2001: An Ace Squad-yssey – Part 4 | @NickRowe85

Welcome back for part 4. The CM01/02 Aces had reached the halfway point of the season at the end of part 3 and were sitting pretty at the top of the Serie B table, so let’s rejoin the story as they begin the return legs…

Back to start we go and it’s 11th-placed Torino away. We beat them convincingly 4-0 at home, so the same again would be fantastic. We’re unchanged from the disappointing draw with Foggia last week.

We don’t start well and Torino are all over us and deservedly take the lead on 20 minutes. I decide not to tinker at half time and the Belarusian goal machine gets us back in the match almost straight after the restart.

Moukoko is impressing with every bit of game time he gets, so he’s on for the struggling Källström on the hour, but the hosts regain the lead not long after that change and they deservedly win the match. I have no complaints, we were thoroughly outplayed and only managed three shots on target compared to Torino’s nine. We’re still top by a point.

Some more sad news as Klompe is ruled out for a few weeks, but there is some happy news as the much-sacked Bobby Gould is given a way back into management by West Brom!

Despite being top of the league, we’ve won one, lost two and drawn one of our last four matches, so it’s time to get some form going again, starting with a home match against Monza. Moukoko gets his first start up front in place of the stop-start Madeira, so hopefully this will give the latter something to think about, and N’Diaye comes back into the side to replace Said.

It’s a quiet start to the match despite some chances for us, but we eventually take the lead through Källström just before you know who adds a second to give us a 2-0 half time lead. Moukoko is doing ok with two shots on target. Aghahowa is injured just as we start the second half and is replaced by Lundén, and just as the hour arrives, so does Moukoko’s first goal, I’m so pleased for the lad. Monza have a late red card and it finishes 3-0.

The money being offered for Selakovic is getting silly, especially as the transfer window closes soon. We’ve clearly got a sought-after talent on our hands…

Deadline day arrives and I’m expecting lots of approaches for my prize assets, but the only one is a £4m offer from Sampdoria for Frey, which I obviously reject. I do however let João Paiva join Spanish side Leganes on loan, where hopefully he’ll get some game time and goals.

A few of the big deadline day deals include; Paolo Maldini and Enrico Chiesa to Juventus from AC Milan and Parma respectively, Rui Costa joins Barcelona from Fiorentina and it seems I jinxed Salernitana when I said they managed to hold onto Marco Di Vaio, as he oddly opts to join Real Sociedad.

Reggiana took a point off us last time when we drew 2-2, and they’re 5th in the league, so this next away match will be tough. They signed Portuguese starlet, Simão before the transfer window closed but he doesn’t make the squad. The only change for us is Lundén in for the injured Aghahowa on the left.

As first halves go, I don’t think I could have asked for much more from Selakovic as he nets a brace and has a rating of 10. Tsigalko keeps his scoring run going just before the break as we lead 3-0. I bring on Madeira and Robben near the end for Moukoko and Lundén but there’s no further action, and other results go our way to put us four points clear at the top.

A home clash with Ancona is next, and we scraped a 3-2 win against them last time thanks to some late goals. Klompe is back from injury but doesn’t make the squad, and the starting lineup is unchanged from the last match.

We go in for half time 1-0 down and I bring on Madeira for Moukoko. We start the second half well, and appear to pull level on 53 only for it to be disallowed. We keep the pressure on despite being increasingly frustrated by our opponents, and Selakovic strikes late on to get us a point.

We’re off to beautiful Tuscany now to face Lucchese. They’ve signed Colombian right back, Jose Santa, and have Claudio Lombardo (no relation to Attilio). Aghahowa is back from injury so Lundén makes way, and Madeira is back in for Moukoko.

Aghahowa marks his return with a goal on 17 minutes to give us a half time lead, but we have wasted numerous other chances and should be two or three up by now. But the wastefulness is soon forgotten as Selakovic and Tsigalko make it 3-0 not long into the second half. Bakircioglü and Moukoko get some game time for the last quarter of an hour but the score stays the same and it’s a good away win.

Hersi returns from injury, 8 weeks after his nightmare debut, but he’s suspended after the red card he picked up in that match.

So it’s now a chance to get revenge on Salamanca, who battered us 4-1 last time. The star man that day was undoubtedly Marco Di Vaio, who hit a hat trick, but he has been sold so we don’t have to worry about him this time. We’re unchanged from the win over Lucchese.

It’s a low-key first half with no goals, and we’re denied a penalty just before the whistle. My front two have been quiet and have ratings of 6. Salernitana take the lead but not through their own doing as Hofland scores an own goal. Thankfully their lead only lasts ten minutes though, as Madeira scores his first goal in six games. Tsigalko has struggled today so he’s off on 65 minutes for Moukoko, but I’ll allow him an off-day seeing that he’s scored 13 goals in the last 14 games. It finishes all square and our lead is cut to a single point by a relentless Padova, who we just can’t seem to shake off.

I’m getting fed up of pressing the reject button as the Scandinavian loan approaches keep coming for Harbuzi and Moukoko. There are also a host of Belgian clubs pursuing Hersi, but as Belgium is also not one of the loaded leagues, I turn them down.

Selakovic has been an absolute hero so far and to say I’m gutted when I see this piece of news is probably the understatement of the year. I’ll be surprised if he plays again this season.

As if Selakovic’s injury wasn’t bad enough, I’m also without my centre back pairing of West and Hofland for the next two matches, starting with a trip to Ravenna, who are 15th in the league. Okoronkwo and Risp start together in central defence and Lundén replaces Selakovic on the right. Victory is captain in the absence of West.

The early signs aren’t good, and Ravenna have had countless chances and seven corners before they take the lead on 25 minutes. Okoronkwo is holding his own, but Risp is struggling with a rating of 5, so I bring on Klompe for him just before Källström equalises. Moukoko comes on for Madeira for the last few minutes as I hope to nick a late winner, but it finishes 1-1.

Klompe made the difference in defence and got 8/10, so in hindsight I probably should have started him but hey ho. The board are either Ravenna fans or they don’t feel the result is worthy of a comment. Either way I know it’s a terrible result and another chance to pull away from the pack squandered, as Padova also draw to stay a point behind.

Verona beat us 2-0 when we played them away, and they’re 6th in the table, so we have to take them seriously. it’s a no-brainer to start Klompe in place of Risp, and Okoronkwo keeps his place.

Madeira seems to score in patches, so I’m going to enjoy this patch while it lasts as he puts us ahead on 5 minutes. It’s also a return to form for Tsigalko, who scores his first goal in three games 15 minutes later. Nothing much happens for the rest of the match and I’m happy to discover that Padova draw, which puts us three points clear again.

We finish this instalment with a trip to second-from-bottom Reggina, who we beat 5-1 last time. Skipper West is back, so his countryman, Okoronkwo makes way. I feel for Okoronkwo as he came in and played well in the last two matches, but my hands are tied with the foreigners rule.

It’s a dismal first half but I don’t panic into making any changes just yet. West marks his return with a red card just before the hour, which is far from ideal. It’s still goalless when I decide to freshen things up on 65, with Madeira coming off and Aghahowa moving up front and Robben coming in on the left.

The change seems to re-energise us and we take the lead on 75 minutes through Tsigalko, only for Reggina level almost immediately. A few more minutes pass and we think we’ve snatched a late winner but it’s disallowed, and to rub salt in the wound, the home side score with 7 minutes remaining. This was a hard one to take.

As good as Padova have been, they’ve had a habit of letting us off lately and this proves the case again today as they slip to defeat and stay three points behind us with ten games remaining.

I’ll never complain about being top of the table, and despite only winning two of our last six matches, I think things have just about levelled themselves out up until now as we’ve had some good wins against the better sides, but also some terrible results against the lesser teams.

Join us next week as the season draws to a close. Can we secure promotion at the first attempt?

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