18-yard line. Joe Murphy will throw it long to release the midfielders, but in situations where the defenders need to win possession back, Eoghan O’Connell will occasionally step out to win aerial battles and in turn, spray balls to Dawson to give to the more creative players in midfield, especially Callum Styles. Chris Stokes and Tom Miller will ‘stay at home’ to maintain the defensive shape, forcing the runners coming at them to go out wide and risk getting their cross blocked at the first attempt, or to try to run in behind when the space is already closed down.

The positive mentality adopted will mean that I look to take the game to the opposition, reflecting the balance of strengths and weaknesses in the group – in other words,  the bias towards attacking. Neil Danns will shuttle the ball between the boxes, Callum Styles will (hopefully) conjure up chances for the front three, and Danny Mayor will be relieved of any defensive responsibilities, allowing him to focus on doing what he does best 100% of the time. Nicky Adams will get stuck in a bit more, being present in more phases of play than his teammate, and the crosses will come in quick and low for Maynard, given that his heading isn’t his forté.

With Dawson’s enforced absence, there is a chance for Jamie Barjonas or Jay O’Shea to come in to cover for him, but neither of them are going to offer the same steel in the centre of the park. Danns could do it in the short-term, but it isn’t the best utilisation of his skillset. Already, there’s a problem… but can I keep the Glovers at arm’s length and start the season with three points? Find out in the next chapter!