Well, the first season with Bradford City is over, much faster than I thought it would be. It’s a testament to how much I’m enjoying this save that I’m playing through it so quickly. Usually I take about 3 weeks to get through a season on Football Manager, and I’ve done this in far less. I actually played the second half of this season in one day, something I haven’t done since I was at school.
In the last post I covered the first half of the season. We were 5 points clear at the top of League One, having semi deliberately knocked ourselves out of all the cup competitions. I was also having serious issues with the form of my ‘best player’ Billy Knott, and really at a loss for reasons why he wasn’t playing well. So, how did things end then?
Well, we held the 5 point gap and won the league ahead of Bristol City. This table doesn’t quite indicate how difficult things were though, and at times we did our best to throw the league away, not helped by outside factors. We suffered a ridiculous run of injuries, and at one point I was only able to field 3 substitutes for the league games. At this point, I was very glad I’d thrown the cup competitions. It was a constant merry-go-round of injuries throughout the entire squad and this led to a horrific run of draws that at one point had us back in the clutches of Bristol City, who we never managed to beat all season. At one point our lead, that had once been 7 points was reduced to 2, and I was seriously concerned we were going to give it all away.
A huge 2-0 win over Scunthorpe in March finally got us back on track, and with the majority of the squad fit again, we kicked on to regain the 5 point gap that we’d had at the end of December. A very Mourinho-esque 0-0 draw against Bristol meant that we simply had to avoid defeat in our last few games, and two wins and a draw secured the league title for us, and promotion to the Championship. It wasn’t easy, and we stumbled over the line, but we’re there.
Irritatingly, Bristol City were also promoted automatically. I was hoping they’d fall back into the playoffs and not make it through, allowing me to poach some of their talented young players, particularly Luke Ayling and Luke Freeman. I’ll still do my best to sign them if I can, but they may not be as willing to make the move as they would have been if Bristol hadn’t been promoted.
Tactically, we’ve stuck with the lopsided 4-4-2 all season, and it’s worked very well. I covered the weakness of the left side in the last update, showing how we’re haemorrhaging goals down our left side, but we’re also deadly down our left flank, with the 3 CM’s drawing the opposition in, giving our left back acres of room. This trend continued later in the season, and we ended up with 15 of the goals scored against us being assisted from our left flank, but also with a massive 26 goals scored by us being assisted down our left flank. As long as the number of goals we score is bigger than the goals they score, I’m happy.
The defence also improved as the season went on. I was worried about the amount we were shipping in the last update, but it dramatically improved as the season went on, and we ended with the 3rd best defensive record in the league, a massive turnaround. That’s much more like my usual teams. We also ended up scoring the most goals in the league, and combined with having the 3rd best defence, it’s no wonder we won the league.
However, I’m still having issues with the strikers. Jon Stead continued his good form through the rest of the season despite injuries, finishing on 21 goals with an average rating of 7.07, which I’m happy with. That average rating would be higher if I was able to partner him with a competent striker, but I’ve struggled through the season. Francois Zoko actually scored 11 goals, but most of those were at the start of the season before his form declined and I dropped him. Billy Clarke scored 6 goals and did combine well with Stead, but he didn’t score enough, and he’s nowhere near good enough for the Championship. At the moment, Stead is the only one of my strikers that I’d feel comfortable taking up into the Championship, and it’s not certain that he’ll be at Valley Parade next season (of course I will try to keep him).
In terms of end of season awards, it’s difficult to say who the best players have been, because the squad was so ravaged by injuries in the second half of the season.
Gary Liddle certainly deserves praise for his performances this season. He averaged 7.02 in the league, and was our solid, dependable CM-D, my favourite role in this year’s game due to the flexibility it allows. He has the PPM ‘plays short simple passes’ which is perfect for the role. He wins the ball, and plays a nice easy pass to the more creative members of the team. He’s been dependable throughout the whole season, and when he was injured in February/March, we really felt his absence, and the defence in general felt much worse. An example of the player you never notice until he’s gone.
21 goals for the season, and I can’t complain with that. On loan from Huddersfield, Jon Stead has carried the entire group of strikers this season, and keeping him on a free is the first priority after the season ends. He presses really well, scores a lot of typical poacher’s goals and combines with well with his (usually incompetent) strike partners. He’s declining physically, but he doesn’t really need it for the role we ask him to play, and he’s still just as good at everything else. He’s still rated as being a decent player for Championship sides, and I’ll hopefully take him up with me. If we can’t I certainly think I can find an alternative, but it would be nice to keep Stead at the club, in order to enforce the player loyalty I want to be a key aspect of this save.
The undoubted Bradford City Player of the Year is Mark Yeates, our right winger. He was stuck out there randomly at the start of the season, and I really expected nothing of him at all. He went on to score 16 goals, with 17 assists in 42 games. He’s certainly moving towards the end of his career, but I will be loyal to him and give him a chance in the Championship. He is starting to decline, but he’s still a talented player. It’s somewhat strange to see someone so ‘slow’ work so well as a winger, and it’s his dribbling that manages to compensate for his lack of speed. His movement is fantastic and he always ends up collecting the ball on the byline. Hopefully he can continue these performances in the Championship.
How Do You Solve A Problem Like Billy Knott?
So, how have I got on trying to improve the form of the club’s best player, Billy Knott? Well, things have improved. They haven’t shown up in his stats yet, but his performances in general have been much better, and he’s started to achieve performance ratings of over 7. Baby steps. I’ve still been playing him as the Box to Box Midfielder, and he’s finally coming into the role. I still see his future as a Roaming Playmaker, but I’m slightly concerned about changing anything within the ‘4-4-2’ and affecting the balance of the entire side. We’re certainly not out of the woods yet with Knott, because he still hasn’t hit top form, but he’s certainly playing much better than he was in the first half of the season. Right now, I’ll take it.
So, what are the plans now we’re moving up into the Championship? I alluded to this in my last update when discussing Bosman signings, but signing a striker is vital. I’ve got my eye on a Scottish striker (in keeping with the Home Nations focus) who has averaged over 7.00 a game, but I’ll keep that quiet until I (hopefully) sign him.
I know I said that the defence has been better, but a pacy centre back is absolutely crucial. neither of our centre backs are particularly quick, and they’ll be exploited by the better strikers in the Championship.
A Central Winger isn’t as much of a pressing need as I thought it was, with Felipe Morais starting to play better and better in the role. He’s still not ideal, but his position is by no means the one I’m concerned about.
On top of that, there’s just a need for more quality, particularly young players. I’ve got a shortlist of several good young Home Nations players that I’m looking at, and I’ll take as many of them as I can get without affecting the stability of the club itself. Some of them are Bristol City players, and I’ll attempt to sign them, but I doubt that they’ll be willing to sell. I’ve been given a budget of £1.5M for the Summer by the board, which isn’t amazing, but it should be enough to give me room to manoeuvre and buy good enough players to stay up next season. The wage budget has also been severely bumped up to 77k a week (from 52k), so I may be able to transfer a chunk of that money into transfer budget. The club isn’t doing too well financially however, with only 411k currently in the bank, so I’m not going to push things too far. Safety is everything.
I’ll update the save again before the start of the new season, covering the signings I’ve made, and any tactical changes I make (I’m starting to get the itch), and as always if you have any questions or suggestions, please feel free to leave it in the comments section, or contact me via Twitter (@JLAspey). Thank you for reading!