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FM 14 - Confessions Of A Megalomaniac

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May 2016

FC Dallas 0 - 0 Toronto FC

Boring, boring, boring... except that it really wasn't! We managed 25 shots between us, but we had the only really good chance, with Azofeifa firing a long way wide when well positioned. He's got a bit chippy recently, because he hasn't got in the side much, but he came on with 15 minutes to go, got himself booked, and missed a sitter. That's why you're not featuring much! (although I do feel a bit guilty as he's really neither an attacking or defensive midfielder, and we no longer play a pure CM)

Vancouver 1 - 1 FC Dallas (Cooper pen 65)

Another pretty bitter taste in the mouth at the end of this one. Cooper hauled himself up to convert a penalty after Diaz was scythed down by Koffe, who was exceptionally lucky to escape a second yellow card. And they equalised in stoppage time, with Koffe (obviously) crossing for captain Brad Rusin to head home.

FC Dallas 2 - 1 Chivas USA (Vagner Love 14, Campanharo 28)

Super result against a strong Chivas side - we raced into a half time lead through Vagner Love finishing after a superb reverse pass from Cooper, and Campanharo slotting a 25 yard free kick from an angle. They pulled one back with ten to go, but that was the only chance in what was a turgid second half.

San Jose 1 - 1 FC Dallas (Steele 90+3)

91 minutes of tedium, and then... In truth, we didn't deserve a point, but I was very close to losing it when we conceded in stoppage time for the second time this month. But then up popped Jonny Steele, played in by Diaz, and he kept his cool to level it. Hope not too many fans left early!

US Cup 3rd Round: San Antonio Scorpions 2 - 1 FC Dallas (Enoh 50)

Appalling. Embarrassing. Pathetic. 2-0 down to the minnows inside half an hour, we were hopeless and fully deserved our defeat.

FC Dallas 3 - 3 Colorado (OG 23, Vagner Love 27, Campanharo 75)

Fantastic game! They took the lead with a well-worked free kick, before equalising for us with one of the most moronic own goals of all time. Diaz swung the corner in it was headed towards goal, but stopped on the post by the defender. With none of my players within five yards, the opposition centre back decides that the best course of action is to slide tackle his team mate. To give him his due, he executes it perfectly, but cleanly tackles the ball into his own net. Why? Just why?

Vagner Love gave us the lead going into the break with a coolly taken one on one (how often have I written that? They leveled it up, before Campanharo instantly gave us the lead back, but another stoppage time equaliser left me gritting my teeth.

A disappointing defeat in the cup aside, we were unbeaten, but with one win in 6 I wasn't too pleased... We needed to pick up quickly to get back in those playoff spots.

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June 2016

FC Dallas 1 - 1 Real Salt Lake (Cooper 16)

Kenny Cooper gave us the lead, intercepting a headed back pass and tapping in, before they equalised with an equally poor goal. We didn't get out quickly enough after clearing a corner, their centre back lumped it back in, and the big man Craig Cook headed home. Nothing else to report really, no other clear chances, and yet another draw.

DC United 1 - 0 FC Dallas

My first league defeat in a long time, and an awful performance. 40% of possession, 4 shots compared to their sixteen. Hopeless.

FC Dallas 4 - 1 Philadelphia (Cooper 1, 41, Diaz 4, Steele 31)

Stunning performance from us, dominated Philly from start to finish. Steele picked up the ball on the left, then found Cooper who calmly finished. Diaz doubled the advantage from a cross that wasn't cleared, leaving us 2 up with just 4 minutes played. Diaz's corner found Steele to head home to make it three, and Porter's sublime control and bullet cross found Cooper to head home. 4-0 at half time, we took our foot off of the gas, let them have one, and closed it out.

So, the very definition of a mixed month!

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July 2016

Chivas USA 2 - 0 FC Dallas

Very unlucky performance; we more than matched them, but two goals conceded on the counter darkened my mood at the beginning of the month.

FC Dallas 2 - 1 New England (Diaz 11, Jimenez 67)

Barrett gave New England the lead in the eleventh minute, but they didn't touch the ball again before Diaz equalised, sidefooting home from the edge of the area. And there was a first career goal for Jimenez, latching onto a flick on from Cooper before lashing home from 20 yards. We held on for the last 25 minutes, and got back to winning ways.

San Jose 3 - 3 FC Dallas (Diaz 49, Jimenez 60, 83)

An unbelievable second half, given that we went into the interval trailing 1-0 to a sloppy goal from Bell. Diaz equalised splendidly, lobbing the keeper from 25 yards, and we took the lead after Jimenez tapped in the rebound after Enoh's screamer hit the bar. They equalised shortly after, and it was end to end until we retook the lead, Jimenez doubling his tally through some real route 1! Long ball from the keeper, Jimenez controlled it took a touch, and fired home. However, it was not to be, Miazga fired home with 2 to play to deny us victory.

Real Salt Lake 1 - 2 FC Dallas (Cooper 50, pen 90)

Our turn to take the points in stoppage time - we took the lead shortly after half time through Cooper, after some lovely intricate play from Vagner Love and Stephens down the right. They equalised with ten minutes to go, but we broke Mormon hearts in stopppage time. Jimenez raced onto a misplaced pass in the Real defence, and was about to pull the trigger when he was cleaned out by the defender. Cooper kept his nerve, and a great three points.

FC Dallas 1 - 1 Colorado (Diaz 20)

Very even game, very even score! Diaz gave us the lead early on with a screamer from the corner of the D, they equalised with a well worked goal, and that was that. Literally nothing else happened. I tried changing formation, tried suubbing some players, but no chances whatsoever.

Another mixed month, but 8 points from 5 isn't too bad, I guess...

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August 2016

FC Dallas 3 - 2 Portland (Vagner Love 13, 22, 60)

A magnificent hat trick from Vagner Love gave us three points here. Two stunning finishes after latching on to through balls in the first half, and then rounded the keeper with a direct assist from the goalkeeper! Portland did well to stay in the game, scoring in the first half through a penalty and a scrappy goal with fifteen minutes to go. Nevertheless, we managed to hold on and get the new month off to a great start.

LA Galaxy 1 - 3 FC Dallas (Vagner Love 11, 59, Cooper 33)

A clinical performance from the lads - LA had twice as many shots as we did, and comfortably more possession. They've won the trophy on four out of the last five occasions, so I thought our mini revival would be halted when Barouch gave them the lead after seven minutes. We hit back almost immediately, Vagner Love spinning the defender and finishing from the corner of the six yard box. Beitashour's drilled cross found Kenny Cooper to head home for 2-1, and we instantly set up to absorb their inevitable pressure and to hit them on the break. This paid dividends around the hour mark, a lovely series of passes ended with Stephens crossing to give Vagner Love a simple tap in.

FC Dallas 1 - 0 Montreal Impact (Porter 70)

A tedious game, which we dominated but failed to create anything really of note. That is, apart from a great first career goal from young substitute striker Seth Porter. Campanharo found him twenty yards out, he left his marker for dead and fired passed the Montreal keeper.

Houston 1 - 3 FC Dallas (Vagner Love 12, 31, Diaz 24)

Another counterattacking masterclass! Houston were top of the Eastern Conference, and we knew this Texan derby would be tricky. Vagner Love (on fire at the moment) fired home from 20 yards after being found by Jacobsen (Enoh was suspended as he picks up a yellow card almost every game). Jacobsen got his second assist 12 minutes later, chipping through for Diaz to fire home, and the third goals was stunning. Stephens with a simple ball into Vagner Love, he left his man for dead before firing it in off the far post. 3-0 at half time, not so tough! They pulled one back in the second half, but we never really looked in danger.

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Sensational month for us, and the league table reflects that - four points clear of anyone in the East, and just one behind San Jose and Chivas with two and three games in hand respectively. That month makes it almost certain that we'll make it to the playoffs - the new target is to finish in the top 2 to ensure I qualify for the NACL next year.

And, just fyi, for the month of August:

Vagner Love 7 - 4 Everyone we played against

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September 2016

FC Dallas 2 - 0 Seattle (Moor 17, Diaz 54)

Moor grabbed his first of the season, heading home from a corner in a game that we controlled. That got us through an immensely tedious first half, and Diaz sealed the win early in the second half, beating two men before firing into the top corner. We utterly dominated the second half, and the only surprise was that we only scored 2. That's 5 wins in a row now, and we're unbeaten since early July.

Columbus 2 - 2 FC Dallas (Jimenez 75, Enoh 84)

It's disappointing when such a good run ends, but to be honest I was pretty happy to get out of Columbus with a point. It should've been much easier - they are struggling at the bottom of the Western Conference - but we were grateful that it was still 0-0 at the break. They took the lead just after half time, and we looked completely bereft of ideas. That was until Enoh remembered that he used to play for Ajax. He thundered a shot off the cross bar, and it rebounded to Jimenez to head into the empty net. They retook the lead almost immediately, but with his second attempt on goal Enoh found the top corner with a screamer.

Seattle 1 - 2 FC Dallas (OG 82, Vagner Love 83)

Another slightly suspect performance, but the results keep coming. Alonso gave them the lead early on in the second half, and again we really lacked ideas. George John fully vindicated my decision to let him go, misplacing his headed backpass into the far corner of his own net. Just a minute later, Cooper and Diaz combined to release Vagner Love, and he finished coolly to give us a huge three points.

We've now confirmed playoff qualification, so I'll give you the combined table as we look to win the title:

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The fact that everyone seems to have played a different number of games complicates things somewhat, but three wins from our final 4 games will guarantee us the title. Our run in:

LA Galaxy (H)

Vancouver (A)

Portland (H)

Real Salt Lake (A)

None of our opponents look up to an awful lot, but bear in mind that the last team we dropped points against now lie in 17th.

I also celebrated the end of the month by extending my contract to the end of next season. Team Dallas are clearly quite impressed with the job that I'm doing - after a bit of hard negotiation my time is now worth £5,000 per week.

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October 2016 - The Run In

FC Dallas 1 - 3 LA Galaxy (Bullen 61)

Are we choking? Our first defeat in 3 months against a mid-table side (albeit one who have changed manager since we last played them), and we were dire. LA scored with the only two chances from the first half, and Mad Mike got really mad at half time. Bullen came on for Stephens, who was carrying a knock, and he brought us back within sight. Two minutes later, a horrendous own goal sealed the win for the Galaxy. Fortunately, Colorado were similarly beaten by San Jose, so we stayed top.

However, they played again before we did, winning away from home in a tight game, so the table before our next game looked like this:

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Vancouver 2 - 3 FC Dallas (Vagner Love 27, 66, Cooper 86)

What a game! And we almost bottled it again! We took the lead in an otherwise eventless first half; Vagner Love nodding home from a corner. Miller and Jimenez turned it round for Vancouver, after Beitashour picked up an injury that would certainly end his participation in the league (he may be able to return for the playoffs). Diaz doubled his assist tally with a through ball to Vagner Love, and it got very very tense. Vagner Love missed a golden chance to win it after being put through again by Diaz, but as time ticked away Stephens dug out a cross, and Cooper rose highest to nod past the keeper.

This win qualified us for the Semi Finals, and also broke a few records. Diaz created a new MLS record of most assists in a season, with 14 thus far, and Vagner Love, now with 19 goals for the season, has scored more than any other Dallas player. He also took the most MotM award, with 7. Andrew Jimenez also made the three man shortlist for the Rookie of the Year, although he hasn't featured much for us.

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So a win in our next game would seal the title, and we faced under-pressure Portland...

FC Dallas 1 - 3 Portland (Cooper 53)

Bottled it. Again. Cooper scored a screamer to get us back into it after being 2-0 down at half time, but they caught us on the counter as we poured forward, and it was game over. Colorado won to go top of the league, having played all of their games, and it was down to the last day...

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​The Grand Finale

The equation was simple. The vagaries of the MLS schedule meant that our only rivals for the title had already completed their league campaign, and were a point ahead of us with better goal difference. A win, and only a win, would send us back to the top of the pile at the only time when it really matters.

We faced Real Salt Lake, and we really should be winning. Although they are on a decent run of form at the moment, they're at best a mid table side and shouldn't provide too many problems, I hope.

The lineups:

Craig Cook, a RSL lifer, was their main threat - he'd scored 16 goals this season - but otherwise there was relatively little quality to be honest. We were missing Enoh through suspension, but otherwise were at full strength.

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The game:

We started very nervously, and conceded very early on - Williams fired in off the underside of the crossbar in minute 4. Vagner Love levelled the scores just before the break, after Cooper had been sent clear. The defender got back with an excellent tackle, but the ball broke to Vagner Love who had an easy finish past an out of position keeper. I pushed the team on at the break - I knew we had to win, and wanted to make sure they did too.

It got pretty nervy - Salt Lake were having most of the chances, albeit mostly from long range, but we took the lead with a very similar goal to our first. This time it was right back Anibaba who was tackled, and Kenny Cooper was left with a tap in. I instantly switched to defensive, and we closed the game out pretty comfortably.

FT: Real Salt Lake 1 - 2 FC Dallas

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So we are champions of what in the US is called the Supporters Shield. Another trophy to add to my collection - I wonder if there are any real life managers who have won trophies in both SA and the US?

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Is there a Champion's League for MLS teams?

Yes, there is - next season we will be playing in the North American Champions League.. Unfortunately for me though, I will only be in charge for the group stages (as it runs on the European football calendar, whereas the MLS runs March to November), and I only have until December left at Houston :(

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MLS Western Conference Semi Finals

We were drawn to play Chivas in the semi finals. They had finished fourth in the Western Conference, and squeaked past Seattle 1-0 in the Wild Card game. Their squad was reasonable in places, but the standout players were up front. Darlington Nagbe could play anywhere in midfield as well, but this season was playing up front and had scored 13 MLS goals. They also had Will Bruin, who had 19 in the league and was top scorer.

We would play the first leg away from home, due to finishing above Chivas in the league.

Chivas USA vs FC Dallas

We started brightly, taking the lead after half an hour with a typically direct goal. Sanchez lofted the ball long, Cooper flicked it on, and Vagner Love fired home from inside the area to give as the lead, and a crucial away goal. Or so I thought. Turns out away goals don't matter in America. We lost Enoh to an injury just before the break, but fortunately it was nothing too serious. That man Bruin levelled things up shortly after half time with a near post header, and both sides seemed happy with a draw. As you can see from the stats, it really was the least we deserved.

FT: Chivas USA 1 - 1 FC Dallas

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FC Dallas vs Chivas USA

The return leg started extremely cagily; neither side were willing to force the issue and go for the win. I gave my lads a kick up the backside at half time, and we went out with much more energy, creating a couple of chances almost straight away. Then disaster struck, Steele upending Farfan in the box. Sanchez was the hero, however, diving sharply to his right to palm away Sturgis' penalty. These seemed to give us a bit of a wakeup call, and we opened them up at will. Cooper converted a header from Beitashour's cross, Acosta found Jimenez to fire into the top corner from the edge of the area, and Cooper played in Diaz who rounded the keeper to kill the game off. Chivas did pull one back, but it was too little too late.

FT: FC Dallas 3 - 1 Chivas USA

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We would meet Colorado in the Western final, after they dispatched San Jose 7-3 on aggregate.

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MLS Western Conference Final

Colorado were tough opponents - we'd played them three times this season, drawn twice and lost the other one, so this would be no walk in the park. And they had some players that I'd heard of from real life - former Wigan man Hendry Thomas was a stalwart in the centre of their midfield, and Chelsea's forgotten Russian, Yury Zhirkov, started down the left wing. At right back, they also had the amusingly named Jonh Lennon - and that's not my typo, but presumably his mother's.

As per last time, we would play the first leg away from home due to finishing higher in the regular season table (see, I'm even picking up some of this American lingo!)

Colorado vs FC Dallas

I elected to play a weaker team in this first leg - it came just a few days after the second game against Chivas, and I felt that I'd rather have the big guns fit for the second leg back at the Toyota. To be brutally honest, I was playing for 0-0, and would be pretty happy even with a narrow defeat. None of my first choice midfield started, and Seth Porter replaced Kenny Cooper up front. And the plan worked a treat! The game was tedious, with no real clear cut chances barring the one we scored! Azofeifa (who has barely featured since the change in formation) threaded it through for Porter, and he drilled it in at the near post. We really set our stall out to defend after that, and managed to hold out for a fantastic away win.

FT: Colorado 0 - 1 FC Dallas

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FC Dallas vs Colorado

We went back to the first choice team for this one, but once again set out our stall to hit them on the counter - they needed to bring the game to us and we are very dangerous on the break. I had to think about changing the gameplan following Castaneda's goal to bring the tie level after just 7 minutes, but Vagner Love fired home the equaliser before I had a chance to implement my changes, and it was 'as you were'! Diaz cottoned onto a misplaced backpass shortly after the interval, and that really deflated Colorado. Jimenez's injury time goal was just the icing on the cake, and we were into the MLS Cup Final!

FT: FC Dallas 3 - 1 Colorado

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And we would face our Texan rivals Houston in the final...

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MLS Cup Final

Unlike the Western Conference games, this showdown would be decided by just the one game. It would take place at the Toyota Stadium, due to us finishing ahead of our rivals in the overall MLS table.

Our visitors had beaten New York (who still have a 39 year old Thierry Henry earning £54,000 per week in the reserves, more than my entire squad!) in their first game. What they lacked was goals - not one of their squad had made it into double figures, and they scored fifteen goals fewer than we did in the regular season. The most notable name was that of Giles Barnes, the former next big thing at Derby County before he went off the rails somewhat.

FC Dallas vs Houston Dynamos

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We were able to put out a full strength team - other than losing back up DM Andrew Jacobsen for the last ten games or so, and Vagner Love for a short spell earlier on in the season, we had been fairly lucky with injuries.

'4 - Borja fires onto the crossbar from fully 30 yards out! Johnson is offside on the followup.

'15 - Diaz finds Kenny Cooper with the through ball, and he hits the post! Houston scramble the ball clear.

'19 - Stephens drills a low cross in, and Vagner Love hits it tamely into the keeper's arms.

'20 - Boniek Garcia fires wide when well placed of the corner of the box.

'39 - Vagner Love's shot is deflected behind for a corner, which is cleared comfortably

HT: FC Dallas 0 - 0 Houston Dynamos

Acosta came on for Enoh at halftime, as he'd picked up a knock. Otherwise, it's as you were after a pretty even first half - all is still to play for!

'57 - Diaz swings in the corner, but Cooper's header is straight at the goalkeeper.

'58 - Alex Martinez goes clean through on goal, but his effort is well saved by Sanchez.

'73 - GOAL! Cooper picks up the ball on the halfway line, and finds Diaz. He plays a beautiful through ball into Vagner Love, whose first time shot dings off the underside of the bar before hitting the back of the net.

'76 - GOAL! Vagner Love returns the favour, turning the ball round the corner for Diaz to fire past the keeper!

'83 - Martinez goes very close, an excellent save from Sanchez denying him. Houston win a corner following twenty seconds of pinball in the box.

'84 - GOAL! Barnes heads towards goal from the corner, and it is blocked on the line. In the resulting melee, Boswell manages to poke it home, and Houston are back in it!

'89 - Cooper picks up the ball from fully 30 yards on the counter and spots the keeper off his line. His speculative effort is just about palmed over the bar for a corner.

'90 - Vagner Love heads into the keepers arms from the corner.

FT: FC Dallas 2 - 1 Houston Dynamos

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Season Review: 2016

Career to date:

[/b]Overall Career:

Games Played		110
Games Won		52
Goal Difference		+43
Win Ratio		47%
Total Earnings		£275,000
Average Annual Salary	£91,666
Honours			Promoted from South African National Division 1 (2014), South African Cup Winners (2015)
		MLS Supporters' Shield (2016), MLS Cup (2016), Coach of the Year (2016)


Almere City (2013):


Games Played		13
Games Won		0
Goal Difference		-14
Win Ratio		0%
Weekly Salary		£1,000
Honours			None
League Position		5th when arrived, 17th when left, 13th at season end


Chippa United (2013-2015):


Games Played		57
Games Won		31
Goal Difference		+39
Win Ratio		54%
Weekly Salary		£1,100
Honours			Promoted (2014), SA Cup Winners (2015)
League Position		2013-14: 	13th when arrived, 3rd at season end (Promoted through playoffs)
		2014-15: 	10th


FC Dallas (2016-):


Games Played		40
Games Won		21
Goal Difference		+18
Win Percentage		53%
Weekly Salary		Initially £2,500 then £5,000 on new contract
Honours			MLS Supporters' Shield (2016), MLS Cup (2016), Coach of the Year (2016)

League Position		2016:		1st (and won playoffs)[b]

MLS:

Despite a late season wobble, we managed to clinch the regular season title by two points. We started nervously, as it took time for me to work out my best team and formation, as well as the team taking time to adapt to a more direct style of football. Looking at those stats, it's pretty clear that we need to tighten up the defence for next year, though.

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In a peculiarly one-sided season, the teams in the Western Conference were clearly superior - Houston, my opponents in the MLS Cup Final, topped the Eastern Conference despite only finishing fifth overall. At the bottom, no one really cared as there's no relegation anyway! Any Canadian fans will hope that one of their 3 teams might make the playoffs next season though.

US Cup:

From our point of view, the less said about this the better! Defeat to San Antonio Scorpions was embarrassing, but the pain eased slightly when I found out that four other MLS sides had been eliminated at the same stage.

San Antonio took San Jose to extra time in the next round, but ended up losing 3-2. And it was New York who ended up lifting the trophy, beating Portland on penalties in the final.

The Squad: Awards 2016

Highest ever MLS finish for FC Dallas

Brimstone Cup (awarded to the team who wins the head to head between Dallas & Chicago)

Lamar Hunt Pioneer Cup (awarded to the team who wins the head to head between Dallas & Columbus Crew)

Texas Derby (awarded to the team who wins the head to head between Dallas & Houston)

My Player of the Year: Vagner Love

Top Goalscorer: Vagner Love (23)

Most Assists: Mauro Diaz (15)

MLS Best XI: Vagner Love & Mauro Diaz

MLS Rookie of the Year: Andrew Jimenez

Golden Boot: Vagner Love (23)

MVP: Vagner Love (runner up)

And finally,

Coach of the Year: Mike Matterhorn

So, it had been an excellent season, all told, and I would find it very hard to top it. I did feel that my squad lacked a lot of depth in certain areas, and that we could certainly be productive in the transfer window.

Former Club Watch:

Almere City are on their third different manager since I left! However, they've managed to make it back to the Jupiler League, and are hovering just above the relegation zone, halfway through the season.

Chippa United are much more disappointing. They managed to avoid relegation last year, and at the winter break in 2016-17 they are one place above the relegation zone by virtue of goal difference. The new manager has ripped apart the spine of my cup-winning side, and I fear it's only a matter of time before they head back down again.

Around The World:

Marco Bielsa's Spurs are the early leaders in the Premiership, looking to stop Man City winning their third consecutive title. Real Madrid look well placed in Spain, and seem likely to carry on alternating winning the title with Barcelona. Juventus have won every Serie A thus far, but trail Udinese in this season's campaign. We've had 3 different winners of the Bundesliga, but FC Bayern have opened up an early lead in their quest to make it two in a row. PSG are the current holders of the Champions League.

Germany took revenge for their World Cup defeat by England at Euro 2016, winning 5-4 after extra time before losing to eventual winners France, who beat Serbia in the final.

And oh how the mighty have fallen! David Moyes spent over two years unemployed after being fired six months into his Manchester United career, and has turned up as the new manager of Huddersfield in the Championship.

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Pre-season Report: 2017

Squad:

We weren't hugely different from last season - certainly not in the first team, anyway. Richard Sanchez's emergence in the reserves meant that I had no qualms about selling incumbent number one Matt Pyzdrowski. Sanchez is apparently the next Ochoa, and at 23 is already a star MLS keeper. Of those who had featured last year, Lovell Palmer, Andrew Jacobsen, and Randall Azofeifa didn't make the cut.

Neither did left back Kevin Alston, who was not ageing well - Maxwell Gomez came back from loan a better player, and much younger. I still didn't really feel that he was quite strong enough to be my first choice, so I splashed the cash on a man I'd brought to Chippa United, Angolan Paizo. The muppet manager who followed me had let his contract run down, and he had moved to SuperSport in the meantime, but I paid his £350,000 release clause and was very happy.

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The only position I really felt upset about was at left midfield - Jonny Steele did a good job last season, but wasn't exactly spectacular, and we had no depth. I will be keeping an eye out for anyone we can pick up who can substantially improve the team there.

I'd done pretty well in the draft, too - having exchanged most of my reserve players for top picks, I creamed off the top of the American youth. Even a 2.5 star player in my squad is graded 'a good MLS player', so we look to have a bright future:

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We would start away at Colorado, and needed to be at the top of our game - the media had us as favourites to retain our title, and Colorado would be tough.

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In the meantime, I had a quick mosey through the job centre, to see where my next step might be. Nothing particularly interesting at club level, and in any case I expected to make my next move in June - after the European season ended. But, I did notice an international vacancy, and dotted off a quick application letter, more in hope than expectation. A few days later, I got a letter back (who sends letters these days?) with an impressive amount of unusual stamps to add to my collection. I was expecting a polite rejection, or at best an invitation to interview, but it was an offer letter, and I was the new manager of the Congo!

Be careful, readers, not to make the same mistake I did at the first press conference and assume that the Congo and the Democratic Republic of Congo are the same thing. They're two separate nations, and the Democratic Republic is neither democratic or a Republic. I didn't have much time to select or even assess the squad - the previous incumbent had left rather suddenly to take over his home nation of Algeria.

The situation:

We were two games into our qualification campaign for the 2020 World Cup, having already been eliminated from qualification for the next African Nations tournament, and things were not going particularly well.

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A disappointing defeat in Zambia, followed by a home draw against Guinea-Bissau, the minnows of the group, made qualification look unlikely at best. The FA didn't expect us to get through this stage, but this first match would provide a good idea of where we are at the moment. Togo were top of the group with two wins from two, and the media did not exactly see us as favourites.

The squad:

Oh dear!

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Christopher Samba was our captain, now plying his trade at Wigan. Cannot believe that he is only 32 in game! He is one of the few highlights of an otherwise distinctly average team! We really lack any sort of partner to him at the back. We also lack a decent striker - Litsingi is not too bad, but playing with a False Nine is far too clever for this bunch of drongos! Dore is at least good in the air, so my plan is to play in a pretty similar style to back at Chippa - direct, with two pacey wingers and a big lump!

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March 2013 - The Congo

It seemed that the media didn't really appreciate the fact that I hadn't picked this squad. N'Guessi does look OK, mind, but there are so many worse players in the squad than Delarge!

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Two games for us in this international period - first at home to Togo, then away in Guinea-Bissau.

The Congo 2 - 0 Togo (Delarge 61, 79)

SCREW YOU, AUSTRIAN FOOTBALL EXPRESS!

I was so in love with myself after this match, it was unreal. The plan was to sit back, soak up the pressure, and ping them on the break. And, by Jove, it worked! I've never seen a first half go by without even a solitary highlight before, but this one did so. I commended the team's resoluteness and grit, and watched the second half play out. We remained chanceless until the hour mark, when Delarge picked up the ball on the right flank. He swung in a near post cross, which he woefully miscued, and it flew over the keeper and in! Then, fifteen minutes later, he scored a proper goal, sprinting onto a through ball and hammering home from the edge of the D. 2-0, and we were back into the hunt for qualification!

Guinea-Bissau 2 - 0 The Congo

And back down to earth. This game played out almost exactly how the other game had, except that we were on the receiving end. Two scrappy goals, both on the counter whilst we were on the front foot, did for me. Fortunately, Zambia won the other game against Togo, meaning that we, somehow, weren't out of it yet.

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We faced Zambia at home in June, and after that round of games we could jump from bottom to top! Keeping my chin up - I seem to have worked out a strategy that works against better sides, but need to find a tactic to beat the minnows with. Both games are against better sides though, so let's hope the anti-Togo tactic does the same against Zambia!

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March 2013 - FC Dallas

So the MLS regular season kicked off with last year's champions and runners up facing off:

Colorado 1 - 1 FC Dallas (Campanharo 66)

Wow, and I thought we'd strengthened the team over the summer! Colorado absolutely pummelled us, with 33 shots to our 6, and it was no surprise when they took the lead through Jonh Lennon (I cannot get over that name!) in the 34th minute. I gave the team a right royal rollicking, but it didn't seem to make much difference. David Kirby came off the bench, and his superb pass set fellow sub Gustavo Campanharo through to equalise in one of our few chances, and we were delighted with a point.

Interestingly, Colorado took both Alston and Azofeifa off my hands in the summer, and both started today.

Seattle 0 - 2 FC Dallas (Campanharo 67, Kirby 90+4)

A much better performance away from home - we were great, even if they outpossessioned us! We were very unlucky not to be leading at hlaf time, but Campanharo fired home with the aid of some distinctly suspect keeping. Kirby got his first for the club to seal the deal in stoppage time, firing in from 25 yards with the keeper in no man's land on the penalty spot.

FC Dallas 0 - 2 Portland

Well, we can possibly chalk this one up to me flying back to Texas between the two Congo games, and presumably being somewhat jetlagged (does the game factor this in? :)) The team weren't as good as they should have been, but more through not finishing their chances than anything else - we had twice as many shots as them.

New England 0 - 3 FC Dallas (Cooper 13, 17, Kirby 22)

I tried out a new lineup here, with Kirby and Cooper leading the line and Vagner Love behind. It seemed to work rather well, although Vagner Love still hasn't scored this season. Steele's long ball found Cooper early on, and he calmly sidefooted past the keeper... it was like it was 2016 all over again! Cooper scored again with an identikit goal from the other side, being supplied by Stephens, and then set up Kirby to kill off the game after just 22 minutes.

The league table means precisely naff all at this moment in time, but here you go anyway!

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A reasonable month, barring the abomination against Portland, but I do need to find a better way to deal with teams when we're at home and the clear favourites...

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Not a bad month, congrats on being champions and good luck at Congo!

Thanks - I've not tried international management for a few FMs now, so am quite looking forward to it!

Ah, Um Bongo, I remember it well. That and Kia Ora!

Now now, Um Bongo was so much nicer!

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April 2017

FC Dallas 2 - 0 Chicago (Moor 18, Cooper 71)

Have we turned a corner? We certainly seem to have learnt how to beat average teams at home, although in truth Chicago barely merit the title of average! Moor headed home from a corner early on, and Cooper tapped into the empty net after Diaz's free kick had hit the bar. Chicago offered precisely naff all going forward, and I never felt in doubt about the result.

FC Dallas 4 - 4 Colorado (Campanharo 6, Kirby 16, Cooper 54, pen 87)

Stunning game. Once again, Colorado had the better of it, but we started fantastically. Campanharo's free kick gave us an early lead, and Kirby doubled it with a smart finish. They hit back quickly though, and we went into the break back on level terms at 2-2. Cooper put us back in front cleverly, leaving Jean-Baptiste for dead before side footing home, but two in quick succession from them left us staring down a barrel. Kirby went clear late on, and was hacked down, leaving Cooper to level things from the spot in a pulsating game.

New York 1 - 2 FC Dallas (Acosta 27, Kirby 72)

Another solid win against a New York side who started four former Arsenal men against us (Andre Santos, Lukas Podolski, Joel Campbell and Thierry Henry for those of you who were wondering). Acosta drilled home after a corner wasn't cleared to give us the lead going into the break, but we were pegged back when Sanchez could only palm Henry's shot into the path of Campbell, who duly slotted home. Cooper's cross with twenty minutes to go found Kirby, who headed us into the lead. And we managed to hold on, despite going down to nine men due to injuries.

And we lost key men - Steele, Enoh and Stephens all would be out for a while. Not good.

FC Dallas 1 - 0 DC United (Kirby 48)

Very dull game - DC United had clearly set up for a 0-0, and they almost got it. After having literally no highlights in the first 45, Kirby headed home from Bullen's cross just after the break. And that was that. Just the one highlight all game. Oh well, got the three points, I guess...

Portland 2 - 0 FC Dallas

I HATE PORTLAND! THEY AREN'T EVEN VERY GOOD! WHY DO THEY ALWAYS BEAT US?

And again, it was a really even game, decided by two goals in the first half - one a dodgy backpass, the other a stoppage time penalty. Neither side deserved any more than a point, so I was livid that we surrendered three so tamely.

And the month had been going so well... Think I can just repeat the same summary as last time though!

A reasonable month, barring the abomination against Portland

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May 2017

FC Dallas 1 - 2 Seattle (Campanharo 84)

I'd been considering my next step for a little while now, as I was becoming increasingly disillusioned with my life in Texas. First of all, I knew I wouldn't be around for the NACL that I'd qualified for. Second, I'd won the MLS and the Supporters Shield last year, so wasn't particularly bothered about sticking around to see if we won that. Thirdly, the injury crisis continued unabated - vice captain Drew Moor was added to the list of absentees. Fourthly, we were so damned inconsistent - Campanharo's consolation couldn't hide a diabolical performance. And finally, an interesting opportunity had popped up back in Europe.

I had a pretty sharp, snappy interview over Skype for the role, and was feeling pretty confident. A couple of days passed, and I ended up having to play one more game before my impending departure was confirmed.

FC Dallas 1 - 0 Real Salt Lake (Cooper 74)

My team knew I was leaving - someone somewhere had leaked the news - but didn't exactly put in a stellar performance to see me off. A tedious game was settled by a Cooper tap in after Beitashour had hit the bar.

I left Dallas 6th in the MLS, but close enough behind and with enough games in hand to catch everyone bar Colorado.

Career to date:

[/b]Overall Career:

Games Played		123
Games Won		59
Goal Difference		+48
Win Ratio		47%
Total Earnings		£375,000
Average Annual Salary	£97,656
Honours			Promoted from South African National Division 1 (2014), South African Cup Winners (2015)
		MLS Supporters' Shield (2016), MLS Cup (2016), Coach of the Year (2016)


Almere City (2013):


Games Played		13
Games Won		0
Goal Difference		-14
Win Ratio		0%
Weekly Salary		£1,000
Honours			None
League Position		5th when arrived, 17th when left, 13th at season end


Chippa United (2013-2015):


Games Played		57
Games Won		31
Goal Difference		+39
Win Ratio		54%
Weekly Salary		£1,100
Honours			Promoted (2014), SA Cup Winners (2015)
League Position		2013-14: 	13th when arrived, 3rd at season end (Promoted through playoffs)
		2014-15: 	10th


FC Dallas (2016-2017):


Games Played		51
Games Won		27
Goal Difference		+23
Win Percentage		53%
Weekly Salary		Initially £2,500 then £5,000 on new contract
Honours			MLS Supporters' Shield (2016), MLS Cup (2016), Coach of the Year (2016)
League Position		2016:		1st (and won playoffs)
		2017:		Left after 11 games with the team 6th


The Congo (2017 -):


Games Played		2
Games Won		1
Goal Difference		0
Win Percentage		50%
Weekly Salary		£300
Honours			None

World Ranking		90th (95th when arrived)[b]

And where to next? Well, you'll have to wait and see...

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I love this manic career, looking forward to where you end up next!
A good run in America. Presumably you weren't as sad to leave as in South Africa? Look forward to the big announcement.

Thanks guys - update on the way! Leaving Dallas wasn't so bad - the team's maddening inconsistency combined with me not being around for the NACL made it easy.

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So it was goodbye to the US of A, and hello again to Europe. I'd only had the one previous spell here, and it hadn't been a happy one, so I approached this new job with just a little bit of trepidation. However, no time to get cold feet!

My new employers were an island club, and not even the biggest club on their island. As I stepped off of the plane, I did question myself - leaving the champions of the world's only superpower for a little club who aren't even the best team on Corsica?

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SC Bastia had sacked their long-serving manager towards the end of the season, with the club in midtable mediocrity. He had taken Bastia from the National, through Ligue 2, and kept them up in Ligue 1. His sacking did seem a trifle harsh - the club were in no danger of relegation, and were just one place below their media prediction of 11th. Most importantly, we were two places ahead of island rivals AC Ajaccio. There were two games left to play in the league, and nothing really to play for. That was fortunate, because the fixture computer had given me away ties at 2nd place PSG and champions Monaco to end the season. My plan for that was to get a bit of a better feel for the team, and try and set up a new tactic - this time without a target man!

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I'll do a rundown of the squad after those last two games, and give y'all a bit of colour on how we're playing and where we need to improve

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Should be a good club to ease back into European football with :thup:

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Should be a good club to ease back into European football with :thup:

Thanks, let's hope it goes better than my spell with Almere!

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Well, let's say I was fortunate not to expect too much from those 2 games!

PSG 5 - 0 SC Bastia

My attempts to play a pretty, possession game (in contrast to the more direct styles that I'd employed at Dallas and Chippa) were always going to struggle without a fair bit of practice. In hindsight, anyway, it looked pretty foolish to throw this squad in at the deep end against the two best sides in the country. We did compete with them in terms of possession, but they created far more chances, and were more clinical with them too.

AS Monaco 2 - 0 SC Bastia

An improvement, of sorts, in that we made it to half time without conceding. In the end, moneybags Monaco were just too good, with two Falcao headers doing for us. Nevertheless, we did play some good football, and I'm confident with a few additions to the squad we can certainly be competitive. Realistically, I'm thinking that we'll be competing for third at best, as these two are just so far ahead of the rest of the league.

So we ended up in 12th, which is fine, but I'll certainly hope to get top half next year.

I still haven't got a full grip of the squad, but at least now I've got perspectives from a few new staff members, including Raul and Nicholas Anelka, who are actually decent coaches as well as former world class strikers. Here we go:

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To be honest, there isn't much that stands out, so I'll be expecting a bit of a merry-go-round over the summer - a fair few first team regulars are loanees, so I'll need to replace them, as well as generally upgrade in a few positions. My top picks are Julio, a Spanish centre back who is already the best player in the squad at 21, Jerome Roussillon at left back, and David Simao, a Portuguese playmaker who will hopefully chip in with both goals and assists.

Here's to a busy few weeks - I'll update you all after another brief foray south of the equator!

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Back to the Congo we went, for the next round of qualifiers. For those of you with short memories, we are now bottom of an exceedingly tight qualifying group after a win and a defeat in my first two matches in charge. I faced another double header on this international weekend, starting with the home qualifier against Zambia before taking on Egypt away in a friendly. Now Zambia are supposedly a better side than us, but didn't have much in the way of star quality (well, none that I'd heard of anyway). The one name I had heard of was Emmanuel Mayuka, formerly of Southampton but now at Wolves in the Premiership.

Congo vs Zambia

Given our status as underdogs, I opted for the counterattacking style that had worked so well against Togo in my first game. And we nailed it! 34% possession, but more shots, more on target, and more clear cut chances. We opened the scoring after a pretty tedious 25 minutes, N'Guessi with a great run and a fabulous cross for Litsingi to head home at the back post. We doubled our lead not long afterwards with a stunning corner routine: Litsini found Samba at the far post, and he played a headed one-two with Lepicier to have a simple tap in. It stayed that way until half time, and I went into the break by far the happier of the two managers!

HT: Congo 2 - 0 Zambia

We expected Zambia to come out fighting, but they really didn't create anything - indeed, we were by far the more threatening. And Litsini scored his second, and our third, with a superb header from another cross from the right. And the fourth came the same way, Dore the centre forward drifted wide, and his ball was flicked on by Litsingi for Malonga to tap in! They grabbed a late consolation, but that didn't take the gloss off of a superb result.

FT: Congo 4 - 1 Zambia (Litsingi 27, 73, Samba 35, Malonga 76)

That, combined with Guinea-Bissau's 4-2 win over Togo, left the group looking like this:

GOSVcHl.jpg

Tight, eh? Interestingly, at this point we were in reverse order of the world rankings when I took over.

We would play at Togo in the final game, with Guinea-Bissau taking on Zambia at home, although we had an agonising 3 month wait before that game. In the meantime, however, we had a tricky friendly against Egypt to negotiate...

Egypt 5 - 2 Congo (Dore 59, Litsingi 65)

We started reasonably well, holding off the expected Egyptian onslaught for almost half an hour, before conceding two in quick succession before the break. I changed things up a little, but our hopes of a comeback looked over when Hassan scored their third just a minute into the second period. We rallied, however, bringing them back to 3 - 2, before they picked us off on the counter as we chased the equaliser.

Not a dreadful performance, but even if we get through this round of qualifiers I think we'll face a pretty tricky playoff...

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Back to Bastia now, and an update on my changes to the squad:

UvHC2IW.jpg

As you can see, I've made a few changes, letting go those with large wages but little talent, and bringing in mostly players that I'd come across previously:

Tiago Ilori, whilst not quite up to it at Liverpool, will slot into the heart of my defence alongside Antonio Briseno. These two are still relatively young, so I've arranged for ex-Real Madrid star Pepe to join on the first of January and give us some much-needed experience. We're actually signing him from my old club Dallas - one of my last acts as manager was to arrange for him to join, although I left shortly before he arrived.

Looking at the midfield, Anthony Annan was a cheap option to bolster it, as was the loan signing of Takaki Miki from the Arsenal youth setup. Another young signing, although one who will slot straight into the first team, is 19 year old Daniel Pena, who is going to be a star if he can stay fit. He initially turned us down for Real Madrid, before failing a medical there, so this one is a bit of a gamble. That being said, 21 caps for Bolivia at 19 is not to be sniffed at!

Up front, Luc Castaignos joins from FC Twente, where he hasn't really been given much of a chance.

I still feel that I'm short a couple of players - we could really do with a backup right wing back, and a top class keeper wouldn't go amiss, but this is where we've got to ahead of our season opener against RC Lens:

lliuWbO.jpg

Going for an interesting new tactic - the 5-4-1 should hopefully keep us fairly stable at the back but give the wing backs a chance to create some width going forward. We shall see!

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August 2017

SC Bastia 2 - 1 RC Lens (Ruiz 12, Miki 86)

We started the new campaign with a home game against a team expected to finish a little below us in midtable, so it was a good barometer of whether the squad I'd built were looking OK. I was expecting a slow start to the season given the change to an unusual audience and the sheer quantity of first team players signed. Alan Ruiz got us off to a cracking start, firing into the top corner from the edge of the box, before Gouffran levelled for Lens on the half hour. We just about shaded the game in terms of possession and chances, and Miki got the goal that we deserved with five to go, powering his shot into the roof of the net from fully 25 yards. A solid start, and a win that I needed, looking at the next few fixtures.

SC Bastia 1 - 0 AS Monaco (Ruiz 68)

I opted for a somewhat more defensive formation this time, instructing my wing backs not to bomb forward as much. And we dominated possession, with 58% against the reigning league champions. It was a very good performance - Monaco were restricted mainly to long range efforts, and we got the breakthrough midway through the second half. Castaignos had his header saved, and the defence could only clear it to Ruiz on the edge of the D. He took a touch, and drilled it past John Ruddy (!) in the Monaco goal.

Olympique Lyonnais 1 - 0 SC Bastia

A fair result - neither team looked really at the races, and they created the only really good chance of the game. They missed that, but Rojo's superb header from a corner gave them all three points.

Paris Saint-Germain 2 - 0 SC Bastia

Completely played off the park - PSG absolutely dominated, with 53 shots. Admittedly, many of these were long range efforts from Wanyama, but they still managed 23 on target, so we did well to restrict them to 2. I was actually pretty gutted to not get a result - both PSG goals came in the last five minutes.

SC Bastia 2 - 1 En Avant de Guingamp (Castaignos 27, 53)

Castaignos opened his account for the club with a couple of really well-taken goals. Despite their equaliser just before the break, we always looked in control, and I was very happy with the performance.

This left us 8th in the table, with 9 points from 5. Given that we'd played the top 2 from last year, as well as a decent Lyon side, I was pretty happy with that start.

Oh, and the transfer window shut as well - we managed to add Dutch keeper Jasper Cillessen on a freebie and Lyon wing back Mouhamadou Dabo on loan. He will be backup to Oueslati.

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So, it was back down to Africa for the final game of Stage II qualification:

My squad was relatively injury-free, barring a mini crisis that meant we had just one Congolese keeper available. Luckily,it was Mafoumbi, wo was our first choice. Delarge returned after missing the Togo and Egypt games, and would slot straight back in on the right. Litsingi (the hero against Togo) would play down the left again.

World Cup Qualification, African Section: Race For Stage III

B63B293.jpg

Togo vs Congo

Guinea-Bissau vs Zambia

In the end, the maths work out pretty simple! Win and we go through, provided that Guinea-Bissau don't beat Zambia. Only the top team goes through.

'36 - GOAL! Togo 1-0 Congo. Zakari fires home against the run of play, dropping Congo down to bottom of the group.

HT: Togo 1 - 0 Congo & Guinea-Bissau 0 - 0 Zambia

Two very tight games, with just one goal between them. Togo up to second, but so far behind on goal difference that they are effectively out unless they score a hatful in the second half. Congo drop to fourth as it stands, with Guinea-Bissau heading through to the final stage.

'52 - DISALLOWED GOAL! Togo have the ball in the back of the net, but the keeper was definitely taken out as the ball sailed into the box. A good decision.

'60 - GOAL! Guinea-Bissau 1-0 Zambia. GB lead through an own goal, and that puts them firmly in the driving seat for qualification.

'78 - GOAL! Togo 1-1 Congo. Delarge makes space for himself down the right flank, and picks out the unmarked Litsingi at the far post to head home.

'81 - GOAL! Guinea-Bissau 1-1 Zambia. Zambia peg GB back, and a goal for either them or Congo would see a new team top the group.

'83 - GOAL! Guinea-Bissau 1-2 Zambia. Two in two minutes for Brian Chewe puts Zambia into the qualifying position.

'84 - GOAL! Togo 1-2 Congo. But they can only stay there for a minute! Itoue fires home from a cleverly taken corner, and that puts Congo top!

FT: Togo 1-2 Congo & Guinea-Bissau 1-2 Zambia

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We did it! Topping the group meant that we were put forward to the final stage of qualification - if memory serves me correctly a two-legged playoff that would decide our fate. We would discover our opponents in ten days time, but here were the teams that we could face:

Ivory Coast

Algeria

Tunisia

Ghana

Cameroon

Nigeria

Senegal

Morocco

Egypt

A pretty frightening selection of teams - all were currently ranked well above us at the moment. Cameroon were the easiest pick, according to the world rankings, but I still wouldn't be that confident if we drew them. We shall see!

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Double update for you here - I went back to the family over Christmas (and thus have had no time to write, and only a little time to play), so will now give you a mega catchup over the last 2 months with Bastia, and the next leg of my Congo adventure! The game descriptions will be a little short, as I can't remember them that well! I also haven't got any screenshots for this bit, as I've played on a month or so ahead and didn't take any at the time.

September & October 2017

LOSC 0 - 0 SC Bastia

All I can remember about this was that it was less tedious than the scoreline suggests. We were pretty poor, and somehow managed to hold on to 0-0 thanks to a splendid performance from the back three. We managed to restrict them purely to long shots really, aside from one or two solid saves from Cilessen.

SC Bastia 1 - 0 Evian (Ruiz 60)

One, and it should have been more. We dominated possession, and had all of the better chances, but only managed to score after a mix-up in the Evian defence. Miki ran at two of them, one of them tackled the ball into the other, and it ricocheted for Ruiz to drill in at the near post.

Montpellier 1 - 0 SC Bastia

The epitome of my team at their very worst. Tonnes of possession, but not a single shot on target. Imagine Swansea on a bad day, and you'll get the picture. They scored a scrappy goal from the only proper chance of the game, and we just couldn't create anything.

SC Bastia 2 - 0 Girondins Bordeaux (Julio 37, Ba 59)

Much, much better and more clinical. We still didn't create that much, but restricted Bordeaux to just the one shot on target and took our chances well. Julio headed in at the back post from a corner, and Ba left his man for dead before slipping the ball under the keeper. Lovely stuff!

AC Ajaccio 1 - 1 SC Bastia (Briseno 36)

Our first game against our rivals, and a pretty good one. We took the lead once again from a corner (I promise I'm not exploiting anything, haven't even changed anything, but having 3 centre backs and a big striker certainly helps!), but were pegged back just after half time by Novillo. The remainder of the game was pretty open, with both teams missing pretty good chances, but neither of us could make the breakthrough.

SC Bastia 2 - 0 Toulouse (Ba 16, Dabo 65)

Another really good win, and a great way to end the month. A beautiful passing move around and into the box found Ba on his own 8 yards out, and he made no mistake. After Vasco Regni got a second yellow after just half an hour, it was easy - we passed them off the pitch, and should probably have scored a couple more. Dabo sealed it with 25 to go, firing home from Simao's cutback.

So, a pretty good couple of months there, and we're flying high in the table. I'm midway through November now, so I'll give you that and December's results once I've played it, but not before another missive from The Congo!

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The Final Playoff Round I: Egypt vs. Congo

So we were just one two-legged tie away from World Cup Qualification; unfortunately it was against Egypt, who had thumped us 5-2 in a friendly in Cairo just a few months ago. We would work on the same strategy that had served us so well against the other big teams - that was to hit them on the counter, defend well and attack lethally quickly.

'10 - GOAL! Egypt 0-1 Congo. N'Sakala gets away from his man on the left hand side, drills it across and Delarge taps it in at the far post. Completely against the run of play - Egypt have already had three shots on target!

'18 - PENALTY CLAIM! Sayed goes down in the box, accusing Samba of clattering him. The referee has none of it though, and the Egyptian winger receives a yellow card for his troubles.

'34 - GOAL! Egypt 1-1 Congo. Egypt have had all of this game, and they finally get level. El Neny scores a screamer from just inside the box, in off the inside of the post.

'39 - GOAL! Egypt 1-2 Congo. So, so simple, yet so effective. Centre back Lepicier lumps one down the middle, Litsingi latches onto it, and rounds the keeper before tapping into the empty net.

'45 - GOAL! Egypt 2-2 Congo. Another screamed from Egypt! Salah drives down the wing, then lays it back to the edge of the area. Islam Awad takes a touch, and hammers it into the top corner.

HT: Egypt 2 - 2 Congo

'58 - GOAL! Egypt 3-2 Congo. Egypt finally take the lead for the first time in the game. Salah again down the right, he finds the other winger at the far post, who beats two men before firing past the keeper. Great goal from Hosny, but could the keeper have done better?

Egypt dominate possession, and have a number of chances, but despite 64% possession and 11 shots on target cannot muster any further response.

FT: Egypt 3 - 2 Congo

Not a bad result away from home - certainly better than the 5-2 thumping last time - and one that certainly gives us a chance going into the second leg.

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The Final Playoff Round II: Congo vs. Egypt

So this was it - 3-2 down with the home leg to come. A one goal win would send us through on away goals (provided it was 1-0 or 2-1), and that, I thought, was the best we could hope for. With that in mind, the game plan was to keep it tight and see if we could nick a goal. I figured Egypt would try and catch us on the break, so I needed to stay relatively cautious until it got to the last 20 minutes or so. Here's hoping!

'2 - Mafoumbi punches away a cross from Salah. We break quickly, and Delarge's cross is headed away before Linganzi fires one just wide from 30 yards.

'23 - Fathi finds El Neny, but his shot whistles wide from 20 yards.

'25 - Awad fires well wide for Egypt from the edge of the D.

'27 - A lovely passing move from Congo ends with Linganzi putting it into the side netting from just inside the box.

'38 - Missilou's shot is well saved by Khalaf in the Egypt goal.

'42 - Shikabala sends a free kick well over the bar.

'43 - Fathi's shot is blocked behind for a corner, which comes to nothing.

HT: Congo 0 - 0 Egypt. The game is going more or less to plan - we've kept them mostly limited to long rangers, and had a couple of chances ourselves. Yes, they've had the lion's share of possession, but that's not how we play.

'46 - Egypt break very quickly, but Abdoulaye makes a crucial interception as the last man back.

'47 - Egypt have a corner. We win the first and second headers, but N'Sakala's inexplicably is back towards his own goal. Hegazy flicks it towards goal, and hits the post!

'63 - GOAL! Congo 1-0 Egypt. Delarge launches it into the box from a free kick just inside the Egypt half. Litsingi flicks it towards goal, and as N'Sakala and two Egyptian defenders collide, the ball breaks back to him on the edge. He drills the shot low through a crowd of players, and the keeper has no chance. Congo lead on away goals...

'65 - Stunning save from Mafoumbi as El Sayed powers one from 25 yards! The corner is hit straight into the side netting.

'69 - Another free kick from Delarge, again headed by Litsingi, but this time comfortably saved.

'70 - Awad fires straight into Mafoumbi's arms from the edge of the area. He had plenty of time and space, and really should have scored.

'86 - DISALLOWED GOAL! El Sayed finds Elmohamady on the right side of the area. He sidefoots home, but is correctly ruled offside. Very tight, but just about off!

'89 - El Nery fires high and wide from the edge of the area. Almost there...

'91 - N'Ganga fires a free kick miles over the Egyptian crossbar

FT: Congo 1 - 0 Egypt (3-3 on aggregate; Congo progress on away goals)

WE'RE GOING TO THE WORLD CUP!!!

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Nice couple of months here! Going great with the Congo too :thup:

Even better with the Congo now :) Thanks!

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1i3PlyR.png

After negotiating a rather tedious friendly win over Libya (I won't bore you with all the details, but Delarge gave us a 1-0 win in the 86th minute), the Congo FA whisked me off to snowy Moscow for the draw for the 2018 World Cup - Congo's first! Playing with the balls today: World Cup-winning captain from 2014, Steven Gerrard, now of course assistant manager of Birmingham City (Michael Owen is also a coach there!), and his predecessor Iker Casillas, still going strong as Real Madrid and Spain's No. 1.

Pot #1:

Argentina

Brazil

Mexico

Germany

England

Spain

Italy

Russia

Pot #2:

Bahrain

Costa Rica

Iran

Serbia

Honduras

Oman

Japan

USA

Pot #3:

Cameroon

Colombia

Ghana

Tunisia

Chile

Congo

Ivory Coast

Uruguay

Pot #4:

Belgium

Georgia

Czech Republic

Portugal

France

Croatia

Holland

Switzerland

You know, there are some possibilities that I might quite fancy there - Mexico, Oman, Congo and Georgia could be quite doable! Having said that, I could get landed with Brazil, the USA and Holland.

It ended up somewhere in the middle - Germany wasn't ideal, but anyone from Pot 1 was bound to thump us! Pot 2 kindly gave us Bahrain, who are actually ranked worse than we are! And Pot 3 didn't give us Georgia, but I was happy to get Czech Republic rather than Holland or France.

Group C:

Bahrain

Congo

Czech Republic

Germany

I still don't expect us to progress, but there's a chance - beating Bahrain, and sneaking a point against the Czechs might just be possible!

The Group of Death (there's always one!):

England

France

Ivory Coast

Japan

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Back to Bastia again, and we'll look at November and December results before doing a mid-season review:

November / December 2017

Coupe de la Ligue (3rd Round): Le Mans FC 1 - 0 SC Bastia

Pathetic - we lost to a team from the league below despite having 59% of possession, twice as many shots and an extra man for 35 minutes. They scored after Mendes fired straight through Vincensini midway through the first half, and we just couldn't score. Worryingly, this is developing into quite the regular theme in my career - I really struggle to beat teams that are comfortably worse than me.

AS Nancy Lorraine 2 - 3 SC Bastia (Castaignos 15, 70, Khazri 27)

A much improved performance from us here - Castaignos gave us the lead early on with a neat finish after a great chip through from Miki, and Khazri doubled our advantage with a close range header after a perfect cross from wing back Oueslati. We let them back into it, however, giving Rachid far too much time to drill home from the edge of the area, but there was nothing we could've done about Ngando's wondergoal. Castiagnos scored the winner from close range after another superb Oueslati cross.

SC Bastia 0 - 0 FC Nantes

Another game where we failed to break down distinctly average opposition who set their stall out to defend. Any tips on how to change this would be very helpful!

SC Bastia 1 - 2 Olympique de Marseille (Oueslati 7)

Oueslati is looking very very good in that right wing back role, and he got us off to a flyer, keeping his composure to slot past Mandanda on a lethal counter attack. Unfortunately, that was as good as it got for us - OM dominated the match, and it was a surprise that it took them till Tiago Ilori's 44th minute OG to level, and till the 77th minute to score the winner.

Dijon FCO 1 - 1 SC Bastia (Miki 26)

Miki headed us into the lead from a corner, which pleased the chairman, who is getting mildly peeved by our lack of prowess from set pieces (I thought we were doing OK in that regard?). Dijon are doing very well this year, and it was really disappointing to concede yet another own goal - is anyone else finding a lot of own goals, and mostly nonsensical ones? This one was Mary with a free header from their corner, opting to nod it into our own goal rather than away.

SC Bastia 1 - 0 Havre Athletic Club (Castaignos 66)

We absolutely battered Havre, and I cannot believe how we didn't score more! Castaignos scored the only goal of the game, a cool finish after a great ball from Ruiz, but missed a penalty in the 88th minute to leave me expecting an equaliser at the death! We held out though, and only conceded one shot on target all game.

FC Lorient 2 - 0 SC Bastia

We were demolished! Lorient had 31 shots (albeit only 9 on target), and 61% of the possession. They were just far, far better than we were and two goals in six first half minutes killed the game.

SC Bastia 2 - 1 OGC Nice (Dingome 26, Julio 66)

Another good day for the chairman, as both our goals came through set pieces. Dingome's was a lovely volley from the edge of the area after a corner wasn't properly cleared, and Julio made it 2-0 with a thumping header from a corner. They pulled one back almost immediately, but we always looked relatively comfortable, and it was a nice way to leave the first half of the season.

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Mad Mike's Mid-Season Review: 2017-18

We lie 7th in the table at what is pretty much halfway through the season. As you can see, PSG are miles out in front, and the title is already theirs to lose. The other moneybags side, Monaco, are slowly pulling up the table after an atrocious start under new manager Leonid ****skiy. It's all pretty close between 2nd and 7th (and expect Monaco to join this group sooner rather than later!), and I'm confident that we can beat the media prediction of 11th. We've been pretty solid at the back, but just not scoring enough goals, and I'll hope to use the January window to help pick things up.

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Leading Lights:

1. Luc Castaignos - the striker has proved the most clinical of the three options up front, but even he hasn't scored that many with just 5 in nine.

2. Anthony Annan - he has played far more games than I expected him to, and done really well in defensive midfield.

3. Julio - the Spaniard has been the strongest part of our triumverate at the back which has been key in keeping our defence so solid.

Mad Mike's Muppets:

1. Daniel Pena - clearly one of the most talented players at the club, Pena has been almost constantly injured. As he's Bolivian, and I have a new signing coming in from Argentina to take his non-EU spot, he won't be registered for the squad until he can prove his fitness on a long term basis.

2. Fode Koita - picked by my assistant as our best striker barring Castaignos, he hasn't scored once yet and will be leaving the club if I get a decent offer for him.

3. Thomas Vincensini - the keeper has had to play far more than I would have liked him to, with first choice Cillessen not arriving until deadline day and subsequently suffering an injury. He has been pretty hopeless - Cillessen is no world beater, but Vincensini makes him look like one in comparison!

Transfer Dealings:

Jasper Cillessen has been solid, if unspectacular, in goal since joining. However, his time here has been marred by a couple of injuries.

Tiago Ilori and Antonio Briseno have been excellent at centre back alongside Julio, and on free transfers have certainly been good value! Mahamadou Dabo, on loan from Lyon, has done very well at wing back and been very consistent.

Alan Ruiz has done reasonably well at attacking midfield; he started excellently, but has been a little anonymous and picked up a couple of injuries since. Takaki Miki has been solid in the middle, keeping the more experienced Luca Castiglia out of the team, and we've discussed Daniel Pena and Anthony Annan already.

Luc Castaignos has been the pick of my forwards, and is our top scorer thus far.

Plans for the window:

Well, I'd already agreed for Pepe and Mauro Mallorca to join on frees. Pepe will be an experienced backup to our centre backs, but Mallorca looks fantastic and should slot straight into the first team.

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Beyond this, I want to bring in another striker if possible. Castaignos has impressed, and Adama Ba has been OK, but Koita has been hopeless and I want to upgrade my alternatives if possible. I'll be looking to offload Koita, as well as a few players in the reserves if at all possible.

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January 2018

Well, after a dismal failure to do anything in the transfer market other than offload one useless player (Christophe Vincent has joined a Stade Rennais team that were relegated last year and struggling in 16th in Ligue 2 this year), it was back to business.

French Cup (9th Round): Valenciennes FC 1 - 2 SC Bastia (Castaignos 41, Simao 49)

A comfortable win against a mid-table Ligue 2 team. The defence went walkabout just before half time, allowing Ruiz acres of space to feed Castaignos, who finished tidily. And the game was up 4 minutes after the break, Simao scoring a superb free kick. We took our foot off the pedal a little after that, but in truth the 78th minute consolation was one more goal than they deserved.

SC Bastia 1 - 0 Olympique Lyonnais (Roussillon 88)

Daylight robbery. Or rather, as the game kicked off at 7 pm, late evening robbery! We were battered, with Lyon having 16 shots to our 3, but we won the stat that mattered. And maybe it wasn't that unfair on Lyon - of their 16 shots, just 4 were on target, and only one was described as a clear cut chance. We had one of those two - substitute Adama Ba played a superb through ball to leave Roussillon one on one, and he made no mistake to nab the three points.

French Cup (10th Round): AC Ajaccio 0 - 2 SC Bastia (Castaignos 30, Palmieri 81)

Another easy win in the cup, but this was extra sweet against our island rivals. Simao fed Castaignos for the opener on the half an hour, and we counterattacked our hosts to death. It was a miracle that we were restricted to just one, to be honest, until Palmieri popped up on the counter to seal our third win in a row.

AS Monaco 1 - 1 SC Bastia (Castaignos 65)

Castaignos continues a superb run of form, and we collect another point from moneybags Monaco! Again, we were pounded, but nicked the lead on the counter as per usual against Monaco. This time, unfortunately, we couldn't hold on - Nastasic scoring from a corner.

SC Bastia 2 - 2 Paris Saint-Germain (Mallorca 19, Ilori 80)

Another top performance against the runaway league leaders - Mallorca got us off to a great start after tapping in after Simao put an undefendable ball in. We led at the break, but Saul equalised before Ilori's own goal gave them the lead in a disastrous ten minute period. However, all was not lost, and Ilori popped up at the near post after a late corner to give us a point.

En Avant de Guingamp 1 - 0 SC Bastia

The only bad result we've had this month, and the only bad performance. We were toothless, and defended pretty badly. Admittedly, the strong wind and hail probably didn't help our neat short passing game, but we shouldn't be being this bossed by a very average Guingamp team. And we conceded from a corner.

So, an irritating defeat at the end of a pretty solid month. Let's hope it's not a sign of things to come!

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February 2018

This month started with some bad news - the finances have been noticeably deteriorating throughout my time at the club (despite me sticking within my budget), and I started getting described in news items as 'debt-stricken SC Bastia', which was mildly worrying. There will certainly be budget slashing in the summer, methinks, as the board are 'keen to see extra income being brought in through player sales'! Anyway, back to matters on the pitch...

SC Bastia 3 - 2 LOSC (Julio 42, Palmieri 81, Ruiz 90+1)

What a game! By which I mean, what a second half! Julio had given us the lead just before half time with a bullet header from a corner, and I was very frustrated when some poor defending let Aguer equalise with ten minutes to go. Palmieri leathered one into the top corner just two minutes later to give us the lead back, and Ilori headed Roussillon's long throw down to Ruiz to rifle home to seal the win in stoppage time, but there was still time for them to pull another goal back.

Evian FC 0 - 1 SC Bastia (Ruiz 35)

Evian, in the relegation zone, clearly just aimed to stifle us, as other average teams have managed this season, but Ruiz scored for the second game running after a cheeky backheeled through ball from Mallorca to give us the win in what was frankly a pretty tedious game.

French Cup (11th Round): SC Bastia 1 - 0 Stade Brestois 29 (Renault 90+1)

Given the game was sandwiched within 2 days of the Evian match, and 3 of the next league match, I opted to play an entirely changed team. And it just about paid off - a thoroughly entertaining 0-0 was 'spoilt' by young centre back Renault firing home in the melee following a stoppage time corner.

SC Bastia 2 - 0 Montpellier HSC (Miki 45, Roussillon 84)

A crucial win against one of the teams who will be around us come May. They dominated the first half, with Miki's header the sucker punch after a superb assist from Castaignos. Roussillon sealed the points on the break with 5 to play.

Girondins Bordeaux 0 -2 SC Bastia (Dabo 9, Castaignos 48)

It started so well... the Bordeaux centre back sliced his clearance straight to Dabo, he rounded the right back and kept his cool to finish into the far corner. And it only got better, what with Ayasse seeing red for the home side shortly afterwards. Castaignos extinguished what faint hopes they had with a neat finish just after half time, and I hit cruise control. A perfect finish to a perfect month, and the league table is starting to look very nice:

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3rd place with 12 left to play! If we can hang on to that third spot, then that would solve our financial worries - that guarantees us a group stage place in the Champions League for next season. OM are the obvious threats, and we still have to visit them later on in the season, but they have a brutal 4 games in a row that are us, Lyon, Monaco and PSG! And I wouldn't discount Monaco just yet, either - they are last year's champions and are picking up after a horrendous start.

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Doing brilliantly with Bastia, but the World Cup is what I'm really looking forward to here after that draw! Czech game will be crucial...

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Thanks guys!

What a job your doing here mate, cracking effort :thup:

Thanks - took a little while for the team to really get 3-5-2, but it seems to be working. Not at all how I originally planned it - I wanted it to be quick, intricate passing football rather than boring people to death with a strong defence and keeping possession, but can't complain!

Doing brilliantly with Bastia, but the World Cup is what I'm really looking forward to here after that draw! Czech game will be crucial...

I'm really looking forward to it too! To be honest, if we hadn't been fighting for Europe then I would've definitely holidayed through to the end of the season!

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March 2014

SC Bastia 2 - 2 AC Ajaccio (Ilori 54, Miki 90+4)

It may look like we stole a point, but we thoroughly deserved all three. After starting the better side, we were shocked by two goals from our relegation-threatened island rivals in ten minutes. I laid into the lads during the second half, and we came out fighting. Ilori powered a header in off the bar following a corner to get us back in it, and we laid siege to the Ajaccio goal. Over the next 40 minutes, we hit the woodwork FOUR times, but at least we managed a point after Miki drilled one into the bottom corner after a goalmouth scramble.

Toulouse FC 0 - 1 SC Bastia (Castaignos 63)

Another game against a relegation threatened side, but this one decided to shut up shop almost from kick-off. A tedious game resulted, particularly the first half, but it opened up once Simao's stunning through ball was converted by Castaignos. They started to come forward, and we were able to hit them on the break, but no more goals were scored and we took three points.

SC Bastia 2 - 0 AS Saint Etienne (Khazri 5, Roussillon 68)

We're suffering a mini-injury crisis at the moment, and it's particularly afflicting the attacking midfielders - both Ruiz and Mallorca are already out, and David Simao picked up a knock in this game too. On top of that, on loan wing back Mouhamadou Dabo suffered a serious injury that will rule him out for the season, so back he goes to Lyon. On the bright side, however, Wahbi Khazri came in and scored with 5 minutes, and Roussillon rounded off a comfortable win midway through the second half. Pepe, just returning from injury, had a 12 minute cameo that ended in a straight red. Muppet!

FC Nantes 0 - 1 SC Bastia (Miki 71)

We're starting to win games even when really not playing well - apparently the sign of champions (or, at least, 3rd place hopefuls!). Nantes were the better side, but pretty toothless going forward, and Miki delivered the sucker punch with a volley after Castiagnos fed him with a lovely cushioned header.

French Cup Quarter Final: Havre Athletic Club 0 - 1 SC Bastia (Koita 23)

A momentous occasion... Fode Koita, apparently our second best striker, finally scores his first goal under my management! He steamrollered the keeper inside his six yard box whilst getting the ball first and nodding home. I completely rotated the team, as we're playing a number of games in quick succession, but that was still enough to see off an average Harvre side.

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Another superb month, the highlight of which is our super mean defence. For those of you who are counting, that's 8 clean sheets in the last nine! And the table looks extremely healthy too - the teams just below us have played each other a lot during this period, and that's knocked OM and Lorient back a bit. 4 points ahead with a game in hand, the CL is really mine to lose now! And we're into the cup semi, where we will play away at Monaco. Incredibly, PSG's win in their quarter final means that they haven't lost in the competition since January 2015 (over 3 years!)

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April 2018

SC Bastia 0 - 1 AS Nancy Lorraine

And back down to earth with a bump... We battered Nancy for the first half an hour, but they caught us on the counter and after that they shut up shop. We do really seem to struggle when going behind, and couldn't break them down. OM closing back in...

AS Saint-Etienne 3 - 3 SC Bastia (Castaignos 11, 73, Simao 88)

The wobble continues - we'd comfortably beaten Saint-Etienne at home just a few weeks earlier, and should really have got another three points today. Castaignos gave us the lead early on, rounding the keeper after latching on to Khazri's through ball, but we were pegged back almost immediately, and fell behind just after half time. From then on we dominated, Castaignos grabbing his second, heading home from a Simao free kick, but a Julio own goal from a rare Saint-Etienne foray into our half left us one behind with five to play. Castaignos turned provider, however, threading a ball through for Simao to cooly sidefoot home.

Olympique de Marseille 0 - 1 SC Bastia (Castaignos 45)

The biggest game of our season, and boy did we produce! I knew that OM would come at us, so I just wanted to absorb their pressure for the first 20 and then maybe play a bit more expansively. And it worked a treat, as we managed to restrict them almost entirely to long shots. Castaignos delivered the goal we deserved on the stroke of half time, and despite my nerves we never really looked like conceding. Advantage Bastia!

SC Bastia 2 - 0 Dijon FC (Briseno 4, Miki 81)

A comfortable win against a Dijon side whose hopes of Europe were beginning to slip away. Briseno headed home from an early corner, and Miki did the same from a late one, and we were beginning to pull away from Marseille. The disappointment here was an injury to Castaignos that would rule him out for the season. Let's hope Koita can put in a few decent performances to push up his price for when he's sold in the summer..

French Cup Semi Final: AS Monaco 0 - 2 SC Bastia (Koita 72, Palmieri 85)

A superb counterattacking performance, following the same mould as the win at Marseille. Monaco have recovered to 5th place, but last year's champions will not be happy with missing out on a Champions League spot in 2018/19. And Koita did score! Not exactly a masterpiece (he tapped into an empty net after Sankhare tackled Mallorca, sending the ball past the onrushing Ruddy into Koita's path), but we'll take it! Palmieri put the icing on the cake on the counter, and we were into the final! Disappointingly, there was no upset in the other semi, and we would face PSG.

Havre Athletic Club 1 - 2 SC Bastia (Oueslati 5, Koita 47)

And the boy scores again! Oueslati gave us the lead early on with a fantastic drilled finish, and Koita sealed the points just after half time, volleying home from Mallorca's ball in. A Briseno own goal in stoppage time gave Havre a consolation they barely deserved, but saved me paying out clean sheet bonuses! Another disappointing injury is the loss of keeper Cillessen, who is joint leader in the race for the most clean sheets, who will not play again this season.

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So, you'll notice a slight change in our league position... and we've gone upwards! Lyon have been on a pretty poor run (perhaps due to their Europa League run), and have dropped off with just one point in their last three. That being said, they have Havre, Lorient & Nice left to play, so I fear I may need 3 wins to secure 2nd place, and a guaranteed place in the CL group stages.

My run in is a home game against Lorient (but that's just 3 days before the cup final against PSG), and the trips to Nice and Lens. One win will secure Champions League qualification ahead of OM, but getting second will be much trickier...

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Great end to the month there mate, that win against Marseille was massive it seems!

Good luck with thte run in and the final :thup:

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May 2018 - The Cup Final: Paris Saint-Germain vs. SC Bastia

Uncomfortably sandwiched between the final few fixtures of the league programme, I was in two minds whether to play my strongest team here or save it to ensure second place and the place in the Champions League group stages... I went for the silverware, naming my best side (barring bringing in Daniel Pena, who isn't registered for the league due to him being both non-EU and injury prone!).

'4 - Deulofeu's cross is mistakenly hooked towards his own goal by Briseno, but Vincensini manages to claw it away!

'5 - Vincensisi beats away another Deulofeu cross, then deflects Saul's followup behind for a corner. Borini's header from the delivery clips the bar and goes over.

'26 - After a period where SC Bastia seemed to have weathered the storm, they counter quickly. Oueslati slips it through for Khazri, but his shot flashes narrowly wide.

'42 - Vincensini makes a superb double save from Borini and then Morata on the followup.

HT: PSG 0 - 0 SC Bastia

'47 - Borini fires high and wide from 25 yards.

'52 - RED CARD! Saidi clips Koita on the heels when he's through on goal, albeit still 40 yards away! The referee pulls out his second yellow, and PSG are down to ten men!

'57 - That hasn't stopped PSG - Peruzzi fires wide from 25 yards.

'59 - GOAL!!! PSG 0-1 SC Bastia. Koita releases Oueslati down the right, and he hangs one up to the far past for Khazri to crash home with his head.

'66 - GOAL!!! PSG 1-1 SC Bastia. Lukaku beats two men on the corner of the area, and hammers one into the top corner. Unstoppable.

'74 - Saul stands one up, and Lukaku crashes a header against the crossbar!

'78 - DISALLOWED GOAL! Cavani is penalised for pushing in the almighty scramble following a PSG corner, and Peruzzi's goal will not count.

'85 - Vincensini redeems himself with a fine save to deny Cavani, who almost profited from a hopeless goal kick.

'90 - GOAL!!! PSG 2-1 SC Bastia. Heartbreak for SC Bastia - Mallorca sells Oueslati a fraction short, and Saul's slide tackle inadvertently sends Cavani through on goal. He doesn't miss those.

FT: PSG 2 - 1 SC Bastia

Gutting. Just gutting...

The Run In:

SC Bastia 5 - 3 FC Lorient (Oueslati 36, 62, Koita 64, 73, Palmieri 90+2)

Ridiculous! It was 1-1 at half time, Oueslati responding with a rasping drive just a minute after we fell behind. He turned from hero to villain a minute after the break however, giving Lorient the lead with an own goal. I changed up the tactics slightly on the hour mark, and we went ballistic! Oueslati doubled his tally, and Koita scored 2 within ten minutes to put us firmly in control. Monnet-Paquet brought them back within one with five to go, but Palmieri sealed the win in stoppage time. Breathtaking game! And, best of all, Lyon lost again, continuing their hopeless run of form.

SC Bastia 3 - 2 LOSC (Julio 42, Palmieri 81, Ruiz 90+1)

And we managed it - as OL had dropped points in the last round, a win here would see us guarantee second place. Julio gave us the lead just before half time, and in truth we looked fairly comfortable until Aguer's equaliser with then to play. Palmieri hammered us back into the lead almost straight away, and Alan Ruiz sealed the win with a late third, before they scored an even later consolation. Champions League, here we come!!!

Racing Club de Lens 3 - 1 SC Bastia (Oueslati 54)

The classic case of a team needing to win to stay up playing a team with precisely naff all left to play for. Except Kader Oueslati, who needed one more goal for the season to trigger a tasty £200,000 bonus. Of course, he got it, and besides that we were rubbish. Who says that money is no incentive?

OL lost again, ending the season with 6 in the league without a win, but somewhat sweetened by their Europa League win against Spurs.

Season summary to come shortly...

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