By Tim Penfold
It’s September 1999, and the world is preparing for the new millenium, mostly by spending huge amounts of money successfully patching a bunch of software bugs. Meanwhile, Bradford City have started their Premiership campaign well, and Lee Mills has been called up for England.
We start with a bunch of awards, as Edinho wins player of the month and Andy O’Brien picks up the young player of the month award. O’Brien also picks up his first two Ireland caps in the international break, though sadly Mills doesn’t play.
Our first game of the month is a trip to Anfield. Stuart McCall is fit and ready to start, so he returns, with Atherton dropping to right back and Todd shifting across to left back. Dean Windass is also back in after his suspension, starting in place of Beagrie, and he gives us a surprise early lead. Amazingly, Edinho doubles the lead with a half-volley from a McCall pass, and Mills heads in a third from a Todd corner. It’s not even half time yet!
The second half is less dramatic, but Liverpool’s expected rally never really comes. Robbie Fowler pulls one back in stoppage time, but it’s far too late and we get a huge win.
Our next game is at home to Coventry, and Beagrie comes back in for the injured Whalley on the left of the midfield diamond. It’s a good choice – he scores an early goal, and we dominate the rest of the first half without adding to our lead. The second half is similar – we’re well on top, but don’t get a second until Isaiah Rankin picks up a McCall pass in stoppage time and goes on a run. Nobody can stop him, and he seals the three points.
We then take a break from league action to travel to Cardiff in the league cup. There’s major rotation, with debuts for Alan Combe, Ronnie Wallwork and Paul Heckingbottom, as well as a first start for Michael Standing.
We get an early lead when Gordon Watson is fouled in the box, and Robbie Blake scores the penalty. Isaiah Rankin then dribbles past half of the Cardiff team for a superb solo second, and Blake makes it three in the second half. We’re into the hat for the next round.
We get another set of international call ups, with Combe and O’Brien being called up for Scotland and Ireland respectively. The biggest news, however, is that Scotland have also recalled Stuart McCall for his first cap in 18 months.
Before the international break though, we have a home game against Wimbledon. The team is unchanged from the last league game.
We start pretty well, and take a first-half lead when Mills seizes on a loose ball to score. Wimbledon, however, fight back and Michael Hughes hammers in a free kick to make it 1-1 shortly before half time. This seems to inspire Edinho, who scores a free kick of his own right on half time, and we go in to the break 2-1 ahead. Windass then seals it in the second half by lobbing Sullivan.
Amazingly, this puts us top of the league at the end of September. It won’t last, in part because the two teams directly below us have games in hand, but it’s great to be there.
We begin October with a trip to our fellow promoted team, Stockport. They’re struggling – they lost too many good players in the promotion season, as well as their manager, and we should be looking for three points here.
We’re unchanged from our game against Wimbledon, and we early on put together a fine team move to give Windass a crossing opportunity. He picks out Mills, who heads it down to Blake for 1-0. Windass then sees Carlo Nash off his line and lobs him for 2-0, before Blake makes it three from an Edinho pass. Brett Angell then pulls one back just before half time to give Stockport hope, but they can’t threaten us too much in the second half and it ends 3-1.
Our next game is against Middlesbrough at Valley Parade. We don’t start well, with Alun Armstrong putting the visitors in front, and Lee Mills also picks up an injury which doesn’t help. We’re creating chances, but not scoring them.
In the second half Edinho kicks out at a Boro player, and thankfully the ref misses it completely. He’s lucky to be on the pitch, and makes the most of that by equalising from a Blake pass. On the balance of play it’s fully deserved, and we should be pushing for a winner. Unfortunately, we then fall apart. Robbie Mustoe goes straight up the other end to put Middlesbrough back in front, then Peter Atherton is red carded for a professional foul. Dean Gordon seals it just after that, and it’s our first defeat of the season.
Surprisingly, we’re still top going into the international break, and in that break Andy O’Brien picks up a 3rd Ireland cap. Sadly, Stuart doesn’t actually play for Scotland, but it’s still great that he’s back in the squad.
Sheffield Wednesday are the next visitors to Valley Parade, and we make one change – Rankin is in for the injured Mills, with Gordon Watson taking Rankin’s place on the bench.
We take an early lead when Blake scores a rebound from Beagrie’s shot, but don’t take it into half time as Jim Magilton equalises. However, in the second half Atherton gets away down the right and crosses, and Isaiah Rankin heads the winner. We’re still top.
We then add a reinforcement to the squad – John Hendrie gets sacked by Barnsley, so I offer him a player/coach deal which he accepts, and he goes on to the bench for our Monday night trip to Newcastle. Lee Mills is back, but last game’s matchwinner Rankin is injured and Peter Atherton is suspended. Wayne Jacobs comes in, with Lee Todd moving to right back.
The first half is brilliant – Todd’s header sets up Blake for our first goal after just four minutes, then shortly before half time Blake twists away from Slaven Bilic to make it 2-0. However, Newcastle come roaring back in the second half. Graham Stuart pulls one back, and Alan Shearer curls in a free kick for 2-2.
Despite this, we’re still top – Leeds hammered 2nd place Chelsea, so they couldn’t overtake us.
Our next game is a trip to Nottingham Forest in the League Cup, and the team is heavily rotated due to the very short gap between games. John Hendrie makes his 2nd debut in the hole behind the strikers.
Not much happens in the first half, but early in the 2nd half Ronnie Wallwork picks up a 2nd yellow card and is sent off. Simon Donnelly then put Forest in front, and it doesn’t look good.
However, Forest then lose their heads. John Hendrie goes clean through and is taken out by Steve Chettle, who is sent off. In the aftermath of the red card, Duncan Jupp kicks Hendrie and is also sent off, so it’s 10 vs 9. Naturally, having been at the centre of the red card incidents it’s Hendrie who equalises, heading in a Standing cross on the hour mark, and he then sets up Gordon Watson for the winner. Some second debut!
Our last game of the month is a home game against Aston Villa. Having impressed in midweek, Michael Standing gets his first league start against his former club, while Alan Rogers comes in at left back. Hendrie is on the bench, as he’ll need to do more to displace Robbie Blake.
We start really well, and Mills heads in a Lee Todd cross to make it 1-0 after 14 minutes. Todd is then fouled in the box, picks himself up and converts the penalty, and it’s 2-0 at half time. The second half is a tale of Villa pressure, but they can’t get past our defence, and when they do Gary Walsh is in fine form. We close out the game professionally and it’s 2-0.
We’re still top! And, with results going our way, we’re five points clear. This is incredible – it surely can’t last!
Our front three is as good as ever, but Stuart McCall and Dean Windass have really stepped up their game at a higher level. Gary Walsh is also performing heroics in goal.
However, we do have an issue in midfield, as neither Whalley or Beagrie look like Premiership players, and Wayne Jacobs sadly hasn’t stepped up either.
I can’t believe how we’ll we’re doing – can we continue this, and even go for an unlikely title.
Categories: Championship Manager