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[FM13] Alice in FM-land


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Playoffs 2026

We faced promotion playoffs for the third year in a row. The first leg against Walsall had a few 'how did they miss that!' chances but I was just glad they didn't snatch a winner on the break. I thought we had blown our chances as we went into the away leg but a very early header from Roberts was enough. It turned out not just to be the only goal of the tie, but the whole semi-finals as the other tie was decided on penalties after two 0-0 draws.

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Playoff Final

We actually had home advantage against Southport in the final, having finished higher. Once again a single goal was enough, from Hawkes this time, though there were a few very late close calls at our end. It had been a boring playoff tournament with just 2 goals in 5 matches, but thankfully for us they were both ours. After two consecutive playoff promotions, maybe we're developing a taste for such things ;)

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As I said a couple of posts above (without wanting to spoil anything), it was a season and a half! We were newly promoted, headed for the playoffs and in a cup final as a lower division team but given how we had thrown away a comforable lead at the top of the table, it still felt like it was heading for a disappointing conclusion. The cup win helped lift my spirits somewhat but the season would have felt incomplete without promotion, even if we ended up having to do it the hard way. Another reason for celebrating Hawkes was while his goals had dried up for a while, he still delivered both the cup and promotion, making for an incredible end to the season... well in the end.

6 promotions down, 4 to go, though I'm considerably less sure about the team (and Hawkes) can do in the Conference National than in the Conference North. However, I got them as far as I was hoping to and anything more will be a very nice bonus. Perhaps League 2 in a couple of seasons is possible after all. The cup runs also did a lot to give us at least a short-term financial boost as well, even before the prize money (about 600k or so) at the end of the season after promotion. Since Ipswich got relegated to League 1 the previous season and failed to make the playoffs (so what else is new?) it means we're just 2 levels below them, having started the career 9 levels below. Oh and my previous club Cadbury Heath won promotion to the Conference South, which is wonderful.

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1 hour ago, 13th Man said:

Another promotion! And without my predictions!

Well I guess I didn't give you so much time ;) I actually got Covid last week so I've been in a sweet spot where I've recovered enough to go for ages on FM but not quite enough to feel like returning to work on my dissertation. It's been fun ploughiing through (most) of a season of this length a lot quicker than usual in recent years but sadly it's all too brief.

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Summer 2026

There's something about reaching the Conference National that really feels like getting to the big time, being a single national division with squad numbers, transfer windows and other 'big boy' stuff like that. In-game it would usually be the cut-off point between Semi-pro and fully professional clubs though in this database it seems going pro happens a couple of divisions below. It was also a potentially tricky step-up and probably difficult to get out of at the right end, though only time would tell.

I actually released more players than appear on the transfer screen because I took advantage of actually having money in the bank to release a few players early. Not that I needed to as our wage budget exploded to something like 24-26kpw (I fiddled around with it a bit so I can't remember what it orignally was). I also had a transfer budget for the first time but there was no point in spending it. It was clear that given how low I felt like setting the filter, the potential options were just too low a standard so free transfers were still the way to go. I still haven't paid a 'proper' transfer fee as opposed to compensation after approaching  players directly.

Releasing players left a few holes in the squad to fill, with the right-back McLaughlin being the only player actually arriving before July 1st, though 6 more players joined on that date from deals already made.Other high-priority positions included a winger (as we've lacked a consistently strong performer) and while no one stood out, I hoped Mike Yates would do. It's a shame he's got such low influence otherwise I would make him captain for the Doctor Who reference. Norburn was potentially the last 'real life' player I'll sign in this save and an older midfield option than I was hoping to get but he should still be good in the short-term. The defence was beefed up quite a bit with Mansell, the versatile Pollard and Stamp, the latter spotted while scouting the 'trialists' teams. Digby was also a superior second-choice left-back to Hancock and versatile, handy for the bench at least.

On the more attacking side, apart from 'Captain' Yates, Carr would be Hawkes' new strike partner and Mamer was signed on a similar basis to Digby as a superior squad option to Lawless, though not as good as Tate (who would have wanted to leave if we hadn't gotten promoted). He's certainly the first South Sudanese player I've ever had in the game as well as the first International I've had in any of my teams in this save. Not that such things as 'first choice' and 'second choice' matter so much with a 46-game league season and three cups. The heavy summer recruitment (and more may yet come) leaves us 'heavy' by a handful of players but just like last season, the depth is going to be a very good thing for a lot of the season.

I technically played the first couple of games before a run-time error shut the game down and I just played on to the start of the season after I reloaded. We were fairly comfortably beaten in the first match and drew a crazy high-scoring game in the second. Hopefully I've learned a few tactical lessons from that but otherwise it seems like we're not going to jump right into another promotion push. In fact I almost hope we don't as aside from my last season at Cadbury Heath that's what I've faced every season for a while and it's quite a high-pressure situation to be in. With so many new faces we'd probably be more likely to tread water and push on the following season when we're more gelled, but we'll see.

Signings

Digby

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Mamer

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Mansell

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McLaughlin

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Norburn

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Parr

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Pollard

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Stamp

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Yates

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Big time indeed.  Look at those key attributes - so many of them over 10!!!  You know you're making it big when the those attributes start really getting into the double digits.

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45 minutes ago, 13th Man said:

Big time indeed.  Look at those key attributes - so many of them over 10!!!  You know you're making it big when the those attributes start really getting into the double digits.

Yep, we're getting serious now ;)

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  • 2 weeks later...
On 21/03/2022 at 06:47, Constantine said:

I've been coming and going from this part of forum and whenever I do come back, I look for this thread. It's really nice to see it still going.

Also, Carl Hawkes, what a legend!

Oh he is. When I first saw him I knew I had stuck gold as a proper non-league wonderkid. After seeing your comment I decided to check his stats... 97 goals and 40 assists in three seasons before turning 19. I'm not sure he's going to stand out so much at this level but his record is still pretty good and he will still be one of the better players in the league, and maybe even a division above.

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Nov 2026

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In my (admitedly limited) experience, the Conference National seems to be one of the toughest English divisions to play in and we certainly struggled at first with 2 draws followed by 2 defeats. Beating Yeovil helped get us on a good run that helped us shoot up the table and away from serious relegation trouble for now, but we weren't quite getting close enough to the top 5 to think about pushing on and competing for the playoff places. The past month or so has seen us slump again, only saved by the fact that we seem to be able to rise to the occasion against the teams near the top of the league, though only against them. Actually it's Hawkes that's pulling those performances out of the bag if you see the scoresheets. That leaves us very much in mid-table, though that's not a bad place to be especially after such a big overhaul, including 2 extra loan signings and one permanant one. This is basically a season of comfortably surviving and seeing if we can push on next year with a more settled side.

In contrast to our cup exploits last season, this year so us go out of all of them early. The main thing of note was that an incredibly easy tie against Ipswich Wanderers meant that we faced Football League opposition for the first time in the FA Cup. Cheltenham were struggling in League 2 so I thought they might be there for the taking. Later on Hereford and Colney Heath dumped us out of the other cups. However given our current league position (not knowing whether to look up or down) I can't say I mind just having that to focus on now.

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Dec 2026

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December saw our form somewhat improve. The Dunstable defeat was genuinely dire but Boreham Wood was more 'one of those days. It was frustrating to lose the lead against Bradford and Yeovil as well due to a penalty and own goal respectively. Otherwise three wins and 2 draws from 7 games seemed like a positive month, though we still need to get more goals from anyone other than Hawkes, who isn't scoring with the same consistency as before. We seem to be holding steady in the top half, though I'm still looking down at the relegation zone rather than up at the playoff places.

The fact that we're roughly even for wins and losses as well as goals scored and conceded sums up the fact that we're just being an average and inconsistent side about as high up in the table as we can expect. However this is still good as a way of placing a marker with a newly-promoted and much-changed side, which will hopefully be more gelled next season (though a lot of players will be let go at the end of the season requiring a few replacements). I definitely think we can push for promotion before too long though I'd be surprised if that was this season.

Oh and since I'm just racking up new players, here's another defender.

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5 hours ago, Deisler26 said:

I don't like his Pace/Acceleration, but he'll be a monster in the National!

His pace is fine for this level, since he doesn't play in a position that needs it. In fact we're only just reaching the point where we have more than a few players who are that much faster.

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Jan 2027

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There's really not too much to say in terms of our results and league position, with 3 wins, 2 draws and a defeat being roughly what you'd expect. As things stand were pretty much safe but also not going to get anywhere near the playoffs so it's just a case of seeing out the season and hoping to improve considerably next season. This year was always going to be about two things, 'survival' and 'strengthening' so it's all still very much going according to plan, especially with a bunch of newcomers coming in in January. That's very unusual for me as I'm the type to get all my transfer dealings done for the year before the opening game, though there's still the possibility of a DoF deal, seeing a player on a scouting report or a player being offered around by an agent.

The DoF was responsible for most of the mid-season signings (even in a couple of cases I still did the deals that actually went through), aside from Riley (already featured) and Jennings, who is also the first player of this save who I've paid an actual transfer fee (as opposed to a compensation fee) for. Once he and Turner were through the door we seemed to have run out of wage budget so I decided to release a lot of the players who were leaving at the end of the season anyway, though it didn't seem like the smartest of moves. However I made up for it with the players that I still managed to sign in the rest of the month, as part of realising how much  could upgrade on most of the players from the squad that got promoted.

Counting loanees, I ended up with a massive 20 players signed this season, which was very much a case of 'in for a penny, in for a pound' when it came to using this season to overhaul the squad. In fact in some ways I was doing a lot of deals I was otherwise going to make next summer anyway. That helps the idea that we can push on with a more settled side next year. After the players I mentioned, in came Corns as a short-term replacement for a player whose loan was expiring. Gudgeon was a good example on how we could still improve on players who were only recently considered top class signings, though I had to offer my own deal as the DoF was giving him too much. Dieng was a player I initially rejected then offered my own deal once I realised we had more used for him than I initially thought, and Sandjak will be a more long-term (and better) replacement for the loanee forwards. I could even approach a few Spanish players, meaning that next summer we'll get our first player signed from abroad (in fact we've only had one or two signed directly from outside of England).

The squad is already looking very different than the one which got promoted last season, and I feel like once things start falling into place we should definitely be thinking about a promotion push next year.

Corns

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Gudgeon

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Jennings

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Sandjak

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Turner

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Djeng

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Apr 2027

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The fact that there was little to play for this season allowed me to test the waters and try and be more attacking again. After promotion I had gone more defensive and it was working fine in the context of surviving comfortably but we were unconvincing and inconsistent up front. A drab 0-0 draw against Loughborough University (which I felt we should have won comfortably) reminded me to make the switch, leading to a chaotic win over Oxford City where both their goals came from giving the ball away too easily. It did seem like we kicked into gear with 3 wins in a row, having only once won back to back league games this season (and in fact we had only had a handful of instances any result twice in a row). This was without Hawkes who had been sent off against Oxford City (told you it was chaotic) and was no longer someone I'd immediately put back in the team.

As you can see, things ended badly with 5 defeats in the last 6 games, though they were all by a single goal and (mostly) against tricky opponents. We weren't necessarily bad but it wouldn't have taken much more to get at leasta handful of points. It kind of sums up our season (particularly from Hawkes) that the exception was a 4-3 win, as we were very inconsistent scorers  who partly relied on a handful of relatively high scoring games and drew blanks a lot of the rest of the time. Hawkes at least managed to get a decent record but the rest of the team failed to deliver, meaning that three of the 4 relegated teams scored more than us. Our final record of a similar amount of wins, draws and defeats and a neutral goal difference tells a story about how we were decent but unspectacular. However since we got the 'survival' season out of the way, strenghened considerably both in the summer and in January and will have a more settled squad next year, I'm hoping for (indeed, expecting) a lot better next season.

I should also say something about Brimscombe & Thrupp, who got their 4th promotion in a row (and 5th in 6 years) to be the first team from the genuinely minor local leagues to make it to League 2. Weymouth have been there a while as well and they started in the Southern Premier League but I'm used to seeing them at lot more in the Conference so I don't consider them to count in anywhere near the same way. Unsurprisingly they have a tycoon owner, and when I checked the wage bill table earlier this season (I was worried our budget was a bit large, but we were way down in the bottom half), I noted they were top with 6 times our wage bill. That makes it 130kpw+ which is more in line with the Championship or the upper reaches of League One at least!

Star Player: This was tricky as I knew early on that it was unlikely to be Hawkes, even if he did get the most goals and assists. His partner Parr actually narrowly topped the average ratings but as an attacking player I consider goals and assists to have more weight. Instead I had my eye on Stamp, a great young defender signed from the Trialists team last summer and even though he was narrowly beaten in the end as our highest rated defender, he still got most motm awards so there's that at least.

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Squad Stats

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Summer 2027

This was always going to be one of the quieter pre-seasons, especially given Cid was a deal made in January, making history as the first signing of the save from outside the UK (in fact even signing players directly from outside England has been a rare occurence). He does provide us with an abundance of full-backs but given their inconsistency (Dieng in particular needs to step up), that's probably for the best. Once the dust settled on all the departures, I did spot a couple of gaps to be filled. The big priority was someone for the central midfield role (where we're weakest) though having good one was hard to find. I also wanted a little more depth up front so Sandford (a decent all-rounder for the bench) actually arrived before I chose the best midfielder it looked like I could get right now. He's hardly bad (though I'm hoping that good jumping weakens the impact of his woeful heading) but he's not the outright improvement I was looking for.

Having increased expectations (which I only do rarely) to get enough wage budget for one or two new signings, I have enough left (a little over 1kpw) for at least one more so we'll see if anyone comes up. However unless a better central midfielder falls in my lap there really isn't anything in particular I feel we need right now. I doubt we'll get much more of a budget boost unless/until we get promoted so it looks like this is pretty much the team we'll have to try and do it with. It's certainly good enough once everyone gels and things otherwise just start coming together but last season taught us how much we'll need that boost to be serious challengers.

Cid

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Dunlop

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Sandford

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Transfer Dealings

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Sept 2027

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This really hasn't been the season I hoped it would be. I knew Chester away would be a tough start but we were genuinely poor. It happened to be the only game this season so far where we haven't scored or which had more than one goal in it. That's the big change from last season, despite having a similar (and slightly worse) overall record. We're more consistent in terms of scoring in most games, though the flipside is that the defence is more consistent at conceding. Losing a 2-0 lead against Jarrow (before half-time no less) was pretty much the story of the season as we often take a lead but can't keep a clean sheet to deliver victory, with the Boston game being a frustrating example of losing after leading (twice). Perhaps making a few signings (and having had a handful more as recently as January) means we're not as settled a team as I hoped we'd be.

It doesn't help that Hawkes has been injured for the entire season so far, after getting an injury in a pre-season game that will rule him out for around a month more. That's not the disaster that it would have been up until now but while he has his off days, I suspect he'd have scored at least a few of the chances we've wasted and in a season of such fine margins in terms of scorelines he might have delivered at least a few more points already. Parr (who would be his partner in a first-choice front two) has also been injured twice already. Our chance creation hasn't been bad, and often our 'shots on target' ratio has been pretty good as well. We just have so many close calls and soft chances straight at the keeper, which along with how relatively soft we've been at the back means that just a small improvement at both ends would do us a lot of good.

We entered the season with enough spare wage budget for one decent signing and it wasn't long before I decided to use it. I took a while to think about whether to approve this deal (courtesy of the DoF) as Stevens would be a minor upgrade at best, but he would at least be clearly superior to Captain Yates in a position where we've struggled to get anyone to shine. As it happens we haven't had to use him much because Turner has started to hit bit of a good run of form but I still like to think he needed the motivation ;)

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What a complete failure of a season! No promotion? What gives?

To be serious, it does look like it might take a bit of building to get you to the next level.  You planning on staying w Grimsby, or moving along if this season doesn’t pan out?

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3 minutes ago, 13th Man said:

What a complete failure of a season! No promotion? What gives?

To be serious, it does look like it might take a bit of building to get you to the next level.  You planning on staying w Grimsby, or moving along if this season doesn’t pan out?

We've already been doing the building over the past year or so and things just haven't clicked yet. I've also noticed a pattern of failure by narrow margins. Only twice in our last 27 matches (in all competitions) has there been more than one goal in it. That suggests to me that only a relatively small improvement will give us plenty more points. Having our best and most reliable forward return from injury after missing the first few months of the season will no doubt help with that. I definitely intend to stay for next season at least as I feel that gives me at least as good a chance of going up than jumping ship to another Conference club, which would just feel strange anyway. It's like when I kept failing to get out of the Western League First Division with Cadbury Heath and I felt like there wasn't any advantage in trying my luck anywhere else. That worked out really well!

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Oct 2027

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There's actually two updates since the forum being down meant I couldn't post this one before I loaded up the game before today's session. As you can see, October didn't go that well. Out of the three draws we started off with, Eastbourne was a close call, Harrogate saw us concede and equaliser right at the end of injury time and Dunstable was an example of going behind far too easily after failing to do enough with a load of relatively low-quality chances. That was followed by a hammering by Kettering and another defeat to Barnet to go winless in the league. The FA Cup saw some respite as we comfortably beat Ashbrooke Belford House (a division below us), then we edged past King's Lynn Town with Hawkes getting his first goal since his return from the injury that ruled him out for the first few months of the season, and after two poor sub appearences in the two league defeats. This gives us the first League scalp of the season and I think the first time we've gotten past this stage.

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Dec 2027

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November started off on a much more promising note than the previous couple of months, with back to back wins over Forest Green Rovers and Hanworth Villa, the latter win was especially sweet after they became a sort of arch-nemesis at Cadbury Heath. A draw against Crawley wasn't too disappointing though we then lost against promotion chasing Southend. In fact all three defeats over this period came against promotion chasing teams. We lost the following game against Bradford before getting back-to-back league wins again. A couple of draws and then a defeat to Jarrow (where the shot stats were about even) then followed before we ended the year with a win against Thurnby Nirvana which we weren't even trying to get, wanting to be as fresh as possible for the cup a few days later.

Once again, the cups provided a main positive. Wins over Blunham and Forest Green Rovers took us through to the last 16 of the FA Trophy but the FA Cup was where the fun was. Sheffield United seemed tough and we were lucky to escape with a draw due to their wastefulness. I didn't mind a replay on this occasion due to the extra money and we followed up a club record for gate receipts with the first time any of my team's matches in this save has hit an attendance of over 10k. I was delighted with a surprise 2-1 win (retaking the lead after they equalised) to take us to the 3rd round. It seemed typical that we'd probably fall to a team in our own division but we made it past Maidstone as well. In the 4th round we'll face either Morecambe (bottom of League 2) or Leeds (bottom of the Premier League).

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Jan 2028

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It feels like we really turned a corner this month and hopefully this isn't just a brief spell of good form. I actually played on an extra game and won that to make it 6 league wins and 5 clean sheets in a row. Perhaps it's no coincidence that Hawkes has also been his best since we got promoted. Believe it or not, he only had 3 league goals before the start of the month which even given the fact that he was injured until late October was poor. However it seems like he's back to his old self for now. Not that he was alone, as plenty of players have been playing really well recently, particularly some of our signings over the past year or so. Maybe if we keep it up we can think about being more serious promotion contenders next season. 

Having already played and shown the FA Cup 3rd round win, we then beat Cheltenham in what seemed to be our most convincing league performance for a while. Then we faced Jarrow away in the FA Trophy and given we had lost 3-0 to them just a couple of weeks before (and they were 2nd in the league), I wasn't optimistic. We managed to take the lead in the first game and snatched a draw to force a replay we won surprisingly comfortably. We managed to repeat the feat against table-topping Wycombe. Winning comfortably helped us ease off the gas and take players off on grounds of their condition which helped wth such a hectic schedule. The one blip was at Leeds in the FA Cup, who might have been beatable as they had just 7 points in the league but they comfortably ran up a 3-0 win in the first half. Still, it was hardly something to be too disappointed about and we then bounced back by beating Stevenage in the FA Trophy to make the semi-finals. The two-legged tie and the games we already have to catch up means that things will remain busy for a while longer.

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Good to see the trend pointing up again after a tough spell.

With a middling league campaign, it’s a good chance to really push in the cup!

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  • 3 weeks later...
On 24/04/2022 at 17:00, 13th Man said:

Good to see the trend pointing up again after a tough spell.

With a middling league campaign, it’s a good chance to really push in the cup!

Yep, it's been a really positive turn. Sorry for the gap, other things (including other games) are competing for my attention right now. Even the update below is coming a few days after the actual session it relates to.

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Things continue to move in a positive direction as Boxing day remains our last league defeat (with Leeds being our only defeat in any competition since) and the last time we went multiple league games without a win. The Yeovil win was played before the real-life hiatus so the effective return was with the Harrogate Town win. More on them later. We had to work hard to maintain our aforementioned records as we got a last gasp equaliser away to Boston, with the same happening in what should have been an easier game at Staines. We only just kept up the 'not going multiple games without a win' thing aganist Barnet as well.  However they all count, and that leaves us with a chance of making the playoffs after all if we keep it up, being 7 points adrift with 2 games in hand.

The FA Trophy gave us something else to play for. We had a seemingly tricky tie against Boston but got into a comfortable 2-0 lead in the home leg. When they got a goal back it seemed like the tie was in the balance but we pulled off a surprisingly comfortable 2-0 win in the away leg as well. With the league game later in the month, that meant that we ended up beating them 3 times in the same month! That sets up a final against Harrogate Town, a first trip to Wembley of the career. That gives us a good chance of claiming perhaps the biggest trophy of the career so far.

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FA Trophy Final

The most interesting thing about this match happened in the league match before. Hawkes went off injured and was replaced by Parr. Then Parr went off injured and was replaced by Dunlop to play as a defensive midfielder. He then went off injured as well and all would be out for at least a couple of weeks. The fact that the match came at the end of a particularly hectic run of league games kind of dulled the sense of occasion unfortunately.

The match itself wasn't anything special apart from the goals. Turner gave us an early lead but while we sat pretty comfortably for the rest of the half, we failed to really take the game to them. That wasn't helped by yet another forward going off, Sandford this time. Since we lost Stevens before that league match and Turner after this, we're running very low on attacking players! A soft defence allowed them to equalise early in the second half, but later on in the game we started to hit our stride again. We couldn't stop the game from going into extra-time but Sandjak (who is actually our top scorer for the season ahead of Hawkes) slotted home nicely just before the halfway point to give us a deserved triumph.

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Oh and here is the league table at this point...

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Our league form has been a bit hit and miss but we've done enough to still be in contention with six games left, being 3 points behind with the FA Trophy final restoring a game in hand. We still have a busy schedule ahead, packing the remaining games into the next month or so to the point that we actually play our last match a couple of days after what should have been the final weekend! However the way things are going we have a decent chance of sneaking 5th at least. You have to admit that it's quite a turnaround from the end of December when we were 12th, 17 points adrift with just 2 games in hand at most over any of the teams above us. The playoffs really seemed out of reach back then so it's nice that as well as our cup win, we still have that to play for as we enter the climax of the season.

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Apr 2028

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My concerns about a wobble at the end of the last league update seemed to be born out at the start of March. We had consecutive home games against Dunstable and Hanworth Villa which should have been a comfortable 6 points but we had to rescue a draw in the first game and only narrowly won the other. Then we lost our unbeaten record in an admittedly tricky trip to Kettering which seemed to revitalise us for the rest of the month as we won our remaining games (mostly) comfortably. However by this point all the injuries and the hectic schedule was taking its toll, to the point of even having to make use of a couple of central defenders who were 'competent' in midfield among formation changes and having to play players who otherwise would have been subbed or rested. We lost a '6-pointer' to Southend with the only shot on target of a poor match then fell by a narrow margin to Maidstone.

When we beat Woking we went up to 4th but after 2 defeats we were back to 6th and 3 points adrift with 2 games to go, however we had finally gotten a couple of weeks without a midweek game which gave us the change to rest and most of our injured players to return. A win over Dudley Sports and a defeat for Southend set up a final day where we were level on points but they had a goal difference advantage of 4 and more goals scored. We were very excited when Parr gave us the lead in a tough final day at Bradford but it was crushing when they equalised with around 15 minutes left, after we had missed a few chances to extend the lead. We still had enough time to really go for it but couldn't quite get the winner as Southend drew 0-0 to pip us to the playoffs. Given the season we'd had it was probably for the best that the players didn't have even more to deal with.

This was a season of two halves. We were mediocre before January but really came to life after that, even if it wasn't quite enough. That Southend defeat was costly but there was also the acceptance that we relied on a lot of late goals along the way and had a big deficit to overcome so it still felt great to get so close to the playoffs in the end, especially with a dramatic last day to enjoy and being 12 points better off than last season. There was also our cup expoits, reaching the 4th round of the FA Cup and going all the way in the FA Trophy. Next season the target has to be promotion, though we'll have a smaller squad and very little for new signings (though that stablity might work in our favour).

Star Player: Our Algerian forward Sandjak was our top scorer, got into double figures for assists and ended up as the division's player of the season. Hawkes who?

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Squad Stats

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Summer 2028

This was a more productive summer than expected. The initial budgets dropped the wage budget from 26kpw (which we were using all of) to 22kpw, though increasing expectations to 'promotion' meant being ablee to roughly split the difference. That still meant having very little even after the departing players left at the end of their contracts and the focus was on having to fill the gaps in the squad, this despite forgetting to renew staff contracts at the end of last season so a whole new staff team had to be assembled from scratch. The defence was where we were short, so after Palmer was signed to strenghten us a little, it made sense to go for someone on lower wages, even if they'd just be a back-up, to leave more room for a third signing, hence accepting the new DoF's Bright deal. Although most of our central defenders could play on the right, we needed another specialist full back to go up to having two players for each position (and a lot of versatility) and while a left-back was prefered (due to Gudgeon being right-footed),the only good one available as a free agent was out of our wage range so we had to make do with Harrington on the right.

That seemed to be it, especially as we were now peeking over the wage budget, but the DoF meant that the transfers screen had to be screenshoted twice more thanks to a couple of late loanis (for 6 months each). This is why you let the DoF look for players even if you have to veto the vast majority of deals. Ajah looked like an excellent central midfielder, while Stevenson took a lot more thought about accepting but in the end it was a case of 'why not?' by a whisker. As mentioned above, 5 new players (even if two were loans for just half a season or so) was more than seemed realistic with a squeezed wage budget, even if making sure we had a big enough squad meant that we weren't really any better on paper than last season.

The focus is obvious as it has to be promotion. Another wage budget squeeze (without obvious 'excess' players to release) will be hard to deal with if we don't. We are also set to lose Hawkes, who was actually set to be sold this year if here had been any interest as he wants far to much to renew his contract and it seemed better to try and get a potentially valuable fee for him, though that didn't work out. That's why it fells like a case of going all in. Given the good form in the second half of last season we should be strong challengers, especially with a mostly consistent squad. We should also avoid the same problems we had with injuries during hectic runs of fixtures.

Signings

Ajah

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Bright

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Harrington

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Palmer

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Stevenson

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Sept 2028

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Well it's fair to say that I didn't expect to make such a strong start to the season. It's just a shame that a few other teams have as well and it would just be typical if Jarrow (who were third last time with over 100 goals scored) ended up being one of those teams who just run away with it at the top. Hawkes had a particularly amazing start, with a hat-trick in the first two games giving him half of his total last season for the league already. After being the only team to win the first 4 games, we stumbled at home to struggling Barnet then and otherwise excellent defence had an off-day against Woking. That left us chasing top spot and another draw and defeat in September leaves us trailing Jarrow by quite a bit already. We at least beat them in the Conference League Cup and they have lost a couple of times in the league so we'll see how things develop.

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Nov 2028

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October didn't start well. Oh sure, we easily beat Morecambe (who were fighting to return to the Football League) but then could only draw against Harrogate. That meant we remained 4 points adrift of Jarrow ahead of having to face them away. As you can see from the score it went badly. They had played (and drawn) in midweek as well (as our prospective opponents had a cup replay) which meant that while we had a game in hand, an 8 point gap really didn't look good at all. However things improved from there as we have won 7 league games in a row since then. That actually gives us a 3 point lead though Jarrow are now the ones with a game in hand and while other teams are still fairly close, it looks like it's going to be a tough battle for top spot between the two of us.

The cups seem even more like something to be endured this year, not helped by having only drawn teams in our division or above so far this year (and Southend twice as they're our next Conference League Cup opponents as well!) It is not my thing to deliberately try and lose these games or change the team (though a few players were rested against Chester) even in seasons like this where the league is the main focus and there is still some value in getting keeping up morale and momentum with cup wins as well though it did create the odd situation in the first FA Trophy game with Southend where I was almost hoping they'd score each time they attacked. We seem to be coping fine with all the games for now anyway.

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Dec 2028

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December started off with a bit of a wobble. A draw at Chester wasn't too bad in isolation as it was a tricky game but drawing a blank at home to Leatherhead was less acceptable. That also meant that Jarrow returned to top spot even without having played their game in hand. We easily won our only cup match of the month against Exeter City before losing in another tough trip to Stevenage. Thankfully we were able to bounce back with 4 wins in a row to retake top spot, though they have a game in hand again (they played the one they had before). While we have a trip to Yeovil just two days after Barnet, they're not playing in the league at all right now because aside from us both being in the FA Trophy, they're also still in the FA Cup and are taking Championship Shrewsbury to a replay. This could be brilliant for us as we can extend the lead before they play again and they'll have multiple games to catch up on, perhaps more depending on their FA Trophy run. If we beat Yeovil we will actually match our total points from a couple of seasons ago already.

Off the pitch there was more good news. When I was renewing contracts I noticed that a lot of players were willing to take small pay cuts, knocking the wage bill down from around 25kpw (which is still in the bottom half for the league) to 22kpw and below the budget even before the two 6-month loans end soon. Not only that but Hawkes is now signed on again! I was resigned to losing him but having dropped his demands a bit from the start of the season (over 5kpw), a £1m release clause allowed him to drop them still further from 3kpw to the max 1.7kpw I could offer! That all means that it looks like it would be worth staying on longer even if we don't go up.

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It really is going down to the wire! January saw a mild swing in our favour as Jarrow started to drop a few points meaning that even winning their games in hand would leave us in front. At the same time we got by in the cups by trying to strike a balance between still winning and expending the least energy. As you can see that backfired a couple of time as if we had tried harder we might have avoided the Harrogate replay and penalties against Macclesfield. Whoops!

In February it was our turn to stumble. We had coped very well with fixture congestion earlier in the season but hopefully we weren't starting to run out of steam. The big disaster came against Jarrow at home. I thought we could turn that to our advantage to at least maintain our lead over them but we proved to be just as bad as earlier in the season to fall to back to back league defeats. We at least bounced back against Morecambe (having gone behind) but there's no margin for error now!

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May 2029

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Wow! My concerns about running out steam seemed to be coming true when we could only draw against bottom club FGR. We showed that we weren't done yet with a big win against Crawley though a defensive disaster against Cheltenham handed Jarrow the lead in the promotion race. The pendulum immediately swung back in our direction as we beat Staines and Jarrow lost while we retained the FA Trophy against Chester. After we beat Maidstone in the Conference League cup and Southend (who we would meet in the final, meaning we'd play them in all three cups this season) in the league, Easter weekend proved to be key with two games in 3 days. Things were chaotic against Leatherhead. We took the lead in the first minute then found ourselves 3-1 behind after 15! We made it 3-3 before going behind again and even when we made it 5-4 we weren't safe and they leveled it late on with one of the longest-range goals I had ever seen. Our chance to win seemed to have gone but Hawkes wasn't done yet and grabbed a stoppage time winner that allowed us to extend our lead over Jarrow, who had a rather more boring 0-0 draw.

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That appeared to be the break we needed as snatching another late winner against Burton 2 days later extended our lead further to 6 points with just two games left, giving us a foot in League 2. With the conference league cup final ahead we sat back and took it easy against Boston to secure the points we needed and even broke the 100-point barrier with a win against Chester on the final day which denied them a playoff place! As for Jarrow, they lost in the playoffs against Oxford City who then beat Maidstone to set up an Oxford derby next year in League 2.

So a hectic 63-match season ended in promotion No. 7 (just 3 to go) and a non-league treble, even if promotion favourites Jarrow pushed us almost all the way in the league. It also proved that you don't need to sacrifice the cups for the league though I admit that unlike last season we got really lucky with injuries, with on-loan midfielder Ajah as the exception with a 3-month injury at the start (and also missing some of the climax at the African U20's championship). That meant that we always had fit players to step in even with such a hectic schedule. Hawkes returning to form was a big factor in the treble success though you don't have a season this good without everyone stepping up.

Star player: Talk about a return to form! Hawkes follwed up his worst full season in the league with his first 30-goal league season (still narrowly missing out being on top scorer). He may just still be 21 but he already has 184 goals abd 54 assists in 296 appearances for the club.

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Squad Stats

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