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Amaroq

Sharpening a Rusty Blade

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Oh, and yeah, I don't trust my story to Word, either. I've been using nothing but WordPad in plain-text mode - it encourages me not to rely on visual effects.

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Sunday, 27th August, 2006.

Saturday was also a double-header, as we Americans would call it, back at Bootham Crescent. The first game was the York Under-18's, with the second match the Reserves. A nearly entirely amateur youth side took a 1-0 victory over Mansfield U-18's. Ian Black scored the goal in the first half, and then a red card sealed the victory as 10-man Mansfield were never going to get back in it. Our Reserves won 2-0, with amateurs featuring as well. Jon Prior converted a penalty, defenseman Kevin West missed one, and substitute forward Keith Spencer made it 2-0 in injury time.

Luckily, despite all of our injuries in Carlisle, only Joe Foote would miss a match. He'd strained a quadriceps and would require a week to recover. Physio Jeff Miller actually recommended he take a month off for physiotherapy to prevent a recurring thigh injury, but I couldn't afford to lose the youngster for that amount of time.

The newspaper the next morning was full of Minsterman news - the match, the spectacular debut of Simon Roberts, a statement from Steve Beck saying how delighted the board were, and rampant speculation about who I might be bringing in. I was impressed with the reporter - he'd gotten two of the names right, and I was past negotiating with the club and on to negotiating with the teams.

Unluckily for his career as a prognosticator, he also got two names wrong, and concluded that Roberts's performance might convince me not to purchase a striker.

Nationally, the papers were full of the stunning transfer of Michael Owen - for £20M! - from Real Madrid to Barcelona. Barça already have Tevez, Saviola, Larsson, and Eto'o. They hardly seemed to require another threat up front, and Owen's place in the England lineup would seem to be in doubt if he sits on the bench in Catalunya.

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Tuesday, 29th August, 2006. League Two - Game 6, vs Kidderminster.

Despite the rampant transfer speculation and intense negotiations on my part over the last five days, there were still no changes in the York squad by the time of our Tuesday evening match. Fortunately, it was against the 23rd-placed Kidderminster Harriers, a side whose defense was conceding more than three goals per game this season. They'd come 11th last season, but without a dramatic turnaround they looked relgation-bound this year. Luckily for us, every assist they'd had all season came through right wing Glen Little, on loan from Reading, and he would miss today's match with a broken nose.

We needed that luck: with more injuries, and more exhaustion, my lineup was in the classic "okay, who do we got?" style common to a rec-league manager. We'd have ten days off after the match, and it was clear just how much we needed that break already. Alan Blayney remained in goal, with Joe Keenan, Liam Fontaine, Michael Staley, and Graeme Law his back four. Alan Navarro has been a stalwart defensive midfielder, and Adam Eckersley got a fill-in start at left wing opposite Phil Townley. Daryl Peters would start with Ryan Ashington up front, and Jon Shepherd again lined up at striker.

It was another crisp, cold evening at Bootham Crescent, and 1,759 fans had shown up to cheer us on. Kidderminster came out in a very vanilla 4-4-2, and though they kicked off, it took us only 47 seconds to get posession and spring Jon Shepherd free on a breakaway. Goalkeeper John Danby made the first of many saves on the evening to tip it over. Speedy attacking midfielder Daryl Peters had a similar breakaway in the 2nd minute with the same result, and then Phil Townley's long ball sprang Shepherd in the 3rd. He put his effort wide. In the sixth, Ryan Ashington's 20-yard free kick went just wide, and then Peters hit side netting from sixteen yards. Could we keep up this shot-a-minute pace for ninety minutes?

The answer was no, in part because Kidderminster fell back into an even more defensive stance, dropping their midfielders back to help defend, and abandoning any real pretense of threatening to counter. This slowed our onslaught, and the Harriers even had a few chances of their own, three times earning free kicks, each of which were deflected wide by our wall. Halftime came and went, still scoreless, and it remained that way through the 60th minute.

I'd seen enough of our conservative tactic, and made the change to start sending our wings and fullbacks forward. I also brought off Shepherd, and as Simon Roberts took the field, the crowd roared their approval in the loudest cheer of the evening. In the 71st minute, Roberts's effort from 18 yards was saved by Danby, but in the 72nd a lovely ball by substitute John McGrath played Roberts free of the defenders. He dribbled around Danby, and fired, but his shot hit the side of the net.

In the 74th minute, Ashington played it to the youngster in mid-park. A quick touch, and Roberts burst past central defender Peter Ramage, racing free of the defense. From 18 yards out, the sixteen-year-old shot to the lower-left corner, beating Danby, and making it 1-0!! It was his third goal in two games!

The crowd were still mid-celebration, and Kidderminster were trying to adjust to an attacking stance for the first time in the match, when Roberts took control in mid-field. Playing provider, he dribbled up the left, and then found winger Adam Eckersley overlapping centrally. Eckersley, too, skipped past the hapless Ramage and into the box, to the corner of the 6-yard box. He fired a low, left-footed shot across the goalmouth to the far post, and in! 2-0!

It was Eckersley's first ever goal for York, and he was making a real case for consideration at left wing with his performances over the past four days.

York 2, Kidderminster 0

Roberts 74, Eckersley 78; ----

MoM: Blayney

The reggae was flowing in the York locker room afterwards, as the side seemed to have righted their problems - though it would take a match against better opposition to be certain.

In an odd choice, goalkeeper Alan Blayney was named Man of the Match despite being called upon for only three saves: I'd have chosen either of the goal-scorers, myself.

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Wednesday, 30th August, 2006.

The deal I'd been working towards since selling Levent Yalcin was finally completed this evening, just one day before the transfer deadline. Newport County attacking midfielder Robert Cousins was Spencer Field's most highly rated prospect, and we signed him for "just" £50,000 - the most I've ever spent on a single player!

AM C Robert Cousins, 17, English: 6 games, 1 goal, 2 assists, for Newport County, non-League - A solid player all around, fast, strong, with incredible concentration, this promising midfielder has all the tools necessary to develop into a Premier-League quality player. He's been on my short list for a year, and demanded 'key player' status before he'd agree to join, but he looks well worth it. I'm particularly impressed with his decision-making, and he has everything I could think of for my attacking midfield role: he can pass, he can get up to win headers, and he has the creativity to spark other players.

I feel like I've acquired a promising young version of Tappa Whitmore - in fact, Tappa himself got down to see the lad play, and added his recommendation to the high praise of Spencer Field and Dave Colley.

Cousins arrived at the club in time to make today's trip to Crawley with the Reserve side, and played in 80 scoreless minutes. He led the side in shots, but struggled to find the target. The match's only goal was an in injury time shocker by amateur James Smart, who intercepted a wayward backpass at the near post, tapping it in ahead of the unlucky Crawley goalkeeper. Young fullback Mark Dixon injured his foot during the 1-0 match, which would keep him out for most of our upcoming week-and-a-half layoff.

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Thursday, 31st August, 2006.

<BLOCKQUOTE class="ip-ubbcode-quote"><div class="ip-ubbcode-quote-title">quote:</div><div class="ip-ubbcode-quote-content">York Sign Six At Deadline

Ian Richards went on a tremendous shopping spree at the transfer deadline, re-investing fully £134,000 of the fee York City received for Levent Yalcin to revamp the squad.

The headline acquisition, of course, was yesterday's acquisition of 17-year-old midfielder Robert Cousins, a widely regarded prospect from Welsh side Newport County. Though he had played just six matches for the Exiles, he impressed with a goal and two assists, and for a season-high transfer fee of £50,000, he will be expected to slot into Ian Richards' starting lineup alongside Ryan Ashington.

The other player expected to make an immediate impact is striker Paul Edwards, brought in for £40,000. The leading scorer for Ithsmian Premier League side Hitchin Town last season, with 15 goals, the 23-year-old provides an aerial target for wingers Jon Paul McGovern and John McGrath, which had been sorely lacking previously. Cousins is also good in the air, which should instantly make the Minstermen more threatening on corners and free kicks.

The other four transfers were young prospects for the future, who shouldn't be expected to start immediately.

The most promising of these is versatile winger Richard Fox, 16, who was brought in from fellow League Two side Walsall for a fee of £24,000. He impressed in five appearances late last year, scoring his first career goal, and turns seventeen in October. He is expected to spend most of the season on the substitutes' bench, as a backup who can play either side.

The other three players should see only sporadic action this season.

Mid Wales League club Rhayader Town have been struggling against bankruptcy, and that allowed Richards to sign goalkeeper Nick McDonald for well under his true value. The lad has lots of promise, and manager John Morris was reportedly hard-pressed to sell him, but £10,000 will pay the club's bills for another two months, and in the end that proved more important than success on the pitch. McDonald celebrated his 17th birthday by signing a contract with the Minstermen, but will have to battle a corps of young goalkeepers already established at the club.

Ian Bannister, a 16-year-old defensive midfielder, was purchased from from Welsh First Division side Ely Rangers for £10,000. He is expected to pressure Malcolm Parker for the limited action available as Alan Navarro's backup.

The final signing was attacking midfielder Micah Richards, who has impressed on trial with some good performances in the Under-18's. </div></BLOCKQUOTE>

SC Paul Edwards, 23, English: 42 games, 15 goals, 0 assists, 2 MoM, 6.79, for Hitchin Town, non-League - Hitchin's leading scorer last season, I expect him to become our first-choice striker - he'll wear the coveted number 9. He's reasonably quick, but has excellent stamina and teamwork, and very good aerial skills. He can finish both from close range and long, and he shows flair and creativity with the ball. He's definitely an improvement over Yalcin up front, and I expect he should settle straight in.

AM RL Richard Fox, 16, English: 5 games, 1 goal, 0 assists, 5.80, for Walsall, League Two - I look for three things in a young winger: pace, crossing and dribbling. This youngster has those attributes, plus incredible anticipation and very good concentration. His decision making, first touch, and ability to shoot from range are also reasonable, he seems very trainable in other areas. With our shortness at winger, it seemed wise to bring in another one, and Spencer thinks Fox has a tremendous upside for the long term.

GK Nick McDonald, 17, English: 28 games, 29 conceded, 3 clean sheets, 6.36 for Rhayader, Mid-Wales League - No single attribute truly stands out for this talented goalkeeper, but he has plenty of potential. I particularly liked his concentration, decision-making, and anticipation, all well developed for such a young player. He celebrated his 17th birthday by signing with us. I didn't expect him to challenge Blayney right away, but he should certainly make things crowded for Carruthers and Butler.

D/DM C Ian Bannister, 16, English: 36 games, 2 goals, 6.44, for Ely Rangers, Wales First Division - Another player who is solid all around, this youngster has the pace, positioning, and fitness to fill the defensive midfield role in our usual tactic. I'm particularly impressed with his composure, though he could use some work on his anticipation and decision-making. He's currently out for about a week with a strained wrist, but should be back to full health by our next Reserve match.

AM RC Micah Richards, 17, English: Schoolboy - A determined and hard-working player, he doesn't have the explosive pace that Cousins brings, and his concentration wanders, but other than that he is reasonably well equipped, and provides some more depth which had been sorely lacking from our attacking midfield.

All in all, the sale of Levent Yalcin had been enough for us to bring in six talented young players, two of whom would be immediate starters. As the transfer deadline closed, I had to consider myself well satisfied with our moves.

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Friday, 1st September, 2006.

The board remained delighted with my performance on the pitch - we hadn't been expected to do more than battle relegation, but with four wins from six matches, we found ourselves in sixth place, which would merit a playoff berth if we could hold on to it.

I did receive jocular chastisement from Sophie McGill for immediately blowing the entire transfer-budget windfall that I'd been granted from the sale of Levent Yalcin, and incidentally blowing the club's wage bill well beyond the budget she'd laid out.

I asked, equally light-heartedly, how I was supposed to 'rebuild the squad' without signing a few players, and demended to know if she'd rather I give any of them back.

She avowed that no, they probably needed to season for a few years.

I could see her point, though - despite the tremendous income from selling Yalcin, which the board had kept half of, we'd only managed a profit of £45,000 for the month. My my spending had put us right back to break even. Our wage bill, in particular, was enormous, fully £175,000 per-annum over the £450,000 limit which she'd set: we were likely to loose money unless I could slash that to some extent.

Ian McAndrews spoke next, and said that after discussing the investment in Robert Cousins with the other board members, they wished to instruct me to value the young attacking midfielder at £1.3M, if any teams should come calling. If he could truly fetch that on the open market, it would represent quite a return on our £50,000 investment!

Terry Doyle is the Director in charge of merchandising and sales. He noted that the fans are delighted at Nick McDonald's signing, and feel he is definitely one for the future. The Club Shop, he reported, has had lots of kids asking for the name McDonald to be put on the back of their shirts, such is the youngster's growing reputation. I'm a bit surprised its not Cousins the supporters fancy, to be honest.

Jon Paul McGovern, just returned to the training ground after the completion of treatment for his groin injury, was nonetheless voted third in the League Two Player of the Month voting for his performances in the early half of the month. He'd surely have earned the award outright, I told him, had he not come injured.

Young left wing Adam Corbett also made his return to training after surgery, and should be back to full strength by October.

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Saturday, 2nd September, 2006.

The amount of work the last week and a half of August had been, constantly calling managers, players, and agents, had been entirely too exhausting, and I was quite looking forward to putting my heels up on my desk and letting my coaches and captains settle the new players in.

Maybe I'll even see my wife this week! Imagine that!

One piece of work I did was the monthly review of our players' training progress with Viv. Our defensive midfielders were the ones showing the most improvement: Alan Navarro and Malcolm Parker both took big strides forwards, though it mainly put them both back up to the point they'd been four months earlier. July signing Jon Shepherd was responding very well to our training regime, and Jamie Cooper continued his meteoric improvement. Kevin Butler, on loan, was showing more improvement than he had here in camp - obviously competitive football was what he needed. Graeme Law and Adam Eckersley both made small gains that put them at their best-ever shape.

Some big names were stagnant: Ryan Ashington, despite his contractual demands, was showing no improvement over the past six months, and Liam Fontaine wasn't improving either. Joe Foote still seems to have reached his peak, and with two new attacking midfielders in camp, I imagine he'll go on the transfer list. Two young fullbacks, Mark Dixon and Kevin West, were being overworked, so I placed them on a less stressful training regime.

Of most concern was Viv's report that big goalkeeper signing Alan Blayney was not training as hard as he should do. The rest of the coaching staff agreed: though only 24, he had taken a step backwards, and was in fact worse today than he had been the day we'd signed him, losing ground in almost every physical department. That's very distressing, and I may find myself tweaking my goalkeeper training to put some more physical workouts into it.

In other news, Saturday afternoon was the draw for the first round of the LDV Vans Trophy North. This competition includes sides from the Conference, League Two, and League One. We drew a home match against fellow League Two side Rochdale, dodging the twelve League One clubs amongst the 28 teams.

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Tuesday, 5th September, 2006.

Four glorious days off!

I'd left the side in Viv's hands, and let my wife take me to Wales for my birthday.

I'm sure you don't care for details of our holiday, but we did have two long conversations. In the first, she extracted a promise that I go see a doctor - its been over two years since we left the States, and I haven't gotten in for a physical. That natural male resistance to it, I suppose; I hadn't even realized I was doing it.

The other was about my stress level: Stacy remained concerned that the job is eating me alive, with all the long hours, and pointed out that our relationship was really wilting for lack of conversation.

I guess I do tend to get home exhausted, and her schoolwork has kept her busy as well. Maybe if I hadn't focused so extensively on the World Cup, things would feel different, but .. its the World Cup!

Unvoiced by either of us, the spectre of divorce haunted the conversation.

Some things you just can't fix with success on the pitch.

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Wednesday, 6th September, 2006.

We got back Wednesday, just in time for the Reserves match. Ironically, given that we'd soon face their senior side, it was Rochdale Reserves who came to Bootham Crescent. We had a an unusually strong side, as a number of first-team regulars were 'ringers' on the day. New signings Paul Edwards and Micah Richards there to gain match fitness, Jon Paul McGovern was in on a rehabilitation assignment, and several others who had been seeing first-team time were selected.

Michael Staley was one of these, there just to keep himself in match rhythm as I didn't anticipate starting him on Saturday, and he scored the first goal on a McGovern corner kick just forty-five seconds after kick-off. Right before halftime, I saw a combination I hoped to see much much more of: McGovern's aerial cross headed in by Edwards - a thing of beauty! In the 70th minute, the winger got his third assist, feeding Richards in the area for a 3-0 final, and McGovern deservedly earned Man of the Match honours for his strong performance.

The only downside was an injury to Malcolm Parker: he'd sprained his wrist in the first half and come out at halftime, and would miss at least a week. It would give Ian Bannister a chance to show what he's made of, I suppose.

The other matches for the day were the first games of European Championship qualifying.

In Group 1, Spain demolished Estonia 7-0!!! to take the early lead. Ireland looked uncomfortable away to Bulgaria, but did secure a 1-1 draw on Robbie Keane's goal.

Turkey sat atop Group 3 after a 3-0 victory over Scotland: the Scots looked disorganized and flustered in the face of the hostile Istanbul crowd, and never got any sort of rhythm going.

Wales were in complete control against Northern Ireland, romping to a 3-0 victory in Cardiff. That's got them atop Group 9, but they've a tough draw that includes Italy. A 2-0 victory over Russia sat the Azzuri in second.

England had a home match against Denmark at Wembley. They got off to a shaky start, conceding a sixth minute goal to Thomas Gravesen. After that, however, England dominated posession, controlling the ball for most of the match. They equalized before halftime through Wayne Rooney. Two goals in a three-minute span at the 71st minute thanks to Shaun Wright-Phillips and Andrew Johnson put them ahead, and a late own-goal by the Danes made the final score a convincing 4-1.

The Three Lions led Group 7, but its early days yet.

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Saturday, 9th September, 2006. League Two - Game 7, at Torquay United.

Torquay is on the Devonshire coast, the sout-west peninsula of England, on the English Channel side, south of Exeter and north of Dartmouth. They have only one victory all season, so its unlikely that either fans or players had much hope of beating us. Its about as long a drive as we'll make all season to get there, and we'd actually driven down Friday evening to avoid the cramped-legs-coming-off-the-bus syndrome.

After ten days of rest, our starting XI was in very good shape. Alan Blayney remained in goal, with Joe Keenan, Liam Fontaine, Mark Wright, and captain Graeme Law left-to-right across the back four. Alan Navarro was the defensive midfielder, with John McGrath on the left wing and Phil Townley on the right side. The attacking midfield included new signing Robert Cousins debuting alongside free-kick specialist Ryan Ashington. Despite the fine performances of young Roberts, Jon Shepherd started at striker.

The match had a very strange start, as perhaps seven minutes in Jon Shepherd and Michael Keane slid for the same ball, colliding heavily. Shepherd was too injured to continue, but Keane was also taken out - with no apparent injury, and no yellow card. Conspiracy theorists in the Yorkshire press would argue afterwards that Keane had been ordered to injure Shepherd, but would Torquay really have wanted me to bring on young Simon Roberts so early? The York fans had been clamouring to see him in action over a full match, and now they would get their chance to see him for 80 minutes at least.

The Gulls had the best of chances before the half-hour. Torquay left winger Kevin Hill sent a beautiful cross in for Jo Kuffour in the box. Kuffour outleaped Mark Wright to get a head on it, but put it over. A few minutes later, Martin Gritton found space in the box, missed badly, well wide with a left-footed shot. In the 25th miunte, Gritton rose to place a wicked header to the top-right corner, but Alan Blayney got up to tip it over!

Our chances came near the end of the half, when Cousins, in his York City debut, broke into the area. Woods was the last man, and made a fine tackle to prevent him from getting the shot off. Half our bench thought it was a penalty, but that might just be wishful thinking: we were sixty yards away. In the 45th, Cousins fed Roberts with a beautiful pass that got the young striker to the spot with no challenge, but he blazed the shot over.

In injury time, Martin Phillips sent a beautiful long cross over for Hill on the left wing. 3,347 fans began to cheer in excited anticipation, but somehow Hill put his shot high from the corner of the 6-yard box and turned their cheers to groans: it would stay scoreless at halftime. I made no changes.

In the 53rd minute, Alan Navarro sent a long low pass forward from the midfield circle, finding Roberts, who slipped past one defender and into the area. He dribbled around goalkeeper Alan Main to create an open goal, but he didn't put enough on his shot! Main was able to scramble back in time to push it wide. It looked like anybody's game, as in the 57th minute Phillips just narrowly missed, and then Ashington broke the offsides trap with a fantastic chance, but Main denied him. It was too close a contest to risk a more attacking formation, and I was getting to the point where I'd actually be happy with a draw.

Then, in the 68th minute, Phil Townley took a throw-in from the right side of the Torquay half. He made a long throw to Roberts, who was just inside the corner of the penalty area with his back to goal. He chest-trapped it, but before he could turn, Alex Russell clipped him from behind. It wasn't much contact, but the youngster is so much smaller than the hard man that he went sprawling. Though the fans bemoaned their fate, referee Tony Horton wasted no time pointing to the spot - penalty!!

Navarro stepped up confidently, and buried the spot-kick to the top-left corner. It was his first ever goal for York, and gave us a 1-0 lead.

I brought on Joe Foote and Alan Eckersley as substitutes, and pulled back to a very defensive outlook. This doesn't stop my three attacking players from looking for goals, but I did make it clear that the other seven outfield players should concentrate on defense rather than venturing forward. In the 75th minute, Ashington's pass put Foote to the edge of the area. He shot from the edge of the box, and Main saved it, but the rebound looked to be heading back out to Roberts. Just before the youngster could shoot, Jermaine Darlington sliced the ball clear.

In the 83rd minute, Navarro, from the forward edge of the centre circle sent a long ball forward for Roberts. The striker had beaten both central defenders, and though he looked offsides, he was actually held on by both fullbacks. He couldn't control it with his first touch, but Main misplayed it as well, and suddenly the speedy sixteen-year-old was past the keeper with nothing but open net in front of him. His team-leading fourth goal made it 2-0, and from there it was a simple matter to weather the half-hearted effort Torquay gave in the final ten minutes.

Torquay 0, York 2

----; Navarro pen 69, Roberts 84

MoM: Ashington

The lads were quite content with a 2-0 victory, and those who had made the trip celebrated with those who had played afterwards. For myself, I saw that we'd played a weak opponent, but had given them plenty of chances in a close game which had turned on a very soft penalty - hardly a convincing performance.

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Wednesday, 13th September, 2006.

The conspiracy theorists notwithstanding, Jon Shepherd had only suffered a bruised thigh, and would be fit to return to duty by our next match on the 16th of Steptember, and possibly even in time for our next Reserve match on the 13th.

Brutally hard tackling by the Boston United U-18 side saw them injure four of our players, accepting a red card and numerous yellows, to earn a 0-0 draw on Sunday. Our goalkeeper, Colin Hart, was Man of the Match. Ahead of him, the squad couldn't get off a single shot on target, leaving him to do most of the work. Of the four injuries, only 16-year-old fullback Kevin West's injury would keep him out for more than a day or two, and he'd be back by the following weekend.

Mid-week, the Champions League started. Tuesday, in Group A, Newcastle United were on the road against Hungarian side Ferencvaros, and won 2-0, keeping pace with Real Madrid, who beat Weder Bremen by the same scoreline.

In Group D, Arsenal slaughtered Dinamo Bucharest 8-0 to the delight of the Highbury fans, six of the goals coming in the second half after Bucharest were reduced to ten men. That gave them a clear group lead over Fenerbahce, who had defeated PSV Eindhoven 3-1.

Wednesday's matches saw Chelsea eke out a 1-0 win at Sportni Park in Nova Gorica, Slovenia, keeping pace with Maccabi Haifa, who had continued their amazing Champions League run with a 1-0 victory over Valencia.

In Group F, Liverpool held a one-goal lead over Roma when a red card and a late injury reduced the Italian side to nine men; Liverpool added two more goals to make the final 3-0. Swiss side Basel stunned Ajax 2-1 in the Alps to take second in the group.

In our Reserve league, it was an unfortunate first half for the York Reserves in Hartlepool, as left back Adam Eckersley was injured, and winger Richard Fox was sent off for arguing a call, leaving them with ten men. The defense held tight, however, and in the second half Daryl Peters scored on a deflected free kick, and Jon Shepherd, back from his bruised thigh, scored on a counter-attack, bringing them a surprising 2-0 victory. Central defender Jamie Cooper was Man of the Match.

Eckersley's injury turned out to be a strained calf which would keep him out for the rest of September.

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Friday, 15th September, 2006.

With the acquisition of Cousins, I made the decision to trim two of my attacking midfielders off the roster, and started the process of seeing what I could get in return for Joe Foote, Daryl Peters, or Ryan Ashington. The latter, in particular, had suffered a significant drop in performance. I couldn't tell if that was a result of the jump up in division or his unhappiness with his contract, but failing to perform on the pitch while asking for a raise is never the best of strategies.

I also placed defensive midfielder Malcolm Parker on the transfer list: I'd always intended to move him once I had another competent defensive midfielder, and I felt 16-year-old Ian Bannister fit that bill.

Friday night, Colin Hart was again Man of the Match for the York U-18's, as a mostly-amateur side defeated Morecambe 2-0 on goals by amateur strikers Chris Simpson and James Smart.

I tried to talk Simpson out of his amateur status - he's certainly been scoring plenty of goals for us this season - but he explained how he has to take care of his sick mum, and between that and working to pay her bills, he really can't afford to dedicate the time to a professional football career. Its a shame, but I can see why he has to make that decision.

Twice this week, I've received amusing reports from my scouts, detailing more information about the players I'd signed back in August, each prefaced with a "Well, I guess you won't be needing this, but I thought I'd send it along.." note.

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Its always fun trying to explain bugs or missing features, like signing a grey player, with a reasonable in-story explanation. icon_wink.gif

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Saturday, 16th September, 2006. League Two - Game 8, vs Cambridge United.

Ninth-placed Cambridge came to Bootham Crescent on Saturday, and their offense, fifth-best in the League, should be a real test for Alan Blayney's three-match shutout streak. They run a 4-5-1 as well, but it has a very flat structure in midfield, five across, with three of the five pushing forward to support the attack when they have the ball. Its different from the standard 4-4-2 we've seen all year, and judging from their results its effective. They also include three players that our scouts have been watching, plus former York goalkeeper Tony Caig, who started in net.

The back half of my lineup was very stable, with Alan Blayney, Joe Keenan, Liam Fontaine, Mark Wright, Graeme Law, and Alan Navarro compirising the league's best defense. On the wings, Jon Paul McGovern returned to the starting lineup for the first time since his injury, opposite John McGrath. The attacking midfielders were my new pairing of Robert Cousins and - in his first ever competitive match - young Micah Richards. Up top, Paul Edwards made his York debut at striker.

The referee called a strict match, and his whistle brought to a halt a number of moves - it was tough to get any rhythm going in the first 20 minutes. We looked to have a golden chance in the 25th when Richards's low pass put Cousins into the box between the Cambridge central defenders, but just before he could shoot, fullback Keith McCormack tackled it out for a corner.

Late in the first half, Paul Edwards had his first chance for York, and dribbled around Tony Caig, but did it slowly enough that Caig had time to dive back and push the shot out for a corner. By the time halftime was blown for, there had been only five shots, and the crowd - a season high of 3,134 - were growing restless.

In the 50th minute, Joe Keenan's precise long pass picked out an unmarked Edwards. He raced into the box, and shot from twelve yards, but Caig blocked it. The resultant deflection looked bound for the far corner, but trickled just wide of the post. Cambridge's best chances were two long shots by Neil McCafferty, who put them both over.

Both managers started making substitutions up front, hoping to shake things up. Cambridge brought on striker John Turner in the 62nd, who I'd had my scouts watching these past four months, and had been one of the candidates to bring in in place of Levent Yalcin. For us, Edwards and Cousins gave way to Ryan Ashington and Simon Roberts - met with a great cheer - in the 66th minute.

It took young Roberts only a minute to force a save from Tony Caig. In the 72nd minute, he showed his creativity with a great play up the left wing, sucking a fullback and a central defender towards him, then passing right for Micah Richards in the vacated area. Richards, who had been unimpressive all afternoon, launched a rocket to the top-right corner, but somehow Caig managed to tip it over. At 75 minutes, it was Turner with a dangerous 10-yard header, but he put it high and wide of the York goal.

Yet again, we were in a match that could tip either way on a single play with ten minutes to play. Ashington tried his luck with a tremendous 25-yard cannon to the lower-left corner. Caig pushed it away, and Roberts looked set to capitalize on the rebound, but again McCormack made a fantastic last-moment challenge to knock it away. The 17-year-old was playing a tremendous game at right back for Cambridge.

In the 82nd minute, Cambridge came the other way, with Cameroon central midfielder Kingsley Mbome receiving a pass in a threatening position about thirty yards from goal, our back four just a step into the area. Rather than leaving Mbome for defensive midfielder Alan Navarro, Liam Fontaine came out to play him. Mbome passed to McCafferty at the top of the arc, and he played a one-touch pass to the space Fontaine had vacated, where John Turner was making a perfectly timed run. With an incredible amount of space, Turner had an easy finish, and we trailed 0-1 with just 8 minutes to play.

Of course I started to push forward, moving to our desperation 3-5-2 and letting Joe Keenan try his hand as a winger rather than a fullback. It was not to be, however - just after the 85th minute, Andy Duncan took a Cambridge free kick from the centre circle. He played it straight up the pitch, where Turner and Fontaine were isolated about 25 yards from goal. Turner outjumped Fontaine, and looped a header up and over Alan Blayney, who had come out to the spot. Blayney and Fontaine could only watch in despair as it bounced once and then into the net, Turner's second goal to cement an 0-2 final score.

York 0, Cambridge 2

----; Turner 82, 86

MoM: Caig (Cambridge GK)

The large crowd trudged out of Bootham Crescent disappointed, and there was a lot of complaint about the refereeing in the York dressing room.

I didn't agree - the players clearly think we're a bit better than we are. We hadn't finished our chances, Tony Caig had played very well in his return to Bootham Crescent, and Turner had schooled Fontaine. It was a simple as that.

17-year-old fullback Keith McCormack, on the other hand, was another matter: I couldn't see what he was doing down at League Two. Surely a Premiership side or two should be taking notice of the Irishman, but I added him to my shortlist anyways. If I find myself with any sort of transfer budget at all, I'd love to see him in red!

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Wednesday, 20th September, 2006.

On Sunday, Nick McDonald was the Man of the Match in a 0-0 draw between a mostly-amateur York Reserve sside and Accrington Reserves. The match was most noticeable for some awful refereeing, which saw numerous yellow cards awarded, plus two red cards that saw the match end as a ten-on-ten affair. Still, a point from the draw put York Reserves top of the Reserve Group 6 table.

Through the early part of the week, I entertained numerous offers for the players I had put up for sale or loan. The biggest news on that was that League One side Stockport County had made an offer of £30,000 for 23-year-old attacking midfielder Ryan Ashington, our active career leader in goals-scored.

For that price, I decided to let him go: he was unhappy playing as much as he had on the backup's wages I'd originally signed him to, but I didn't feel he was progressing enough, playing well enough, or talented enough to raise his salary to the level commanded by a Tappa Whitmore, which is what he was demanding.

His play last year certainly supported his demands, but I just don't feel that he's making the jump up to League play well. At the Conference level, he had plenty of time to uncork those brilliant long-range shots, but at the League level, he doesn't seem to create any separation from the defense. With somebody in his face for every shot, he's really struggled to threaten the net.

We only saw £24,000 of the transfer moneys thanks to a 20% sell-on clause I'd agreed when I purchased him from Lancaster last July, but it was a fine profit for everyone involved: for Lancaster, a total of £7,000 from a player they'd acquired on a free, for York a net profit of £23,000, and for Ashington the quality of contract his play last season had earned him. Win-win-win, I'd say!

Ryan Ashington, AMC, 23: July 2005-September 2006: 2 seasons, 48 games, 16 goals, 4 assists, 6 MoM, 7.23

Another deal sent speedy youngster Daryl Peters to fellow League Two side Walsall for £12,000. He'd been with the club for over a year, and though he'd shown some reasonable improvement overall, he remained utterly abysmal - barely of professional standard - at his first touch, finishing, and off the ball runs.

Daryl Peters, AMLC, 17: August 2005-September 2006: 2 seasons, 10 games, 1 goals, 6.70

With a senior Cup match coming up on the 26th, I'd decided to save my regular Reserve players for the League match on the 23rd, which left a nearly all-amateur side again to face Carlisle Reserves. They were already trailing 2-0 when Jamie Withe was sent off, and the final tally was 4-0 - I could only hope that sort of shellacking wouldn't negatively affect Colin Hart, as the 15-year-old had played well in goal no matter what the scoreline claimed.

We further trimmed the wage bill at week's end by loaning out Malcolm Parker to tiny Ossett Town, down in the Northern Premier League. They would pay his salary for three months, which was all I could hope for.

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Saturday, 23rd September, 2006. League Two - Game 9, at Scunthorpe United.

A visit to 23rd-placed Scunthorpe, a clear relegation battler who had scored merely four goals in 8 matches thus far, followed. The side had been reasonable last season, qualifying for the playoffs with a seventh-placed finish, but had struggled mightily this season. They're a natural rival for York town, located a short distance south-east of us, just south of the River Humber, and their fans, at least, were up for this match.

I selected a significantly under-strength side, resting many of our key players in preparation for our upcoming Vans Trophy match, and instead selecting a number of young players from our Reserve side. Paul Carruthers would make his professional debut in goal. Joe Keenan anchored the back line with Michael Staley. Jamie Cooper had his first senior match of the season at centre back, and would be captain, while Mark Dixon made his professional debut at right back. The defensive midfielder was Ian Bannister, making his York debut, with speedy loanee Phil Townley at left wing and 16-year-old Richard Fox in his York debut on the right. Joe Foote and Micah Richards were paired in the attacking midfield roles, while Jon Shepherd was the striker. All told, the entire squad was 19 or younger with the exception of Joe Keenan, and five players were making their first York appearance of the year.

Perhaps hoping to solve their goalscoring woes, or perhaps hoping to take advantage of our weakened lineup, Scunthorpe came out for the opening kickoff with a 4-2-4 formation, stacking four forwards on our young back line. This kept my young squad on their back foot, and only eighty seconds in, Carruthers had to make a diving lunge to his right to clear Steve Basham's header away. Twice around the ten minute mark, striker Jack Watkins - on loan from Chelsea! - sent shots embarassingly wide of the York net, and though Scunthorpe were controlling play, I was lulled into a sense of security.

Then Nicky Heywood dribbled past young Dixon on the left wing, and crossed in for Basham. He tried to shoot with a beautiful pivot, his left foot at full extension. It looked great, but the ball played him rather than the other way around. It came in past his foot, and kicked off of his right knee - the planted leg! It carombed crazily into the corner of the net, an impossible bounce for Carruthers to defend and a bizarre goal for Scunthorpe. Nonetheless, the Glandford Park crowd of 2,129 went delirious: they'd had so few goals to celebrate, and a lead over their rivals was heady stuff!

In the 18th minute, Carruthers tipped a Watkins header over from 7 yards away, or it could have been 0-2. We began to mount some counter-attacks, but the 4-2-4 was still troubling our lads, who felt they had to defend constantly. In the 35th minute, Andrew Fox put one over from 20 yards. In the 40th, Watkins hit the post, and then at the other end, Fox raced unmarked into the box, but somehow managed to golf it over from close range.

It wasn't working for us: the 4-2-4 was bedevilling my young lineup, and I had to make a change. At halftime, I moved Joe Keenan up to defensive midfielder, shifting to a 3-5-2 with two defensive midfielders. I told the wings to ignore the Scunthorpe forwards lurking behind them and go forward when we had the ball. It was counter-intuitive, and I got odd looks from the players as I described what I wanted, but it generated instant results.

Without a real midfield, Scunthorpe couldn't get the ball forward to their four attackers, and we always seemed to outnumber them on our attack. In the 52nd minute, Phil Townley got free in the area, but his shot from the left wing was pushed wide by Saul Deeney. In the 55th minute, Deeney saved one medium-range shot from Jon Shepherd, and a minute later it was Shepherd again. This time the save looked bound for Micah Richards, but Nathan Stanton's desperation clear took it off the attacking midfielder's foot.

With time slipping away, I brought on John McGrath and Simon Roberts, two stalwarts who should help our attacking game. To my astonishment, Scunthorpe continued to play their 4-2-4 all the way through the match, leaving us with plenty of 5-on-4, 7-on-4, and 7-on-6 rushes. McGrath fed an unmarked Richards in the 74th, but he blazed it over the bar from 15 yards.

In the 80th minute, Mark Dixon's free kick from the right sideline put Roberts free into the Scunthorpe area, but Deeney made a great save from close range. Townley followed that with a great through ball that put Roberts behind the defense, but for the first time the youngster let us down, putting it over. It was a frustrating miss, and the youthful side were losing their patience.

In injury time, when a call went against them, captain Jamie Cooper argued the call with referee Joe Taylor, who showed him a yellow card, then a red card. He blew full time as soon as a York player touched the ball following the restart, and that was it.

Scunthorpe 1, York 0

Basham 15; ----

MoM: Deeney (Scunthorpe GK)

It was a character-building loss for our youngsters, playing against an odd formation, on the road, and battling on after conceding a bizarre goal.

I was very disappointed with Jamie Cooper for losing his cool - with his influence among the other youngsters and usual composure, I'd been playing him as captain of the Reserves, hoping to groom him towards a captaincy of the senior side in four to five seasons, and his display of temper gave me second thoughts about that plan.

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Sunday, 24th September, 2006.

I was given quite a bit of grief in today's papers for starting such a weak side, especially in light of the fact that I was clearly saving our strength for the non-prestigious LDV Vans Trophy. That, of course, is a minor tournament which our fans hardly care about, and the general consensus was that I had my priorities backwards.

Following the match, Joe Foote left to join Guiseley, a small non-Conference side, on loan for three months. I had a number of conversations going about bringing in other loan players who could provide depth at attacking midfield with him absent, Theodore Whitmore was due back in a month, and Guiseley had agreed that I could terminate the deal if I needed to - but for a brief period, it would leave me with only two attacking midfielders, both recent acquisitions who were relatively untried.

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Monday, 25th September, 2006.

"Mister Richards, I'm very concerned about your cholesterol."

"What was it?"

I was in the doctor's office, facing the music in the visit I'd promised Stacy. The doctor, a friendly, white-haired older gentleman, seemed likeable and trustable - and better, he'd listened to me, always an important trait!

"Six point seven two."

"What?"

"6.72."

I'd heard him right. It just sounded like he was crazy.

"I'm sorry, isn't that .. impossible?"

"No, its possible. Its just well above the desired level. I'd like to get you under five-point-two if we can."

"Wait a moment, I'm used to cholesterol in terms like 150, 200, 300."

"Oh, that's right, you're American. Uh, that would be .. miligrams per deca-liter, I think? We use moles-per-litre over here."

"So what is it in .. American?"

He hauled out a calculator from his desk. "Let me see.. That would be about 260."

"Oh, that's not so bad. I have a family history of hypercholestemia(*)."

"Parents?"

"Yes, my dad's was 550 when he had his heart attack."

"Oh, my condolences."

"No, no, he's still alive. But it meant I got mine tested early, and it was 330 when I first had it tested. I've been bringing it down with a vegetarian diet."

"Well, I'd like you to bring it down more. Diet alone can't do it, and you're, what, about sixty pounds overweight? You really ought to lose some weight, and exercise more.

"I'm going to give you a perscription for Zocor, 40 miligrams, to take daily. There's a possible side effect.."

"Yeah, the liver. I'm aware, my dad is taking it."

"So you know you'll need regular blood draws, every three months or so, to monitor."

(*- ed: Mister Richards presumably means hypercholesterolemia)

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Tuesday, 26th September, 2006. LDV Vans Trophy North - First Round, vs Rochdale.

We'd beaten Rochdale in their stadium earlier this season, and they hadn't given us much trouble in that 1-0 victory, so I wasn't expecting real problems with a rested side in this match. It was a Tuesday evening, and a lesser competition, so we weren't expecting much in the way of attendance, but we'd been very tough at Bootham Crescent the last two seasons.

My strongest XI returned to the pitch, well rested after ten days off. Alan Blayney stood in goal, with Joe Keenan, Liam Fontaine, Mark Wright, and Graeme Law across the back, Alan Navarro, Jon Paul McGovern, and John McGrath at midfield, Micah Richards and Robert Cousins the attacking midfielders, and Paul Edwards the lone striker.

From the very beginning, we were the side in control, and Rochdale had their backs to the wall. In the 6th minute, Paul Edwards shot from 30 yards, and barely put it over, the shot just skimming the bar. Blayney made a fine save from Holt in the 7th, but then it was Edwards alone into the box, and Neil Cutler did brilliantly to tip his shot over the bar. Cutler saved McGovern's nineteen yard effort a minute later, and saved Wright's shot from the ensuing corner. After the tenth minute ended, our pressure slowed a bit, but Rochdale still weren't able to mount any attacks the other direction.

In the 34th minute, Edwards came up the left wing, and sent a perfect cross over everyone to unmarked right wing Jon Paul McGovern. The Scotsman was just 12 yards out, and looked to have a sure goa, but somehow Cutler came up with the goal. In the 36th, he denied Robert Cousins' fine opportuntiy, but the pressure was on again. An incredible scramble in front of the Rochdale goal saw us get five chances in rapid succession, the best of which was Cousins' 15-yarder that beat Cutler but cannoned back off the cross bar. The 30-year-old keeper appeared unbeatable on the day.

Ironically, it was a long ball by our goalkeeper Alan Blayney that caused him trouble in the 41st, as it was misplayed by right back Clarke. Cousins was there to capitalize, and rapidly dribbled into the area. Cutler rushed out, but Cousins coolly fired to the far post. Goal! His first-ever, and it gave us a 1-0 lead at halftime!

A one-goal advantage was slim reward for outshooting the visitors 14-1, and we continued to push forward in the second half. In the 49th minute, Edwards broke through the defensive line and bore down on goal. Only an amazing save by Cutler kept Rochdale in the game.

In the 55th minute, Micah Richards, who had had a quiet game to this point, played a nice forward ball. He'd spotted Edwards on a run that split two Rochdale defenders, and suddenly Edwards was clean through behind the defense. He was on the right side of the pitch, and cut his shot back for the lower-left corner from 16 yards. Cutler could do nothing about it, and Edwards' first goal for York gave us a 2-0 lead.

It looked like we were in complete control, and Rochdale were growing frustrated, as attested by the fact that they took two yellow cards in the next five minutes. Perhaps that's why we grew complacent, but suddenly Simon Bull sent a pass ahead for Grant Holt. Holt dodged around Mark Wright, and suddenly he had a bit of space. Still 18 yards from goal, he laced a shot to the left post, and suddenly the margin was narrowed to 2-1.

Another Edwards breakaway followed immediately, but again Cutler was able to deny our new signing. In the 67th minute, I brought Edwards off for young star Simon Roberts, who was eager for action, and I took out Mark Wright for Michael Staley. Wright had picked up a yellow, and I wanted to take no chances. Within two minutes, Joe Keenan sent a long pass forward to Robert Cousins. Ahead of him, Roberts was kept onside by the far side fullback as Rochdale's central defender challenged Cousins. He saw the opportunity, and played it forward ahead of Roberts. The speedy youth was free into the area, and with his confidence soaring was never going to miss, making it 3-1.

That was Roberts' team-leading fifth goal of the season, and he almost added a sixth in the 75th minute. Captain Graeme Law's long ball put him free of the Rochdale back line yet again. He looked to have Cutler beaten, but this time he hit side netting from 12 yards out. After that, it was just a matter of defending. I brought Robert Cousins off in the 80th minute to a standing ovation from the crowd of 1,222. The last ten minutes went quietly, and we were through to the next round.

York 3, Rochdale 1

Cousins 42, Edwards 56, Roberts 70; Holt 63

MoM: Cousins

What a game from Robert Cousins! He certainly looked worth the transfer fee now, and in fact all three goals were from new players.

It had been a solid victory, which should do wonders for our confidence, which had understandably suffered after two straight defeats. Sure, it was weak opposition in a lesser competition, but a win is a win, and our lads were celebrating in the locker room after.

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Great story Amaroq.

I have read all 19 pages during workhours the last 3 days and I have to say.. brilliant!

Keep up the good work!

LLM for the win icon_cool.gif

Out of curiosity... do you stay away from signing to many foreign players intentionally, or is there a lack of interest from their part?

I will continue to follow the story with pleasure.

Bohinen

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Many thanks Bohinen, and my apologies to your employer! icon_wink.gif

This page seems to be behind-the-veil time! I hope I'm not ruining the illusion for folks by answering.

I think my domestic-player-bias is configuration-based, honestly - for this game, I'm only running the English leagues, with a small database, so most of the League-Two-quality players in the game are England-based.

Sending scouts abroad is expensive, and first, we haven't yet been in a position to afford it, and second, there's very little reward for it on a small DB, so I usually have my scouts searching "England", and occasionally the "UK & Ireland" region.

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Friday, 29th September, 2006.

Paul Edwards had twisted his knee in the early part of the second half, and would have to miss our next match. The timing was lucky, though: an international weekend followed, so he would have a two week rest until our following match. Also, I'd just signed an agreement to take young striker Thomas Carroll on loan from Tranmere Rovers until the end of the season. We'd have a Championship player to provide additional coverage up front.

S C Thomas Carroll, 22, English: 20 games, 7 goals, 6.30 for Tranmere - The youngster had scored 13 goals in 32 matches for Tranmere over the past two seasons, primarily off the bench, but had been out on loan for the duration of this season to date. He's reasonably quick, with decent pace, good shooting, and no particular weaknesses - in other words, he looks better than Simon Roberts on the training pitch, but is primarily intended to provide depth at the position in case of injury.

Carroll, however, made a stunningly bad first impression, as he started in a Reserve match Wednesday night, but was ejected after receiving two yellow cards in the first 18 minutes. I'd gotten down to watch, and that can't have been what he'd hoped for.

A wild game ensued - it looked that Torquay Reserves would win 1-0 until an amazing individual performance by substitute Jon Shepherd netted shorthanded goals in the 72nd and 82nd minutes to put York Reserves ahead.

We looked set to win until Daniel Smith conceded a penalty, but Torquay's Shane Oakley missed it!

Then Torquay were reduced to 10 men as well, and Shepherd came inches from a hat trick, but in the end, it was an own goal by the Torquay keeper that made the final score 3-1. Wild!

In other news, and we drew League One side Wrexham for the LDV Vans Trophy North Second Round. They would play us at Bootham Crescent on Halloween.

Champions League action continued on Tuesday and Wednesday. In Group E, Chelsea drew at home 0-0 with surprisingly strong Israeli side Maccabi Haifa. The result kept the sides level at 4 points, one ahead of Valencia after the Spanish side beat NK Gorica 3-0.

In Group F, Liverpool beat Ajax 2-1 in the Amsterdam ArenA on a brace by Djibril Cissé, holding the group lead with 6 points. Swiss side Basel drew 0-0 at Roma, going second with 4 points to third-placed Roma's 1.

On Wednesday, Newcastle United were beaten at home by Werder Bremen 0-1, while mighty Real Madrid crushed Hungarian side Ferencvaros 4-0. This gave Madrid clear control of Group A, with Newcastle and Bremen second on three points each.

In Holland, however, Arsenal failed to repeat Liverpool's prowess - they were stunned 0-1 by PSV in Holland. Romania's Dinamo Bucharest lost to Turkish side Fenerbahçe. This put the Turks atop Group D with six points, with PSV Eindhoven and Arsenal tied for second at three.

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Saturday, 30th September, 2006. League Two - Game 10, at Rotherham United.

Our next League match was a challenging away tie against the LDV Vans Trophy holders Rotherham. For fans of the club, it had been a trying time: they had been relegated from the Championship in 2004/05, and then again relegated from League One last season. However, that means that they have significantly more resources than their League Two opposition, and nothing more than promotion would do for them. They have a York connection, having secured Neil Danns from Blackburn last year, but he's currently out with a knee injury.

With an offense tied for third in League Two, the Millers should be a real challenge for our defensive outlook. They play a 3-5-2 with a fairly flat midfield, which may cause us trouble, and our only spot of joy comes from noticing that they have two defeats and a draw in their last three games, which shouldn't be helping the club's morale.

I started the same XI who had played mid-week in the Trophy match, save the injured Paul Edwards: Blayney in goal, Keenan, Fontaine, Wright, and Law defending, with Navarro at defensive mid, McGrath and McGovern on the wings, and new men Richards and Cousins attacking. After his performance in the Reserves, I couldn't deny Jon Shepherd the striker duties, and that decision kept the ever-dangerous Simon Roberts still on the substitute's bench, searching for his first start. Maybe I should consider a 4-4-2 at some point, just to get him on the pitch for ninety minutes!

Millmoor is a huge stadium, one of the largest I'd yet played in (though of course dwarfed by the Millennium Stadium), so somehow the crowd of 6,244 seemed a bit lost - it was noticeable how much space was still available.

Right from the off, I noticed that referee Bob Pollock's calls were going against us, and Joe Keenan's third minute yellow card was a dismal call, I must say. With his aid, Rotherham had the majority of the possession and the better chances, and in the 5th minute Alan Blayney made a fine save to deny Peter Gain from 18 yards.

We counter-attacked with Micah Richards' beautiful aerial ball for Robert Cousins, who was past the last man. It looked good for an instant, but American defender Jay DeMerit, who had spent much of the past two seasons on my short list, stepped in front to head it away.

In the 10th minute, Rotherham's Martin Butler worked up the left wing, then sent a cross into the 6 yard box for Kevin Braniff, but Blayney picked it virtually off his head to blunt the chance. In the 11th, Blayney made another fine play, diving to his right to save John Mullin's 18 yard effort.

We were looking like kittens in the face of Rotherham's fierce attack, and the crowd were baying for blood, but then we built a series of dangerous possessions: DeMerit had to head John McGrath's cross behind. Jon McGovern's corner was headed out only as far as Joe Keenan, and we earned a free kick. Captain Graeme Law curled the free kick for the far post, but McLaren headed clear. Finally, McGovern's cross from the right wing was plucked out of the air by goalkeeper Gary Montgomery.

There was only a quarter hour gone? What an exciting match!

Even as I thought that, DeMerit started a move with a 30-yard pass to John Mullin. Suddenly, the home side had a 7-on-5 rush, and Braniff played it to Paul McLaren, who played a one-time pass back out left to Mullin. He dribbled forward, drawing one of the defenders to him, then cut it left to the unmarked Martin Butler. Rotherham's leading scorer and 2005/06 Supporters Player of the Year struck a first-touch curler from 20 yards to the top right corner, and this time there was nothing Blayney could do. We trailed 0-1, and the crowd came to their feet in a roar of appreciation of a beautiful strike by one of their favourites.

Micah Richards nearly equalized while the Millers were celebrating, splitting the defenders to run onto Liam Fontaine's gorgeous long pass, but Richards' shot from 18 yards went just wide of the post. I'd been thinking of changing tactics to try and counter the 3-5-2, but Viv Busby steadied me with a simple "not yet".

In the 25th minute, Richards played a superb ball for Jon Shepherd, who took the ball around Craig Taylor, and found himself in space a mere eight yards from goal - but put the shot wide. Richards again set Shepherd up in the 38th minute, but his 17-yarder went wide. He doesn't look anywhere near as impressive in a real match as he did in the Reserves.

In the 41st, Fontaine sent a long pass from the back row for Robert Cousins just into Rotherham territory. He skipped past DeMerit's challenge, and then had a magical dribble, somehow keeping the ball under control at high pace, as he raced into the area. He was out wide to his left of the goal, but shot from 18 yards, beating Montgomery for a sensational goal! It was an spectacular way for Cousins to get his first-ever senior goal! More importantly, that equalized at 1-1 going into halftime, a real confidence-booster for our young side.

I kept the same conservative 4-5-1 which I'd run all season for the second half, and in the 53rd minute brought speedy Phil Townley on for a tiring John McGrath. Townley got a yellow card for an innocuous shirt grab just moments after coming in, and over the next ten minutes, we earned two more dubious yellow cards, bringing the tally to 5 York yellow cards versus none for the home side. The calls were getting extremely dubious, and I was livid: at one point Viv physically restrained me from marching onto the field and getting myself thrown out.

In the 66th minute, I brought 16-year-old difference-maker Simon Roberts on for Jon Shepherd, and the youngster had an instant impact. He streaked up the right wing, ball at feet, and drew the fullback over him. He neatly cut it inside for the overlapping run of right wing Jon Paul McGovern, who slotted it left to Cousins in the arc. The 17-year-old midfielder skipped past DeMerit into the area, dribbled around Montgomery, and scored from 10 yards! His second goal of the night gave us a 2-1 lead!

By the 75th minute, I had switched us to a very defensive outlook, and made my final substitution in the 81st, bringing the heroic Cousins off for defensive midfielder Ian Bannister. Despite my tactical changes, in the 86th minute Martin Butler beat both my central defenders to dribble into the area. He closed to ten yards before shooting. Alan Blayney dove to his right and made a spectacular save to push it away, and Graeme Law cleared.

In injury time, we had three good counterattacks, but Bannister looked lost going forward, and his erstwhile contributions blunted two of them. The third was a chance for Simon Roberts to keep up his goalscoring rate, but he put it over the bar from 16 yards.

Finally, deep into stoppage-time, the Millers had one final chance, overloading the centre of our defense and earning a 3-on-2 rush. Hoskins was the unmarked man, and he unleashed a piledriver from 18 yards, but blazed it over, and that was it!

Rotherham United 1, York 2

Butler 15; Cousins 42, 68

MoM: Cousins

Robert Cousins was deservedly Man of the Match, and I was quite gratified to see the creative passing contribution young Micah Richards had made, turning in the best performance of his York career.

Though they were happy with the win, there was much grumbling about the refereeing, and I gave the lads a nice little speech about how they'd shown their character with a come-from-behind win on the road against a bigger club. I made sure to mention that I was especially happy with how they'd kept their composure in the face of some truly awful officiating.

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Sunday, 1st October, 2006.

The Rotherham match would be followed by two weeks' rest, though the Reserve and U-18 sides had four matches between them during the interlude. I was hoping Tappa Whitmore might be ready for a substitute appearance by the end of the break, but I wasn't holding my breath - he was still looking very rusty in our practice sessions.

When we returned to Bootham Crescent, we learned that Paul Carruthers had had a torrid game for the Under-18s at Crown Ground, in Accrington. He conceded two goals on only three shots in an 0-2 defeat for our youth team. Other than on the scoresheet, our side had been in control, but our amateur strikers and attacking midfielders just hadn't been able to finish chances. Young winger Richard Fox had suffered a bruised thigh which would keep him out of the mid-week Reserve match, but he should be fit by next weekend.

The monthly meeting with the York City board went fairly well this morning. The board remain delighted with our performance on the pitch, especially as we are so thoroughly exceeding everyone's expectations for this season.

On the financial side, Sophie McGill informed me that the board had decided to extend my wage budget to £500,000, and warned that we were still 19% above that accounting for our current loans in and out. That number, I am told, is too high, and we need to restrict it. We lost money for the month of September, hemorrhaging £53,000, which placed us £65,590 in the red (beyond our debt). For the season as a whole, we were showing a profit of £179,000, but that number is almost fictitious as it contains the sale of Levent Yalcin.

Two of our young players were honoured in the media, with newly signed attacking midfielder Robert Cousins rightfully earning the League Two Young Player of the Month award, as well as being named to the Team of the Week for his performance against Rotherham. Central defender Liam Fontaine came second-runner-up for the same award.

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Monday, 2nd October, 2006.

The next day, I joined Viv for our monthly review of training. None of our players had moved too dramatically - Jamie Cooper, Alan Blayney, Richard Fox, and Nick McDonald were the biggest improvers, and Robert Cousins seemed to be doing well.

Looking at the past year, it was clear that Jamie Cooper was far and away the most improved player for the year. In fact, Viv recommended that the young defenseman be given some chances in the first team. He's not as technically polished as incumbent central defenders Liam Fontaine and Mark Wright, but he is better physically than either of them, and demonstrates as good an understanding of the game. He's only 17, but he's definitely surpassed the older Michael Staley as a third choice central defender, and I think I'll start working him into the side more seriously as the year progresses.

Other big improvers included Fontaine, fullback Kevin West, goalkeeper Kevin Butler, and, despite his injury, left wing Adam Corbett. Wright, Graeme Law, and Mark Goodwin would form a second tier of improving players. Michael Staley and Joe Foote were clearly stagnant, showing no improvement for the year overall, while two of our players had show marked decreases in ability: Tappa Whitmore, of course, due to his injury, and defensive midfielder Malcolm Parker, who had been a stop-gap measure at best.

The weather report for York was dire, with a series of tremendous storms working their way down through Scandanavia, and hitting England from the north-east.

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Wednesday, 4th October, 2006.

The first of the storms broke Wednesday night, making the York Reserves' match at Bootham Crescent against Halifax a cold, wet, windy encounter. It was a scoreless affair for 88 minutes, and much of the crowd of 306 had abandoned the pitch on account of the inclement weather. The deadlock was broken by a late goal from amateur right wing Paul Garner, his first for the club, and then a harsh penalty was awarded in injury time, which amateur striker Chris Simpson converted for the 2-0 final score.

Michael Staley had incurred his 5th yellow card in the match, which would trigger a one-match ban. I was interested to see how this would work, and if it would prevent him from playing any Reserve matches until the senior side had its next game, or if he would not miss any senior matches, effectively serving the suspension in Reserve matches only.

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Sunday, 8th October, 2006.

The second storm hit Friday night, and was raging at full strength on Saturday - it was a monster, with gale-force winds and tremendous rainfall.

With most of our players suited up for the later Reserve match, the Under-18s was a mostly-amateur affair against Halfiax U-18s, though Colin Hart and Simon Roberts did suit up. After falling behind 0-1 early on, Roberts scored to equalize and amateur Paul Ford gave us a 2-1 halftime lead. Halifax tied the score at 2-2, and that was how it finished. With six of 22 matches played, our U-18s lay third, three points back of Blackburn Rovers U-18s and Accrington Stanley U-18s.

In Worthing, in a match thankfully dry and warm, a York Reserve side which included our best youngsters and some of our fringe first-teamers tamed a 10-man Brighton Reserve side 3-0. Micah Richards was dominant, scoring two goals, and loanee striker Thomas Carroll added a third in the final minutes. Unfortunately, he then strained his neck, which would keep him out for a week. He's been quite unlucky since joining the Minstermen. Nick McDonald, the goalkeeper who had started for the Reserves, injured himself the next day in training.

Most of the country's football fans were focused on European Championship qualifying Saturday afternoon.

England failed to take care of business before a crowd of 71,442 in Tbilisi, Georgia. An early goal by Alexander Iashvili put the home side ahead, and only an own goal by Mikhail Chkhaidze just before halftime rescued the uninspired Three Lions. This left the two sides equal on 4 points as leaders, while Poland and Denmark moved to joint third with 1 point each after a 1-1 draw in Copenhagen.

Group 3 leaders Turkey beat Slovenia 2-0 to go alone at the top with six points. Sweden beat co-leaders Cyprus 2-0 to take second on four points, while Scotland beat Liechtenstein by the same scoreline to go third with three points. Darren Fletcher and Scott McDonald were the scorers at Celtic Park.

In Group 1, first-placed Spain beat second-placed Macedonia 3-0. Ireland dominated Armenia 4-0 at Lansdowne Road, piling in goals by Damien Duff, Robbie Keane, and Jon Macken before the match was 12 minutes old, and capping the scoring with an own goal in the second half. This moved them to second in the group, level with Bulgaria on four points.

In Group 9, Wales were idle with three points, conceding the group lead to Italy, who trounced 10-man Israel 3-0 in Messina to reach six points. Russia beat Northern Ireland 1-0, taking third with three points, though the Welsh have a game in hand over them.

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Thursday, 12th October, 2006.

The storms continued in Yorkshire, and had in fact become a major nuisance. Anywhere without proper drainage was flooded, and somehow our home had wound up without water, which was ironic considering how much of it was sheeting down on a daily basis. It was causing all sorts of trouble for agriculture, traffic, and commerce. The maintenance crews, from road crews to power crews, were backlogged with calls, and had been borrowing from less inundated counties.

With the weather continuing so poorly at York, we actually went south to train at The Moorlands, where we had our Reserve game mid-week. It was better - and probably more cost effective - than tearing up the pitch at Bootham Crescent. Wednesday night against Moor Green Reserves, Adam Corbett made his return to the pitch after surgery, playing 45 minutes on the left wing and looking good. With a senior match the coming Saturday, I started a weaker lineup, but we nonetheless won 3-2, overcoming a 1-2 halftime deficit. Amateur Chris Simpson scored two goals, amateur Ian Black added the game winner, and goalkeeper Paul Carruthers made a brilliant save in injury time to seal the victory, part of why he won Man of the Match honors.

The European Championship qualifying continued with its third matches Wednesday night.

England took full advantage of an easy home tie against Malta, banging in six first-half goals, with a second-half penalty giving Frank Lampard his hat trick and making the final score 7-0. The other goals came from John Terry, Wayne Rooney, Everton attacking midfielder Leon Osman, and Southampton defensive midfielder David Prutton. The latter had, between them, four caps and no goals coming into the match, as Sven-Goran Eriksson had chosen to get some lesser lights playing time against the easy opposition.

In Warsaw, Poland and Georgia battled to a 3-3 draw which could help neither side, a see-saw contest in which both teams held second-half leads before an injury time equalizer by the visitors.

<pre class="ip-ubbcode-code-pre"> 1 England 7 2 1 0 +10

2 Georgia 5 1 2 0 + 1

3 Poland 2 0 2 0 0</pre>

Scotland suffered a disappointing 0-1 defeat at Hampden Park, conceding a first-half goal against the run of play to Sweden, and then unable to penetrate the tough Swedish defense in the second half despite dominating in terms of posession and shots. With two defeats, their hopes of advancing look slim.

Group leaders Turkey remained unchallenged with a 3-0 victory at home against Cyprus.

<pre class="ip-ubbcode-code-pre"> 1 Turkey 9 3 0 0 + 8

2 Sweden 7 2 1 0 + 3

3 Scotland 3 1 0 2 - 2

4 Slovenia 3 1 0 2 - 2</pre>

Ireland continued their dominant run of form with a 5-0 win on the road in Estonia, again taking a 3-0 lead about 12 minutes in on goals by Matt Holland, Jon Macken, and an own goal. Robbie Keane and David Connolly added later goals to make the five-goal final.

Unbeaten and untied, Spain crushed Armenia 3-0 to retain the group lead, while Bulgaria also kept the pressure on with a 4-0 home victory against Macedonia.

<pre class="ip-ubbcode-code-pre"> 1 Spain 9 3 0 0 +13

2 Ireland 7 2 1 0 + 9

3 Bulgaria 7 2 1 0 + 5</pre>

Israel continued to play spoiler, building on Maccabi Haifa's club successes with a 3-2 victory over Wales at Ramat-Gan. Wales had taken an early lead through Craig Bellamy, but the hosts had battled back to take a 2-1 advantage by halftime. All the hard work Wales did in the second half to get John Hartson's 79th minute equalizer came undone just four minutes later when substitute David Vaughan brought down Israeli captain Nir Moshe in the area. There was no question it was a penalty, and Jason Brown could do nothing to prevent Yaniv Suliman from making the score 3-2, which seemed to take all the fight out of the visitors for the final ten minutes.

Italy, meanwhile, won their encounter against Northern Ireland, cementing their group lead with a 2-0 scoreline.

<pre class="ip-ubbcode-code-pre"> 1 Italy 7 2 1 0 + 7

2 Wales 3 1 0 1 + 2

3 Russia 3 1 0 1 - 1

4 Israel 3 1 0 1 - 2

5 N.Ireland 0 0 0 3 - 6</pre>

On a mud-drenched pitch Thursday, York star Tappa Whitmore resumed full training with the squad. Though he was quite rusty, it was a spiritual lift for the entire squad to have his jocular, merry presence restored to us.

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Saturday, 14th October, 2006. League Two - Game 11, vs Exeter.

The fifth in the series of storms was raging in full force as we lined up to face Exeter Saturday afternoon at Bootham Crescent. Gale force winds and torrential downpour threatened to keep the fans away and make it a miserable afternoon for the players.

Exeter had been a strong side recently, earning promotion from the Conference in 2004/05, and placing a secure 9th in League Two last year. I'd be happy to do as well this year, and at the moment we lay 6th to their 9th, so we had a good chance to do so. Our last matchup against them had been a 0-4 drubbing in April of 2005, so I was looking forward to extracting some measure of revenge.

Our lineup was as strong as it had been all year. Alan Blayney was in goal, with Joe Keenan, Liam Fontaine and Graeme Law joined in the back four by hot youngster Jamie Cooper. Alan Navarro would play defensive midfielder, with John McGrath and Jon Paul McGovern on the wings. Micah Richards and Robert Cousins held the attacking midfielder roles, with Jon Shepherd starting at striker. For the first time all year, Tappa was available off the bench, though he hadn't even had a reserve match to tune up with.

We nearly benefitted from the inclement weather in the second minute, as Exeter keeper Michael Poke made a careless out-pass which got caught in the wind and fell right to Robert Cousins. He dribbled into the box, but his shot from 10 yards caught side netting.

In the 12th, Jon Paul McGovern sent a perfect cross into the 6-yard box, and Jon Shepherd headed home for a 1-0 lead, but even as the crowd of 2,220 celebrated, the referee was shaking his head and signalling no goal. Shepherd had pushed midfielder Jason Price to make space for his jump, and the goal wouldn't count.

We appeared to be in complete control, and continued with the best chances through the half-hour. Cousins broke up the left wing on a John McGrath long ball, and danced in along the by-line. He cut a pass back for Shepherd, but the striker was mobbed by three defenders and unable to get a shot off. A similar move met a similar result in the 25th minute.

Finally, in the 32nd minute, Cousins took a McGrath throw-in along the left side. Instead of looking towards the corner, he cut horizontally, outside the eighteen, towards the arc. Without warning, he had a go - a cracking shot from 25 yards! Poke, half-blinded by the rain, never had a chance! The drenched crowd, rewarded for their tenactiy, gave a roar to our 1-0 lead!

It had been a magnificent shot, but the youngster didn't have long to savor it. In the 34th minute, Paul Duncan and John McGrath were battling for a ball just at the edge of our box. A patch of turf gave way beneath them, and they both went down in the mud, with McGrath landing some two yards outside the 18-yard line. Incredibly, Gary Stott pointed at the spot! Penalty!

I was livid, yelling and screaming at him, my voice drowned by the wind and the similar cries from the crowd. There was no changing his mind, though my players pleaded with him, and Exeter captain Glenn Cronin stepped up to take. He calmly slotted it to Alan Blayney's right, and just that quickly it was equal again, 1-1.

The swirling wind made things very interesting on the pitch in the second half. John McGrath hit a beautiful long ball for Shepherd, but the wind batted it down for Exter defender Will Steadman. An Exeter corner kick, surely aimed for the six, was blown all the way out across the far sideline for a throw - on the fly! Blayney's punt up the center took a sharp turn, and wound up out for a throw as well.

Conditions were atrocious, so it was perhaps unsurprising that Micah Richards picked up a knock in the 53rd minute. He gave way for Tappa Whitmore. The crowd went crazy: this was the moment they'd braved the storm for, and they gave the Jamaican a hero's welcome on his first match after injury.

We were getting the best of the action - Alan Navarro's long pass from the defensive midfield picked up Shepherd splitting the defense. Poke let Shepherd run onto him, but made a beautiful reflex save to deny him. It was Shepherd's last chance - he still has yet to make a mark at the senior level, and in the 63rd minute, I brought Simon Roberts on. It was the first time he'd ever been able to partner with Whitmore, and I was excited to see what they could do!

With about twenty minutes to play, Navarro sent another beautiful long ball, this for Cousins. The attacking midfielder raced into the box, and shot from 8 yards. Poke made the save, but the rebound fell directly to Cousins, with Poke lying in the mud he appeared poised for the winner, but his plant-foot slipped in the slop, and he blazed it over the bar. Heartbreak!

Tappa had failed to make any sort of impact, but in the 85th minute, he showed a flash of his former brilliance, with a wicked through ball thirty yards from goal. Roberts broke the offsides trap, in past the defense, to settle at the arc. He let fly from sixteen yards, and the shot looked to have Poke beat to the far post.. ..but the wind blew it wide.

Both sides were exhausted from battling the elements, and there were no further chances.

York 1, Exeter 1

Cousins 32; Cronin pen 35

MoM: Peltier (Exeter DC)

We'd looked the better side throughout, and would likely have won without Stott's ludicrous penalty award, but by the full-time whistle I was as tired as my players. My anger had given way to misery at the conditions, and I just wanted to get dry and warm. Given the weather, I think both sides were happy to escape with a draw and no serious injuries.

Tappa Whitmore had appeared a bit lost and off the pace, contributing very little until his late through ball, but I hoped that was simple rust, and not a permanent loss of the creative brilliance which had characterized his game.

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Wednesday, 18th October, 2006.

The storms continued into their third week, and Stacy has gone in as a volunteer at the local hospital. She hasn't completed her nurse's training, of course, but they're so swamped - sorry, pun intended - that its become an 'all hands on deck' situation, and some training is better than none.

She's working sixteen hour shifts, and comes home exhausted, plummeting into bed without even taking her shoes off, but she thinks she's going to get school credit for the time served. And, she's just constitutionally incapable of not helping out.

Acts Of God or no, football continues, and on Tuesday, we completed a deal sending 17-year-old defender Kevin West to Bristol Rovers for £35,000. West had demonstrated very good improvement over the course of the past year, but he was still not showing the marking, anticipation, or composure I'd like to see in a defender. Worse, his contract was expiring in June, and my attempts at renegotiating had led me to conclude that he wouldn't be happy at anything less than first-team wages - which his talents and experience definitely did not merit.

Kevin West, DRLC, 17: August 2005-October 2006: 2 seasons, 6 games, 0 goals, 7.17

Unfortunately, I had the same problem looming with young wingers Adam Corbett and Richard Fox, defensive midfielder Ian Bannister, and right back Daniel Smith - all had turned 17, and all wanted significant professional contracts which, with our wage budget issues, I couldn't offer.

Miraculously, we actually had power Tuesday night - its been a hit or miss thing - so I distracted myself from my problems with a bit of Champions League action on the telly. Valencia defeated Chelsea in Mestalla, 1-0, and looked the better side throughout. Maccabi Haifa drew 1-1 against Gorica, and that made an interesting group at the half-way point, with Valencia first on six points, the Israeli club second with five, and Chelsea sitting third on four points.

Liverpool beat second-placed Swiss side FC Basel, 2-0, at a rain-soaked New Anfield, giving them nine points and a solid Group F lead. Roma beat hapless Ajax, 2-1, to equal Basel for second place on four points.

Wednesday night, Real Madrid defeated Newcastle United 2-0 at the Bernabeu, topping Group A with nine points, and Werder Bremen earned a 1-1 draw against Ferencvaros to move into second with four points ahead of three for the Toon.

Arsenal beat Group D leaders Fenerbahçe in London, 2-0, coming level with the Turks on six points, while Dinamo Bucharest beat PSV Eindhoven 1-0 to put the other two teams in the group at three.

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Friday, 20th October, 2006.

Jokes about "forty days and forty nights" were growing thin in Yorkshire: the storm system was past newsworthy and had reached legendary, with stories of villages without power for days, and people trapped when the only road past their house was blocked in both directions by fallen trees. Yorkshire County had been declared a national disaster area, and a disaster relief fund had been set up, seeded by a large gift from the royal family that shortly became a cause du jour for many celebrities.

Training has become a joke, but not a funny one. The fields have become a soggy mess despite the best efforts of our grounds crew, and I can't hardly tell the players apart when they're drenched in slate-grey mud. I don't think it tells me anything to see them struggle to keep their footing in the slop, and I'm just hoping nobody gets hurt.

Wednesday night was a Reserve game against Plymouth Reserves, but the pitch was so muddy you could hardly pass the ball, and the rain was driving in at an angle that somehow seemed to be in everybody's eyes simultaneously. The 0-0 draw was notable only for a red card to young defensive midfielder Ian Bannister, and a Man of the Match performance by goalkeeper Colin Hart.

Frankly, after freezing my arse off for two weeks straight, I was glad enough when I came down with a fever.

Doctor's orders - or Stacy's, anyways - I had to stay home and dry, and I think it says something about the conditions that I was actually pleased to suffer the interminable chills, painful swallowing, and bleary pumpkin-headed feel of a nasty head-cold.

Friday, my wife coincidentally had the day off - they won't even let you volunteer six days straight at the hospital, and I think its a good thing. She slept for fourteen hours straight before finally rousting out of bed in the early afternoon. By evening, she had cabin fever - growing up as she did in a desert, she was miserable at this England weather.

"I hate it!" she swore, "I knew I'd hate it. I wish we'd never come!"

I was too sick and tired to take that as criticism, luckily - I don't want to think my job is ruining my marriage.

Instead, thinking about the beautiful weather that the telly had portrayed for Madrid and Barcelona, I told her she should take a holiday to the Mediterranean. No sooner had I suggested this than I found myself enveloped in plans for a trip, and by bed-time she had cleverly found a point in the York schedule, in early November, during which the team "could surely run itself" - her words - as we had a weekend off for more internationals.

Just like that, I had a vacation plan.

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Saturday, 21st October, 2006. League Two - Game 12, vs Boston United.

Doped up, bundled up, I felt like an Eskimo, but I'll give the outfit this: I was warm. The weather remained atrocious, marking the 18th straight day of gale-force winds and heavy rain in Yorkshire. It was our lowest-attended game of the season, and honestly, who can blame anyone for not showing up to Bootham Crescent? It looked like a hurricane, if you had hurricanes in England.

Boston United are a very average side, with about 1.5 goals scored and allowed per game, 13th out of 24 teams. A long-time Conference side, they'd earned promotion to League Two by winning the Conference title in 2001/02, and last year had actually been their closest shave, as they placed 18th in the League. They are led by Scottish striker Craig McMillan, who had scored 15 goals last season, and had 7 in only 10 league games thus far this year.

Our starting lineup had only three changes from last week's draw with Exeter. Blayney remained in goal, with Joe Keenan and Liam Fontaine anchoring the defense. Mark Wright returned centrally, with Mark Dixon making his second start at right back. That meant defensive midfielder Alan Navarro would be captain. John McGrath and Jon Paul McGovern were the usual wingers, with Micah Richards and Robert Cousins attacking. Paul Edwards made his third start at striker.

Cousins had the first chance of the game, dribbling into the Boston area in the first minute and shooting virtually from the penalty spot, but it was tipped over the bar by Boston goalkeeper Dale Roberts. In the 6th minute, after a Boston corner kick, Mark Wright and Boston captain Paul Ellender were pursuing a loose ball. They were near the edge of our penalty area, at the by-line, when referee John Holbrook whistled Wright for pulling Ellender's shirt. Originally, Holbrook was going to set up for a free kick, but after consulting with his linesman, he changed his mind and awarded the penalty!

It was the second soft penalty we'd conceded in as many games. Andy Proctor took for the visitors, and put it straight at Alan Blayney, who palmed it away in surprise. The rebound fell perfectly to Courtney Pitt, rushing into the area, and the forward drilled it home for his first goal of the season, his twentieth in a Boston uniform.

We weren't making much headway against the wind with my long-ball counter-attack tactic, and around the 20th minute I switched to my 'aggressive' tactic, sending men forward through the driving rain with instructions to keep the ball on the ground. In the 23rd minute, this led to Jon Paul McGovern up the right wing. He sent a cross into the box, and from 7 yards Robert Cousins powered a header just wide of the goal.

Ten more minutes passed, and then John McGrath's fine pass put Paul Edwards to the top of the box. He shot from 18 yards, putting it narrowly wide.

Late in the first half, Micah Richards dribbled past the Boston midfield about 40 yards from goal. He looked up, and with great vision spotted a flaw in the Boston defense leaving a great gaping space for Robert Cousins to run into. The youngster led Cousins with a great pass, which caught him in stride just outside the arc. In arces of space, he sloshed his way into the box, and from 16 yards splashed home to make it 1-1.

I left the aggressive tactic for the start of the second half, playing to win rather than to tie at home. Just after the restart, Lee Thompson came up the right wing for Boston. Joe Keenan came forward to challenge, and behind him Mark Wright made a horrible misplay. He cut over to cover Keenan's usual spot, leaving Robert Gough unmarked inside of him. Thompson spotted it, and played a beautiful ball to Gough. Liam Fontaine tried to shift over as Gough dribbled into the area, leaving Craig McMillan unmarked. From 15 yards, Gough shot, and again Alan Blayney saved the first effort, only to see the rebound fall directly to McMillan. The Scotsman had an easy 12-yard tap in past the despairing Mark Dixon, and it was 1-2.

I wasn't seeing much from our offense, so in the 51st minute I brought on Simon Roberts and Phil Townley to provide some speed. It didn't matter - in the 55th minute, David Noble's beautiful pass ahead of McMillan put him into our area a half-step ahead of Fontaine. He made a single deft touch to change the angle on Blayney, and then put it to the bottom left corner from 14 yards out. It was like a kick in the gut, and at 1-3 I felt certain we were beaten.

While Boston were still celebrating, my players took the ensuing kickoff and worked their way upfield. Roberts played it out wide to McGovern, who faked a move to the corner, and then passed low and inside to Richards. 30 yards from goal, Richards fed it forward to Roberts, who dribbled into the arc and then unleashed a 20-yard shot curling to the upper-left corner. The scoreboard clock read 57:03, and the deficit was only 2-3.

We continued to push forward, as Boston fell into a defensive shell, hitting long balls into the wind as their only offensive threat. The wind made those balls unpredictable, and Matt O'Halloran's ball blew over the back line to set McMillan free in the 70th minute. Both Dixon and Fontaine recovered in time to challenge as McMillan reached the corner of our penalty area, but he dribbled around both to set himself up for a 20-yard shot. Somehow it beat the disconsolate Blayney, an amazing hat trick for McMillan and a 2-4 scoreline!

Many in the crowd of 2,476 had seen enough, and, wrapping their coats tighter around themselves, began to push through the rain and wind towards the exits. They didn't miss much - Boston had much of the pressure in the final minutes, and even the addition of Tappa Whitmore off the bench couldn't spark the soggy, muddy York offense.

York 2, Boston 4

Cousins 44, Roberts 57; Pitt 7, McMillan 46, 56, 70

MoM: McMillan (Boston SC)

I was exhausted, and wanted nothing more than to crawl into a warm bed, sleep for a week, and wake up in Barbados. We'd been pounded for the worst defensive effort of my career, and it had been a chilling revelation of how exposed we were against a striker - Craig McMillan - who clearly belonged a level or two higher in the footballing pyramid than League Two. The play of defender Mark Wright, in particular, had been appalling.

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Thanks, Damien. The toughest part of this stretch was the stuck-weather bug - every game in that storm/gale combination completely exhausted the team, and we really didn't have the depth to shrug it off.

Luckily, I figured it out - if you quit and re-load, you get new weather - so I began a cycle of save, quit, restart every week or ten days, which I have had to continue for the entire remainder of the story.

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Monday, 23rd October, 2006.

There was a great temptation to criticize the team publicly, especially Mark Wright and goalkeeper Alan Blayney after conceding four goals.

Instead, I found the top player over our last five matches, Robert Cousins, and praised him despite the poor performance of the team overall.

"The attacking midfielder has been an inspiration," I told the Yorkshire Evening Press, "And I hope he will be the catalyst in helping the team maintain our excellent league position."

Micah Richards had played well, and was recognized for his creative passing by selection to the League Two Team of the Week. Quietly, and without public fanfare, I made the decision to bench Wright and put Jamie Cooper on his place, and shopped Wright around a little bit to see if any teams would be interested in him.

In Saturday's other game, Colin Hart made a number of great saves in Lincoln, inlcluding stopping a penalty, as an almost entirely amateur York Under-18 side beat Lincoln U-18s 2-0. Amateur Chris Simpson continued his tear with a first-half goal, and second-half substitute Steve Collier, a fellow amateur, added a late penalty to make the two-nil final.

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Wednesday, 25th October, 2006.

The wild scoring spree continued in our Reserve game at Dorchester Wednesday night, which we won 4-2. Michael Staley converted a header from a corner kick, on-loan striker Thomas Carroll scored to make a 2-1 halftime score, second-half substitute Keith Spencer, an amateur, made it 3-1, and in the dying minutes a beautiful pass by Richard Fox picked out fullback Daniel Smith unmarked, and Smith's first goal in a York kit made the 4-2 final. Staley was Man of the Match, and a demoted Mark Wright played well. Tappa Whitmore started and lasted 60 minutes, while the match represented Adam Corbett's first 90-minute performance since going off for surgery. All in all, I was very pleased with the effort put forth by the side.

I couldn't say the same about the senior side, as a number of players seemed extremely distressed by their recent performances. Alan Blayney was morose and bitter all week, and in fact sounded like a man who expected to get sacked, not a key player in the side. John McGrath was unhappy as well, and Tappa looked depressed that he hadn't had more of an impact in his return. In general, the club was as dismal as the weather we were training in.

The only member of the side who still seemed upbeat was Robert Cousins, who had reacted very well to my praise. The outpouring of letters to the Editor in support of my comments may have had something to do with that, as perhaps did Viv's appreciation of his work in training. "He's a keeper," is the general consensus amongst my staff!

The evening's League Cup matches had some real surprises: League One side Bradford City beat an understrength Manchester United side 1-0 in extra time, Wolves eliminated Arsenal 2-0 at Wolverhampton, and Fulham surprised Newcastle, 1-0.

There's good news from the weather forecasters, though: the last of our arctic storms is due in a day or two, and things are expected to clear up after that. Great - we'll get dry just in time for an English winter!

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Saturday, 28th October, 2006. League Two - Game 13, at Shrewsbury Town.

Welsh side Shrewsbury Town were a once-proud side, whose best seasons had been 1983/84 and 84/85, when they won two Welsh Cups, and placed 8th in the Championship both seasons. Since that nadir, they had undergone a steady fall through the leagues, finishing last in League Two in 2002/03, but earning promotion the following year, and narrowly avoiding relegation again with a 22nd-place finish in League Two during 2004/05. They'd done better last season, with an equal number of wins and losses and a 10th place finish, but this season were down to 21st, skidding towards the relegation zone and averaging only half a goal per game.

With a weaker opponent, an upcoming Vans Trophy game, and a bit of a losing streak, I shook up my lineup a little bit. Alan Blayney would start in goal despite his disappointing attitude. Joe Keenan would start at left back, with youngsters Michael Staley, Jamie Cooper, and Mark Dixon alongside him. Alan Navarro provided the veteran leadership as captain and defensive midfielder. Adam Eckersley would play left wing with Phil Townley on the right, but the attackers would be our usual combination: Micah Richards and Robert Cousins in support of striker Jon Shepherd.

The home side came out attacking, and were able to generate a generous number of chances in the first few minutes, but very few of them felt threatening, as most of the shots went over or wide. In the 9th minute, young Dixon started a counter-attack up our right wing, dribbling well out of our area, and then playing it ahead to Jon Shepherd when he was challenged. The striker cut it inside for Robert Cousins, who made one of his trademark speedy dribbles, then unleashed a perfect shot from all of thirty yards. It curled towards the top right corner, and goalkeeper Joe Hart was able to get a hand on it, but couldn't do enough to push it wide. It was a stunningly spectacular strike, an obvious Goal of the Month candidate, and we led 1-0!

Shrewsbury Town continued to build pressure thereafter, and John Grant forced a dramatic save from Alan Blayney when he unleashed a volley from 12 yards out. It felt like I had made an error in selecting a weakened side, as our hosts brought challenge after challenge, but then in the 34th minute, Shepherd stole the ball from left back Mark Roberts about 35 yards from the end line. Alone and without support, Shepherd was hardly a threat, but Roberts tripped him, and Mr. Hancox showed him his second yellow card, sending him off for an early bath!

After that, we seemed to have all the momentum, with a man advantage and a lead. Our hosts mounted little in the way of attack, until Jamie Tolley took a chance on a shot from 35 yards. The ball was partially blocked by Michael Staley, but fell to Grant in the area. He struck it on the volley from the penalty spot, and Blayney did well to turn it over the crossbar.

The 1-0 halftime lead seemed to grow safer and safer through the second half - Shrewsbury were sending men forward, but we had enough presence to successfully defend, and had numerous chances back the other way, frequently sending 5 forward to their 3. It should have been easy to finish them off, but a steady rain had begun to fall, and we couldn't quite seem to put the ball into the net.

Our best chance was probably Micah Richards' wicked 18-yard shot in the 80th minute, but Hart made a fantastic diving save to push it away.

In the 88th minute, an injury to Shrewsbury's Trevor Challis left it 11 on 9, and a game which had felt easy became a laugher.

Shrewsbury 0, York 1

----; Cousins 9

MoM: Tinson (Shrewsbury DC)

It had been a good experience for a number of younger players, and we'd come away with three points and no major injuries in preparation for our upcoming F.A. Trophy match, so I could have no real complaints.

I was a bit disappointed with our inability to put the game away in the second half: the final score should have been 3-0 or worse. Still, a win on the road would be good tonic for the malaise which had seemed to come over the club with the incessant pounding of the unseasonable rains.

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Monday, 30th October, 2006.

The last of the storms was dropping its last rain Saturday afternoon during the U-18 match at Bootham Crescent, which was now being dubbed "Lake Bootham" in the local press. I was surprised at the sturdiness of the British - that we were still playing football, and that people were still showing up, even to a meaningless all-amateur U-18 game, which drew 142 as part of a single-admission double-header with the evening's Reserve game. They saw a lineup of local amateurs earn a 1-1 draw with Bury, with Chris Simpson scoring our only goal.

Fortunately, that was it for the storm system, which had passed at last, and by the Saturday evening game, it had at least stopped raining, though the pitch remained soggy. Nick McDonald played well in his first match after returning from injury, earning a clean sheet, and a single goal by amateur winger David Yates was all we needed to defeat Exeter Reserves 1-0.

Sunday afternoon the sun began poking through, and the mood at Bootham Crescent was immeasurably improved. It was as though we'd all had some form of seasonal depression for not being able to see the sun.

Monday afternoon was the draw for the F.A. Cup First Round. We had, by virtue of reaching the League, bypassed all of the qualifying rounds, but now it was time for all the qualified teams to be pooled with the sides from League One and League Two. We drew an away match against League One side Watford, who currently lie 19th out of 24 teams, and have been struggling. It won't be an easy tie, but its definitely a winnable one. The match, unfortunately, fell smack in the middle of the vacation my wife had been arranging.

That'll be fun to break to her.

My disappointment about that, however, vanished when I next answered the phone.

I'd been calling around, seeing if there was any interest in Mark Wright, if I was really planning on moving him out of the starting lineup after two seasons to make room for Jamie Cooper. It was Scottish side Inverness Caledonian Thistle on the line, and they offered £100,000 for him, a deal which I readily agreed!

Wright signed the contract today, and the transfer should go through on the 1st of January when the international transfer window opens.

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Tuesday, 31st October. LDV Vans Trophy North - Second Round, vs Wrexham.

The pitch was finally beginning to dry out after a few days of scattered sun. Our next task would actually be a very similar test to the F.A. Cup side we'd drawn. Wrexham were currenly sitting 21st in League One, right on the edge of the relegation zone. It would be a major disappointment for them to be sent down, as they hold a good measure of Welsh pride, but this match would hardly matter to their bid. They were in a horrible state at the moment, having suffered five consecutive defeats.

I brought the starting lineup back for this match, as best as I could. Alan Blayney was much happier in goal after his clean sheet. Joe Keenan, Liam Fontaine, not-yet-transferred Mark Wright, and captain Graeme Law would form the back four. Ian Bannister had drawn a scout from Macclesfield, and would be starting in the defensive midfield. Regular wingers John McGrath and Jon Paul McGovern would start. Tappa Whitmore made his return in the attacking midfield role, paired with explosive young star Robert Cousins. Paul Edwards would be the striker.

The black-and-orange Wrexham jerseys were perfect for a Halloween opponnent, utterly in theme. They nearly got a horror start, however: in the 2nd minute, Tappa and Cousins teamed up, a great pass from the Jamaican setting up a dangerous 20-yard shot from the youngster. Wrexham goalkeeper Ian Bennett was lucky to see it blocked out for a corner by Dennis Lawrence.

You could tell from their play how much they'd been struggling however, and we were clearly the better side in the first half, dictating the tempo. In the 25th minute, Jon Paul McGovern unleashed a wicked 25-yard shot to the bottom right corner, which Bennett barely knocked away. In the 32nd minute, McGrath and Cousins teamed up to set up Paul Edwards unmarked in the box. With a golden opportunity, he put the shot over from 16 yards out.

At halftime, I had to take Robert Cousins off, as he'd taken a knock and was visibly struggling. Micah Richards came on in his place, which meant Tappa Whitmore would have to last 90 minutes for the first time.

Just two minutes after the restart, John McGrath picked out Edwards in the box, and as Bennett charged out, Edwards sent a chip over his head. It looked a certain goal at the far right corner, but as the crowd let out a cheer, it floated just over the bar.

In the 61st minute, adventurous fullback Joe Keenan ventured up the left wing to take a throw-in in Wrexham territory. The ball was played back to him, and he passed it to Tappa central. The Jamaican dribbled into the area, and let fly from 16 yards into a thicket of bodies. It deflected off of Craig Morgan, but Bennett wouldn't have had a chance anyways: it was in the back of the net, for 1-0! The crowd of 1,229 gave a tremendous cheer, fully aware that it was their hero's first goal since his injury.

In the 70th minute, loanee Thomas Carroll came on for his debut at striker. Wrexham were trying to get forward, but their efforts were met with ironic cheers from the crowd when first Chris Llewellyn and then Richard Owen put shots well wide of the target. Alan Blayney hadn't had to make a single save all day, though he did pick a cross out of the air at one point, and had had to take a few goal kicks.

In the 85th minute, Whitmore had a fantastic chance when Wrexham, sending men forward in desperation, left him unmarked in the penalty arc. From 19 yards, he shot just wide, and I couldn't help but think that he'd have scored that when he was in his prime. In the 90th minute, he showed some of the old vintage, putting Carroll through past the Wrexham defense with a perfect long pass, but Bennett made a fantastic save to keep the Welsh hopes alive.

Into stoppage time we went, and 1:30 into the added time, Carroll won a corner kick. John McGrath went over to take it, and I worried he would get a yellow for delay. Finally, he sent it in. With three Wrexham players forward in case their defense cleared, McGrath was able to pick out an unmarked Ian Bannister 8 yards from goal. The youngster launched a hit-and-hope half-volley into traffic, and it found its way through to the back of the net! The first-ever York goal for the seventeen-year-old, and the final score would be 2-0!

York 2, Wrexham 0

Whitmore 62, Bannister 90; ----

MoM: Whitmore

Perhaps Ian Bannister had played the game of his life and fully deserved the Man of the Match award, but there was no denying the upswell of popular support which gave that accolade to the popular Tappa Whitmore on the occasion of his first goal since the brutal injury he had suffered nine months earlier.

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Wednesday, 1st November, 2006.

Little has changed in the board room over the past month. Steve Beck remains thrilled with our performance on the pitch: I think he truly expected us to battle against relegation and get sent back down to the Conference, so the fact that we're hovering on the verge of a playoff berth - just one point back of Leyton Orient in 8th place - is just shocking and delighting to him.

Sophie McGill is growing ever more concerned about our wage budget, as we're still £89,000 over the budget she'd allotted to me, and hemorrhaging money daily. For the month of October - not helped by the rains, which had dramatically increased our maintenance bills - we'd lost £80,000. Sure, £25,000 of that was a donation to a disaster-relief fund, but its still a lot to lose. It left our net for the season positive at £111,000, but coincidentally our available cash was negative by precisely the same amount. In addition to the long-term £2M stadium loan, which we've still seven years left on, we've been forced to take high-interest short-term loans to pay the bills.

I outlined my difficulty with a number of our 17-year-olds demanding first-team salaries that we couldn't afford, and was given my marching orders: either sell them now, before we lose them on a free transfer, or sell the high-budget player at the same position, and offer the youngster a raise.

After the board meeting, I reviewed the monthly training progress with Viv, and decided that it was time to shake up our training schedule. Most of the team have been at a pretty consistent plateau since coming off of the pre-season training regime, and if they're not improving, what's the point of training? Viv thinks it was just an effect of the heavy rains - it was certainly tough to make progress in the mud - but I worry that it may be due to running the same training regime month-in and month-out, so I'm going to try some simple modifications.

Jon Shepherd has been showing steady improvement since joining the club four months ago, and Simon Roberts was nicely improved, reaching his peak level of training since joining the club, but other than that there was hardly any improvements worth noting, and Robert Cousins had had a very disappointing month, regressing below the point he'd been at when he joined the club: not what I'd expected from a youngster with such high potential.

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Thursday, 2nd November, 2006.

While I'd been focused on the Halloween game and our board meetings, the fourth match of Champions League group play had taken place without me. Real Madrid earned their berth in the knock-out rounds with a 2-0 victory at Newcastle, and only a 2-2 draw between Ferencvaros and Werder Bremen kept Newcastle's hopes alive: Werder Bremen has 5 points to Newcastle's 3, and Ferencvaros is still alive with 2. Newcastle's next two matches are at home against the Hungarians and then the key match, away to Werder Bremen.

In group D, Turkish side Fenerbahçe, aided by their legendary hostile environment, took over the group lead with a 2-1 victory over Arsenal. The hosts thoroughly controlled the match until the Gunners got a late penalty to make the final score a bit more respectable. PSV Eindhoven dispatched Dinamo Bucharest 3-1, leaving the group standings Fenerbahçe 9, Arsenal 6, PSV 6, Bucharest 3, every club still alive with two matches remaining.

Chelsea dominated Valencia at Stamford Bridge, with two first-half goals by Mista en route to a 3-0 victory that catapulted them from third to first in Group E, thanks to a 1-1 draw between lowly NK Gorica and Israeli phenomenon Maccabi Haifa. Chelsea held a one-point lead at 7, with Valencia and Maccabi Haifa at 6, and NK Gorica still mathematically alive at 2 points.

In Group F, FC Basel defeated Liverpool, 3-1, as the English side seemed to struggle with the Swiss altitude. Basel led 1-0 when Josemi was sent off for the Highbury club on 65 minutes. Luis Garcia earned a stunning short-handed equalizer, but Mario Luthi scored twice in the final ten minutes as the English lungs gasped for oxygen. The win put surprising Basel into the group lead at 9 points, with Liverpool and Roma at 7 apiece. Ajax was eliminated after their 1-0 defeat to Roma at the Amsterdam ArenA, an embarassing campaign which had seen them take four straight defeats.

In the other groups, the three Italian giants Juventus, AC Milan, and Inter Milan each guaranteed advancing to the knock-out rounds with their respective wins, while Bayern München have a five-point edge but have looked "weak" according to the German media.

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Friday, 3rd November, 2006.

We'd added another striker Wednesday afternoon, giving us five despite my preference for only employing three at a time. The latest acquisition was 19-year-old Marc Walton, in on loan from Newcastle United. I've brought him in primarily to soften the blow of the fixture congestion around Christas; he'll be on a 3-month loan until the last day of January.

SC Marc Walton, 19, English: A very well-rounded individual who scored four goals in nine starts on loan to Kidderminster earlier in the season, which is what originally drew my attention to him. Finishing is his brightest spot, but he has pace, acceleration, and dribbling skills, and the creativity to distribute balls to those around him as well. Recent transfer speculation around him had established his price at £1.4M, making him the most valuable player on the side!

Wednesday evening, York Reserves defeated Morecambe Reserves on the road 2-0, with a good performance from Nick McDonald to earn the shutout, and goals from amateurs Paul Ford and Steve Collier. With the win, our Reserve team moved three points clear of Plymouth Reserves atop the Reserves Group 6.

Kevin Eaton resumed training following his shoulder injury on Friday, but unfortunately Daniel Smith cracked two ribs in practice the same day, which will rule the young fullback out until some time in December.

The draw for the LDV Vans Trophy North Quarterfinal was Friday afternoon, and we drew the hardest remaining opponent, fellow Yorkshire side Sheffield United, in a match at Bootham Crescent. Just a season removed from the Championship, Sheffield are a strong, strong club, expected to promote directly back up, and I'm not convinced even my strongest XI can snatch a result from them.

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Saturday, 4th November, 2006. League Two - Game 14, at Yeovil.

Yeovil should have been an even easier opponent, riding in 22nd place, level with Shrewsbury and Kidderminster for the two relegation spots, but ahead of them each on goal difference. They'd won only two matches all season, and were only in their fourth-ever League campaign, having earned promotion from the Conference National by winning the title in 2002/03. The offense has been completely anemic this year, and no player on the roster had scored more than three goals.

With the continuing run of two-matches-per-week we'd been experiencing, our lineup was a mixture of whomever appeared most healthy and in-form. Alan Blayney started in goal. Adam Eckersley spelled Keenan at left back. Michael Staley and Jamie Cooper would be the central defenders. Graeme Law at right back was the captain. Alan Navarro played the defensive midfield role. Young Adam Corbett made his first start of the season at left wing, with Jon Paul McGovern opposite him on the right. Micah Richards and Robert Cousins were the attacking midfielders, while Tranmere Rovers' striker Thomas Carroll, on loan, made his first start of the season.

Yeovil came out in a narrow 4-4-2, with no wingers, three central midfielders, and one attacking midfielder. It didn't help: they looked completely outclassed. In the third minute, Cousins unleased an 18-yard shot to the lower-left corner which drew a fine save from longtime Yeovil keeper Chris Weale, a 24-year-old in his seventh year with the club. In the 14th minute, Richards beat Yeovil midfielder Paul Terry to get into the home club's penalty area, and Weale did brilliantly to tip it over.

Throughout the first 30 minutes, we appeared in complete control, threatened only by the occasional free kick, and getting off numerous shots of our own. In the 32nd minute, Carroll played a square pass for Cousins after the loanee had done the hard work, and Cousins's 16-yard diving save was met by another spectacular diving save.

I was thinking I'd have to switch to an attacking formation at halftime to get more people involved, and try to create better opportunities. Then young Jamie Cooper blunted a Yeovil attack, intercepting a pass in his own half, and launched an immediate long ball back upfield. He picked out Micah Richards, who was splitting the Yeovil central defenders on a perfect run. The pass was flawless, and as Richards entered the box, he cut to his right to dribble around Weale in the one-on-one. Hustling defender Colin Miles slid in, and got a foot to it, tumbling Richards... but he'd directed the ball back to the opposite corner of the goal, wrong-footing Weale. The Huish Park crowd of 3,329 let out a groan as it rolled into the net for a 16-yard own goal!

We remained in complete control, with the vast majority of the chances through halftime and the first ten minutes of the second half. It didn't seem a question now of whether we would win, but rather by how much.

Just as I was getting comfortable, Yeovil mounted a rare attacking posesssion. As they were passing around the perimeter, Williams played the ball into the area for Bartosz Tarachulski. The Polish forward was just barely in the area well to our left side of goal when Robert Cousins brought him down with an ill-timed challenge. Referee John Holbrook pointed at the spot! I shook my head - what was it with the penalties lately?!

I held out a little hope that Alan Blayney, now well-practiced at them, could make another save, but he dove the wrong way. Phil Jevons converted the penalty for his first goal of the season, levelling the scores at 1-1 with a mere 30 minutes to play.

Even before he'd taken the shot, I'd set up my changes: sending Joe Keenan and Simon Roberts on, moving Adam Eckersley up to left wing, and bringing off Corbett and Carroll. In the 70th minute, Richards' pass sprang Roberts unmarked into the Yeovil area. It looked like the precocious 16-year-old had done it again, but Weale made the save, and Robert Cousins was barely beaten to the rebound by one of Weale's defenders.

With a quarter-hour to play, York goalkeeper Alan Blayney launched a route one kick over the top of everybody. Jon Paul McGovern streaking up the right wing was first to it, but as he entered the Yeovil area, he opted to cut it back for Cousins, who passed off to Eckersley, giving the defense too much time to set up and nullify the chance.

Four minutes later, the lads tried the exact same move. Again Blayney booted it over everyone, and again McGovern ran it down. This time, he held on to it, dribbling into the six-yard box, holding off Miles's late challenge, and blasting the shot home from close range for his first goal of the season!! It was a late 2-1 lead!

We went ultra-defensive for the final ten minutes, conceding a few long-range shots, but nothing serious. Roberts nearly made it 3-1 in the 83rd minute, but Weale saved his 18-yard shot, and the rebound trickled tantalizingly across the goal mouth with nobody there to finish it. In the 88th minute, Navarro's long pass put late substitute Tappa Whitmore through on goal, but he was caught from behind by Miles, who redeemed his earlier gaffe with a pefect tackle.

Yeovil substitute Gerard McCargo had two good chances in injury time, but Jamie Cooper made a saving tackle to knock the ball off his feet on the first, and an acrobatic save by Alan Blayney rejected the second to preserve the victory.

Yeovil 1, York 2

Jevons pen 59; Miles o.g. 36, McGovern 79

MoM: Weale (Yeovil GK)

I gave the lads the stern "you got lucky" speech, focusing on the fact that they'd let the opposition 'hang around' until a point late in the game where a single moment's error could tie it. If it hadn't been for a fine performance by two individuals to combine for our goal, we would have come away from a match we'd completely controlled with but a single point.

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Tuesday, 7th November, 2006.

Lucky or not, the win had lifted us into the seventh and final playoff spot, and dropped Yeovil to dead last, in peril of relegation. Our next two matches would be much more difficult: a League Two match against another side battling for the playoffs, followed by a Cup match against a League One side.

Domestically, Stacy left on vacation for Marseilles. I stayed behind, as I didn't think I could leave the club until Sunday, with two important matches this week. She was understanding, not unreasonably angry, but I could tell that the change of plans was disappointing to her, and especially so as she'd been thinking of it as a second honeymoon.

After she departed, I was supervising training Tuesday afternoon when young Simon Roberts bruised his thigh. It wasn't a terrible injury, just enough to take him off the training pitch and rule him out for the mid-week game against Leyton Orient.

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Wednesday, 8th November, 2006. League Two - Game 15, vs Leyton Orient.

Leyton Orient have been a League side since 1905. They had suffered their worst-ever finish last season, 22nd in League Two, narrowly avoiding relegation out of the League for the first time. This season, they were doing much better, sitting eighth, two points back of us for seventh place and the final playoff berth. Goalkeeper Glenn Morris is one of the strengths of the side, allowing only a goal per game, with shutouts in seven of his 18 matches thus far this season and an average rating of 7.61. We would have to do much better than we had against Chris Weale to put a goal past him.

Again, it was a side selection as much governed by who was available and rested as by choice. Alan Blayney remained in goal after a fine performance, with my top four defenders: Joe Keenan, Liam Fontaine, Jamie Cooper, and Graeme Law. Ian Bannister returned at defensive midfielder to spell Navarro, while on the wings first choice John McGrath was partnered with speedy loanee Phil Townley. Tappa Whitmore would spell Cousins, partnering with Micah Richards up front, and new loanee Marc Walton made his York City debut at striker.

2,591 fans filled most of the Bootham Crescent seats for this important tie. Through the first fifteen minutes, it was an open affair with an even number of chances at either end. The best of these came to the visitors in the 8th minute, as Dale Tonge took a free kick from 21 yards. He curled it over the wall to Blayney's right, but the goalkeeper made a diving catch at full extension to make the save.

In the 23rd minute, Tappa Whitmore took a corner kick for us. His first effort was headed clear by Anthony Grant, but Whitmore tracked it down and sent a second cross in. Marc Walton turned it to the far post from 14 yards out, and it caromed in off the woodwork - a goal on his debut, and a 1-0 lead!

In the 29th minute, Micah Richards was the creative one, leading a fast break with his dribbling skills. As he reached the arc, he cut it back and left for Whitmore, who was trailing the play. With his first touch, the Jamaican sent it forward into the area, where Walton was running to space, kept onside by the near side fullback. At the penalty spot, Walton took one touch to control the pass, then launched a left footed shot past Glenn Morris! The crowd were loving this: it was 2-0, and they were on their feet!

Tappa nearly made it two goals in three miuntes when young Richards's pass set him loose in the area. The Jamaican, looking like his old self, launched a blistering shot at the near post. This time, Morris was able to get across to tip it wide.

Five minutes later, Marc Walton led a fast break up the right wing. As he entered the box, cutting diagonally towards the goal, he drew three defenders to him. From the corner of the six, instead of shooting he cut it back for McGrath at the top of the area. The Irishman drew two more defenders to him, but stepped over Walton's pass, letting it roll through to the unmarked Micah Richards! Richards took one touch to settle, then launched a 20-yard scorcher which Morris could not keep out!! Magnificent! We'd looked, for just a moment, like a Premiership side, but and seemed in complete control at 3-0.

The fans were baying for more just a minute later, as Whitmore's pass put Walton into the area. Gabriel Zakuani brought him down, but the referee's whistle was for diving rather than to indicate a penalty, which drew plenty of boos from the crowd. Walton received a yellow card, and I wound up pulling him and John McGrath out at halftime to keep them rested for our Cup match.

That decision worried me momentarily after the events of the 55th minute. Orient midfielder Michael Simpson played a pass ahead to Donny Barnard, normally a fulllback but playing up front today. Our defense was in perfect shape, and Barnard nearly thirty five yards from goal, but for some reason Liam Fontaine stepped away from Ian Moore as though to lend Jamie Cooper assistance with Barnard. The 22-year-old played a great ball into the sudden gap in our defense. Moore's first deft touch changed Blayney's angle just enough to leave Moore an easy finish from 15 yards out. They'd cut the deficit to 3-1.

I brought Tappa Whitmore off to a standing ovation from the partisan crowd, bringing on Robert Cousins in his place with an instruction to stiffen up the defense. In the 68th minute, Moore nearly got a second, sending a header just over the bar.

In the 70th, we had our best chance of the second half. Cousins held up the ball just beyond the arc, doing this nasty stepover dribble a.la Kleiberson or Cristiano Ronaldo. It was top-class, and the crowd loved it! Instead of shooting, he then passed right to a wide open Micah Richards. The youngster took the shot, but Morris pushed it away. The rebound fell right to substitute forward Paul Edwards, but Zakuani got there to make the clutch tackle and knock it away.

That turned out to have little consequence, Orient defender Matt Lockwood was injured in the late going, forcing Orient to finish up with only 10 men, and they didn't threaten again.

York 3, Leyton Orient 1

Walton 23, 29, Richards 37; Moore 55

MoM: Whitmore

Tappa Whitmore was again the Man of the Match after a two-assist performance, and with a solid victory over our closest competitor we were looking like a real contender for the playoffs.

Marc Walton, the £1.4 million man from Newcastle had had a spectacular debut, with a brace in just 45 minutes of play. He looked like he'd played with us for a year rather than a single week!

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Friday, 10th November, 2006.

Stacy tells me - I've learned to call her every night, when we're apart, and at least that I can remember to do! - that she's having a wonderful time without me. The Mediterranean beach is infinitely warmer than northern England, in her opinion.

I decided not to mention that its been sunny and decently warm since she left!

The process of trying to sell our talented youngsters whose contracts are expiring has begun. Adam Corbett is drawing the most interest, as expected, and I have two solid bids from Celtic and Rangers - he's not Scottish, but I'm hoping I can wrangle a home friendly out of one of the Old Firm sides for next summer.

We did get one piece of good news: 17-year-old central defender Kevin Eaton, back in training after his injury, renewed his contract through 2010.

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