By Tim Penfold
We rejoin the season at the beginning of November 1998. Believe by Cher is number 1 in the charts, and everyone is investing in internet business. It’s a dotcom boom, and I see no way that this can go wrong.
Meanwhile, Bradford City are top of the league having lost once all season, but only three points clear of second placed Wolves, and we have a trip to Oxford as our first game of the month. Gareth Whalley is back and Stuart McCall is fit enough for the bench, so Edinho goes up front and Beagrie plays behind the strikers. I also get to drop Ramage out of the squad completely.
We do take the lead early through Edinho, but Kevin Francis equalises shortly after from a corner and we can’t kill the game off. Not a great result really.
We then continue our League Cup run at home to Coventry. Stuart is back and captains the team, while Paul Bolland is on the bench. Adam Drury gets a start at left back because it’s a cup game.
We start slowly and go behind to a Noel Whelan goal but we equalise when Edinho tackles a defender and the ball breaks to Whalley. In the second half we go behind again to George Boateng goal and it looks like we’re going out, so I roll the dice. Bolland and Watson come on for Lawrence and Beagrie, and Edinho goes behind the strikers. We’re going for this.
In the 80th minute McCall seizes on a loose ball and hammers in an equaliser. It looks like extra time is looming. Four minutes later Paul Bolland gets on the ball in a good position, he passes to Mills who shoots…and it’s saved. Extra time it is th-hang on, Edinho gets to the rebound and hammers it in to the net! We’re through!
Next up is Palace at home. Bolland gets a reward for his cameo off the bench in midweek with a start, while Jacobs returns at left back. Prudhoe is injured so Big Neville Southall is on the bench. I hope Walsh doesn’t get injured.
We open the scoring when our full backs combine – Jacobs crosses, Todd gets on the end of it, finds some space and scores. We then double the lead just before half time when Beagrie goes on a run, and while he is tackled the loose ball falls to Bolland. In the second half Edinho crosses for Mills to head a third. Easy.
I finally get some midfield cover in on loan – Robert Wolleaston joins.
As a result, I can do this.
Our next game is a big one – Huddersfield at home. They’re not doing well, but we can’t take them lightly, and we don’t. Edinho curls in an early free kick, before Darren Moore heads a second from a corner right on half time. In the second half Mills grabs two – one from a McCall pass and one from a Jacobs cross. The only disappointment is that substitute Gordon Watson doesn’t score.
Huddersfield are not happy with that game, and Jacko is coming under some pressure.
In other good news, Robbie Blake is back and Bristol Rovers make a bid for Ramage – £500k!
I can finally get the whining useless excuse for a footballer off my wage bill and get some cash to spend on a replacem-
Piss off Craig.
So with Ramage still lingering in my reserves I play Sheff Utd – Blake is back behind the front two, and Wolleaston starts as Whalley and Beagrie are both a bit out of form.
Edinho gets us off to a flyer with a 3rd minute goal, then we collapse to Michael Twiss. The game eventually ends in violence – Beagrie punches Marcelo, Steve Bruce headbutts Mills and somewhere in the middle of the riot going on Sheff Utd get a fourth. Not great.
Whalley and Beagrie come straight back in for the next game against Tranmere – Beagrie’s ban doesn’t start for a couple of weeks.
It’s an improved performance – McCall heads in a Jacobs corner then Beagrie sets up Edinho for a second just before half time. Not much else happens as we cruise to a 2-0 win.
We go into December having dropped to 2nd, and I don’t win manager of the month. Mills wins player of the month to keep my clean sweep of that award going though.
Now I start looking at out of contract players who are eligible to sign for me under my rules. The one at the top of my list is Aaron Wilbraham, who is ripping up the division for Stockport. Unfortunately, everyone else has noticed him…
I don’t think I’m getting him. I also think Charlton are being a little ambitious here.
Our next game is a trip to Portsmouth. Isaiah Rankin is fit again and come back on to the bench in place of Watson.
We take an early lead through Whalley, following up after Edinho’s shot is saved. In the second half substitute Jamie Lawrence crosses for Blake and it’s 2-0. Comfortable again.
Aaron Wilbraham makes his choice – despite interest from Real Madrid and Lazio he’s joining Arsenal.
We then play Bury away. Beagrie’s ban begins so Bolland starts.
Bury are bottom of the league and have won once all season, so naturally they take a first half lead through Paul McVeigh. We play badly, and are still behind at half time.
In the second half Andy O’Brien sets up Mills for an equaliser, but we don’t look like getting the winner. I throw on subs to no avail. Then, in the last minute of normal time Jacobs swings a corner into the box and O’Brien scores the winner. It’s lucky, but I don’t care. We’re back on top of the league.
O’Brien is now getting interest from elsewhere – I reject bids from Man Utd and Spurs, as he’s contracted until 2004.
Our league cup run has reached the quarter finals and we play Chelsea at home. Bolland is tired so Lawrence comes in, but we’re otherwise unchanged.
We play really well – but we don’t score and Chelsea do. It’s 2-0 at half time, and although Blake pulls one back for us we eventually go down 4-1. We had twice as many shots as them – we just weren’t clinical enough and as a result our cup run is over.
The games are coming thick and fast – we play Norwich at home next. Bolland returns, and Stephen Wright is in as I give Todd a rest.
Despite our recent wobble in performances we’re still a good team and we show it. Mills heads us in front from a Jacobs cross, then Blake doubles the lead. Norwich haven’t been in the game but get a penalty on half time and half the deficit. We haven’t had a penalty yet, which is irritating.
The second half is more tense than it needs to be but Bolland seals the win late on with the rebound from a Mills header.
There’s bad news on the transfer front. I make a bid for Tommy Doherty at the end of his contract but he chooses Leicester, then it gets worse. Lee Mills has 18 months left on his contract and says he wants a new one, but is refusing to sign one as we “can’t meet his demands”. With Arsenal sniffing around, I may need to cash in.
On Boxing Day we host Birmingham. There’s one change – Dreyer in for the injured O’Brien. The game itself is a walkover. Edinho sets us going with a great goal, nutmegging Darren Purse before finishing, then volleys a second two minutes late. Jacobs then crosses for Mills to make it 3 after just 17 minutes.
With our next game only two days later, I take the opportunity to rest players in the second half. We still get a 4th, with Mills heading the ball down to Blake who scores.
We do get one decent bit of transfer news. Paul Heckingbottom agrees to join us from Sunderland in the summer for a small compensation fee.
Our next game is a tricky trip to Barnsley. Dreyer needs a breather already, as does Beagrie, so Graeme Lee and Paul Bolland come in. We dominate the first half, but can’t score. The second half is similar – we dominate again, but can’t score. Barnsley have one shot. Naturally, it goes in. Sometimes I hate this game.
I get manager of the month again, though for the first time all season one of our players doesn’t win player of the month. That honour goes to Barnsley’s keeper David Watson – we weren’t the only team he kept out single-handedly. However, we’re top of the league, and generally playing well.
As usual it’s the front three getting all the plaudits. Apart from them McCall is still doing well, O’Brien is getting better by the week and Lee Todd has made the right back spot his own.
We go into 1999 full of optimism and hoping for top flight football. Can we make it?
Categories: Championship Manager