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[FM22] Wall of Shame to Hall of Fame


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Introduction

It's 20th September 2022. Jonster Monster has been made redundant from his job working in a brush factory in his hometown, Grantham, in the East Midlands of England. He makes it home and as he opens his front door he realises he has nothing in his life to look forward to. He switches on his computer and brings up job websites. What jobs are available when all he has ever done is make brushes? And the occasional dustpan. 

 
Staring up at his wall he sees the squad picture of the brush factory football team which will presumably disband. Making brushes all day paid the bills but the football team gave him some purpose. Having suffered a broken leg 12 months ago, he had mostly been coaching the brush factory team in the previous season, helping the manager out with putting out training cones and carrying the water bottles to and from the dressing room on match days. He has no coaching qualifications and has only ever played Sunday League football for the brush factory. He fills in a few questionnaires about skills but there don't appear to be any other brush factories hiring in the area. His hands fall over the keyboard. Could a career as a football manager really exist? Would any clubs be willing to take on somebody with no coaching badges or experience further than encouraging brush factory workers to run about a bit more? 
 
He has nothing to lose. 
 
This is the story of "Wall of Shame to Hall of Fame". Can a football fan with no qualifications make it to the top of the worldwide hall of fame? 
 
Finding all the available football manager jobs, he sends in his optimistic application, making no bones about the fact the only qualification he has is that he's an avid football fan, enjoying attractive attacking football. To his surprise he's offered several interviews. He attends interviews at Stafford Town, Hillingdon Borough, Albion Sports, Graham Street Prims, and Newbury Forest on 21st September, and then Basingstoke Town, Rocester, and Willington on 23rd September. St. Andrews and Molesey are next on 24th September. Monster attends all of the interviews remotely and keeps his answers similar, not making any promises apart from agreeing to work with existing staff, and agreeing with the proposed budgets offered. He keeps applying for other roles, explaining he's keeping his options open. He never knew all of these clubs were so keen to hire football enthusiasts with no qualifications! 
 
At 8:47 on Sunday 25th September, Monster is awoken by his phone vibrating. An email from Hillingdon Borough. They're offering him a job. They want him to be their new manager. At 8:59 another email comes through, this time from Albion Sports. He compares the offers. Hillingdon are offering him a wage. Surely that must be some sort of mistake? £140 p/w? Albion Sports aren't as forthcoming - they can't afford to offer him a wage and the wage budget is more than half of what Hillingdon Borough have available. Monster looks around his poky flat and weighs up his options. North to Bradford? Or south to just inside the M25, not all that far from Heathrow Airport? 
 
It's south. Has to be south. He can't move to Bradford for free. At least he'll be earning something with Hillingdon. Packing his favourite brush along with his best suit and a change of clothes, Jonster Monster replies to the email from Gareth Eaton, Chairperson of Hillingdon Borough to accept their job offer. He heads off in his car to make the journey down to the Middlesex Stadium to see the club for the first time. 
 
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Gareth Eaton greets Monster with a handy welcome pack which explains that there are limited facilities and there's a preference for defensively solid and counter-attacking football, which makes Monster wonder if he's taken the right job. The only trophy they've won was the Southern League Cup in 2008. They finished 2nd in the Combined Counties League Division 1 last season to earn promotion to the Combined Counties League Premier Division North this time around. They're currently rock bottom with 2 points after 11 games, 5 points from safety. 
 
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Monster looks around the stadium, starting to dream of the first goal that'll be scored there under his stewardship, the roar of the fans behind him in the dugout. The fact there's a dugout is exciting, let alone a stadium with 250 seats and lots of standing room. The chairperson calls him back into the clubhouse and they thrash out exactly who will be doing what role. Monster demands that the vacant staff spots go out to advert; he's going to need as many staff in place as he can get. With 6 days until the Thatcham match, Monster is asked to set the training plan for the coming week. He likes teams that run, so he has some endurance training and ball distribution exercises planned for Tuesday. Thursday is lighter, doing some teamwork and team bonding. Monster knows he'll need to get the team working together in order to escape relegation. 
 
And with that, Jonster Monster heads home on a two hour drive. Not a commute he fancies regularly. When he gets home, he starts looking at Premier Inn prices. It may have to be a hotel for a while. Luckily there's one in Ruislip, a 5-minute drive away from the ground. 
 
27/09/2022 - First day of training
 
As Monster pulls up at the training ground on Tuesday morning, the first thing he notices is that the atmosphere around the club is very poor. Monster introduces himself and tells them that he expects them to work hard and they'll finish wherever they finish. The players seem relatively happy but he then introduces the training regime. The players aren't all that thrilled at coming in for training with a new manager they've never heard of, and according to Google, was working in a brush factory last week. They won their last game in FA Vase qualifying on penalties but they've only scored 5 goals all season so far. To then be greeted by a manager who doesn't hold any qualifications at all, doesn't seem to impress them. Tales of the brush factory team's run to the semi finals of the local cup also doesn't seem to inspire them. To then be told that they'll be running most of the morning, only seems to make matters worse. 
 
In terms of the squad, Monster has a look at the U23s and U18s as well as the first team. The squad seems relatively well-balanced, perfect for his preferred 4-1-3-2 formation with the trio all playing in attacking midfield. Monster then has to conduct his first press conference. Richard Upton, the club's press officer, introduces Monster to Anthony Page from BBC London 94.9. Monster tries to remain open and honest throughout, not making any guarantees, but makes reference to hard work several times. The club's press officer tells him the press conference went well. It's the first press conference Monster has ever held. How many would he get to cover over the course of his career? Or will he be offered a brush (that he probably made) and told to sweep the office on his way out?
 
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October 2022
 
01/10/2022 - Combined Counties League Premier Division North v Thatcham Town (H)
The pre-match build up revealed Thatcham were on a nine-match unbeaten run, having been relegated from Tier 8 the previous season. With the help of Mark Teggart, the fitness coach, Monster picked a line up featuring a leading player from the youth team up front. Key man Reece Stray started in the shadow striker role. It's 6 changes in total from their last game under Matty Soper. Monster told all the players to forget about the past and to focus on moving forwards, pumping his fists, and telling them he believed in them all. They seemed up for the contest, putting 3 shots on target in the opening 7 minutes. However, from there, it all started to go wrong. A through ball let the Thatcham right winger through and he couldn't miss from a few yards out, clipping the ball past Thompson in goal. 2 minutes later and Hillingdon Borough were down to 10 men when Kain Wayne picked up his second booking. Monster looked up to the heavens. It would take a lot to get back into the game from here. Bob Irwin was sacrificed up front and replaced by Alexander Sowden. After 27 minutes, David Sargent scored the first goal of the Monster era. Some incisive passing on the edge of the area released the left winger whose shot sailed into the top corner, kissing the underside of the crossbar and bouncing down over the line. The sort of goal Monster could only have dreamt of a week ago. Monster was starting to look forward to his half time team talk when Sowden headed in Plant's corner. They'd turned it around and scored twice in a game for the first time this season! However, the lead didn't last long. Sowden became the villain as he clipped Thurston in the box and Parr stepped up to smash past Thompson from the penalty spot. The second half wasn't much of a spectacle - Monster's boys seemed to play within themselves, giving away free kick after free kick and collecting numerous yellow cards. David O'Keeffe, the other centre back, came off injured after 65 minutes too. But Hillingdon Borough held on, coming away with a creditable 2-2 draw against far stronger opposition. They had more shots than Thatcham and gave Monster plenty to build on to pick up their 3rd point of the season, although they'll be missing their first choice centre backs for the next game. 109 fans turned out for Monster's first game. 
 
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08/10/2022 - Combined Counties League Premier Division North v Tooting & Mitcham United (A)
Next up was a top v bottom clash. Monster had a meeting with Director of Football Uthman Odutayo during the week to see if there were any recommended players available on free transfers. Odutayo rang around his contacts and produced a list of players that were available on a free transfer. Monster promptly offered all of them trials, most of them accepting the offer to check out the club for 4 weeks. With room in the wage budget, Monster saw no issue with bringing new faces to the club, hoping to find some players as determined to succeed as him. In terms of the match, it couldn't get much more difficult against the free-scoring league leaders. Having a better handle on the abilities of the players after another week of training, Monster made several changes. Chamberlain, McGrandles, Sowden, Patrick, Briggs, and Ellis started this game. In the 8th minute, there was some pushing in the area as a freekick came in and Hillingdon Borough were awarded a penalty. Up stepped youth prospect Ciaran Callaghan and hit his spotkick to the keeper's right, the net bulging as Callaghan scored his first goal of the season. 1-0 up at the league leaders! A few minutes later, Briggs had the ball in the back of the net with a shot from inside the area but he was ruled to have been offside in the build-up. After 28 minutes, Tooting & Mitcham United levelled the scores when Alex Cameron scored with a remarkable scissor kick volley from 15 yards, the ball flying past Chamberlain. 1-1 at half time. After half time, Hillingdon Borough found another gear. Plant's ball forward from the back fell into Stray's path and the shadow striker kept his composure to slot past the keeper from 12 yards. 3 minutes later and it was 3-1. From a throw-in on the right, the ball was worked across the box to where inverted wingback Plant was all on his own and he clipped a shot into the far post. Keeping hold of the ball as best they could, Monster's side managed to see out the game and pick up their first win of the season. Nobody was expecting it to come against the top side in the league. It pulled Hillingdon Borough level on points with AFC Windsor but still in 20th place on goal difference. Reece Stray was named Player of the Match after his goal and 8 key passes. Monster may have a hard job keeping hold of Stray - the Hertford Town boss was in the stands to watch the midfielder in action. The fans afterwards on social media were effusive in their praise for the midfielder's performance in allowing his side to dominate. 
 
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15/10/2022 - Combined Counties League Premier Division North v Holyport (H)
After winning against the odds against a side fancied for promotion, Monster's side were favourites in their next game against 18th-placed Holyport. After a steady start to the match in the pouring rain in West London, Sargent's header went close in the 22nd minute, clipping the crossbar on its way over. Reece Stray gave the home side the lead just before half time with a low shot from 22 yards out. Picking it up outside the box, he had space to turn and fire home right-footed to get the goal Hillingdon Borough deserved based on their first half display. Hillingdon kept pushing second half but couldn't fashion any clear cut chances. Ellis went close with a header in the 87th minute but from the goal kick, Edmunds released substitute Stewart down the right, and his shot flew past Chamberlain at the near post to draw Holyport level. It was somewhat against the run of play but Hillingdon couldn't find a last-gasp winner, even when Holyport went down to 10 men for the final few minutes. The game ended 1-1. Monster afterwards wasn't too harsh on his players but it did feel like an opportunity missed. Still, unbeaten after the first 3 games, 5 points gained, and new players potentially on their way in - there were plenty of reasons to be optimistic. The shoots of recovery were definitely on display at the Middlesex Stadium in this match. 
 
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22/10/2022 - FA Vase 1st Round v Bedlington Terriers (H)
Hillingdon welcomed Bedlington Terriers to the Middlesex Stadium in the first round of the FA Vase. New faces had started to appear at the club. A new chief scout had been appointed. Joel Gooden, a young left winger who had impressed on trial, signed a deal to give Sargent some competition on the left wing as well as provide cover at left back. Robbie Smith, 26 years old, also signed a deal until the end of the season to provide competition on either wing, a signing that the fans were buzzing about. On the training ground, training performances were starting to improve. During Monster's first week, the average rating had been lower than 5.00. Now the lowest in the squad was a 5.4 with a squad average of 6.49. The game was a proper cup tie, but it needed penalties to separate the two sides after a 1-1 draw. Hillingdon once again conceded a late goal meaning Monster's team are yet to keep a clean sheet since his arrival. Robbie Smith didn't play well on the right, but Joel Gooden did okay at left back. Key man Stray scored the winning penalty. 
 
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29/10/2022 - Combined Counties League Premier Division North v Burnham (H)
Monster arrived at the Middlesex Stadium to the news that Walton Casuals had made a bid for Reece Stray. By far and away the best player in the side, he would be a struggle to replace but clearly deserves to play at a higher level (Walton are a tier 7 side). However, Monster also had new on-loan goalkeeper Marlon Bryan available and he slotted straight into the team. Having not kept a clean sheet so far, could a change of keeper make the difference? Bryan was in on loan for the rest of the season from Frome Town. Burnham started the weekend 12th in the league with Hillingdon still bottom but a recent uptick in form had the home side as marginal favourites. Robbie Smith took a spot up front to see if that would help score goals and improve on his poor debut showing. Hillingdon opened the scoring after 26 minutes when right back Slone smashed into the top corner with his left foot from inside the area. Burnham equalised almost straight from kick off, a long ball forward finding Byrne who tucked it past Bryan. Still no clean sheet for Hillingdon. 1-1 at the break. Monster told the players that they could still win this, and they started the half on the front foot. From an early corner, McGrandles was bundled over in the area and Cian Callaghan stepped up to score his 2nd penalty of the season, high into the middle of the net. Burnham had a goal ruled out for offside, but Monster sent on a couple of subs with the team beginning to tire. After 73 minutes, after some neat play building up the pitch, Callaghan flicked the ball on to Briggs whose cross was turned in by substitute Boylan-O'Carroll for his 1st goal of the season. Despite some late pressure, Hillingdon held firm, and they picked up their first home win under Monster (both cup fixtures at home had been won on penalties). Windsor drew but Hillingdon went above them with the win and only a point away from 18th place. 
 
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October 2022 Summary
Monster's first month in charge had proved relatively successful. Coming into a side without a win all season, Monster's team had picked up 2 wins in the league and 2 draws as well as progressing to the next round of the FA Vase. However, star man Stray's potential transfer could prove to be an issue. If he went, who would come in to replace him? The answer may lie in the triallists, Monster continuing to offer trials to anyone with a pair of football boots available. 
 
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November 2022
 
05/11/2022 - Combined Counties League Premier Division North v Egham Town (A)
Another mid-table team were up next. Egham were favourites and were unbeaten in 4 matches. Stray was still at the club but centre back O'Keeffe had also been offered a contract elsewhere. Monster had also been busy, offering contracts to a couple of the triallists in the hope they would come in and make the side stronger. In the 14th minute, some neat build-up play saw Stray play Callaghan in, and the striker smashed it right-footed past the keeper from 16 yards. A minute later, Callaghan returned the favour, playing Stray through, and the shadow striker finished the move confidently, tucking it away into the far corner. After the hour mark, Hillingdon made it 3-0 when Callaghan's close control allowed him to keep the ball on the edge of the area and knock it to Smith, playing as a right winger today, whose shot found the top corner from the edge of the box. The wait for a clean sheet went on, though; Alexander headed in a corner after 82 minutes to capitalise on some pressure the home side had been building. However, the comeback never came and Hillingdon ran out 3-1 winners. Stray was instrumental again, picking up the player-of-the-match award thanks to a goal and an assist, Callaghan perhaps unlucky not to receive it after his goal and 2 assists. On returning to the dressing room, Monster was thrilled to see they had pulled out of the relegation zone, a huge boost for the players after looking dead and buried a month ago. Up to 18th and clawing back the goal difference, mid-table suddenly seemed closer.
 
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08/11/2022 - Combined Counties League Premier Division North v Virginia Water (H)
A first clean sheet! A game with two late goals to put the icing on the cake. The team went into the game buoyed by the news that Reece Stray had signed a new deal, albeit another pay-per-play deal and it seemed to galvanise the defence into keeping their first clean sheet. 
 
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12/11/2022 - Combined Counties League Premier Division North v Woodley United (A)
The win against Virginia Water had taken Hillingdon above Woodley, and Hillingdon used that to their advantage, running out 4-2 winners. All goals came in the second half, Stray playing well to grab 2 of them. Next up were 2 games in different cups so Monster had an opportunity to rotate. 
 
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15/11/2022 - Combined Counties League Cup First Round v Wallingford Town (A)
Monster made a few rotational changes for the match, the games now coming thick and fast. It didn't hold back a resurgent Hillingdon Borough who ended up 7-3 winners in an end-to-end game. Scott Ellis notched yet another freekick, his third of the month. 
 
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19/11/2022 - FA Vase 2nd Round v Kempston Rovers (H)
It had taken a lot of games but Monster's luck ran out in this one. Stray, normally the heartbeat of the side, turned in a rubbish performance, and Hillingdon fell to a 1-0 defeat. A first taste of defeat for Monster when the side perhaps should have done better, registering a 2.96 XG but unable to find the back of the net. 
 
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25/11/2022 - Combined Counties League Premier Division North v CB Hounslow United (H)
Thankfully only the one game this week but it was against the side top of the league in flying form. Hillingdon also lost this game 1-0. Monster had brought several strikers in on trial so may well end up with a new strike force at some point rather than relying on youth players. The goal came in the 73rd minute but Hounslow always looked in control of the game. Two consecutive 1-0 defeats at home, and Monster was facing his first tricky spell in charge, dropping to 16th in the league. 
 
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28/11/2022 - Combined Counties League Cup Second Round v Woodley United (A)
Having won at Woodley 4-2 a few weeks ago, Monster was hopeful that would inspire the players to get back to winning ways. 3-1 up with an hour gone, and it looked likely but Hillingdon capitulated in the last 10 minutes to end up losing 4-3. Monster afterwards attended the press conference with a grim expression. 3 defeats on the bounce. Out of 2 cups within a short space of time. Another bid had come in for Stray. Training performances had slipped. Monster drove home from Woodley that night deep in thought as to what he could do with a crunch match against the side below them in the table coming up at the weekend. 
 
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November 2022 Summary
A month that started brilliantly before luck ran out resulting in a dent in morale and 2 cup exits. However, Hillingdon had escaped the relegation zone. The honeymoon period was truly over and Monster now knew what it meant to only be as good as his last game. Could he turn it around in December and stop the run of defeats?
 
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December 2022
 
03/12/2022 - Combined Counties League Premier Division North v Tadley Calleva (A)
Tadley were a place below Hillingdon at the start of play. Monster kept faith with a similar team but his patience with certain performers was starting to run thin. Getting something out of this game was crucial. Hillingdon managed a 1-0 win thanks to Callaghan's early penalty. Another clean sheet. 3 points. A lack of clinical finishing was a shame but Monster's change to playing a possession-based game achieved the result, going against the board's directive to play direct football. Would that be something he could survive? Monster was hoping to convince the board that results could be achieved without needing to resort to long lumps from the back. 
 
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10/12/2022 - Combined Counties League Premier Division North v Abbey Rangers (H)
Disaster. Stray left the club midweek for Ware, a team top of their league in Tier 8. Since he had signed a new pay-as-you-play deal, he hadn't quite been the same superstar, coinciding with the team's dip in form. Monster would surely have to bring in someone to replace him, though. Trying to bring players in for the last few weeks had been difficult; some players citing the league position, others demanding money far outside of the club's budget. New right winger Marcus Bagger made his debut, allowing Robbie Smith to play the Stray role behind the two strikers. After a first half against the ropes, Hillingdon took the lead when Sargent nodded in Slone's back post cross. It was 2-0 when McGrandles' header came back off the bar and hit Callaghan standing on the goal line. They all count, right? A 2-0 win, another clean sheet, and 2 wins in a row boosted Hillingdon into 13th in the league, their highest position of the season. 8 points clear of the relegation zone now too. Monster was starting to feel better about life again. Now to find a Stray replacement and to bulk the squad out in a couple of areas. 
 
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17/12/2022 - Combined Counties League Premier Division North v Spelthorne (A)
A new striker joined the club in the last week and Monster picked him from the start. Welcome Lewis Horn-Haynes. Spelthorne were the opponents, sitting 5th in the league, in the play-off spots. However, Hillingdon took them apart in the first 20 minutes, rattling in 3 goals with no reply. Horn-Haynes, standing 154cm tall, scored a header on his debut. Don't think many of the fans predicted he'd score a header at any point, let alone for his debut goal. He also set up Callaghan to tap in. Smith, in the Stray role still, opened the scoring with a half volley. Hillingdon moved up to 11th. 3 clean sheets in a row too, although Spelthorne may have been unlucky not to have scored at all with a 2.09 XG. Bryan in goal for Hillingdon made his best performance since his arrival to keep them at bay. 
 
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31/12/2022 - Combined Counties League Premier Division North v AFC Hayes (A)
Some more transfer business had seen complaining fringe players depart while Monster brought in some players of his own. Leigh Ennis, a young attacking midfielder, joined the ranks, along with Rob Ludlam, a centre back. A mild first half with little goalmouth action came to life early in the second when a speculative effort from Dobrev slipped through Bryan's hands and dropped into the net. McGrandles equalised from a corner but it was Hayes who took the lead again when a speculative 30-yard effort flew past Bryan. Hayes had a man sent off and Horn-Hayes used his small stature to slip in past his marker and equalise with time running out. Neither side could find a winner and it finished 2-2. 
 
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December 2022 Summary
Overall, a positive month that saw the recovery from the disastrous end to November, picking up 3 wins and a draw. Star man Stray left the club but Monster couldn't begrudge him leaving for a team looking destined for Tier 7. Monster also picked up the Manager of the Month award for December. However, the board were still disappointed with the lack of direct football, despite being pleased with the results on the pitch. 
 
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January 2023
 
A short month in prospect with only 3 games scheduled. With no cup competitions to look forward to, only league games left, Monster's first aim in the new year was to add some new faces to the side by looking for youngsters with potential but with certain attributes. Tall centre backs were approached as well as midfielders who could pass and attackers who were quick. Three tall centre backs were offered contracts for £20 p/w, Monster clearly feeling the defence was the weakest part of the team, and signing youngsters allowed quantity at a far cheaper price. 
 
10/01/2023 - Friendly v Marlow United (H)
With so many triallists in, Monster decided to arrange a friendly. It ended 2-1, which although a win, wasn't convincing at times. Markus Bagger bagged a goal from the bench late on to win it. 
 
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14/01/2023 - Combined Counties League Premier Division North v AFC Croydon Athletic (H)
A mid-table clash between 12th and 13th on a cool but windy afternoon in West London. The game played out like a mid-table clash too. Callaghan gave Hillingdon the lead just before half time with a neat header from a Slone cross. Monster was apoplectic when Croydon won a penalty early in the 2nd half, Ifoni looking like he had taken a dive to deceive the referee. Hollis stepped up to score from the spot. Monster pushed his side on. They thought they had their reward late on when Sargent was pushed over in the area but Callaghan's penalty was easily saved by the keeper. The game finished 1-1. Another game where Hillingdon should have won, but at least it wasn't a defeat. 
 
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21/01/2023 - Combined Counties League Premier Division North v Wokingham & Emmbrook (A)
This promised to be a test of their mettle against one of the sides chasing their playoffs. If Hillingdon wanted to aim for the playoffs, beating sides above them would be key to lessen the gap. This was barely a contest, Hillingdon running out comfortable 3-1 winners. 5ft striker Horn-Haynes continued to use his ability to sneak in below the eyeline of defenders, scoring twice in this game running on to through balls. McGrandles scored the other. Wokingham & Emmbrook had equalised but the pressure eventually told, keeping the ball proving to be a useful strategy. Hillingdon stay 11th but are back within a win of potentially moving up places again, 8 points outside the playoffs with 13 games to go. 
 
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28/01/2023 - Combined Counties League Premier Division North v Reading City (H)
Reading City in 5th were the next opponents for the final match of January. Could Hillingdon take more points off a side above them? Still no starts for the 3 defenders Monster brought in but perhaps they're destined to be players for the future. Hillingdon took the lead after 9 minutes when Robbie Smith, maligned by board and fans alike for being less than a bargain at £45 p/w, swept home at the back post following Horn-Haynes' generous square ball across the box. Horn-Haynes made it 2-0 shortly after half time, taking Smith's long pass under control and slotting into the far corner. New signing Ennis, playing the shadow striker role, scored a fantastic goal from outside the area with the game nearly at an end to make it 3-0. A comprehensive result for the home side which moves them up to 10th and within 6 points of the play-offs. 
 
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January 2023 Summary
A decent month overall and Hillingdon now sit in their highest position of the season in 10th. Ennis' goal in the last match was voted 3rd in the goal of the month competition. 
 
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February 2023
 
04/02/2023 - Combined Counties League Premier Division North v Windsor (A)
With their opposition rooted to the bottom of the table, Hillingdon rocked up hoping for an easy 3 points. That may have been their downfall. Even when Windsor were reduced to 9 men, it still took a 76th minute penalty for Hillingdon to scrape a draw, 1-1. Clinical finishing is hurting this side and something Monster must note for the summer transfer window if Hillingdon are to progress. The draws are coming against sides lower than them in the league, when keeping hold of the ball might be causing some issues. However, to look at the bright side, the unbeaten run continues and Monster has only lost once in the league since arriving in September. 
 
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11/02/2023 - Combined Counties League Premier Division North v Southall (H)
Southall in 8th have had a decent season and harboured hopes of reaching the playoffs. Monster sent out his strongest possible team, hoping they would bounce back from the disappointment at failing to grab all 3 points the previous weekend. They didn't. A 2-0 defeat seemed harsh based on the stats but the wheels seem to have started to buckle in February so far. Still in 10th, it's by no means a disaster, but Monster has work to do. Nobody played well, no stand-out performances, and Monster looked pensive afterwards knowing there were two games against sides in the playoff spots to finish the month. 
 
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19/02/2023 - Combined Counties League Premier Division North v Westside (A)
In an attempt to make himself feel better, Monster asked the board during the week if it would be possible for him to start his coaching badges. The board agreed a couple of days later to fund a National C licence for him so Monster was in a good mood on arriving at the ground for the Sunday afternoon kickoff. Westside were in 5th, the spot Monster was secretly aiming for, and he was hoping for a response to kickstart February. It was exactly what he received. Everyone played well in a crushing 4-0 win, pulling Hillingdon into 9th and now within 7 points of the playoffs. Could Monster's impossible dream come true? He had only hoped to finish as high as possible when he took the job, which was mostly about avoiding relegation. Now, the playoffs were in sight. 
 
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25/02/2023 - Combined Counties League Premier Division North v Edgware (H)
Another test this time against the side in 2nd. Monster was hoping the bounce from the last performance would help them in this game. Callaghan was suspended so Ellis deputised up front and Slone returned at the back. Leigh Ennis scored in the 41st minute to give Hillingdon the lead, slightly against the run of play. Edgware went in at half time level, though, thanks to a goal in stoppage time. It wasn't a classic, both sides with contrasting styles of play seeming to cancel each other out. 
 
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February 2023 Summary
A mixed bag of a month with 2 draws, 1 defeat, and 1 win. 8th in the table, though, and still within a few points of a playoff spot, means Monster's side still have plenty to play for with 8 games remaining. 
 
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Liking the story approach, and writing in the third person about Monster's journey certainly adds to that. Also, that's a food set of results from the position the club was in on arrival.

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10 hours ago, BadManager said:

Liking the story approach, and writing in the third person about Monster's journey certainly adds to that. Also, that's a food set of results from the position the club was in on arrival.

Thank you - it's something I've been wanting to try for ages. I'd written out a whole season for my Victor San Marino save but that was proving difficult to find a story angle 20 seasons in. This has been a lot of fun to put together. 

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March 2023
 
04/03/2023 - Combined Counties League Premier Division North v Thatcham Town (A)
And so back to the fixture that started Monster's managerial career. It was a 2-2 draw on his debut when Hillingdon were in 20th but they were now above Thatcham in the league. In a crazy game, Ennis opened the scoring after 4 minutes when Sargent played him in and the shadow striker took his time in placing his shot into the far corner. Callaghan then tapped in after Smith's shot was saved after 12 minutes. Ramon scored for the home side with a brilliant freekick before Sargent restored the 2 goal lead with a back post volley. Ramon scored from another freekick which looped in over Bryan from the corner of the box. Ennis scored a cracker of his own with an effort from 22 yards which looped into the top corner. The 2nd half was a more solemn affair but Callaghan grabbed his 2nd of the game with a stoppage time penalty, dispatched into the top corner to make the score 5-2. An emphatic victory to continue the march up the table. Still in 8th but the gap has narrowed to 5 points with 7 games to go. Could Hillingdon sneak in? 
 
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11/03/2023 - Combined Counties League Premier Division North v Tooting & Mitcham United (H)
8th v 3rd. Hillingdon had earned their first win of the season against the high-flying Tooting & Mitcham side back in October - could they complete a double? Of course they could. A 1-0 win, which once again should have been more, thanks to a 66th minute Callaghan strike from 3 yards out. Hillingdon remained in 8th but the gap to 5th was now down to 2 points. Hillingdon won't play any of the sides above them for the rest of the season, so they would be relying on the other teams dropping points. 
 
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18/03/2023 - Combined Counties League Premier Division North v Holyport (A)
Monster sent his side out with a more attacking mindset than normal in this match to try and press home their desire to win. It put Hillingdon off to the perfect start as Callaghan raced through to capitalise on some indecisive goalkeeping to poke home from the edge of the area. The defence had all stopped but the striker persisted and nipped in ahead of Carter to give Hillingdon the lead. After that, few clear cut chances were created. Hillingdon always had the ascendancy but a 1-0 lead is rarely comfortable. Ennis had a shot in 2nd half stoppage time come back off the post when he perhaps should have done better but in the end, Hillingdon ran out 1-0 winners for the 2nd week in a row. On reaching the dressing room, Hillingdon saw they were 5th in the table as it stood, although Westside could jump above them with a win against Windsor in the Sunday game. 
 
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19/03/2023 - Westside drew! Hillingdon had their destiny in their own hands!
 
25/03/2023 - Combined Counties League Premier Division North v Egham Town (H)
Now in a playoff spot, Hillingdon went into this game knowing they needed a win to keep their dream alive. A real tussle between the two sides saw them exchange chances without ever seizing control. Ellis scored with a freekick before half time but Egham responded immediately, although Bryan should have done better with the header at the far post. Neither side really created much outside of the goals, although both sides saw efforts come back off the crossbar. A frustrating 1-1 draw at home, which dropped Hillingdon out of the playoff spots again.
 
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March 2023 Summary
It started so well but the draw in the final game felt much like a defeat. Monster knows he has to pick the side up for a final push before the transfer business sets in. There are rumours of lots of triallists due to come in over the summer so Monster can find players with certain characteristics he's looking for but will have to work with the squad he has right now. Monster finished 2nd in the Manager of the Month award after 3 wins and a draw. 
 
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April 2023
 
01/04/2023 - Combined Counties League Premier Division North v Burnham (A)
Burnham down in 10th were the next opponents. Monster went with a higher tempo for this game to try and combat the formidable pressing style of the opponents. It started well too, Callaghan was played through the middle and confidently knocked the ball home for his 14th goal of the season. Burnham had a decent spell of pressure for the rest of the half but couldn't find the breakthrough. Hillingdon extended their lead in 2nd half stoppage time, Ellis turning home Callaghan's cross. Burnham did squeeze a goal back before the end, Johns left all on his own to wander through and poke past Bryan. The result catapulted Hillingdon up into 5th again but there was hardly any room to breathe with 4th-9th separated by 4 points. Sargent was ruled out for 3-4 weeks with a back strain meaning he could have played his final game for the club. 
 
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08/04/2023 - Combined Counties League Premier Division North v Woodley United (H)
Woodley went into the game bottom of the league and seemingly headed for the drop. In fact, losing this game would see them relegated. Monster wanted revenge on them after they knocked Hillingdon out of the cup earlier in the season, so relegating them would be perfect while also keeping their own playoff hopes alive. Clearly, revenge was on their minds as the home side raced into a 4-0 lead and then barely threatened after that. Callaghan scored a penalty after 3 minutes, Ennis tapped in after the keeper parried O'Keeffe's header, McGrandles scored from a corner and Gooden, playing left wing today with Sargent missing, swept in from Callaghan's cross. Woodley pulled one back before half time but couldn't mount any comeback in the second half. Revenge mission complete, Hillingdon also rose to 4th in the league. 
 
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15/04/2023 - Combined Counties League Premier Division North v Virginia Water (A)
Needing points to fight off a Windsor revival, Virginia Water in 18th were still in a relegation scrap. Horn-Haynes gave Hillingdon the lead in the 1st minute, played through by Callaghan's knockdown and scoring with a powerful finish from just inside the area. He doubled the lead to prove his goalscoring drought was over when he intercepted a pass out from the back, running through and using his left foot to smash Hillingdon into a 2-0 lead. After half time, Horn-Haynes played his strike partner through and Hillingdon looked to be out of sight as Callaghan finished coolly to make it 3-0. Louis Leach had other ideas, though, coming off the bench to bag a brace for Virginia Water but it wasn't enough. 3-2 to Hillingdon and Virginia Waters dropped into the bottom two. Hillingdon stayed in 4th only needing a point on the final day to guarantee a playoff spot, a quite remarkable turn around from where they were when unknown manager Monster stepped through the gates at the Middlesex Stadium in late-September last year. 
 
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23/04/2023 - Combined Counties League Premier Division North v Tadley Calleva (H)
The final game of the league season saw Hillingdon take on a side now safe from relegation. The visitors took the lead with a low strike from 25 yards, their first effort of the game following a throw in on the right hand side. Hillingdon equalised after 26 minutes when back-up left back Reuben Plant popped on the edge of the area to score left-footed after a loose ball fell to him. After half time, Leigh Ennis scored from a freekick driven in low by Smith, finding the far post with a left-footed effort. 2 minutes later, Callaghan's penalty smacked off the bar and he couldn't get to the rebound. Tadley then equalised shortly after, Mbele grabbing his 2nd of the game when played through a static Hillingdon defence. With time running out, Monster threw on substitutes but before the changes could take place, Horn-Haynes' strike thundered off the bar from 20 yards and fell to Smith to tap in from a few yards out. Hillingdon finished the season in 4th place on 63 points. Monster had picked up 61 of those as manager and turned his side into a veritable force in the league, finishing as 3rd top-scorers overall. A remarkable achievement after only scoring 4 goals after 11 games. After a 4th-placed finish, they would take on 3rd place Tooting & Mitcham away for a spot in the playoff final and a chance at Tier 8 football next season. 
 
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29/04/2023 - Combined Counties League Premier Division North Playoff Semi Final v Tooting & Mitcham United (A)
Any Hillingdon Borough fan who had stated when Jonster Monster arrived at the Middlesex Stadium last year that he could turn things around to the point they would be playing this fixture would have been laughed out of the clubhouse. However, Monster had clearly instilled some belief in the players and they launched themselves out of the traps with a goal after 1 minute, Gooden curling a left-footed freekick around the wall and into the net. Ennis scored again 3 minutes later, his powerful shot from the edge of the box bursting through the keeper's hands. Tooting & Mitcham pulled one back midway through the 1st half, McGinley's looping header dropping over Bryan and in at the far post. After half-time, Horn-Haynes pounced on a loose ball in the box to make it 3-1 after the keeper had parried O'Keeffe's header from a corner. Callaghan made it 4-1 a few moments later, scoring a diving header from 8 yards. Tooting & Mitcham didn't give up, though. McMillan seized on a loose clearance to volley home from all of 30 yards to fray a few nerves on the Hillingdon bench but Monster's boys held on and progressed to take on Edgware Town in the final. 
 
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April 2023 Summary
A perfect April with 5 wins propelling Hillingdon into the Playoff Final. No clean sheets but plenty of goals, and the Hillingdon Borough players had clearly taken to the idea of Monsterball. Monster took the Manager of the Month award to the delight of Director of Football Uthman Odutayo. 
 
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May 2023
 
02/05/2023 - Combined Counties League Premier Division North Playoff Final v Edgware Town (A)
A playoff final. Potentially Tier 8 football next season. Edgware had had a good season, finishing 2nd in the league. Hillingdon had never beaten them, drawing once and losing once. Could they beat the odds and end up being promoted having been bottom of the table on 1st October 2022? 190 Hillingdon Borough fans made the trip to Kingsbury to find out. The first half was a cagey affair, neither side particularly creating any gilt-edged chances. In the 2nd half, as Hillingdon tired, Edgware took control and created the better of the chances. Still no breakthrough at the end of 90 minutes and Hillingdon looked dead on their feet. Monster tried to rally the troops to make it through extra time but they were so tired, they could barely make it off the pitch. The game drifted to penalties. Monster told his players to relax and pick their spots. Edgware decided to take the 1st kick and Hillingdon chose to take penalties in front of their own fans. Simpson stepped up first for Edgware and blazed his penalty over. Callaghan, the regular penalty-taker for Hillingdon, scored his to the keeper's right. Dundas found the bottom corner for Edgware's next penalty, as did Ludlam for Hillingdon. Boateng was next for Edgware but his penalty was a comfortable height for Bryan and the on-loan keeper kept it out. Ellis then made it 3-1 from the spot, tucking his penalty away with aplomb, Frampton nowhere near it. Up stepped O'Donovan. He had to score to keep Edgware in it. He took aim. Monster took a deep breath. The substitute stepped up... and missed! Bryan watched it sail over the crossbar into the Hillingdon fans. There was a moment of disbelief before the euphoria kicked in. 
 
Promoted. Back to the 8th tier for the first time since 2014/15. 
 
From bottom of the league to playoff final winners with a former brush-factory employee in charge.  
 
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2022/23 Season Review
 
The season ended with the end of season party. Everybody was in party spirits, even if transfers have started to come through for some of the players who were looking for first team football. A chance to say goodbye to them. Only Callaghan has a contract for the following season (so far). Monster tells them all that the season will never be forgotten but there's not much chance of them being able to step up to the next level. Contracts will expire. Triallists will come in. But now was the time to celebrate. 
 
Reviewing some of the teams best matches this season, the 7-3 victory over Wallingford Town in the League Cup was voted the best. Some of the reserve players made a real impact in that game. The match to remember was Monster's first in charge, the 2-2 draw with Thatcham Town. It could be argued it was the moment that changed everything for the club. Scott Ellis' first goal in the Wallingford game was voted as goal of the season - a trademark freekick from the young forward. Cian Callaghan was the top scorer with 17 goals. Robbie Smith, maligned at times by the fans for having a high wage, made the most assists with 9. Joel Gooden, the left back, had the highest average rating with 7.27. Financially, the club were sound, and the board announced a wage budget of £2k p/w for next season. Monster promptly offered some of the younger players contracts. The team of the year was the side that won the playoff final, having been the regular side that finished the season. 
 
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It finished off an unbelievable season. As Monster hung up his suit at home a few hours later, he wondered if it had all been a dream. And also if he needed a new suit, having been dowsed in champagne in celebrations. A glorious first season with a formation and playing style that had taken the league by storm. However, having been predicted to finish 19th and being promoted, Monster knew a big overhaul would be needed. The wall of shame outside the brush factory seemed a long time ago now. He was well and truly a football manager. 
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Pre-season 2023
 
Despite not fulfilling the board's desire to play defensive, counter-attacking, direct football, Monster's deal was extended for a further year with a pay rise to £150 p/w. He also completed his National C qualification but the board cited financial difficulties as the reason for not being able to fund the National B qualification.  
 
The Middlesex Stadium became a revolving door of triallists in the summer, Monster offering any youngsters who promised potential to come and try out as well as any free transfer recommendations. Monster's policy appeared to be for determined players with some good physical elements: height for defence and speed for attack. He also publicly stated he was after a squad of 22 players and he would rely on the youth team to make up any gaps that cropped up throughout the season. Players came in on trial demanding ridiculous appearance fees which Monster turned down. He wasn't going to the bankrupt the club. He would give youth a chance rather than pay for an expensive player demanding how to run the club and who to recruit. 
 
The summer also gave Monster a chance to see what staff he wanted to bring in to transform the club. Toby Owen became Director of Football, a huge upgrade in knowledge compared to Odutayo, and Monster tapped him up for all his knowledge of the free transfer market. Aside from that, Monster kept faith in the staff members that wanted to be there and had been part of last season's success. 
 
The pre-season fixtures were relatively successful winning 4 and drawing once. Monster tried to bed in a few alternative tactics as well, in case the 4-1-3-2 didn't work out or he couldn't find a 2nd striker to play up front with Callaghan. In came: striker/left winger Toby Andrews, centre back Rio Plant, shadow striker Jack Ward, left winger Aaron Devine, striker Iwan Bevan, and midfielder Scott Wheeler. The only notable out came 3 days before the 1st fixture - regular striker Lewis Horn-Haynes agreeing terms to play at Felixstowe & Walton United. Monster had tried to find a goalkeeper but wasn't able to find anyone in time who fitted the club's profile and was better than the youngsters already at the club. 
 
August 2023
 
12/08/2023 - FA Cup Extra Preliminary Round v Torridgeside (H)
This was Monster's first ever taste of the FA Cup with Hillingdon having been knocked out at this stage last season before his arrival. A home game too, and a chance for the fans to meet some of the new arrivals. Martin, Plant, Wheeler, Casey, and Ward started for their debuts, as well as Anyanwu in goal having come through the club's academy system. The opposition were two tiers below and Hillingdon were strong favourites. 487 fans turned out at the Middlesex Stadium, the highest of Monster's tenure, and they were rewarded with 2 goals in the first 25 minutes. Sargent's cross from the left was nodded in at the back post by debutant Casey, sneaking in front of his marker to plant a header into the net. 3 minutes later, Ward made it 2-0, his marker getting completely under the ball, and allowing the debutant striker to bear down on goal and tuck it away. Torridgeside pulled one back after half time, a looping cross from the left finished at the back post by Holohan. There were two late red cards for second yellows. Wheeler went first for a red card on his debut but it didn't matter too much when Thomas was also dismissed a short while later. A 2-1 win for Monster's first FA Cup game and they drew Winchester City in the next round. 
 
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19/08/2023 - Isthmian League South Central Division v Staines Town (A)
How would Monster's new-look team fare against the side predicted to be challenging at the top of the table? Hillingdon were the favourites to be relegated and were given a tough start with 3 away games to kick the league off in August. They conceded 2 goals in quick succession in this game. First a penalty, then a long ball forward with their striker seizing on some hesitancy in the defence to tuck home the 2nd. Callaghan scored a fantastic strike from the edge of the box just before the break to grab his 1st of the season. Staines were then down to 10 men when Okonkwo picked up his second booking. Casey scored his first league goal of the season with a lovely run and finish to draw Hillingdon level. It stung Staines into action and they regained the lead when they played a big ball over the top and found Taylor-Crossdale to stroke past Anyanwu. Staines went down to 9 men when Okoli received a straight red card but Hillingdon couldn't find an equaliser, even with a 2-man advantage. A rude awakening for Hillingdon, and work still for Monster to do. 
 
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23/08/2023 - ILSCD v Ashford Town (Middx) (A)
Another away trip, this time to the side who were humiliated by CB Hounslow on the opening day of the season. Monster decided keeping the ball wasn't the most effective method, mostly because the pitches in this division were much larger. He also dropped a striker into midfield to make it a 4-2-3-1. A cagey 1st half lead to Hillingdon peppering the goal in the 2nd. Casey scored his 3rd goal in 3 games, cutting in from the corner of the box to unleash a shot which crashed in off the bar. Hillingdon doubled their lead when Ennis turned in Hutchcox's flicked header from a corner. The Hillmen saw the game out, with young keeper Munday keeping a clean sheet on his debut, to collect their first 3 points of the season. 
 
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26/08/2023 - FA Cup Preliminary Round v Winchester City (A)
Monster's 2nd game in the FA Cup came away at another Tier 8 side, this time Winchester City. Monster kept faith with his 4-2-3-1, but used the possession-based mentality. It worked a treat as Hillingdon ran out 4-0 winners, left-winger Devine scoring a hattrick. Wheeler's cross from the right from deep allowed Devine to sneak in. His shot came back off the post but his momentum kept him running and he tucked away the rebound. Geddes headed in Ward's corner after 32 minutes to make it 2-0 before half time. In the 67th minute, Anyanwu's clearance was flicked on by Callaghan and Devine ran through to smash in his 2nd of the afternoon. 4 minutes later, as Monster was plotting changes, Devine scored his hattrick. Ennis played him through and the winger made no mistake from 8 yards, slotting in at the near post. A wonderful win and the opportunity to go on a cup run in the prestigious competition will certainly help the club finances. Hillingdon will play Faversham Town or Hendon in the 1st Qualifying Round. 
 
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30/08/2023 - ILSCD v Harrow Borough (A)
A third consecutive away league game in a row and Hillingdon had to head to the side top of the fledgling table. Hillingdon dominated the match, but could only manage a 1-1 draw, the two sides exchanging penalties. With an XG of over 4, Monster will wonder how they didn't win, but an away draw isn't a bad result by any means for the side expected to finish bottom. 
 
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August 2023 Summary
What a start to life in Tier 8. 1 win, 1 draw, and that defeat on the opening day leaving Hillingdon Borough in 10th, a position they would be happy with come the end of the season. Two wins in the FA Cup as well.
 
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September 2023
 
02/09/2023 - ILSCD v Walton & Hersham (H)
The first home league game of the season saw Hillingdon take on a Walton & Hersham side sitting in 4th. With two fixtures a week at the moment with the FA Cup run, Monster had to rotate. Youngster Tony Johnson started in midfield, showing faith with the academy prospects when needed. Markus Bagger opened the scoring after 8 minutes with a cushioned volley into the far corner from Sargent's cross. In the 40th minute, Ennis made it 2-0, played through by Martin's through ball and lashing home from within the area. Tony Johnson scored with a penalty after 48 minutes to make it 3-0, but Walton & Hersham pulled one back when Twinn's shot crept in after clipping the post. Sargent made it 4-1 with a left-footed effort from the left side of the box, dipping in at the far post, having run on to Ennis's pass. Kelly picked up a 2nd yellow card after 79 minutes but Walton & Hersham pulled another goal back a couple of minutes later, Roberts with a low shot from the edge of the area, Anyanwu unsighted. Atangana was sent off for another 2nd yellow card and Sargent scored his 2nd of the game, running on to Johnson's pass and lashing it home. 
 
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06/09/2023 - ILSCD v Croydon (A)
Hillingdon should possibly have won this game based on the XG, but it finished 1-1. Callaghan opened the scoring with a close-range finish from Ward's square pass across the 6-yard box. Kalu equalised almost immediately with a 20-yard blockbuster which flew past Munday. That was it. Anybody needing a bathroom break for those 2 minutes would have missed all of the action. A boring 1-1 draw with both teams keeping all 11 men on the pitch. 
 
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09/09/2023 - FA Cup 1st Qualifying Round v Hendon (A)
Having dominated the last game, Hillingdon were dominated in this game but managed to run out 2-0 winners, scoring 2 quick goals in the 1st half, their first 2 shots on target. Bagger scored a back post header after 15 minutes and Andrews scored his 1st goal for the club 2 minutes later, running through to tuck it away. Anyanwu between the sticks made several outstanding saves (11 in total) and was named Player of the Match, a testament to Monster's faith in the youngster. Hillingdon will play a plum tie against St. Albans City of the National League South in the next round. 
 
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12/09/2023 - ILSCD v Sutton Common Rovers (H)
Sutton were 18th as the game began, while Hillingdon were in 8th. Monster had to make changes after the Hendon game but it was still a decent side put out. Noah Casey scored the only goal of the game after 37 minutes, converting Sargent's low cross from the left at the back post. Playing the 4-2-3-1 seems to have made clean sheets more possible - the whole defence averaged above a 7.4 in this game. Hillingdon once again dominated the game in the stats but only had the 1 goal to show for it. A striker was in on trial but has offers from several clubs. Food for thought for Monster as to how to get a better goalscoring return from his strikeforce.
 
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16/09/2023 - ILSCD v Hartley Wintney (A)
Today's opponents hadn't had the greatest start to the season and Monster was hopeful of causing further misery. The striker on trial had signed for Merthyr Town, so it was the existing strikeforce still in place. Hillingdon started the game well, taking the lead after 21 minutes when centre back for the day Harry Nicholson stepped up to curl a beautiful freekick over the wall and into the top left corner for his first ever Hillingdon goal. Substitute Joel Gooden made it 2-0 before the break when a neat passing move saw the wingback break into the box and tuck home. However, two substitutions were required before half time as Devine and Martin were both taken off injured having suffered innocuous knocks. Monster told the players he was pleased and to keep going in the second half. Hartley Wintney pulled one back with a freekick of their own when Severs blasted home from a similar spot to Nicholson's effort. They equalised when Eshun tucked home from just inside the area on 67 minutes. They hadn't really been in the game, and Sargent had missed a sitter just before. Monster wasn't pleased and hauled Jack Ward off, sending on Clapham. With time running out, Callaghan picked the ball up about 25 yards out, controlling Casey's pass with his left foot and then launching a right-footed screamer into the top corner. Surely the winner! But no, Hartley Wintney responded yet again, Stacey knocking in from close range to pull the match level. Another point gained but it felt to Monster like 2 points lost. Hillingdon had been the better side but were still missing that clinical striker who could put chances away. 6 matches unbeaten, though - Monster couldn't be too downhearted. Devine and Martin would be missing for several weeks each, which could potentially stretch the squad to its maximum. 
 
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23/09/2023 - FA Cup 2nd Qualifying Round v St. Albans City (A)
This was Monster's first opportunity to send his side out against a team at a higher level, coming up against Tier 6 side St. Albans City in the FA Cup. The scouts had come back to say St. Albans would be a side who have a lot of the ball and so it proved. Monster set up his side to try and retain the ball but the difference in class showed throughout. It did take until the 73rd minute for St. Albans to find the breakthrough but nobody could argue it wasn't deserved. Monster was philosophical after the game, telling the press conference that success was never on the cards and the club has to aspire to be at St. Albans' level in the future. An FA Cup exit but a decent run for The Hillmen to make it this far. 
 
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26/09/2023 - ILSCD v Merstham (H)
Hillingdon's opponents had made a good start to the season, sitting in 3rd at the start of play. With Merstham's gegenpressing style, Monster made sure to tell the team to play at their quickest tempo; dallying on the ball could lead to losing possession. He also reverted back to the 4-1-3-2 formation in the hope it could inspire the strikers to start scoring, Ward partnering Callaghan up front. Merstham were down to 10 men in the 21st minute but took their lead when Henry nodded in from the edge of the 6-yard box. Ward equalised with a fantastic low strike from outside the box, the ball clipping the post to nestle into the back of the net. Hillingdon had been on top and deserved to go in level. Slone went off injured, though, on the stroke of half time with Bagger having to come on play right back. Merstham took the lead again after half time when Walters scored a freekick. Plant nodded in a corner just after the hour mark to make it 2-2 and Casey converted Ward's crossfield pass, an effort the Merstham keeper allowed to sneak under him at the near post. Hillingdon couldn't hold on, though. Merstham equalised shortly after when Cook headed in a cross from the right, despite the close attendance of several players. Neither side could find a winner and so it ended 3-3. Slone's injury would keep him out for a few weeks, another twisted ankle, leaving Monster with no right backs to call on for the next match. 
 
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30/09/2023 - FA Trophy 1st Qualifying Round v Ashford Town (Middx) (H)
A familiar foe, having played them away a few weeks ago. Monster's team saw Nicholson slot in at right back, and also the inverted wingbacks change to full backs to offer a little more width rather than cutting in the whole time. What unfolded was a remarkable game of football. Ward opened the scoring in the 5th minute, looping his shot from the edge of the area over Izquierdo. Callaghan had a goal ruled out a few moments later for straying offside but Ashford equalised when a lung-busting run from Coles down the right hand side led to a brilliant cross turned in at the back post by Ihionvien. Plant should have done better, somehow getting underneath the ball, giving the striker an easy chance to finish. Clapham, playing in a deeper midfield role in this game, launched a ball forward from the centre circle on to Ward's toe. The shadow striker tried to create an angle but had to pull the ball back in the end to Sargent, who cushioned a volley into the top right corner. Hutchcox scored in the 25th minute to make it 3-1, nodding in Casey's whipped corner from the left. Ward scored again before half time when Nicholson's cross from the right was nodded away but straight to the feet of the shadow striker, who took a couple of touches before unleashing a thunderbolt, not too dissimilar to Callaghan's effort in the last game. 4-1 at the break and Monster told his side to play without pressure for the second half. It seemed to be working until Monster made a couple of changes. Almost immediately, a long throughball aimed for Coles should have been cut out by Hutchcox, but his slide tackle only knocked it through for the striker to square for Deakin unmarked at the back post to prod home. 4-2. Game on. Clapham in his deeper role played a gorgeous pass into Casey's path in the 84th minute, and the right winger couldn't miss from inside the area, his shot clipping in off the post. 5 minutes later, a lovely one-two between Dawes and Sargent on the left saw the winger smack the ball across goal to the opposite winger, Casey needing two bites of the cherry to tuck the ball in. 6-2 now. Ashford managed another consolation before the end, Anyanwu somehow letting a tame effort from 30 yards squirm under him but the damage had already been done. 6-3 the final score at the Middlesex Stadium against a side above them in the league, and Hillingdon progressed to the next round. Ward was the player of the match after his two goals but the hunt for the strikers to score goes on. 
 
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September 2023 Summary
A busy September found Hillingdon sitting in 10th in the league after 2 wins and 3 draws. A narrow FA Cup defeat to a side 2 tiers above them wasn't too distracting, and a barnstorming game in the FA Trophy saw them through to the next round. Noah Casey was named Young Player of the Month in the league after 2 goals and 2 assists in his 4 games. Monster's side are still finding their feet in the league, but with an extremely young side that was always to be expected. Only one player in the FA Trophy game was over the age of 20.
 
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October 2023
 
07/10/2023 - ILSCD v Basingstoke Town (A)
Basingstoke were 16th in the league, not having had the greatest of starts having been tipped to be mid-table. Monster set his side up to maintain possession and rotated the strikers so Bevan started up front with Callaghan in a pressing forward role. A new striker had signed on a work experience loan from Dagenham & Redbridge, much to the consternation of the fans who couldn't understand why a youth player from another team had been brought in. Seamus Madine didn't start, though, and wasn't even on the bench. It didn't seem to have any effect in the first half when Froggatt curled in a freekick and Bowen added a second a few minutes later with a sumptuous effort from the edge of the area which flew past Anyanwu into the top corner. Monster told the team to keep believing in themselves and it seemed to have an impact, Casey pulling one back shortly after half time when he nodded in at the back post from Gooden's deep cross. Bevan equalised after 57 minutes when Martin's through ball sent the striker clear and he finished neatly from a few yards out. The turn-around was complete when Sargent was tripped in the area and Callaghan sent the spot kick low to the keeper's right in the 67th minute. Basingstoke had a few chances towards the end, but Hillingdon were awarded another penalty when Sessegnon handled a cross and Callaghan stepped up again to smash the penalty into the top right corner. A 4-2 victory. 3 goals from strikers, albeit 2 were penalties. Ward didn't have a good game, having shone in the previous few, but Monster couldn't help but be pleased with the outcome, catapulting his side into 7th. 
 
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14/10/2023 - FA Trophy 2nd Qualifying Round v Eastbourne Town (A)
Another tricky cup tie away to Isthmian League South East Division side, Eastbourne Town, currently 2nd in their division. Eastbourne took the lead after 4 minutes when Attwood wandered through and finished confidently past Anyanwu. They extended their lead before half time when El-Moyhalbel's shot from 25 yards trickled in. Ward grabbed a goal back before the break when Sargent's cross wasn't dealt with by the Eastbourne defence, allowing the ball to bounce for the striker to sweep home from inside the 6-yard box. Monster's patience was starting to wear thin, having come in to the dressing room at half time having conceded 2 goals in the first half for the 2nd consecutive game. Goal machine Casey equalised in the 47th minute, played through by Ward and the winger ran through to smash Hillingdon level. It all started to unravel when Ward came off injured in the 83rd minute and Plant picked up a 2nd yellow card in stoppage time, to leave the Hillmen facing extra time with only 9 men. In the end, the game was decided by penalties, Eastbourne prevailing 11-10 after Hutchcox and Martin missed their 2nd penalties. Monster couldn't fault the effort. So close and yet so far. Only the Isthmian League Cup now remains. 
 
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17/10/2023 - ILSCD v Westfield (H)
A mid-table clash was next only a few days later against a high-pressing Westfield side. The pressing didn't work in the first 12 minutes, though, as Hillingdon raced into a 3-0 lead. Callaghan scored another penalty after 9 minutes when Casey was sent tumbling in the area, despatching this one low to the keeper's left. Ennis scored an incredible goal 2 minutes later. Playing in the shadow striker role, he picked up a loose header inside his own half and stormed forward before looping the ball over the visiting keeper. A fantastic run and finish to double the lead. Sargent made it 3-0 a minute later when he ran on to Callaghan's through ball and slammed the ball in at the near post. Ennis had a 2nd goal before half time when he leathered Callaghan's knockdown into the net from 22 yards on the half volley. Westfield were shell-shocked but did scrape a goal before half time when Andrew's shot beat Anyanwu at the near post from the edge of the area. The first half probably couldn't have gone any better. Westfield were much improved after half time, dominating the 2nd 45 minutes with wave after wave of relentless pressure against a tiring Hillingdon side. Substitute Kader scored twice near the end but Hillingdon managed to hold on to escape 4-3. Sargent went off in stoppage time with yet another twisted ankle - the 3rd in the last few weeks. The resulted catapulted Hillingdon up to 5th after 10 games. Monster refused to become too excited when asked about a playoff push, though, citing it was far too early in the season and there was still a lot of football to be played. The brush factory team had had a promotion bounce before. It doesn't always lead to continuous success and with the way they had defended recently, a dip could only be a game away. 
 
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21/10/2023 - ILSCD v Beaconsfield Town (H)
A 2nd consecutive home game against a mid-table side saw Hillingdon take on Beaconsfield. Monster reverted back to the 4-2-3-1 system he had trialled earlier in the season in an attempt to keep a clean sheet against a side that play fluid counter-attacking football. Andrews, useless as a striker so far, started on the left wing and key man Casey was left out due to low fitness, so Bagger started on the right. Bevan started up front after moaning he hadn't been playing enough, Monster kind enough to let him sink or swim. After 9 minutes, Andrews nodded in Martin's back-post cross to give Hillingdon the lead. Bevan then scored after 35 minutes to double the lead. Chasing after Martin's chipped through ball, he managed to poke home from close range to reward Monster's decision to start him. The game became an attritional battle after half time, not helped by Clapham picking up 2 yellow cards in the space of 15 minutes. However, Hillingdon repelled anything Beaconsfield could throw at them and Monster's faith in Anyanwu was rewarded with a first clean sheet since the win over Sutton Common Rovers on 12th September. Monster made the decision after the game to stick with the 4-2-3-1 formation moving forwards, only adjusting the side's tempo to counteract the opposition. 
 
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25/10/2023 - Isthmian League Cup 1st Round v Hartley Wintney (A)
A 3-3 draw was the result between the two sides just over a month ago on the same ground but could Monster's 4-2-3-1 give his side an advantage this time around? Hartley Wintney were heavy favourites for the tie despite being below Hillingdon in the league table. Monster took a cautious approach and it seemed to pay off. Toby Andrews continued his renaissance as a left winger, knocking home from Johnson's ball across the box after 11 minutes and Callaghan doubled the lead early in the second half with a goal from open play, taking the ball into the box and finishing via the right-hand post. Hartley Wintney were rarely a threat and it appeared to be an accomplished performance with the settled formation to complete consecutive 2-0 wins. 
 
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28/10/2023 - ILSCD v Ascot United (A)
Ascot began the game 19th in the table, having lost their last 3 matches but were still pre-match favourites. Monster had to rotate again with the side struggling for fitness after the mid-week cup game. A match against a side in the relegation zone seemed ideal but Monster toned the mentality down to cautious again with many of the back-ups starting. In a cagey first half, Ascot took the lead when a cross from the left wing was nodded home with a flicked header past Anyanwu by Edwards. Monster wasn't impressed with the efforts on display and Hillingdon were much improved after the break. Bevan was shoved over in the box while contesting a Bagger free kick and the striker, in for the tired Callaghan, stepped up to score low to the keeper's left. Hillingdon continued to put the goal under pressure, and Ascot eventually cracked in injury time, Casey's whipped cross from the right nodded home by Bevan. Monster had criticised Bevan's training performance leading up to the game and the striker clearly wanted to prove a point. A 2-1 win and no mid-week fixture to look forward to was the perfect end to a busy October. 
 
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October 2023 Summary
4 league wins out of 4. The FA Trophy defeat was the only blot on the copybook. The 4-2-3-1 formation seemed to be working best with the players available. Hillingdon finish the month 3rd in the league and only 2 points off the top. A great month in charge but the board were still unhappy with the lack of direct football on display. 
 
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November 2023
 
04/11/2023 - ILSCD v Hanwell Town (H)
Hanwell were without a win in their last 5 games and were 11th in the table. Monster named Martin at centre back alongside Plant, Slone dropping in at right back. Callaghan was back up front. This game was decided by 3 goals from free kicks. Hillingdon scored twice in the first half thanks to centre back headers from Gooden free kicks swung in from wide on the right. Martin scored after 8 minutes and Plant doubled the lead after 32. Hanwell always carried a threat and set up a nervy finish when Paul scored a header of his own to make it 2-1. The match was fairly even but Hillingdon had more chances. Rio Plant was named player of the match after a solid defensive performance plus his goal. 5 straight league wins for the Hillmen and it took them to the top of the league with other results going their way, resulting in huge cheers from the clubhouse when they saw the league table updated afterwards. 
 
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11/11/2023 - ILSCD v Chalfont St. Peter (A)
A game against the side rock bottom of the league seemed like the perfect game to break the club winning run record. Having won 5 league games on the spin, a win today would give them a record 6th win. Monster kept faith with most of the team that won against Hanwell, Andrews replacing Devine on the left wing. Callaghan scored within the 1st 30 seconds of the game, hammering home from outside the area having picked up Johnson's takedown. Chalfont St. Peter equalised when Casey lost the ball on the halfway line and a direct ball down the centre of the Hillingdon defence allowed Francis to run through and score. The bottom side were awarded a penalty before the half hour mark when Plant pushed McDonnell over in the area contesting a cross, and Wright managed to find the corner. Monster wasn't pleased. Chalfont St. Peter had played much better than expected with no sign of being intimidated and creating the far better chances. 10 minutes into the 2nd half, Hillingdon were awarded a penalty when a deep cross from the right saw Salt shove Callaghan over in the area. The young Irishman stepped up and sent Roberts the wrong way to equalise. With time running out, Callaghan was on hand to nod home a winner on 86 minutes when Martin's looping cross from the right landed on the forward's head. A bizarre game where Hillingdon weren't at their best but still managed to scrape the 3 points together, largely thanks to Callaghan's hattrick, taking him joint top of the league goalscoring charts. 
 
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18/11/2023 - ILSCD v Chipstead (H)
1st v 2nd. A top of the table clash where the winner would be guaranteed top spot. Chipstead play quick tempo football, and Monster knew he would have to set his team up to match that. In what turned out to be a cagey first half, Chipstead took the lead when Anderson rose highest at the back post to nod in a corner from the right. Hillingdon barely managed to get forward and Monster was critical of them at half time, tweaking the tactic to play a little more direct and tucking the fullbacks in to add numbers into the attacks. Maybe the board were on to something. Ward was back after his injury and made an impact within 10 minutes of the restart, running with the ball to near the corner flag and firing a cross in which bounced kindly for Devine to sweep home at the back post. Gooden gave Hillingdon the lead after 73 minutes, playing tucked much further inside, allowing him to smash home left footed from the edge of the box. In the 77th minute, Plant was adjudged to have pushed somebody over in the area but Holland could only hit the post from 12 yards. Gooden's goal looked to be the winner until a throw-in on the right was played back to Holmes who had been left unmarked, and his cross sailed over everybody to the back post for Miller-Neave to nod in from 6 yards out. Heartbreak for Hillingdon. They hadn't been the best team but Chipstead had rarely threatened. From kick-off, Clapham played a long ball forward that Callaghan couldn't latch on to, the ball running through to Shaw. His long kick downfield was missed by Hutchcox allowing substitute Dandy to race through and give Chipstead the lead. Monster couldn't believe it. However, his side were able to respond, winning a corner past the allotted time, and Hutchcox made amends by flicking the ball across goal for Callaghan to nod home from a couple of yards out. 3-3 it finished, Hillingdon staying top for now. Ward with 2 assists took the player of the match award - great to have him back in the side. Casey had a poor game on the right, meaning Bagger may start the next match. Scott Wheeler was also not at his best in midfield, his form also recently having tailed off. 
 
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21/11/2023 - Isthmian League Cup 2nd Round v Cray Valley Paper Mills (A)
A return to cup action and Hillingdon travelled to Badgers Sport Ground in London to take on the side top of Isthmian League South East Division. Monster had to make changes, particularly in defence to keep his players fresh and those changes meant the side were more cautious in their approach. Asa Hutchcox scored after 23 minutes, flicking his header into the top corner from Dawes' corner. Cray Valley Paper Mills were level after half time when Martin failed to track Auvinen's run and the left winger ran through to tuck it past Anyanwu at his near post. Hillingdon couldn't get near the goal until late on, a late burst seeing them snatch 2 late goals. Hutchcox grabbed his 2nd with another header; Dawes' freekick was met by Johnson and Hutchcox was there to knock the ball home. Scott Wheeler, playing in a box-to-box midfield role to try to get the best out of him after some poor recent form, was credited with the 3rd goal when Geddes' shot was blocked by a defender and rebounded into the net off Wheeler's shins. A convincing win. Eventually. 
 
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25/11/2023 - ILSCD v Bedfont Sports (H)
Back to the rigours of the league, Hillingdon took on Bedfont Sports, struggling near the bottom. The plague of twisted ankles seemed to have ended and Monster was able to name a strong team. Bedfont were fans of counter attacks so Monster wanted to put the pressure on early and the team responded, notching 4 times in the opening 20 minutes. Martin's run into the box saw him square it to Callaghan after 3 minutes, and the leading goalscorer made it 12 league goals for the season from close range. Martin grabbed another assist 2 minutes later, his pass across the box converted by Andrews at the back post this time, who has seemed far more effective as a winger than he ever did as a forward. Casey made it 3-0 after 15 minutes, running on to Ward's through ball to take it round Pierson and slide it into an empty net from an acute angle. Madine scored his first goal since arriving on loan when he tucked home Martin's free kick which had come back off the crossbar. With the game seemingly over, Hillingdon switched off, and Bedfont seized their chance. Nzembela managed to escape Gooden's clutches on the right as the game neared half time, playing a great ball over the top for Turkson to race through and smash past Anyanwu. After the flurry of 1st half goals, nothing really happened in the 2nd half until the 80th minute. With Hillingdon beginning to tire, Lemon was unmarked at the back post and was able to fire home to make it 4-2. The nerves began jangling when Plant was adjudged to have pushed Collins as a corner was floated in. Anyanwu saved Chidyausiku's penalty but the rebound fell kindly for the taker and he smashed home to make it 4-3. Hillingdon managed to hold on to make it 15 matches unbeaten - the 1st day loss to Staines, who had moved up to 2nd in the table, their only defeat so far. Martin was the player of the match with his 2 assists and the only player not to average above a 7.0 was Wheeler. Another 3 goals conceded at home was a worrying sight for Monster, though. The 4-2-3-1 doesn't seem to have helped rack up any clean sheets in the past few weeks. 
 
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November 2023 Review
An excellent month which saw Monster named as Manager of the Month with 4 wins and a draw. Still room for improvement with the defence looking shaky. Having reviewed the data, Anyanwu may need to be replaced if the team fail to score more than the opposition for a sustained period of time. Beating another side top of their league at the same level away from home was a satisfying outcome in the League Cup. A new signing will be available in December with Lukasz Gostomski arriving on a free transfer to provide competition for the midfield places. 
 
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Edited by TheJonsterMonster
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