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Posts posted by Amaroq

  1. Sunday, 22nd April, 2007, aftenoon.

    It took me four hours of soul-searching.

    I know I should take it. I know that the United position is a much better one than I'd be able to turn York into, with a larger stadium, better training facilities, and a much larger budget thanks to the size of the city its located in.

    I should take the position. I know its the right decision.

    On the other hand, God, to leave Bootham Crescent, and what we've built here! Tappa, Robert Cousins, Joe Keenan, Spencer, Dave, Viv .. I've got so many friends here!

    While I was still dithering about it, Jeff Miller showed up with the news about Robert Cousins. The unlucky lad had torn a groin muscle, bringing his season to an end, and Jeff recommended that he be sent for surgery. He should naturally recover from the injury in about a month, but Jeff thinks it is likely to recur unless operated on.

    Recovery from the surgery could take anywhere from 2 to 6 months. Its an unfortunate end to what had been a fantastic season for the 18-year-old, but I'm certainly not willing to risk his long-term career by denying him the proper medical attention at this time.

  2. Sunday, 22nd April, 2007, early afternoon.

    I picked up the phone after just one ring.

    "Richards here."

    "Mister Richards? Derek Dooley."


    "I'm calling to offer you the managerial position here at Bramall Lane. I think you're the ideal person to replace John Gregory."

    My heart started racing, and my blood rushed in my ears. "Wow!", I suspect, was all I managed in response.

    "I've arranged terms with your agent, and we have a mutually agreeable contract ready, it just needs your signature. Your Work Permit has been approved by the Home Office, providing you qualify for your UEFA 'B' badge over the summer."


    "The only hitch is, I need you to start immediately."


    The joy which had coursed through me just sixty seconds earlier chilled; I couldn't..

    "The coaching badge won't be a problem; we should be able to get you enrolled in one of the June courses and they'll accept that. The question is, are you willing to leave York tonight?"

    I thought about that for a moment.

    "I'd really like to manage one more match, Mister Dooley. We're away to second-placed Cheltenham next - I'd really like to secure the title before I leave."

    "Listen, lad, I appreciate your loyalty, but we're in a desperate scrap for the playoffs here. We need you now."

    "I.. I'm sorry, I'll need to think about it."

    "Don't take too long - I'd like to have the press conference today, if possible, tomorrow morning at the latest."

  3. Saturday, 21st April, 2007. League Two - Game 44, vs Port Vale.

    With three games to play, this was a crucial match: a win for us would guarantee our promotion to League One, while for Port Vale, lurking in eighth and just a point behind Lincoln for the final playoff position, every point was crucial and escaping with at least one from the league leaders would be a big victory. We've met Port Vale twice before, defeating them 2-0 at Bootham Crescent in our F.A. Cup run of the 2005/06 season, and drawing 1-1 earlier this year at Vale Park. Billy Paynter is their leading scorer with 18 goals, but only two other players have netted more than one, and our focus will be on shutting Paynter down.

    For this key game, Alan Blayney remained the goalkeeper, with Adam Eckersley at left back, Liam Fontaine making his 40th start of the season in centre, with his partner Michael Staley making the 50th appearance of his career, and captain Graeme Law on the right. Alan Navarro was the holding midfielder despite short rest. Speedy Phil Townley had the left wing, and Jon Paul McGovern was on the right. Lee Croft partnered with Robert Cousins in the attacking midfield, and leading scorer Paul Edwards was trying to recover his form up front after a poor showing in his last start.

    We were in complete control of this match from the very beginning. Lee Croft fired a warning shot in the third minute, when he broke a long dribble into the right corner, then cut it back for Jon Paul McGovern overlapping inside. The Scotsman squared left for the unmarked Phil Townely, whose shot grazed the bar from 16 yards. By the tenth minute, as our dominance became clear, I ordered the fullbacks and wings to start pushing forward aggressively.

    In the 13th minute Robert Cousins launched a fantastic long header, connecting with a powerful pass to flick a header some forty yards. The unexpected feat sprang McGovern up the right wing, and he launched a cross into the six yard box. Port Vale goalkeeper Paul Rachubka pushed it away, but the rebound fell to Townley, and this time the speedster hit the net, bringing the Bootham Crescent crowd to their feet as we took a 1-0 lead!

    There was no reason to let up, and in the 20th minute Townley nearly turned provider, sending a great aerial ball for Paul Edwards, whose header went just wide. Cousins had a fine shot saved from 18 yards, and as halftime rolled around it was clear that my defensive strategy had Billy Paynter thoroughly marked out of the game; Port Vale hadn't taken a single shot. The news from Milton Keynes was good: the Dons had taken a 2-0 lead over Cheltenham, putting us in an excellent position.

    I exhorted the lads to keep up the effort, and to make sure they didn't let their enemy back into the match. They did, in fact, keep the pressure on, with Townley's long cross over everyone to put McGovern into the box in the 57th minute. The Scotsman dribbled close to net, but shot wide.

    By the 70th minute, it was a tense affair, with the fans on the edge of their seats every time Port Vale managed posession, almost wondering how we were going to give up the lead, as we just couldn't seem to put them away.

    In the 72nd minute, Robert Cousins was knocked out of the game on a vicious tackle by Simon Robinson, and that put the crowd in an ugly mood as the offender escaped without even a yellow card. Port Vale began to push forward, and I retreated first to our counter-attack tactic, and then to a fully defensive one.

    In the 82nd minute, McGovern's long pass put Cousins' replacement, Ricky Shakes, through on goal. Rachubka came out to meet him well out of the box, and the ball took a wild bounce away from their collision. Lee Croft got to it first, and tried an audacious 40-yard shot on the empty net, but he couldn't settle and it went narrowly wide.

    Finally, a minute into stoppage time, we earned a corner kick. McGovern took it, placing it perfectly for Alan Navarro at the near post. The defensive midfielder buried it with his right foot, and the crowd of 3,407 began to celebrate our second successive promotion!!

    York 2, Port Vale 0

    Townley 13, Navarro 90; ----

    MoM: Townley

    The party lasted well into the night, and our lads had thoroughly earned it, having held Port Vale without a shot throughout the entire match. Alan Blayney was joking about how he'd been dying of boredom, and I told them I had never been prouder of a defensive showing.

    I might have tried to stop it, but Cheltenham had collapsed again, 0-4, at Milton Keynes, and we'd have a week to clear away any hangovers in time for the key match at Whaddon Road.

    <pre class="ip-ubbcode-code-pre"> Pts W D L GD

    P 1 YORK 85 26 7 11 +29

    2 Cheltenham 80 22 14 8 +19

    3 Walsall 78 21 15 8 +31


    4 Bristol Rovers 75 20 15 9 +22</pre>

    With two matches remaining, even a draw at Cheltenham would see us crowned champions!

  4. Thursday, 19th April, 2007.

    I was called down to Bramall Lane to interview for the Sheffield United position today. I hadn't expected them to move so swiftly, but they're in a desperation fight for the playoffs, and Chairman Dooley told me he didn't want to go any longer than he had to without naming a manager. I think that may be a sticking point, honestly, for though he spoke very highly of my tenure at York City, he seemed very disappointed when I said that I wanted to finish out the season and win the title here at Bootham Crescent before considering my options.

    I was very impressed with the facility. Its not White Hart Lane, but the Blades have a state-of-the-art four-stand stadium with open sky over the pitch but roofing over each of the four stands. Its a beautiful facility, and they have a wonderful youth academy - it would really be a joy to work for such a well-supported club.

    I think the interview went well - I'd already met Mister Dooley, of course, and he hardly grilled me at all. It felt more like he was a salesman, trying to ensure that I was interested in the position. I liked the Assistant Manager, a younger man named Stuart McCall, and even that portion of the interview seemed mostly aimed at figuring out if we would get along.

    I was sold; I felt like a kid with his nose against the candy-store window, especially when I returned to the facilities at Bootham Crescent this evening.

    Though its homey, and I love the club, seeing the accoutrements of a modern club really drove home just how big a gap there is between the leagues in English football.

  5. Wednesday, 18th April, 2007.

    Cambridge had also earned a draw, so the top four remained unchanged - but with only three matches remaining, our chances of guaranteed promotion were almost certain. It seemed only Cheltenham could beat us, though both Walsall and Cambridge still had a mathematical chance of taking the title.

    <pre class="ip-ubbcode-code-pre"> Pts W D L GD

    1 YORK 82 25 7 11 +27

    2 Cheltenham 80 22 14 7 +23

    3 Walsall 75 20 15 8 +30


    4 Cambridge 74 22 8 13 +18</pre>

    The Cheltenham board have promoted former Assistant Manager Bob Bloomer to manager, offering him a full-time post through 2009. The chairman stated that they hoped his appointment would bring a sense of stability, and end the speculation which has abounded about the vacant managerial position.

    This evening, York Reserves captain Joe Foote was named Man of the Match in a 0-0 draw punctuated by frequent shots off target by both sides. It had seemed a demonstration of how not to finish, an exercise in futility, as both sides missed the target on almost 80% of their shots.

  6. Tuesday, 17th April, 2007. League Two - Game 43, at Walsall.

    There was no response by Tuesday evening's match. Walsall manager Alan Buckley tried to build his side up for our key late-season encounter by telling the national media that, with a six game winning streak, and after beating Cheltenham 1-0 on the road, his team are very confident of beating York and closing the gap on the leaders to four points. I didn't deign to respond, and some of the lads concluded that we could win the big games without much effort.

    I could only hope they didn't underestimate Walsall, though we'd beaten them 2-0 in a friendly in 2004 and 1-0 in league play earlier this season. Both of those matches were at Bootham Crescent, and I tried to stress that it would be much more difficult at their ground. Fortunately, they are missing leading scorer Matty Fryatt, who is out with two fractured ribs.

    I brought out the following lineup: Alan Blayney in goal, with Tony Craig, Liam Fontaine, Michael Staley, and Mark Dixon across the back four. Alan Navarro returned at defensive midfield and would be captain. John McGrath made his return to the starting lineup on left wing, with Jamal Campbell-Ryce on the right. Micah Richards and Theodore Whitmore partnered in the attacking role, with Keith Barker the striker.

    It took Walsall a mere eight minutes to back their manager's statements up. John Mooney came up the right wing utterly unchallenged, as John McGrath seemed unable to keep up with him, and Tony Craig didn't cover him quickly enough. Mooney sent a cross in, but it carried over everyone. David Perpetuini, well wide of the goal, headed it back from the end line, finding Adam Bolder about ten yards from goal. Bolder took it on the bounce and shot, beating Alan Blayney to the near post, and Walsall had a 0-1 lead. The 6,217 fans, who had not been silent for even a second of the match, went wild, and our lads were trudging back to their positions with their heads down. It looked like a dire start.

    When things didn't improve by the 30th minute, I was getting frustrated. Again, we'd wasted a third of a match without a shot, and again I made the change to start pushing players forward. In the 39th minute, Jamal Campbell-Ryce broke up our right wing, then tried to cross it to McGrath in the box. McGrath looked dangerous 12 yards from net, but Cooper made a beautiful crunching tackle to knock it away. In the 41st, Tappa Whitmore sent a beautiful long ball up the right wing for Campbell-Ryce. He broke into the box unchallenged, and could have shot, but tried to square it for Keith Barker instead. He couldn't win it from Chris Armstrong, and the ball trickled tamely to goalkeeper Dean Harris.

    I gave the lads a thorough tongue-lashing at halftime, telling them if they couldn't motivate themselves to play the most important game of the season so far, what were they doing in professional football?

    We came out looking an entirely different side, and the first five minutes were spent entirely in the Walsall end. In the 51st muinute McGrath earned a corner kick. Alan Navarro took it, playing it to Micah Richards at the near corner of the arc, unmarked eighteen yards out. He touched it twice into the area, then shot, a brilliant strike to the top-left corner which threaded its way past a half dozen bodies, including the diving Harris - and it was 1-1.

    We nearly took the lead on the 55th minute, as the stunned crowd and Walsall players seemed only to watch. Tappa sent another superb long pass forward, springing Richards into a one-on-one with Dean Harris. The keeper came out to meet him about 12 yards from goal, and somehow Harris made the save. The ball rolled tantalizingly across the six, but Mark Williams arrived just before Thomas Carroll to clear. I'd brought Carroll on at halftime, pulling the uninspired Barker as part of my tirade.

    In the 59th minute, Tony Craig stole the ball deep in our half, and started a quick counter up the left sideline, ranging well forward. When we turned it over, that left a gaping hole in our back line, and Walsall was quick to take advantage. David Perpetuini played a beautiful ball for Mark Yeates, who had slipped Liam Fontaine's mark to get into the area. Yeates dribbled past Alan Blayney, and made it 1-2, getting the crowd back into it with thirty minutes remaining.

    The additions of Joe Foote and Graeme Law to try and spark some offense didn't seem to help, but in the 74th minute, Richards, McGrath, and Carroll teamed up on a series of lightning-quick passes which saw Carroll into the area and free of a mark. His shot was just saved by Dean Harris, and the rebound trickled just wide of the far post.

    We were definitely looking like the dangerous side, putting more shots on and having the lion's share of posession, a big change from the first half, but time was running out.

    There were just eight minutes to play when Cooper upended Carroll about 25 yards from goal, and the striker lined up to take it. He curled a superlative shot into the upper-right corner, and we'd stunned the crowd with an equalizer - it was 2-2!

    In the 87th minute, Walsall earned a corner kick, but our defense dealt with it well, and we had a quick counterstrike, as much as six on four. Jamal Campbell-Ryce played a stellar ball to spring Richards, and suddenly he was through past the last defender, with Thomas Carroll running hard to keep up with him. They raced into the box 2-on-1 against the stranded keeper, but Richards shot wide rather than passing to Carroll for the sure game-winner. I had my hands in my hair - surely this sort of thing is why so many managers go gray early.

    Walsall 2, York 2

    Bolder 8, Yeates 59; Richards 51, Carroll 82

    MoM: Harris (Walsall GK)

    The 2-2 draw seemed a victory, the way our lads were celebrating in the locker room. The requisite reggae blared from a stereo, and Thomas Carroll was the hero again.

    The news in from Port Vale was good: they had held Cheltenham to a 0-0 draw, which meant we were still tops with three games remaining. It was a bit odd to see Dean Harris named Man of the Match for Walsall, as he'd stopped merely 60% of our shots on target - I would rather have seen David Perpetuini so honored for his two assists.

  7. Monday, 16th April, 2007.

    <BLOCKQUOTE class="ip-ubbcode-quote"><div class="ip-ubbcode-quote-title">quote:</div><div class="ip-ubbcode-quote-content">Sheffield Sack Gregory

    Following the team's disappointing 3-0 defeat at Colchester, Sheffield United have sacked their manager, John Gregory.

    The Blades, relegated from the Championship last year, sit in seventh place in League One, just outside the playoff spots.

    "We need a manager who can acheive promotion," chairman Derek Dooley said at the press conference, "And the team's performances this year have not convinced us that Mister Gregory will be able to deliver."

    The club languished mid-table at the start of the season, but after revamping the defense in November, they climbed solidly into the playoff fight by mid-March. A 4-0 defeat to Bournemouth started a wicked slump, however, and Gregory hadn't won a match in over a month. The Blades have compiled an unimpressive 0-2-4 record over that time, including the defeat to Torquay in the LDV Vans Trophy final. </div></BLOCKQUOTE>

    At Tom's recommendation, I sent in my application.

  8. Sunday, 15th April, 2007.

    Jeff Miller's news from the locker room wasn't good - Jamie Cooper's sprained ankle would keep him out through the end of the season. It doesn't look likely to be a recurring injury, and Jeff expects that Jamie should be in perfect shape by the time camp rejoins in July. That brought to a close a fine campaign for the youngster, who played his way into my starting eleven and has been one of our best developing players all year. It leaves me strapped for central defenders, however - I have only Fontaine and Staley, as Cooper, Kevin Eaton, and Joe Keenan are all out, and I've sold off Mark Wright and Ian Bannister.

    The good news was that Cheltenham had faced Walsall, and the 3rd-placed side had earned a 1-0 victory at Whaddon Road on John Mooney's first-half goal. This meant that we were still first, two points ahead of Cheltenham, but Walsall were coming on strong, closing within a shout of the battle for the lead:

    <pre class="ip-ubbcode-code-pre"> Pts W D L GD

    1 YORK 81 25 6 11 +27

    2 Cheltenham 79 22 13 7 +23

    3 Walsall 74 20 14 8 +30


    4 Cambridge 73 22 7 13 +18</pre>

    Despite our defeats, other results throughout the league had gone our way such that we were now guaranteed a spot in the playoffs, even if we lost our last four games. Not a pleasant scenario to consider, but good to know.

    Elsewhere, Tottenham Hotspur clinched the English Championship title, and Scarborough have locked up the Conference North title. Tranmere Rovers, 24th in the Championship, have been relegated down to League One, where it looks like we'll be one of their competitors.

  9. Saturday, 14th April, 2007. League Two - Game 42, vs Chesterfield.

    The fourth oldest club in the Football League, tracing their history to 1866, Chesterfield had fallen to 10th place with a defeat by Walsall last weekend. We had beaten them 2-1 on the road, so that might make them one of the easiest matchups of the difficult month coming to Bootham Crescent. Their captain was none other than former York captain Darren Dunning, leading the side with 12 assists - two in the big 4-0 win over Cheltenham that had done us such a favour.

    We got bad news Saturday morning in warmups for the match, as Jamie Cooper sprained an ankle, and it looked bad. I hadn't even had Liam Fontaine suit up - I was intending to pair Cooper with Michael Staley in central defense, but there was literally nobody else who plays central defense. Liam ran in to change and start a belated warmup, while I pencilled in the rest of the starting lineup: Alan Blayney in goal, Adam Eckersley with Fontaine, Staley, and captain Graeme Law as the defensive four. Malcolm Parker was making his first start of the season at defensive midfield. Phil Townley was on the left wing, with Jon Paul McGovern on the right. Robert Cousins and Lee Croft paired in the attacking midfield, and Paul Edwards was the striker.

    Chesterfield started out as the more confident side, sallying forward several times in the first ten minutes before we settled down. Our crowd of 3,560, one of the better of the year, remained supportive and our lads began to assert control. Darren Dunning and Jon Paul McGovern were fighting a titanic battle out wide, which seemed to result in neither being able to get past the other.

    When we hadn't gotten a shot off by the half-hour, I decided to start pushing men forward. A minute later, Phil Townley found Robert Cousins. His shot deflected off of Ian Evatt and looked goalbound, but Rob Burch dove on it to make the save. In the 43rd minute, Cousins's low ball forward for Paul Edwards found the striker in space on the eighteen, a golden chance, but he lanced the shot inches wide of the left post.

    Chesterfield came straight back the other direction, and when leading scorer Mark De Bolla took the ball about 30 yards from goal, defensive midfielder Malcolm Parker was nowhere to be seen. Michael Staley came forward to challenge De Bolla, who passed left to Stephen Schumacher. Liam Fontaine was left with two men, and he had to choose between challenging the ball and covering Tony Thorpe. He hesitated in an instant of indecision, and covered neither. Schumacher's pass was right to Thorpe's feet in the area, and as Alan Blayney charged out, Thorpe took one touch to his right and found an angle.. No! My groan was drowened out by that of the Bootham Crescent faithful: it was 0-1 going to the break.

    In the second half, we continued to push forward looking for the goal, but the visitors fell back into a tough defensive shell. We kept rushing straight into the teeth of the defense, giving possession away far too cheaply. Frustrated with our lack of progress, I told the lads to switch to our patient buildup perimeter game rather than looking for the quick strike. That looked infinitely better, but it was still going nowhere, breaking down in the final third time and time again.

    By the 70th minute we had only one shot in the second half, and I had to make a change. The crowd let out a delighted roar when they saw the number of 16-year-old Simon Roberts, whom I brought on for the exhausted Fontaine, shifting to a 3-5-2. That seemed to help, but the Spireites were now in a 5-3-2 bunker, and collapsing all eleven back on corners an free kicks. Though we got a number of shots off in the dying ten minutes, only Roberts's injury time effort was on target, and Burch made just his second save of the night to preserve the shutout and one goal victory for Chesterfield.

    York 0, Chesterfield 1

    ----; Thorpe 44

    MoM: Davies (Chesterfield DMC)

    We'd outshot the visitors, but managed to put only two shots on target, and I was a bit disturbed at how poorly the side had played. I'd opted to put out a nearly full-strength side for the two home matches, with a weakened side for the away match against Walsall, counting on getting six points from the three games - coming up empty against the weakest team in the group was not in my plan.

    Chesterfield defensive midfielder Gareth Davies was named Man of the Match, and Chesterfield would be able to walk proud over the summer after beating the top two teams in League Two during the title run-in.

  10. Thursday, 12th April, 2007.

    In Tuesday night's Champions League quarter-final action, Inter Milan and Roma battled to a 2-2 draw. This saw Inter through on a 5-3 aggregate, although Roma had gone to halftime within a goal of equalling things despite conceding the 3-1 defeat in the first leg.

    In Madrid, 74,893 crammed into the Bernabeu for the rematch between Real Madrid and Barcelona. They were treated to a brilliant performance by Ronaldo, who scored a hat trick to overcome a goal by his countryman Ronaldinho, and Real Madrid won 3-1, a match they'd had in hand by the 66th minute, and advanced to the semifinals on a 4-2 aggregate.

    On Wednesday, Chelsea and Arsenal both attempted to overcome deficits to advance to the semifinals. Chelesa, at home against Bayern München, put on a brilliant show, building a 3-0 lead through goals by Michael Ballack in the 21st, Tomas Rosicky in the 49th, and Damien Duff, whose 72nd-minute goal put them ahead on aggregate, 3-2. There was little time for celebration at Stamford Bridge, for Julio Baptista equalized the aggregate score at the 77th minute, putting Munich ahead on away goals, and then my new favourite player, Roque Santa Cruz, poured home another in the 79th. It was 3-4 on aggregate, and that was how it finished.

    Arsenal needed two goals at A.C. Milan after losing at home 2-1, but could not find a way to the net. After a scoreless first half, Andriy Shevchenko scored again to make it 3-1 for the hosts, and Filippo Inzaghi's penalty in injury time made the final 2-0, for a lopsided 4-1 aggregate that sent the last two English clubs crashing out together.

    In lesser action, Torquay United defeated Sheffield United for the LDV Vans Trophy, surprising the bigger club in a wild match. Torquay scored first on a soft penalty in the 18th minute, but Sheffield equalized just before the half. Tempers began to fray in the second half, and reached the boiling point in the 54th minute - a pair of red cards were issued over the next four minutes, and both sides were reduced to ten men. The Gulls were further dropped to nine on an injury in the 78th minute, but held on to keep the 1-1 draw through the end of regulation. The match went into extra time, and Dele Adebola's goal put shorthanded Torquay ahead. In frustration, another Sheffield player picked up a red card, and it was nine-on-nine when Martin Phillips scored to make it Torquay 3, Sheffield 1. That would be the final, though another injury, this to Sheffield, reduced the sides even further - the match finished up nine against eight!

    In an even less important match, York Reserves faced Bournemouth Reserves, third in Reserve Group Six, on Wednesday. I was saving most of my professional players to be available during the three crucial matches the following week, so it was a side almost entirely amateur. The lads, at home, overcame an early deficit through goals by Chris Simpson and Ian Black, and held on to weather a late onslaught when an injury forced Bournemouth down to ten men. Goalkeeper Kevin Butler picked up a bit of a calf strain in the dying minutes, which Jeff Miller recommended two weeks' rest as a cure for. Plymouth Argyle Reserves had won their match, which left our lot 13 points back with four to play, mathematically eliminated from defending their title. I wasn't surprised - I'd used amateurs often this season, and they couldn't be expected to compete with the powerful professional sides the Reserve teams fielded by bigger clubs.

    Two of the three British teams left in the UEFA Cup were knocked out Thursday night. Manchester United were the only survivors, with a 1-1 draw at Udinese sufficient to see them through on a 3-1 aggregate. Newcastle nearly came all the way back against Dortmund, building a 3-1 lead after an 0-2 loss in the first leg. They still trailed on away goals when Dortmund added a late score to make the final aggregate 4-3. Celtic won their match in Stuttgart 2-1, but had suffered a home loss and went out on aggregate 3-2. French side Auxerre were the other semifinalist, beating Feyenoord 3-0 for a 6-3 aggregate.

  11. Monday, 9th April, 2007.

    The Yorkshire Evening Press carried another story about how pleased Steve Beck is with our progress, basically recapping our 'battle against relegation' to 'fight for the title' season. Cheltenham had drawn exactly what they needed to right their listing ship, a match against 22nd-placed Darlington, which they won 3-1 to keep pace with us, but with five matches remaining our destiny was entirely in our own hands.

    In Macclesfield, our Under-18 side had had an interesting match. Amateur winger Paul Garner's first-half goal had given them a lead, but after an injury to Adam Corbett, Macclesfield U-18s scored two goals to take a 2-1 lead. Their defense looked impenetrable, but in the 88th minute, a second yellow card reduced them to ten men, and in the 93rd, Ian Foster - an amateur substitute defender playing out of position and pushing forward recklessly - found the net for his first-ever goal, leaving the scores level at 2-2.

    Liam Fontaine strained a quad on Sunday during a jog. The injury would keep him out for the week, and might rule him out of our game against Chesterfield, but striker Keith Barker had returned to action, and Jon Paul McGovern's injury against Bristol had proved to be minor.

    I still hadn't decided how to handle a three-match sequence which included two home games against good opponents and an away match against 3rd-placed Walsall. I was leaning towards 'saving' some of my best players for the Walsall match, and playing a few more marginal players against Chesterfield, but hadn't fully decided. Chesterfield, had, after all, beaten second-placed Cheltenham Town 4-0 just two weeks ago!

    In other news, with three matches left in the Conference National season, Moor Green became the first team of the year guaranteed relegation.

  12. Saturday, 7th April, 2007. League Two - Game 41, at Bristol Rovers.

    Our test of fire began with a trip to Bristol to face sixth-placed Bristol Rovers. They're a tough team which has suffered only eight defeats all season, but an inability to get three points from games they've played well in has kept them out of the title hunt. They're in fine spirits, coming off of a 6-0 pounding of Peterborough, and riding a five-games unbeaten streak. We did beat them 3-1 at home earlier in the year, so we know they're beatable, but at the moment they have three players with over ten goals, and a rested, healthy lineup. They're looking to improve on a fifth-place finish last season, and their stated goal is to promote back up to League One, from which they were relegated after the 2000/01 season.

    Our starting lineup was about as strong as I could hope for. Alan Blayney was the goalkeeper; Tony Craig, Liam Fontaine, Jamie Cooper, captain Graeme Law, and holding midfielder Alan Navarro comprised our defensive unit. Jamal Campbell-Ryce and Jon Paul McGovern held down the wings, with Tappa Whitmore and Robert Cousins the attacking midfielders the 4-5-1 configuration we'd been using for three years, now. Up front, Paul Edwards has been a star, playing well and leading the team in scoring.

    There was a big crowd at The Memorial Stadium, over a third of whom were in standing room only. The match started off evenly, with chances in both ends. We were getting the better of the midfield play through the first twenty minutes, though, and looked well in control. I was thinking how good it is to have Jon Paul McGovern back - and then the Scotsman started limping. I was just talking with Viv about pulling him off in the 27th minute when a strange sequence unfolded.

    Alan Blayney sent a long clearance over everybody, but Paul Edwards had found a pocket where he was on-side, but uncovered. He was held on by former York man Kevin West, who was playing central defense, but had dropped behind the other central defender, Bristol captain Jason De Vos. Edwards ran onto Blayney's ball, and broke into the area one-on-one, only to see Matthew Kerr save his shot. The rebound fell to West, who played it back to Kerr, and the goalkeeper blasted a long clearance. Again, the ball bypassed everyone, and Blayney came rushing out of his area to play it about 30 yards off his line. He launched a long ball back over everyone. Edwards, again held onside by West as they both jogged back towards midfield, was once more wide open. He turned on it, raced into the area, and this time he made no mistake, earning the goal and giving Blayney the assist!

    I turned to Viv, and said, "In the States, we call that 'jungle ball'." Not that Americans often talk about 'soccer', but it drew a laugh from the older man. With the lead, I stopped hesitating and brought the injured McGovern off for Phil Townley. In the 40th minute, their leading scorer, Junior Agogo, had a poacher's chance from seven yards, but somehow put his effort wide of the target. In the 45th, midfielder James Beaumont took a brilliant first-time strike from 18 yards, but Blayney met it with a diving save at the post, and it remained 1-0 at halftime. Their left wing, Michael Boulding, was having an awful match, first thoroughly outmuscled by the physical play of McGovern, and then kept off his speed game by the fresh legs of the quick Townley. He'd picked up a yellow card in sheer frustration, arguing with a call.

    Bristol came out for the second half with a more aggressive stance, pushing forward and trying to create more chances. For the most part, our defense dealt with them, with Jamie Cooper playing a fine game. In the 64th, however, Tony Craig misplayed West's throw-in, and let David Savage into the six-yard box. Blayney's cat-like reflexes again made a top-drawer save at the near post, and our defense took care of three successive corner kicks that followed.

    In the 75th minute, I brought on Lee Croft and last weekend's hero, Thomas Carroll. Less than two minutes after I'd introduced them, Alan Navarro played a ball to Croft, who turned and found Carroll unmarked into the box. A beautiful 16-yard blast to the top left corner, and The Forgotten Man had scored again, giving us a 2-0 lead.

    I ordered the lads back into a defensive stance, abandoning the counterattack in favor of keeping men behind the ball. This seemed to stifle the Bristol attack, and in the 87th minute, Graeme Law tracked down an erstwhile pass out near the sideline, about 18 yards from the end line. He launched the ball clear, but Boulding slid in, tripping him after the ball was gone. Despite the chorus of boos from the crowd of 6,440, Bob Pollock showed him a second yellow - red - reducing the hosts to ten men.

    Bristol shifted to a defensive damage-control mode, trying to prevent us from running up the score, and that was it for the match.

    Bristol Rovers 0, York 2

    ----; Edwards 27, Carroll 77

    MoM: Campbell-Ryce

    Jamal Campbell-Ryce was again Man of the Match - I was very glad I'd brought the Jamaican winger back, and this game seemed to be the province of our loan players. The lads were quite amused at Alan Blayney's first-half assist, giving him slaps on the back and calling him their "playmaker".

    The media, of course, wanted to talk about Thomas Carroll, asking questions like why this 'gifted goalscorer' had been stuck on the bench all season. Last week I'm a genius for bringing him on, this week I bring him on, he scores in two minutes, and its "Where has he been all season?" There really is no satisfying the press, is there?

    I gave them some vanilla answer about how his training pitch performances had earned him a look with the first team, not mentioning the fact that only injury had compelled me to it, and that it seems any striker we bring on in the final minutes performs well - Mark Rawle, Simon Roberts, now Carroll.. I suspect its more that fresh legs running at a tired defense in the waning seconds really suits my tactic.

  13. Wednesday, 4th April, 2007.

    Nationally, the big news was Wednesday night's Champions League quarterfinal matches. Arsenal started the two-leg contest at home against A.C. Milan. Lethal finisher Andriy Shevchenko silenced the crowd ot 59,913 with two early goals, putting Milan 0-2 up after just eleven minutes. Edu clawed one back in the second half for Arsenal, but after a 1-2 defeat, they will need two tough away goals to keep their hopes of European glory alive.

    Chelsea travelled to Munich to face the sole remaining German representative, FC Bayern München, but conceded a goal in each half en route to an 0-2 defeat that leaves them with an uphill battle in the return match as well.

    The other two encounters were national battles, as Barcelona and Real Madrid met for the right to represent Spain in the semifinal. Fully 97,925 filled the Nou Camp to witness the two rivals' battle, and for a while the home crowd was happy with Xavi's goal, but Raúl equalized in the 84th minute, and the away goal in the 1-1 draw gives Madrid the advantage as they head home. Italian giants Inter Milan and A.S. Roma met in Rome, but Inter proved the stronger side with an easy 3-1 victory that all but assures their passage to the final four.

    Wednesday night's Reserve match - poorly attended due to the conflict with the European clashes - ended in a dreary 0-0 draw. Abysmal finishing was the bane of both sides, as between them they managed only a single shot on target, and that easily dealt with. Adam Eckersley was named Man of the Match despite a distinctly average performance, as there were no real standouts. An injury to Joe Foote turned out to be minor, a stubbed toe which prevented him from finishing the match but caused no lasting harm. John McGrath lasted 73 minutes, and declared himself fit for a senior match afterwards.

  14. Tuesday, 3rd April, 2007.

    <BLOCKQUOTE class="ip-ubbcode-quote"><div class="ip-ubbcode-quote-title">quote:</div><div class="ip-ubbcode-quote-content">Spurs Catch Klinsmann

    Famous London side Tottenham Hotspur unveiled their new manager this morning: former Spurs player Jürgen Klinsmann, 42, a German legend.

    After a stellar playing career that included 108 international caps and 47 goals for his country, and 30 goals from 56 matches for Spurs, Klinsmann jumped into management at the deep end, taking the helm for Germany in 2004 as they prepared to host the 2006 World Cup.

    A strong performance in the Confederations Cup, where they finished runners-up to Brazil, and an undefeated, unscored upon campaign of friendlies leading up to the tournament raised public expectation to a fever pitch.

    However, an 0-1 opening loss to Italy warned that the team wasn't at the highest level, and though they proceeded through the group with wins over Chile and Saudi Arabia, they crashed out on penalties at the first Knockout Round after a 1-1 draw against France. Klinsmann was sacked 14 days later.

    "We're looking forward to having a manager of Jürgen's stature at the helm," chairman Daniel Levy declared. "We hope to consolidate with a mid-table finish next year, and start pushing for a European spot by the end of the 2009/10 season. I'm confident Jürgen is the man to modernize our approach and take us back where we belong."

    Tottenham clinched promotion to the Premier League over the weekend's action with their nationally-televised draw against Queen's Park Rangers, but many expressed surprise at Levy's ambition.

    "For a recently-relegated club to speak openly of European ambitions," pundit and former Spurs player Gary Linekar said on the BBC, "It seems Levy may be a bit out of touch with the realities. His club may have stormed through the Championship, but the Premiership is going to be a whole different ballgame."

    Klinsmann, for all his talent as a player, has no experience as a club manager, and will be, yet again, jumping in at the deep end. </div></BLOCKQUOTE>

    "That's that, then," I said, setting the paper down on my desk to turn to the day's scouting reports.

  15. Monday, 2nd April, 2007.

    After the board meeting adjourned, I met with Viv Busby to review the progress of our players in training. What he had to say on Thomas Carroll was surprising: the striker had finally begun to come good, and was our most improved player for the month, a move he'd capped off with the game-winning goal. Viv recommended a continuing to feature him through the final month of the season.

    Right back Mark Dixon was making great strides since his return from injury, particularly in his mental understanding of the game. Jamie Cooper continued his slow steady improvement. Most of our players were stagnant, holding steady but no longer progressing, and a few were actively deteriorating.

    Tappa Whitmore was definitely trending downward, and though I'd been careful to protect him from the rigors of starting, 16-year-old Simon Roberts was beginning to struggle with the length of the season and the pressure of public expectations after his spectacular debut. The media, fickle as always, seemed to find fault in every little mistake.

    With the monthly meetings out of the way, I could turn my eye towards the month of April. It promised to be our toughest month of football yet, with games against five of our seven closest competitors:

    <pre class="ip-ubbcode-code-pre">4/ 7 at Bristol Rovers (6th)

    4/14 Chesterfield (8th)

    4/17 at Walsall (3rd)

    4/21 Port Vale (7th)

    4/28 at Cheltenham (2nd)</pre>

    That's a brutal run, and I could only hope the players were in good shape for it - a bobble of form here could see us down into the playoff battle. Luckily, it seemed many of our players were returning from the injuries that had plagued us of late.

    Scanning the papers on Sunday, I noted that fellow Yorkshire club Leeds United, with a 0-0 draw at home coupled with the right results elsewhere, had clinched the League One title. With five matches still remaining, they had 85 points, with second-placed Crewe Alexandra on 69.

    The Premier League has become a tight race also: Chelsea on 64 points after 32 matches, Liverpool on 62 from 31, and Manchester United and Newcastle close behind with 59 and 58, respectively.

  16. Sunday, 1st April, 2007.

    "You're not a manager, you're a wizard!"

    No April Fool's joke, this.

    Chairman Steve Beck, exulting in our victory, and our league lead, was laying it on thick. He wanted to lay all the credit at my feet. "How did you know? Whitmore.. and Thomas Carroll? But it worked!"

    I didn't want to tell him I'd only selected Carroll because I could see that Paul Edwards was tiring, not because I knew "The Forgotten Man" had a magical game-winner in him. He'd been with the club on a full-season loan since September, appearing in only seven matches, and had scored but one goal - until yesterday, when he got the crucial game-winner.

    I was a genius for bringing him on?

    I'd been desperate.

    I started to say something humble, but Mister Beck cut me off.

    "And the Mirror voters think so too. You've been named League Two Manager of the Month."

    <pre class="ip-ubbcode-code-pre"> Pts W D L GF GA GD GP

    1 YORK CITY 78 24 6 10 56 30 +26 (40)

    2 Cheltenham 76 21 13 6 60 38 +22 (40)

    3 Walsall 68 18 14 8 58 30 +28 (40)


    4 Cambridge 67 20 7 13 64 49 +15 (40)

    5 Boston United 67 20 7 13 64 50 +14 (40)

    6 Bristol Rovers 66 17 15 8 61 43 +18 (40)

    7 Port Vale 65 18 11 11 52 41 +11 (40)


    8 Chesterfield 63 17 12 11 58 43 +15 (40)

    9 Lincoln 61 16 13 11 61 45 +16 (40)

    10 Torquay Utd 61 17 10 13 66 52 +14 (40)</pre>

    We've gone from hoping to stay above the relegation zone, to fighting for a playoff spot, to now all but assured of promotion and top of the table with six matches left to play - it's been a heady year.

    Sophie McGill offered the usual warnings: we're still over the wage budget by about 12%, and that concerns her, but seems to be acceptable given our performance on the pitch. We lost another £42,000 last month, but still have a positive balance of £340,000, all of which is available to me as transfer budget, and we've turned a net profit of £553,103 for the year to date, mostly because we've sold nearly £1M worth of players this year - without that, we'd be miles in the red.

    When she had finished, I stood and spoke.

    "I'd like to turn our attention to the future, and start discussing next season. Whether we win the title or not, it looks certain that we will promote to League One at the end of the season.

    "We have four players leaving - " (Adam Corbett and John McGrath transferring, Daniel Smith's contract expiring, and Tappa Whitmore retiring) - "Which should free up £77,000 per annum in salary. Also, the contracts of physio Jeff Miller and coach Paul Stancliffe are expiring - I'll need to either renew them or place an ad for new men at each of those positions.

    "Our existing wage budget isn't going to support adding a whole lot of new players, but I'm not convinced that we'll be able to survive in League One without some help. In particular, I'll need a left wing to replace McGrath, and I'd like to add a creative attacking midfielder to replace Whitmore.

    "There are other weaknesses as well, especially up front where we have only two strikers under contract."

    A bit of a debate broke out after that. The general sense I got was that the board members acknowledged our financial trouble, but were understandably perplexed about what to do, pointing out that we lost money last year, and would have lost money again this year if weren't for our player sales - that certainly makes it hard to justify increasing spending, which is about what I was asking for.

    Nothing was decided, but the board did promise to take it all under consideration as they prepared the budgets for next season.

    The question of my contract went entirely unmentioned.

  17. Saturday, 31st March, 2007. League Two - Game 40, at Lincoln City.

    Lincoln were a team scrabbling for one of the playoff spots. At the moment, they lay 8th, one place and two points adrift, but they have the fourth best goal differential in the league, and the third-best offense. They were dangerous, they were at home, and they needed the win more than we did. Still, their leading scorer, striker Serge Makofo, had broken his leg at the start of the month, and was out through September. Makofo had accounted for 22 goals this season, and their next-leading scorer had just five.

    Our lineup was a bit of a mixture, with our regulars well rested after the two-week break, but some three players returning from injury and either lacking in match fitness or feeling a bit tired. Alan Blayney was quite out of practice, but returned in goal. Tony Craig, Liam Fontaine, and Jamie Cooper were joined by captain Graeme Law, fresh off of his spectacular Reserve tune-up match. Alan Navarro took the defensive midfield role. Phil Townley lined up on the left wing, and Jon Paul McGovern made his return to the starting lineup on the right. Robert Cousins and Micah Richards were my attacking midfield pair, and Paul Edwards was the striker.

    Lincoln came out in a very conservative 4-4-2, dropping all eight midfielders back at any sign of attack, and bringing everybody back on corner kicks. They looked like an away team hoping to survive with a 0-0 draw, and it was an impressive sign of our reputation preceding us. They weren't even trying to hit us on the counter, simply soaking up the pressure and hoofing it clear.

    It was tough to break down such a determined defense, and our best effort seemed to be Robert Cousins's blast over the bar at the 39th minute. By halftime, the hosts had managed only a single shot on goal, but I could tell that tactical adjustment was required on our part. I switched to the 'aggressive' tactic, pushing Navarro, the wings, and the fullbacks forward.

    In the 58th minute, Navarro was instrumental in getting the ball forward to Paul Edwards, who dodged around the last defender and had a brilliant chance, but Lincoln goalkeeper Alan Marriott had come rushing out, and by the time Edwards got the shot off, Marriott was close enough to parry.

    We were definitely creating more chances, but with that as the sole exception, none seemed to be particularly dangerous. In the 66th minute, I brought Tappa Whitmore on to provide a creative spark, and when that failed to provide a breakthrough, I followed him with the fresh legs of Jamal Campbell-Ryce and Thomas Carroll.

    With ten minutes to play, I noticed that Lincoln were shifting to a more aggressive tactic, starting to push forward in search of a late winner. I called Navarro over and gave the new instructions: a return to our conservative, counterattacking tactic to counter their shift.

    In the 84th minute, Jon Paul McGovern sparked the counterattack I was looking for. He came up the right sideline, then passed low for Cousins, who moved it on to Whitmore in the center, outside of the arc. It looked like the Jamaican might let fly with a 25-yard shot, but instead he played a first-touch ball into the area for Thomas Carroll, to the right of goal. Marriott again came rushing out, but never touched it, appearing to misjudge it, as though he'd played what he expected Carroll to do rather than where the ball was. Neither touched it. The pass continued to roll through the six-yard box, and looked destined to go out for a goal kick, but Carroll was able to stop it just shy of the end-line, and direct it at a narrow angle into the wide-open net!

    "The Forgotten Man" had come through in the clutch, when we truly needed a goal, and from there it was only a matter of defending. Lincoln of course came to an all-out attack, getting a pair of shots off, both of which Alan Blayney dealt with easily. In injury time, we looked the most dangerous side, and Carroll nearly scored a second time, this from 16 yards. A series of corner kicks followed, and though we were unable to score, each ran more time off the clock until the final whistle was blown.

    Lincoln 0, York 1

    ----; Carroll 84

    MoM: McGovern

    Cheltenham were definitely struggling after the shock departure of their manager: they suffered a crushing blow to their psyche, 0-4, at Chesterfield. That shocking defeat, their worst of the season, combined with our 1-0 victory had put us into the League Two lead!

    When Viv broke the news, our locker room, already festive, became absolutely jubilant. I had to remind the lads that we weren't done yet - there were still six matches remaining.

  18. Friday, 30th March, 2007.

    "Did you see this?" Viv said, tossing the evening paper on my desk.

    I scanned the article.

    <BLOCKQUOTE class="ip-ubbcode-quote"><div class="ip-ubbcode-quote-title">quote:</div><div class="ip-ubbcode-quote-content">Watford Tap Watson

    League One side Watford F.C. have secured the services of Cheltenham Town manager John Watson.

    Mired in a relegation battle, the former Premiership club were desperate to secure a talent who could save them from the embarrassment of dropping three divisions in just eight years.

    Watson, a rising star who has taken Cheltenham to the verge of this year's League Two title ... </div></BLOCKQUOTE>

    I snorted at that - they're only a point ahead of us!

    "Well, good for him," I told Viv. "Watford's got a much better stadium and training facilities, so it should be a real move up for him."

    "But good for us, too," my assistant countered with a grin. "If there's any disarray in the transition..."

    He left dangling the same thought which had crossed my mind: this may be exactly what we need to slip past Cheltenham and into the League Two title.

    As the transfer window for English lower-league clubs closed, Yeovil Town strengthened themselves dramatically by bringing in four potential starters on loan for the final push. With seven matches left, they wanted to take no chances on slipping below 21st place and down to the relegation zone, and I was glad we'd already faced them for the last time.

    We stood pat; there was nobody I felt worth the price to bring them in, and I remained mindful of our wage budget issues.

  19. Wednesday, 28th March, 2007.

    Our two right backs, Graeme Law and Mark Dixon, had both been seeing specialists in London for their respective injuries. They both returned to training on Monday morning, with their physiotherapists confident of a full recovery.

    Law made his return to the pitch Wednesday evening in the York Reserves' contest against Morecambe Reserves, in a lineup that included a recovering John McGrath, and a recuperating Joe Foote as well. Amateur Paul Garner scored early, thanks to a superb assist by Ricky Shakes. Law added a goal on a penalty, amateur Jamie With made it three, and Law scored his second of the game on a 25-yard free kick, leaving the score 4-0 at halftime. Foote made a fine play to set up amateur Chris Simpson in the second half, and that made the final score 5-0. Foote was Man of the Match, though with two goals from the fullback slot, I thought Graeme Law sould have earned that honour. That was the largest victory in the three-year history of Reserve Group 6.

    Winger Jamal Campbell-Ryce was called up to Jamaica's friendly Wednesday, and secured an assist in a 5-0 drubbing of the British Virgin Islands, playing for 59 minutes.

    Alan Blayney made his Northern Ireland debut in an 0-2 friendly defeat to Belarus 0-2.

    England beat Switzerland in Basel, 3-1, behind a Dean Ashton hat trick. The Middlesbrough striker made an incredible statement after being subbed on at halftime for his first international cap.

    Scotland's free-fall continued with a 0-2 defeat by Egypt, Wales lost to Chile 1-3, and Ireland managed a 1-1 draw with Belgium despite appearing to be outplayed throughout the match.

    In other notable results, France defeated Russia 2-1 in Moscow, Holland handled Turkey 2-0, and Italy dealt with Poland 3-1. The Czech Republic surprised Portugal 2-1, while Morocco earned a shock nil-nil draw against a languid Spain, which increased the national calls for the firing of manager Irureta.

    On the other side of the pond, the U.S.A. beat Ecuador 2-0, while Argentina beat Greece 2-0, and Brazil beat Norway by the same score.

    In a bit of a surprise move, Championship side Gillingham, in the midst of a battle for promotion to the Premier League, stepped down to cherry-pick one of our promising young players. Ian Bannister, whom I had been attempting to convince to sign a new contract, instead left to join the Championship side. He moved immediately upon signing the contract, and a tribunal set our compensation at a meagre £10,000.

    I'd known that was a risk of not locking the youngster up earlier, but his contract demands had been more than we could really afford for a player who was in the lineup only in spot rotation duty, no matter how bright a future he appeared to have. I was genuinely sorry to see the youngster go, though he was excited at the propsect of playing for a bigger club. The compensation was exactly what we'd paid for him earlier in the season, leaving us with only his accomplishments to be richer by:

    Ian Bannister, DMC, 17: August 2006-March 2007: 1 season, 16 games, 2 goals, 7.00

  20. Thanks, Kev. Yeah, its a labour of love, all right icon_wink.gif I started with it because I had a very slow computer, so I had a lot of time to kill when I pressed "Continue".. and then discovered I enjoyed the writing of it so much I kept at it even once I had a better machine.

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