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[FM15] - Malone Again, Naturally

Started on 22 June 2015 by tenthreeleader
Latest Reply on 25 January 2016 by tenthreeleader
Bolton Wanderers (4-1-3-2): Bogdán, Vermijl, Ream, Mills, Moxey, Spearing (captain), Chung-Yong, M. Davies, Hill, Mason, Beckford. Subs: Lonergan, McNaughton, Wheater, Medo, Trotter, C. Davies, Clough.

Two and a half minutes into the game we were jumping around like crazy men after Mason kicked off his debut with a marvelous little shot off the turn that found the top left corner of the Hornets’ goal. Then we had to sit right back down, chastened, as it was rightly chalked off for offside.

But I noticed immediately that we were extremely bright in our attack. The corners soon started coming as we hammered Watford back into their eighteen-yard box with very pleasing regularity.

The breakthrough came 14 minutes into the match. We got a throw deep in the Watford end, near the corner flag on our left flank. Moxey threw short to Hall and he crossed for Chung-Yong. The South Korean banked a shot off onetime Spurs keeper Heurelho Gomes and home for a goal that counted.

We had just retaken our seats before Hall had the ball in their goal again. Off another deep throw, Watford cleared their lines but only as far as Spearing, who sent the youngster right back in on the left. The Hornets’ defenders seemed to melt away and poor Gomes had sharp words for his defence as we took a 2-0 lead.

Fernando Forestieri pulled one back for Watford straightaway as we went to sleep at the back – but we were fortunate that the assistant flagged him for offside as well. I thought there was something in it, but Forestieri certainly didn’t. And then Watford folded.

It was utter dominance. We had a sequence of five straight corners midway through the half. Watford looked awful, we were dominating them and after Beckford, Mason and Hall all spurned amazing chances with Mason pounding a completely free header squarely off the crossbar, I noted we could legitimately could have been up 5-0 within the first half hour.

Mason redeemed himself before half, though, as we continued to pass the ball around the eighteen with impunity. Hall dropped the ball back for Spearing, who found Chung-Yong on his right. The Korean looked up and had his choice of Mason and Mark Davies as targets, both unmarked by the ball-watching Watford defence. He chose the on-loan Cardiff debutant, and Mason made no mistake in first-half injury time.

I’d have had to have been mad to have touched anything at halftime, so I simply stoked the fire and sent them out for the second session.

Chung-Yong and Mason hooked up ten minutes after the restart and with play flowing nicely through those two, Mason beat Gomes to his right post to make it 4-nil in 55 minutes.

Forestieri got a goal that counted after that, as we couldn’t keep up that level of dominance for 90 minutes. He shook loose in front of our goal and beat Bogdán on a goalmouth scramble to give them something out of the game, but when my substitution pattern began, I saw the chance to give another youngster a chance.

Clough gave me sort of a “who, me?” look when I pointed at him, but in 71 minutes, he went in for the industrious but not terribly effective Beckford.

Damned if the kid didn’t score on his debut. Working a simple wall pass with Hall, Clough worked first to his right and then back to his left, and when defenders Joel Ekstrand and Tommy Hoban both converged on Hall it was an easy decision to slide the ball left to Clough. And the kid didn’t miss.

To be fair, Gomes and Watford had been undone by some truly awful defending. But we were devastating. And when referee Phil Gibbs blew for full time, we had left Watford a smoking wreck.

Watford 1 (Ferando Forestieri 58)
Bolton Wanderers 5 (Chung-Yong 14, Hall 16, Mason 45+1, 55, Clough 78)
H/T: 0-3
A – 16,388, Vicarage Road, Watford
Man of the Match – Lee Chung-Yong, Bolton (MR 9.4)

# # #
I couldn’t resist. Brandon King was the first person I saw as I headed to my required post-match interview.

“Were we exciting enough for you today, Brandon?” I smiled, brushing past him on my way to my appearance for the electronic media.

“Bobby, you know I didn’t mean it like that,” he protested, but my smile and good mood told the reporter that, for the moment, he was still on good ground with me. I was just happy at how we had performed, especially away from home.

“Bridget Tyler, Sky,” a lissome young thing said by way of greeting. They seem to be growing female football reporters younger and younger these days. She extended her hand in congratulations and I shook it gently.

“Ms. Tyler,” I responded, as her cameraman’s lights came on and she began to speak.

“Bobby, surely you didn’t see five goals coming?” she began.

“Not five,” I smiled. “But I did feel we could come here and do a job. These players are more talented in the attacking phases of the game than they’ve been given credit for and today they showed it.”

“Your young players. Mason with a brace, Hall, Zach Clough with a goal on his debut. You must be thrilled.”

“I must be,” I said. “But yes, the young ones did well for us today. We want to see what we have in the pipeline as well as what we know we have, and today they did us proud. Frankly I thought we could have put up a cricket score if we had taken a few more chances, but we won’t get greedy. We’re very happy with our performance.”

“Where is the room for improvement?”

“On their side of the scoreline,” I replied. “We’ve been working hard on defensive positioning and we need to be better there. They had a pretty good goal today that thankfully for us was offside because it came at a time that would have really affected the game. And, they scored a pretty good goal that counted too. The potential is there for us to be in the mix at the end. We just have to keep working hard and getting better.”

That took care of that, and then King had his turn. It was a much better interview and I expected a little more positivity from the local man.

Tower FM was next as part of a sponsored segment of their post-match show. When you win it’s always more fun. The questions were the same and for the most part, so were the answers.

And then there was a handshake from the chairman, who had made the trip to watch his new manager in action.

“Well done, Bobby,” he said, unable to hide a smile. “We’ll get people’s attention with this result.” He looked sort of giddy. I couldn’t blame him.

With that, I shared the traditional post-match glass of wine with an understandably flustered Slavisa Jokanovic in his office while my players prepared for the coach trip home. He wanted to know how we could have carved his team open so easily – and so often. He kept asking. He knew the answer.

I didn’t want to remind him of the truth – his defenders had been running around like chickens with their heads cut off and I’m sure he knew that – but instead chose modesty.

“We were just fluid today,” I said, taking a sip from a half-decent glass of port. “Some days you have it and some days you don’t.”

Today, we did.

# # #
Great update as usual mate! :)
Thank you very much for following along :)

Blake looked happy. Once again, he was on the pitch at the Macron Stadium and really enjoying himself.

There was reason for me to be pleased. The glow of the Watford victory was still there for us and I had a bit of a visit during the early part of the week since the weekends, when I am supposed to see him, are not available to me during the season. The judge had given me that much, at least.

There was a lot to cheer about. If you were a Watford fan, the statsheet looked like something from “Tales from the Crypt”.

We had thirty shots at goal, with fifteen on target, an average of one every six minutes. They had two shots on target. We had sixteen corners, which was frankly stupendous. They had one.

The players who had been on the pitch for the Watford match got Sunday off while the rest had a light session to prepare for the Capital One Cup match against League Two Shrewsbury Town at midweek. We’d have to travel for that one too, but would surely be fancied against lower-league opposition.

But for a few hours, I had my little guy with me and all was right with the world.

Even if the Dynamic Duo lurked while the visit took place, I could at least pretend they weren’t there. I found that unnerving – there was certainly no reason, nor was there a requirement for my visits to be supervised – but I put it down to good, old-fashioned overprotective parenting.

Blake enjoys his football, as all kids should. It’s a fun game at that age, amoeba-ball if you will, with a bunch of little arms and legs thrashing about trying to bundle the ball into little tiny goals with no keepers. Everyone wants to score, and the smart ‘coach’ will make sure everyone does.

So to see these giant goals with people standing in front of them is quite the switch for him, and he almost got sensory overload in his enjoyment.

Holly and Darin were engaged in some sort of conversation in the stand behind us, and judging by the giggling I heard from my ex-wife, he was either saying something really funny or doing something really outrageous.

Acting as Blake’s ‘goalkeeper’, I let my son dribble around me and score, which led to shrieks of delight from the boy that went unnoticed by his mother and stepdad. What happened next escaped no one’s attention.

Kim Pickering arrived, walking behind the byline and to the goalpost, with a shopping bag in her hand.

“Bobby, Blake, would you mind stopping for a moment? I have a gift from Mr. Gartside.”

That brought everyone’s activity to a halt. Blake trotted to me and extended his little hand, which I took as I led her to Kim’s side.

“Blake, this is Ms. Pickering,” I said by way of introduction. He smiled shyly as the chairman’s PA handed him the bag.

“It’s all right, look inside,” she said. Blake did, and pulled out a customised Bolton shirt with “MALONE” on the back and my number ten underneath it.

Darin spoke. Wrongly.

“His name’s Wagner now, Ms. Nosey Parker,” he said, and that drew a sharp reaction from me.

“The boy’s name is Blake Malone,” I snapped. “And you’ll not take that tone either with me or with Ms. Pickering. This is my time with my son, you’re in a place where I’m in charge and you can like it or lump it.”

“Big yourself up, football manager,” he snorted. But he returned to his seat. Blake didn’t seem to care – he was too busy putting on his new shirt.

“Thank you,” he said to Pickering, and she smiled back.

“What a polite young man,” she answered, giving him a dazzling smile. “Unlike the gentleman in the stand.”

We all looked at her, but I looked at her with genuine surprise. She was taking a real risk and I’m sure she knew Darin would probably complain to her boss. But she had been insulted, and I couldn’t let that happen to the club’s employee.

“I think perhaps Mr. and Mrs. Wagner should take Blake home,” I said, looking at Holly for her reaction. She seemed just as horrified as I was. At least she had some scruples.

I hugged my son. “Be sure and wear that shirt next time I see you, all right, mate?” I asked, and he nodded as he hugged me back.

“I’ll miss you, Daddy,” he said. That was a sentiment I was pretty sure Darin Wagner never got from him.

# # #
Loving this story mate, keep it up, you're doing amazing! :D
Jack, thank you very much! I appreciate your kind words and thanks for reading :)

12 August 2014 – Shrewsbury Town v Bolton Wanderers
Capital One Cup First Round – Greenhous Meadow, Shrewsbury

This trip was a walk through the park – less than 100 miles from the Macron, with a modest dip through north and eastern Wales and finally to this beautiful medieval town less than ten miles from the border.

The freshly-relegated Salops are still a favourite to bounce back to League One thanks in part to the resources available to them through their wonderful new stadium. Greenhous Meadow has four stars from UEFA, which isn’t bad for a League Two club.

We made the trip without Pratley, who unfortunately strained knee ligaments in training the day prior to leaving. He’ll miss two months and that kicks us right in our midfield depth. Meanwhile, Moxey, Hall, Mason and Chung-Yong made the first Championship Team of the Week, which was a nice bauble even if it had nothing to do with the match at hand.

The news of the week was a rather remarkable interview given by Salops manager Micky Mellon, in which he said that beating us was really not a thing for his team, as the kids would say today.

“I don’t think it’s as difficult as it’s being made out to be,” he told BBC Shropshire, which made me think long and hard about a reply.

“Micky could ask Slavisa Jokanovic how hard we are to play against,” I finally told the journos the next day.

Either Micky had seen something on video that was really worrying, or he was talking bull patties. I opted to believe it was the latter, especially given how we had played against Watford.

I named a sharply changed eleven, with a league match at home against Nottingham Forest to worry about at the weekend:

Bolton Wanderers (4-1-3-2): Lonergan, McNaughton, Wheater, Dervite, Tierney, Spearing (captain), Danns, Vela, Moxey, Davies, Beckford. Subs: Bogdán, Vermijl, Ream, Medo, Hall, Mason, Clough.

It took less than three minutes for us to shut up Mellon, as Beckford finished with aplomb from a fine cross by McNaughton, who got the start at right full back in place of Vermijl. Getting him on the sheet that early boded well and it was all I could do not to look over at the opposition bench.

He did it again just seven minutes later, and this time I did glance over at Mellon, whose facial expression suggested that he might have swallowed a whole grapefruit. This time we broke out with numbers, five against four, and Danns provided from the right midfield spot, with Beckford leaping to score on a free header from about five yards.

Again, we dominated away from home. On the half hour, Cameron Park made a challenge on McNaughton just inside the penalty area and, to our great joy and Mellon’s consternation, referee Mark Haywood gave the penalty.

The players wasted no time in giving the ball to Beckford, who sent keeper Jayson Leutwiler the wrong way from the spot to complete his hat trick in just under half an hour.

Shrewsbury were a smoking wreck and we were still fifteen minutes from halftime. We got to the break still ahead 3-0 and though our attempts totals weren’t as gaudy as they had been against Watford, we were still brutally efficient in the final third.

The second half began and we were still bright offensively, but Mellon had parked the bus in front of his goal to deny us the access we had early on. He had also burned all three of his substitutions at halftime.

And then the former Blackpool man, Scott Vernon, shook loose on a counter and got them on the board just before the hour.

It was the kind of play that drives managers to distraction. Vernon slipped into the right hand channel between McNaughton and while he and Wheater had their arms in the air for offside, the striker beat the diving Lonergan to his left post.

Had we not been up two I’d have been angrier, but I was still not best pleased at conceding. We were firmly in control of the match but had been dented and that required some action on our part.

Craig Davies, who didn’t look as though he really wanted to be out there, came off in favour of Mason after Vernon’s goal. That gave us a spark, and Mason celebrated by cranking a drive off the left goalpost shortly after his introduction. McNaughton then hit the opposite post while trying to put the ball in the box from a set piece, and Medo hit the crossbar a few minutes after that.

Then Mark Ellis, who had had a torrid time trying to deal with Beckford in the first half, grabbed a handful of Danns’ shirt when the winger breezed by him into the penalty area. Haywood put us on the spot for a second time, with Moxey converting eleven minutes from time.

We weren’t done yet, though, as Mason made amends for his goalpost misadventure two minutes from time by lashing home a loose ball from in front of the Salops goal with the defence at sixes and sevens and the keeper down and out of the play.

We deserved it, again. We were through to the Second Round with most of what we’d call our second eleven doing the damage. So far, so good.

Shrewsbury Town 1 (Scott Vernon 59)
Bolton Wanderers 5 (Beckford 3, 10, pen 30; Moxey pen 79; Mason 88)
H/T: 0-3
A – 3,619, Greenhous Meadow, Shrewsbury
Man of the Match – Jermaine Beckford, Bolton (MR 9.5)

# # #
In other Cup news, Jokanovic’s players certainly got the message after getting roughed up by us in the league.

Watford went to Stevenage and won 7-1, so it looks like our hammering of that team at the weekend got a ‘message received’ in the form of an improved performance from the rest of the Hornets.

And, amazingly, Mellon doubled down to his local media regarding us after the loss. While I received a very few questions from the locals, Micky said that if the teams played again, he’d fancy his side to beat mine. The pillock.

But, there were other matters which needed attention. When I got back to the office on Thursday morning, I received a text from Gartside asking if I wouldn’t mind coming to see him as soon as practical.

I texted him back that such ‘practicality’ might not arrive until the end of training, and he said he was fine with that. We’re preparing to host Nottingham Forest on Saturday, we’re in a purple patch of form right out of the gate and I want to watch every move these players make so I’m as sure as I can be that it will continue.

I did have to face media briefly as I headed to the training pitch regarding Mellon. They’re trying to create some sort of controversy here and really, I’m not going to be drawn. We’re second in the Championship and they’re second in League Two, meaning there are exactly 48 standings places between our clubs.

“I get that Micky is trying to up his club,” I said. “But honestly, he needs to be serious. I made nine changes from the weekend, we played away and we still scored five on him while also managing to hit both posts and the bar. This is a non-issue for me and for my players. We rolled Micky on his own pitch and if we played them again I’d have every reason to believe we’d do it again. That’s not being disrespectful. That’s just reality. Next, please.”

I was asked about our second round Capital One Cup draw at home to Brentford on the 26th, said I was happy to be facing the Bees on our own patch, and asked for ‘next’ again.

There wasn’t a ‘next’, so I then watched Spooner run training while keeping a loose mood within the squad. When we’re playing like this, more relaxed is better, and that was part of my UEFA log writing as well. Some managers like to crack the whip when things are going well and I can understand why they do it. But it’s not for me.

After a brisk session, the players broke for lunch and afternoon meetings while I went to the club offices at the Macron to meet with my boss. I knew why he wanted to talk with me.

I opened the doors to the chairman’s reception area and noticed that Kim Pickering was not at her desk. That was odd to me, given that she always seems to be right where Gartside needs her to be. I was momentarily at a loss.

So, I texted Gartside, thinking they were away at lunch or something. But the chairman himself opened his door to receive me and showed me into his office.

“Thank you for coming up, Bobby,” he said. “It’s about Kim, as you might guess, so that’s why she isn’t here at the moment.”

That made sense to me. “Has she been sacked?” I asked.

“Good heavens, no,” Gartside said. “I just wanted your view on what happened when Blake visited. We’ve received a complaint from Mr. Wagner, who I understand is now married to your ex-wife?”

“That’s correct,” I said. “Let’s just say he didn’t behave well. And thank you for the gift for Blake. He seemed to like it a lot when he put it on.”

“Good,” he replied. “But, back to the matter at hand. Did Ms. Pickering raise her voice or insult Mr. Wagner in any way?”

“Raise her voice, no,” I said. “Insult, I guess that’s up to the individual. She told Darin, to his face, that he hadn’t been considerate and given his tone to both me and her, I think she had a point. I had to correct Mr. Wagner’s behavior as well, and since he was a guest of the club I felt I had the right and indeed the responsibility to do that.”

“We don’t tolerate poor conduct, as you are of course aware,” he said. “I think Kim got her buttons pushed by Mr. Wagner and struck back. I don’t think it was her place to correct his behavior, but I can understand why it happened. And it seems that you put up with quite a bit as well.”

“Holly and Darin are quite happy together, and I receive regular reminders of that fact from them,” I said. “As for me, my job is to run your football club and those two have nothing whatever to do with that. They should be civil, but they haven’t done and that’s where I have to figure out something else if I want my son at the ground.”

Gartside then hit me with a sucker punch that he may not have intended to throw.

“Bobby, are these visits supposed to be supervised?” he asked. “Was there something we missed when we interviewed you?”

He had to ask. I flushed a crimson red and he knew he had struck a real nerve. I measured my response.

“No, Mr. Gartside,” I said. “There is no reason for me to have a supervised visit with my son.”

“I meant no offence,” he said. “But, it just doesn’t look natural, what’s happening.”

“I agree. But judges being what they are, mine extended the right for Darin and Holly to be present during my visitation time over my barrister’s objections. Eventually I’m sure I will have to bring Blake to my home so they can’t come in. It’s sad that it came to this, but then I’m not the one responsible.”

“Ms. Pickering fancies you.”

That stopped me in my tracks. I mean, I knew it, but for Gartside to be so plain really hit me like a thunderbolt. His sudden changes of subject were really something to watch for.

“I’ve taken no action to encourage such a thing, I assure you,” I replied.

“That seems clear. And what Ms. Pickering does on her own time is her own business, as is also the case with you. But it would appear that part of her reaction the other day was because of you. I would simply ask you to be mindful of that in your interactions with her.”

I decided to trust my boss.

“I won’t deny that I appreciated what she did with regard to Darin Wagner,” I said. “Ms. Pickering is a lovely girl but finding a way to date your PA isn’t exactly high on my list of things to do at the moment.”

“That’s wise,” he answered. “Now, I’ve already spoken with Kim about this but I’m going to be up front and say that this club does have a harassment policy and if anything happens between you two that isn’t above board I will expect to be notified, and that is for both your sakes as well as for this club.”

“Mr. Gartside, I’m not looking for that sort of thing at the moment, if you don’t mind my plain speaking. And in fact, even if you do mind that plain speaking. I’ve had a fair bit of difficulty in my personal life in recent years and right now I’d really just like to concentrate on football.”

He smiled. “And if you’ll pardon my plain speaking, Bobby, it’s rare to see a footballer who thinks like that these days.”

He paused and spoke again, drawing a line under the conversation. “Just remember that this conversation in no way reflects on you. I appreciate your discretion and your honesty. I’ll take no action against Kim – in fact, I’ll defend her to the complainant – and let’s go win some football matches.”

I rose to leave. Right then, I would rather have been any place else.

# # #
16 August 2014 – Bolton Wanderers (1-0-0, 3rd place) v Nottingham Forest (0-0-1 18th place)
Championship Game Day #2 – Macron Stadium, Bolton

We entered play third in the Championship but tied for second on goal difference to Middlesbrough, which had thrashed my old mates from Birmingham 5-0 at the Riverside on opening day.

Norwich, which bored Wolves to death in a nil-nil draw in the opener, had overcome Watford 3-0 the day before to go top with four points and make me wonder if Jokanovic might have bigger problems than I had previously thought.

But getting out of bed in the morning and actually going to my new home stadium on match day felt a bit odd. I’ve had eight matches in charge including friendlies and only one of them has been at home – the friendly against Sparta Prague. As of yet, I have no home match day routine because we haven’t been home often enough to worry about one.

We’ll get a longer look at home now that the regular schedule has started, of course. Starting with tonight we have three of our next four at home.

But tonight was the home opener and that meant a festive crowd.

Not a sellout crowd, mind you, but a festive one. Ticket sales were going slowly, and that wasn’t what anyone wanted to see. But then, even with our strong start expectations were still fairly low.

That didn’t matter much to me, though, as we prepared for the day’s early kickoff. We were on national television today, which I’m sure pleased the Macron Sportswear folks, so it was important for more reasons than one to win and win well.

“You’ve got a good group of fans out there who are dying to be impressed,” I said. “Show them what you’ve got to offer. And take hold of this chance with both hands. This is a good team you’re playing today. Show them you aren’t to be trifled with.”

Bolton Wanderers (4-1-3-2): Bogdán, McNaughton, Ream, Mills, Vermijl, Spearing (captain), Chung-Yong, M. Davies, Hall, Mason, Beckford. Subs: Lonergan, Wheater, Moxey, Trotter, Danns, C. Davies, Clough.

We didn’t start well. It was fairly obvious that Forest was going to be a tougher nut to crack than Watford had been.

Britt Assombalonga, the Ivorian, was giving us trouble from the start. In our limited prep time we focused on him exclusively as the point of their 4-5-1 attack and so it was doubly annoying when Mills let him get on his inside shoulder six minutes into the match and took him down in the area.

Referee Geoff Eltringham pointed to the spot and the only one incredulous was Mills. It was plain as day. Assombalonga stepped up from twelve yards, and fired to Bogdán’s left – too close to the keeper’s body. At full stretch, my keeper kept firm hands and punched the ball away. It was just what the doctor ordered in terms of a momentum shift.

Only we didn’t take advantage. The Forest 4-5-1 made penetration difficult and finding good shots close to impossible. The penalty save was the offensive highlight of a drab first half. Frankly, I had expected more from us at home.

More bad things happened. Our skipper, Spearing, wound up in Eltringham’s book for a challenge on their skipper, Chris Cohen. Then three minutes later, he was stretchered off after a highly awkward twist chasing a loose ball. He grabbed at his right knee and my heart sank.

We got to halftime scoreless, and rather than tearing into the players, I instead reminded them that there were paying customers out there who wanted a home win to kick off their season. And for the second straight match we were much better after halftime.

Seven minutes after the restart, we finally found a breakthrough. Mason, who is giving me every reason to make the support striker role his, worked a 1-2 with Hall on the left, with the Cardiff loanee finally sliding an inch-perfect ball to the left for Beckford, played most obligingly onside by defender Michael Mancienne. Karl Darlow, who moments earlier had been carded for handling outside his area, had no chance. One-nil to the good guys.

Yet Forest refused to go away, and in 68 minutes they were level. Onetime Ranger Chris Burke took a set piece on our defensive right side and we managed to get a total of exactly no one marked to Bogdán’s right. Steven McLaughlin gleefully half-volleyed home and it all turned to disbelief when the assistant flagged Dexter Blackstock for offside on the other side of the play. He was offside, but he was passive, and in response, Forest manager Stuart Pearce reminded everyone why they used to call him “Psycho”.

We were extremely fortunate, and Pearce’s mood didn’t improve when just four minutes later, Mason volleyed home when Hall’s cross from the left found Chung-Yong’s head without much purchase. The ball fell to Mason at the edge of the six and he made no mistake for his fourth goal of the season to secure the points.

We were good. We were better than they were. But the saying goes, “I’d rather be lucky than good”, and today we were both.

Bolton Wanderers 2 (Beckford 52; Mason 73)
Nottingham Forest 0 (Britt Assombalonga m/p 6)
H/T: 0-0
A – 19,104, Macron Stadium, Bolton
Man of the Match – Joe Mason, Bolton (MR 8.3)

# # #
Inviting Pearce into my office for the ceremonial tip of the cup was a calculated risk. He was very upset, though not at me, over the outcome of the match. Still, I’ve nothing against him and the event went smoothly enough.

I commiserated with him over the offside – I thought it was passive and the goal probably should have stood – and he naturally agreed. The missed penalty, though, had cost him dearly and there was nothing to be done or said about that.

The niceties done, Pearce left to get ready for his team’s trip home. I headed back to my office to watch a few key sections of the match on my DVR. I wasn’t happy with our finishing or with how we attacked the five-man midfield especially in the first half. We’re going to have to work on those things because we’re sure to see more packed midfields the more we succeed.

In that respect, I know my work is never done. If there’s a piece of video to watch on ourselves or an upcoming opponent, I’ll find a way to watch it.

That’s my job, and it explains why there are so many football widows in this country. It probably explains Holly, as well.

We were happy for the first few years. Blake brought us a lot of joy. But the longer I played, the more cerebral I had to become in order to keep playing at the highest level. That’s how it is – when physical talent and skill are replaced by age, the brain becomes as important to the player as his legs.

That didn’t seem to sit too well with Holly. She wanted to not be married to football as well as to me, and our fall was as rapid as our rise, martially speaking.

What I don’t understand is why she seems to be so vindictive. She’s got a nice life now, she has the guy she evidently wanted, and Blake makes everyone who sees him smile. The kid is charmed.

Yet when I see my son, her attitude is awful and her husband’s is worse. I don’t see why. They won. She got a ton of my money and the only thing that really matters to me in my personal life, which is custody of Blake.

Some people can’t seem to take ‘yes’ for an answer, I guess.

# # #
We woke up topping the table. That was lovely.

Middlesbrough, which had us on goal difference before the match started yesterday and which is our next opponent at midweek, lost 1-0 at Elland Road to Leeds.

Leeds had something to play for after being shocked right out of the Capital One Cup at midweek by League One Rochdale at Elland Road. So our victory over the Tricky Trees now places us at the top of six teams who are perfect in two matches, on goal difference.

The other item of discussion at training was Newcastle’s 4-0 hiding of champions Manchester City to start the Premiership season. The Citizens were reduced to ten by the referee within the first twenty minutes when Fernando received a straight red card, and were reduced to ashes by the Magpies soon after that.

The news on Spearing isn’t good. He, like Pratley, will miss at least six weeks with strained knee ligaments. His scan showed that he won’t need surgery, but he will need time to get back into fighting trim too. So we’re down two central midfielders in the middle of a long and regular stretch of games.

We are deep at that position, though, and that’s a good thing. The early injury crisis is hitting us where we are thankfully most able to meet it. Players like Josh Vela and Medo, who were on the fringe of the first team not long ago, are now in the mix.

Most every team goes through the injury bug at one time or another. We seem to be starting our issues right out of the gate. My only worry is if other clubs start to poach players.

Sky reported this morning that Jokanovic was seen in our stands yesterday, reportedly to run the rule over my captain. Since he’s now injured, that particular piece of business might well be moot for the time being, but the fact remains that I have no desire to sell Spearing or Mark Davies, who is reportedly a transfer target for Fulham.

However, because of the club’s financial situation, we may have to sell. No one said this wouldn’t be a challenge, and the facts are these – our home opener was 9,000 seats short of a sellout, and we’re £150 million in the hole. We need to do better than that on both fronts, and we may need to do better than that with a depleted first team.

For me, though, I had another piece of business to attend to after training.

I dropped a quick e-mail to Gartside’s office, knowing Kim Pickering would respond. When she did, I asked if she wouldn’t mind letting me buy her a cup of coffee to say thank you for her kindness to Blake.

I guess I must have looked surprised when she turned me down.
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I have refrained myself from commenting, but sweet lord, this is perhaps in the top 3 stories this month!
Jer, thank you very much -- glad you are enjoying and I hope you keep reading!

19 August 2014 – Bolton Wanderers (2-0-0, 1st place) v Middlesbrough (1-0-1, 11th place)
Championship Match Day #3 – Macron Stadium, Bolton

“Here’s what you need to know about men and women. Women are crazy and men are stupid. And women are crazy because men are stupid.” – George Carlin

I spent perhaps too much time wondering about Kim Pickering’s rejection than I ought to have done.

Either my radar was jammed in concern to the fairer sex (which was a distinct possibility) or else I was just stupid. That was a distinct possibility as well.

It’s at times like these that I’m glad to have my football. At least the ball bounces true, most of the time.

The midweek clash with Boro came with us having tired legs after our exertions the previous Saturday.

We didn’t have much time to prepare. So, the thought of the lovely young thing upstairs who suddenly wanted nothing to do with me took a back seat to the thought of facing a pretty good side wanting to make a statement.

For me, it was a good trade.

A better trade was the board giving the club a cash injection of £275,000 to help with operating costs. The business model really isn’t sustainable yet. It will take either the Premiership or a substantial culling of the playing staff to make that happen. One is obviously more palatable than the other.

We were a bit of a patchwork in this game. Players like Trotter weren’t at full match fitness but had to play anyway because of the need in central midfield and players like Tierney and Mark Davies just weren’t ready at all. Davies had picked up a knock late on against Forest and couldn’t answer the bell.

That was not optimal.

Bolton Wanderers (4-1-3-2): Bogdán, Vermijl, Mills, Wheater (captain), McNaughton, Ream, Feeney, Trotter, Moxey, Davies, Clough. Subs: Lonergan, Dervite, Medo, Vela, Chung-Yong, Mason, Beckford.

We found out right away that there’s a difference between Watford and Boro. Quite a large one, in fact.

Boro came out in a 4-1-2-2-1 that left all kinds of room on the flanks and which was extremely narrow. It was as though they were ceding the wide areas of the field to us but with Chung-Yong on the bench and Hall out of the squad due to tired legs, we didn’t have the right people out there to take advantage.

Moxey was a pretty good substitute, though, but Feeney wasn’t as sharp due to lack of match practice. We missed Spearing quite a bit in the holding role too, but Ream found his legs soon enough in his first start in the role. The American held in there just fine and proved a useful link between the defence and the attack.

Where we were lacking was in the final third. Clough, making his first senior start for the club, was finding life a little more difficult than in the friendlies, and Davies as his foil couldn’t seem to get into the game. Our spear had no point.

As importantly, our passing wasn’t nearly as sharp as it had been in either of the first two matches and it showed. Boro was giving a very good account of themselves and when the whistle went for halftime it was almost a relief. We weren’t getting any purchase in the final third and I needed to make a few tweaks.

But before the half came, the worst happened as we conceded in the last five minutes.

It all came through Emilio Nsué, Boro’s fine midfielder – and through a defensive lapse on our part. Nsué had the ball at the top left of our eighteen and both the central defenders came to him – leaving Belgian striker Jelle Vossen unmarked near the penalty spot. It was child’s play for him to beat Bogdán and get them into the lead.

But there was really no point in getting upset. We aren’t going to cruise every match and just a bit of adversity might just do us some good.

“Keep at it, work the system and the result will come,” I told them. “We have stretches of possession in their half but we need to keep things simple like we’ve done to this point and we’ll be fine.”

That said, I pulled Feeney because he wasn’t sharp and had given us most of what he had to offer. Chung-Yong entered in his place and I felt better about our wing situation as the second half began.

It didn’t get a whole lot better after the interval.

The fans were out of the match, we were trailing and I was wracking my brain to figure out why we were having such a hard time. Mason came on in place of the ineffective Davies with fifteen minutes left and I put us into a highly aggressive mindset, looking for some spark to get us an equalizer.

The weight of our attack was starting to finally tell a bit as we got more possession in dangerous areas. Finally, Moxey shook loose down the left and crossed into the box where the ball fell into a mob of players. Mason, racing in from twelve yards, slid with a defender and managed to get more of the ball, toe-poking past keeper Tomás Mejías and home with three minutes to play.

It was his fifth goal of the season in all competitions already and he had scored in his third straight match. He’s made one decision of mine ridiculously easy.

The Macron finally had something to cheer about and their show of relief was prolonged and grateful. So was mine, actually. If I thought we had been lucky against Forest, well, I hadn’t seen anything yet.

Bolton Wanderers 1 (Mason 87)
Middlesbrough 1 (Jelle Vossen 40)
H/T: 0-1
A – 17,485, Macron Stadium, Bolton
Man of the Match – Dean Moxey, Bolton (MR 8.0)
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So good to equalize at the last moments of the game, as it appears to be thoroughly deserved.
Thanks very much ... I think this team is better than it gets credit for, and I'm hoping the good run of form can continue!
We fell two places to third after the Boro match and I spent quite a long time after the match watching video to see where we had gone wrong.

As I took notes, I knew that our video analysis wasn’t going to be as kind to the lads as it had been in previous weeks. Boro had come to take us out of our game and they had surely done that. They deserved three points instead of the one they got.

Clearly, more populated midfields are causing us trouble no matter where those players are supposed to be aligned. Forest strung five across the middle and Boro had given us the wings on a silver platter and we had done very little against either setup.

Against Boro, Moxey’s cross for the equalizer was from deep, almost to the byline, and came with a full back in his face. It had just been a great play to get the ball into a position where Mason could do something with it. It surely wasn’t due to any great tactical advantage we had.

With that said, having Spearing out really hurts. Ream is a decent replacement but there’s a reason he’s second choice – Spearing is a very smart footballer and really stabilizes us in the holding role. So part of our issue in terms of offensive flow may be due to having him out of the XI.

I’m at the point where I’m considering a 4-4-2 variant to deal a bit better with what we’re seeing. The Brighton match at midweek may well tell me whether I need a tactical tweak or if we’re just cooling off a bit.

But the next night, the only night where I was really available given our travel schedule, I put in an appearance at the Bolton megastore as part of a “Meet the Trotters” event.

It was reasonably well attended, but with a slew of clubs in the Greater Manchester Area, it was always going to be a struggle to draw big crowds. Surely a Premiership Bolton team would have had better luck, but then creating that team is my responsibility now, isn’t it?

These things aren’t fun for me, as anyone who recalls the sponsors’ event at the Macron will know.

As an active player, I knew I’d be called upon to do my part for the club whenever the Blues had something going in Birmingham. As the manager of a different club, these events would be fewer and farther between. I was no longer in demand, as it were, and most managers don’t like to interrupt their routines if they can avoid it.

Morris Vaughan is the Director of Commercial Enterprises for the club and as such this was his event. His staff did the heavy lifting, of course, but it was good to get on his good side.

He met me as I arrived and like everyone else, was pleased at our quick start. I think as long as we stay unbeaten, I’m going to be the most popular man in town.

I was shown to a table, where Beckford and Bogdán already sat. Spearing was supposed to be there too, but was instead taking treatment on his injured knee and so had to miss. I exchanged pleasantries with two of my key players and the event began.

For the players, it was essentially an autograph and meet-and-greet session. I got to listen to a lot of people tell me how I really ought to settle the striker situation and heard their opinions on why my 4-1-3-2 wasn’t really the best way to go.

The players had it easy. They just had to smile, sign their names, and pose for pictures. Meanwhile, I contented myself with the knowledge that no matter what opinions people offered to me, the final decision on the squad, and our tactics, belonged to only one man.

But, you’re polite to the fans, of course, so I listened patiently and even engaged a few of the smarter ones in conversation. Time passed pleasantly enough, until Vaughan approached with a young woman in tow.

“I hate to interrupt you, Bobby, but this lady has won a drawing. Could you please step this way?”

“What, the club is giving me away now?” I asked, to polite chuckles from the assembled.

“We held a drawing for a photo op with you,” he said, and was equal to my attempt at humour. “And there were even a few entrants.”

She was comely, even I could see that. She looked to be in her early thirties, with long, flowing black hair and a loose-fitting outfit that flattered her shape – sort of a poor man’s Katy Perry. She held a club scarf in her hands and she transferred it into her left hand as she extended her hand to me.

“Amanda Caldwell,” she said, with a ready smile. “Pleasure to meet you, Mr. Malone.”

“Pleasure’s mine,” I replied, meaning it. We stepped over to a photo backdrop where the players would eventually be standing, and together we held her BWFC scarf over our heads, making sure it was right-side-up, and smiled for an official photographer.

“Wait,” she said, and the photog did as he was asked. She put her arm around my waist and squeezed. “There, ready now.”

The first rule for anyone in a public position is this: when you’re in public, never, ever touch a fan except for a handshake. Did I mention the word “never”? Never.

And Amanda Caldwell had an armful of me. So to speak.

I was shocked, but tried not to show it, and the photographer took his picture. She smiled at me again, thanked me, and was on her way.

Returning to the table, I sat while Bogdán and Beckford grinned from ear to ear.

“Nice work, gaffer,” Beckford said. “Lady knew just what she wanted.”

Indeed, she did.

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Ahh Beckford, he knows whats up... Let's see how you do against Brighton and if we manage to score Amanda.. err.. I mean.. wut :P

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