By Tim Penfold
It’s January 1999. Tony Blair is leading a Labour government that surely won’t get us into any pointless foreign wars, Bill Clinton is about face an impeachment trial in the US Senate and Bradford City are top of the first division and racing towards the top flight.
However, we start the year with a break from the league, going down to Portsmouth for an FA Cup game. I switch things round from the Barnsley defeat with Beagrie and Dreyer returning to the side.
It’s a great start – Edinho sets up Whalley for a 2nd minute opener – but we don’t make it stick and Portsmouth equalise via Igoe on 42 minutes. Just when I’ve finished changing my team talk, Whalley latches on to a McCall pass to put us 2-1 up on 44 minutes, and I have to change it again.
In the second half things get trickier as Wayne Jacobs lunges in on Igoe and gets sent off. I take off Mills for Lawrence, who goes to right back with Lee Todd shifting across to left back, and shut up shop. It works, and Portsmouth barely threaten. In fact, we actually go further ahead when Robbie Blake goes on one of his trademark mazy runs. His first shot is saved, but the rebound isn’t.
Our next league game is a trip to playoff contenders Watford. We don’t play well, conceding a goal in each half to Allan Smart. Substitute Isaiah Rankin pulls one back at the end but it’s too late.
There’s a long gap between games now, and in between Stockport knock us down to 2nd place. Meanwhile, Jamie Lawrence shows up late for training just before the next game so gets dropped from the squad for the game against Grimsby. Jacobs is also suspended, so Stephen Wright comes in and Adam Drury is on the bench.
We don’t play well – it’s scrappy, and we’re not creating chances. We’re also getting no help from the officials, with two penalty shouts turned down. It’s looking like a 0-0, but we have just enough quality – Blake plays the ball through, and Edinho volleys in the winner. We needed that.
I then get an unexpected bid in from Leicester for Jamie Lawrence. £1.1m is a lot of money for a player who isn’t a regular in my team, so I accept it and start looking for replacements.
Our next game is West Brom at home, and we’ve got our confidence back. Edinho is in particularly brilliant form, opening the scoring on 10 minutes from a Mills knock-down. A minute later he skins Daryl Burgess and doubles the lead, and a minute after that he skins Burgess AGAIN and scores. A two minute hattrick is the fastest I’ve ever seen. Blake taps in a Todd cross to make it four after 21 minutes and I’m slightly disappointed that we didn’t add to the score after that. Still, I’ll take a 4-0 win.
It’s then an FA Cup game, and we face Stoke at home. We’re dominant, but future City loanee Carl Muggleton is performing heroics in the Stoke goal. We finally get past him early in the second half when McCall hammers in an Edinho corner, and we’re through.
Lawrence agrees his deal with Leicester and goes, but I have a replacement lined up. It’s just like real life, as we welcome Dean Windass to Valley Parade.
Unfortunately, he’s injured for a month. Did we not do a medical?
Meanwhile, Stockport have lost their manager – Gary Megson has joined Southampton as manager. Hopefully this will damage their unlikely tilt at promotion and make things easier for us.
We start February with a trip to the Potteries, facing Port Vale. Lee Mills misses this game through a suspension for accumulating too many bookings. We don’t seem to worry about this too much though, and take the lead through Lee Todd. Then things start to go wrong. Jacobs is back from suspension but goes off injured, then Marcus Bent grabs an equaliser on half time.
We push for a winner in the second half but are foiled by Kevin Pilkington. Then, in the last minute Blake runs through on goal, Pilkington brings him down and…no penalty. We still haven’t had one all season.
We get another blow after the game as Beagrie is injured in training and out for two months. This is concerning – with Lawrence sold and Windass not fit yet, Craig Ramage is one injury away from being back in the squad.
Crewe then visit Valley Parade and we let out all of our frustrations from the Vale game. Paul Bolland is back in and sets up Blake after just two minutes, then on 12 minutes a Todd shot is saved but McCall follows up for 2-0. Just before the half hour mark Darren Moore comes charging out of defence and clips the ball into the box for Mills to volley a third.
In the second half we add to the scoreline with two unlikely headed goals – Blake heading in a Bolland corner, then a Lee Todd diving header from a long O’Brien pass. It’s quite odd that our smallest players are scoring headers, but I’m not complaining.
Our next game is a trip to Hillsborough in the FA Cup. We’re unchanged from the Crewe game but don’t quite match that level of performance and David Thompson puts Wednesday ahead early on. However, Lee Todd goes rampaging forward from left back and nobody thinks to stop him, so he equalises.
We start the second half better and Whalley sets up Mills to put us in front. As the game goes on it looks more and more likely that we’ll be in the quarter finals of the FA Cup. It’d be a big upset to knock out a Premiership team.
Too big, as it turns out. Andy Booth equalises on 83 minutes, then breaks our hearts with a 90th minute winner.
We follow this draining and demoralising defeat with a trip to Sunderland. This will be a tough game – they’re not having the season they had in real life, but they’re still a strong side, and it shows in the first half as we can’t get going. Thankfully it’s 0-0 at half time, but I sub Wolleaston on for Bolland at half time to try and spark us into life.
Four minutes into the second half Gareth Whalley gets sent off. I’m furious at him, and put McLaren on for Mills to try and secure a point. We’re hanging on a bit until Thomas Sorensen scuffs a goal kick straight to Edinho’s feet. He chips it straight back over the stranded keeper and it’s 1-0, which is how it stays.
Clearly Sunderland liked what they saw in Whalley’s idiocy, because they make a big bid for him. I think about it, but eventually say no – I don’t have enough midfield cover to sell him.
Whalley’s ban doesn’t start for a bit so my starting XI is unchanged for a home game against Swindon. We hammer them, but it takes a while to make the breakthrough – eventually Darren Moore takes matters into his own hands, charges out of defence and sets up Mills for the opener.
Edinho has a goal disallowed but we go two up when Mills smashes in a Bolland cross, then finally it happens. Robbie Blake is barged over in the box and we have a penalty!
It’s at this point I realise that I haven’t set a penalty taker. Lee Todd decides he wants it, and scores. Swindon then lose their discipline and have a man sent off for shoving Edinho before Blake makes it four late on.
It’s still two games a week though, and as a result I have to rest Stuart for the next game away at Bolton. Paul McLaren comes in, and the result isn’t pretty. We’re 2-0 down by half time as Per Frandsen and Eddie Newton stroll through a nonexistent midfield. Stuart and Rob Wolleaston are subbed on at half time but the damage is already done and we lose 2-0.
Our final game is at home to Ipswich, and I recall McCall. Paul Bolland needs a rest so Wolleaston starts, while Wayne Jacobs is fit again and comes in for Stephen Wright, with Todd shifting across to right back. Dean Windass is not quite ready but should play the next game.
We start slowly and are lucky that James Scowcroft’s early goal is disallowed. However, we do take the lead just before half time when McCall heads in a Jacobs corner – Jakes’ delivery from set pieces has been huge for us this season. In the second half Blake sends in a low cross and Edinho takes a touch then finishes, and we cruise to a comfortable win.
We end February top of the league again. Stockport have fallen away since Gary Megson left, and Wolves aren’t quite keeping pace either.
I win Manager of the Month again, whilst Lee Mills gets Player of the Month – he’s had a superb season, even though he has slightly fewer goals than Blake or Edinho.
In midfield, Stuart continues to be our best player, while our first choice defence is very solid and Lee Todd has become a real star at right back. Meanwhile, Dean Windass is fit and ready to start the next game – the division should be very scared…
Categories: Championship Manager