Matthew Cooper is back with the second part of his Altrincham save. Starting with no players is a difficult task but Matthew made a reasonable start, which you can catch up with in part 1 here.
Hi and thanks for tuning in again. We left the previous update with the unmistakable scent of optimism in the air, as our hastily assembled band of footballing misfits got their first win of the season at only the second time of asking. Can we carry on in this vein? We’re about to find out. Matthew Bound was crocked in the last game, and he’s not expected back for a month. It’s a blow as he had played a blinder in the first 3 games, but it could be worse and I have 2 loanees to cover the gap for now.
The loan players are unfortunately unavailable for the second leg of the league cup though, so Bradley gets another game at right back. Other than that it’s an unchanged side, and as long as we don’t get any further injuries I couldn’t care less about the scoreline, as long as we don’t go through to the second round!
We go in at half time 2-1 down, my wingback Innes heading in from a corner to level things up before they get another goal at the end of the half. Disaster then strikes as
Palmer brings their striker down as the last man and the ref directs him off the pitch. So not an injury but he’ll be unavailable for a game in the near future all the same, the great big tit.
It ends 2-1, not much happening after Palmer is sent off. I note with irritation that the attendance is a shade under 10,000, making the stadium expansion as completely pointless as it first appeared. Still, at least that cup’s over with for another season. Just the windscreen shield left in the “waste of time” competition bracket now.
Next up is a trip to Gillingham. Big man Ade Akinbiyi leads the line for them, and has grabbed 2 goals in the last 3 appearances so we’ll have to keep him quiet if we’re to get anything from this game.
What did I just bloody say? We are coasting our way to a creditable draw when the lads switch off in the last minute and let their danger man pounce on a rebound from a header. I’m furious with them but also a bit pleased that we were at least competing with Gillingham throughout the game, though they were the better side. The loss leaves us 19th, but with 3 league games played so far the table is a bit meaningless at this stage. We need to get some more points on the board soon though, as losing soon becomes a habit with a newly-assembled team like this.
Our opportunity comes quickly, as a midweek fixture at home to Cambridge is next on the cards. Ostensibly in a show of unity, though in truth due to a lack of options, I name an unchanged team to go out against a side that made it into the play-offs last season. We get off to the best possible start, young McGarrigle sliding it past the keeper with barely 2 minutes on the clock. The scoreline stays at 1-0 up to half time, but familiar lower-league forward Tom Youngs equalises soon after the restart. The game shifts in their favour after this and there’s a familiar sinking feeling as they take the lead with 20 minutes to go. To the lads’ credit though they don’t give up and Palmer makes up for his sending off in the cup by prodding home at the death to nick a point, get in you beauty! A bumper crowd of 883 spectators turn up to witness the spectacle, thank god for those 5,000 extra seats, eh board? You bunch of arses.
We receive a big boost 2 days later, as midfielder Jermaine Wright finally comes to his senses and stops asking for wages on par with Alan Shearer, lowering his demands from £50k per week to a slightly more manageable £700. I’m hoping a couple of others follow suit, and I can bring in some quality players to strengthen the team. In case you’re wondering, Mr Shearer made a £13.75m move to Man Utd (who else?) last season and currently has 6 goals in 5 games. The traditional Man Utd dominance of the first few seasons looks likely to continue for a while yet.
The next game is a trip to Exeter, where we grind out a 0-0 draw. Not much of any note happened during the game, though we were comfortably the better side which pleases me. If only we can get hold of a dangerous forward we can put teams like this to the sword.
The end of the month rolls round and I get my usual board review. They’re less than satisfied apparently, though I don’t know what they expected when they spent a potential promotion warchest on 5,000 unused seats. Besides which the results have been pretty good, considering the circumstances. Ungrateful swines.
Things get even better on the personnel front during the week as lower-league legend and ex-Man Utd trainee Andrew Duncan reduces his wages demands like Jermaine, accepting £300 per week to join my motley crew. The big club release clause virtually guarantees he won’t still be here come the end of the season, but hopefully he’ll bring in a decent fee and allow us to buy some proven quality.
Our next game sees us host Colchester, who are yet to win a game this season. Things are pretty cagey in the first half, which remains goalless. Predictably we fall behind on 63 minutes, but midfield maestro Zerrouki comes to the fore 2 minutes later with an equaliser that writes him into my good books – an entry which is hastily scribbled out again another 2 minutes later as he heads into his own net from a corner. Things look to be petering out towards a disappointing defeat, and the misery is compounded when striker McGarrigle picks up a knock. I take him off as a precaution, only for his replacement Williamson to pop up with the last kick of the game to rescue a precious point.
An away game against long ball specialists Lincoln seems like a daunting prospect, as they are 6th in the table and are yet to lose yet this season. But this team are full of surprises so I’m not ready to write them off just yet. Things initially look bright as their left back is shown red for a professional foul, but Lincoln are still superior even with 10 men, rather embarrassingly. They edge in front 5 minutes before half time and I can’t see a way back for us. But we are a different prospect in the second half, Allardyce levels things up soon after the restart and we push for a winner. Captain fantastic (well, he’s the captain at least) Wilkins limps off in the 80th minute, but we play it out for yet another draw. After the game it’s confirmed that he’ll miss the next two weeks, so we’ll need to shuffle things around in the short term.
Besides, a development then occurs which makes Wilkins’ injury even less problematic. Who’s that putting pen to paper?
It’s only current Milan manager and certified crazy man Gattuso! He’s 19 and untested in the game so far, but I’ve seen him develop into a solid player in previous saves and besides, it’s bloody Gattuso! I couldn’t turn this opportunity down. Ross Tokely, who may be a familiar name to those who habitually manage in the lower leagues, also joins the payroll to give me some more firepower up front.
Cardiff are next up to visit our vast sea of empty seats (sorry I keep banging on about it, but it’s wound me right up!) and I’m praying that we find a way to break this run of 4 straight draws.
Nope. It’s now 5 from 5 as we dominate the game but fail to make it count. We’re not losing at least but we have to start putting more points on the board to pull away from the solitary relegation place. Gattuso and Tokely both get a run-out in the last 25 minutes and have decent debuts, once they’re up to speed I think they will make a real difference.
We have to travel to third-placed York for our next game, and playmaker Zirrouki is knackered from our relentless fixture list. I’ve decided to shake it up a bit and give him a rest, trying the Italian nutcase in the centre of the field instead. Zirrouki makes the bench so I can throw him on if the experiment is a disaster. We lose in the most infuriating way possible, leading from the 20th minute only to let the lead, and then the game, slip in the last 10 mins. On the plus side Gattuso played a blinder so I’m sticking with him for the next game.
We turn up at lowly 17th-placed Rotherham absolutely desperate for points to break this malaise. I keep faith with Gattuso and name an unchanged side, except for the left wing back Innes dropping for Kidd, on account of him being shockingly bad. My two wing backs are averaging less than 6.5 each, so it’s clear which area I need to improve next. Anyway, we get off to a bright start and take the lead when Rotherham’s captain Knill helpfully puts the ball in his own net after half an hour. Allardyce puts us further in front midway through the second half – the first time we’ve been more than 1 goal to the good all season! They pull one back right at the end but it’s too late, and we pick up our first win in 8 games. The palpable sense of relief is overwhelming. Amusingly we won 2-1 despite only having 1 shot on target all match, which makes it somehow even more satisfying.
The win moves us up to a still decidedly unimpressive 18th place, but it keeps our heads above the waterline and increases the gap to Donny at the foot of the table to 7 points.
All in all a pretty dreary update results-wise, but a long-awaited win and some much-needed reinforcements to the squad at least provide some grounds for optimism going into the next set of fixtures. Join me next time as I try to better my record of 1 win per update.