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[FM15] - Malone Again, Naturally

Started on 22 June 2015 by tenthreeleader
Latest Reply on 25 January 2016 by tenthreeleader
With the trip to Brighton and the south of England coming on top of a very heavy early season fixture list, we got to fly this time, to cut down on tired legs and enable us to prepare for the Second Round Capital One Cup tie against Brentford a few nights hence.

I do worry about how the string of early games, made more hectic by Cup success, will affect us. The board wants the third round in the League Cup so we’ll need to look sharp, especially at home, against a Championship opponent.

As we boarded the plane, I mused to myself that I still don’t have exactly the right feel for the chemistry of this group as yet. I suppose it will take more than six friendlies and a couple of early-season matches to determine it all for sure, but finding which combinations of players work best with others is something I have to get right and quickly.

I know I like us a lot better with Chung-Yong and Hall on the wings. The problem I have is finding places for Moxey, Tierney when he’s healthy again and McNaughton to play – three good left-sided players and only one spot for them.

On the flight, Spooner approached me and sat down beside me as soon as the pilot had turned off the seat belt light.

“Well, Bobby, you sure did well for yourself,” he said, and I gave him a puzzled look.

“How so?”

“You haven’t seen The Star, have you?”

“I try to miss it on a daily basis.”

“That woman you were photographed with the other night? Amanda Caldwell? She’s a Star Babe. You made the papers, my friend.”

The Star’s equivalent of the famous “Page Three Girls” in the rival Sun, there are generally two reasons a model earns that particular distinction in the newspaper. I had tried my hardest not to notice them at the event.

“Bloody hell,” I sighed. “I had no idea. It’s not like she’s like Lacey Banghard or anything.”

“Of course you didn’t know and neither did the media staff,” Spooner said. “There were two pictures in the paper today. One of them was Miss Caldwell with you. The other one wasn’t. Shall we say, the more salacious picture was a reprise of an earlier edition, and Lacey has nothing on this girl. At all.”

“Well, I guess I wait and see now,” I said. “Hopefully nobody really cares.”

“As long as you’re dreaming, Bobby, would you like a pony? She’s a bit popular on Twitter, shall we say,” Spooner said, showing himself to be a social media expert as well as a decent assistant manager.

“Lovely,” I said. “But I’ve got other things to worry about, such as how we get a result when we get to Brighton.”

“You have such a one-track mind,” he answered, smiling as he headed back to his seat.

As we landed, I got an e-mail.

“Nice picture,” the note said. The e-mail came from Kim Pickering’s address.

I sighed, and put away my phone.

# # #
uh-oh double trouble from both gals.. Best of luck against Brighton.
Bobby can't stay out of his own way sometimes.

23 August 2014 – Brighton and Hove Albion (1-1-1, 13th place) v Bolton Wanderers (2-1-0, 3rd place)
Championship Game Day #4 – American Express Community Stadium, Brighton

The burghers of Brighton and Hove came out in force to support their team. I wish we had had a similar level of support for our home opener, but I guess you can’t have everything.

Depending on who you talk to, it’s either the Falmer Stadium, for where it’s located, or “The AMEX” if you’re a corporate type. For me, it was simply the place today’s match was to be played and that was all that really mattered.

I wanted to see us play a better match and so the stall I set out was charged with doing that job, and quickly. Some changes were rung – but Mason kept his place.

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

I wish I could say it started well. It did not.

I liked the full backs from an offensive standpoint, but Brighton played us every bit as tough as Boro had. And twenty-one minutes into the match, we were behind as we let them out of jail from deep in their end. It turned into a full-fledged jailbreak as Rohan Ince fed their Spanish fullback, Bruno. Tierney, starting at centre-half, was too far up the pitch to be of help, hanging his partner, Ream, squarely out to dry.

With Sam Baldock coming up on the left, Ream was presented with a choice. He elected to play Bruno, who simply slid the ball left to the onrushing Baldock. The striker beat Bodgán for his first goal for the club.

Twelve minutes later, though, we made our own breakthrough and it came from the wings. Chung-Yong tightroped down the right flank and threaded a nice little ball ahead to Mark Davies, and the playmaker chipped ahead to Mason, played onside by defender Glen Rea. Mason then scored his sixth goal of the season past David Stockdale and made it look easy.

That got us to halftime and I wasn’t completely dissatisfied with how we had played. The players didn’t need a kick up the backside, they needed encouragement and they got it.

Especially Beckford, who had come close twice in the first half only to be denied. He responded by starting us on the right foot in the second half. The striker pounded home an effort from the top of the eighteen after a great through ball from Medo three minutes after the restart. His first touch had been perfect, and necessary, to make the goal happen.

Our first lead of the match was well received by the players, who proceeded to pour on the pressure. We got a third when Moxey found Hall down the left. His first attempt to cross for Chung-Yong at the far post got headed right back to him so he tried again – and this time defender Lewis Dunk put through his own goal in 66 minutes instead of doing what he really wanted to do, which was head over. I had to give him credit, though – unfortunately for him, it was a dynamite finish.

Then, we relaxed. Bad idea.

Tierney continued his unfortunately torrid day by bringing down Paddy McCourt in the area right where referee Kevin Wright could see it. Danny Holla sent Bodgán the wrong way from the spot and again, poor defending had handed the home team a lifeline.

For me, though, the true test came now – could we hold the lead away from home in a match of moderate importance?

Happily, the answer was yes. The players stood tall and I let ten of the eleven men who had started the match finish it – rare enough for me.

Vela was our only substitution of the match and the resulting win meant that much of the squad would be fresh for the League Cup visit of Brentford at midweek.

Brighton 2 (Sam Baldock 21, Danny Holla pen 74)
Bolton Wanderers 3 (Mason 33, Beckford 48, Lewis Dunk o/g 66)
H/T: 1-1
A – 28,217, American Express Community Stadium, Brighton
Man of the Match – Jermaine Beckford, Bolton (MR 8.3)

# # #
Looks like concentration is at an all-time low. Brentford won't be as easy!
It won't be easy. It wouldn't be any fun if it was :)

I was the butt of a few very quiet and very well-placed jokes at the Monday training session.

After the Star fiasco, a few players wanted to know how far they could push the boss, and when it came to this particular issue, the answer was ‘not very’.

They ran extra laps after morning session for their indiscretion, and I expect never to have to broach this issue again on my training pitch.

However, I wasn’t immune from harsher criticism. That’s because, as I feared, Holly got to me as well. Sure enough, my ex-wife’s missive arrived in my e-mail before the morning was out.

“Who knew you’d be out with someone who could dribble three things at the same time if she was a footballer,
” she chirped.

“With respect, who knew that was any of your damned business?” I answered. I had had enough, and it hadn’t taken long.

Thankfully, though, I could return to afternoon training and get away from it all for a bit. On the training ground, the happy sounds of a winning team greeted me and it sounded great.

“What a complete clot you are…”

“That’s not what your mum said.”

“Hey, who was that I saw you with at Café Bistro t’other night?”

“It is too my bloody business! How the hell am I s’posed ta keep you on the straight and narrow if you keep dating birds with konks like that?”

“Yeah, you’re on your tod there, I see.”

“Look out, mate. I think he heard you.”

You couldn’t help but smile. We’ve been playing well enough, even if we don’t get five stars every week, so the trick now is to make the good feeling last as long as possible.

# # #
The team spirit is high. The Question is how long can it last?
Classic mother jokes. Brilliant read.
Surprised you conceded against Brighton, were shite. Love the story though, keep it going
Thanks for the comments, gentlemen. It's good to see Bobby getting a bit of a following here. mo_, yes, the spirit of the team is good and that's showing up in my board opinion. Jer, I always appreciate your comments, they are most welcome and valued :) and captain, Brighton isn't bad at all in my save. Where there;s life, there's hope!

She still looked wonderful, but she was angry and I guess I couldn’t understand why.

Well, not so much angry as hurt. But then, she had turned me down, not the other way around.

“Miss Pickering, good morning,” I said, smiling at her on my way to Gartside’s office. I was to meet with the management team and she had sent me an e-mail summons after training.

“Mr. Malone,” she responded. She didn’t look at me. I couldn’t resist.

“Look, do you mind if I ask you a question?”

“It depends on the question.” That didn’t sound good. She still wasn’t looking at me.

She wasn’t going to put me off that easily, especially when I meant no malice.

“I just want to know what I did to offend you. If we’re to have a working relationship I need to understand what I did wrong.”

“You were with … that woman,” she said. “And really, that’s all I care to say about it. You may go right in, Mr. Malone.”

“Very well,” I said, closing myself off to her in an emotional sense. I had posed for a picture, and as the Americans say, both Kim Pickering and Amanda Caldwell had made a Federal case out of it.

I knocked at Gartside’s door and opened it. Closing the door behind me, I saw a group of senior managers who needed my attention for a few minutes while I talked about football matters.

“You’ve certainly become quite the star man,” Gartside said as I sat down.

“Wasn’t of my making or my doing,” I said. “If anyone’s upset about it, I suggest our commercial department screen contest entrants a bit better in future. It has already caused me some personal difficulty and I’d not care to repeat it. Now, what may I do for you?”

At that, Vaughan blushed and Gartside raised his eyebrows, but I had made my point. Vaughan spoke.

“Bobby, we need to get some idea of how you propose to play certain young players, so we can begin appropriate promotion,” he said. “As you know, it’s important to the club to show the fans we are building for the future.”

“Of course,” I said. “For me, the three young players who are most likely to make a significant impact are Rob Hall, Zach Clough and Marnick Vermijl. However, with injuries and streaks, you never know. I can’t be held to these things, because my job is to pick the best eleven with the best chance to win each match.”

“But if you had to choose.” That was Vaughan, and it wasn’t a question.

“I would choose the best eleven.”

“Bobby, no one is trying to pin you down here,” Gartside said. “We just want to know where you feel we should direct our efforts. There’s no need to be defensive.”

“I’m not, honestly,” I said, feeling a bit trapped by the conversation. “What I’m trying to avoid is that if I give a big push to Clough or Hall for whatever reason and they don’t make the grade while the club spends money to promote them, I don’t want anyone coming back to me saying ‘I think the manager’s a bit thick’. The reason someone wouldn’t make the grade is because I need the best eleven I can play every week to give us the best chance to win matches. Then we can get back in the Premier League like we all want. Does that work for everyone?”

Nobody said anything, so I sat at the table and waited for the next question. I decided to try and help.

“Frankly, I’d promote them as a group,” I finally said. “There’s no sense in promoting individual players for the reason I’ve just stated, but unless one of the young guys turns out to be a superstar, it might save everyone a lot of time and effort.”

Vaughan sat in his place, twisting his pen between his fingertips. He didn’t look happy, but then, he had just been told his business after he had tried to tell me mine. You know what they say about karma.

I was finally dismissed from the meeting by my boss and I headed back outside to run the Pickering Gauntlet on my way back downstairs to the football side of the business.

She looked at me coolly, her ice-blue eyes trying to bore a hole through mine. I shook my head and addressed her.

“You could have saved yourself a lot of aggravation by simply saying ‘yes’ when I asked you out for a coffee,” I said, closing the outer office doors behind me as I left.

# # #
HAHAHAHA that ending.. You could've saved yourself a lot of aggravation by simply saying yes when I asked you out for a coffee." The owner sounds a bit childish, and if you promote just one player he'll become like Sterling.. and we all know how that ended :P
Bobby doesn't have a lot of time for games other than football. As for the owners, money men are the same all over football, aren't they? :)

Arriving downstairs at my offices, I spoke with my PA, the charming and professional Dell Kingsley. The silver-haired receptionist had a message for me.

“Miss Caldwell has contacted the office twice this afternoon to apologize to you,” she said. “What would you like done with any further messages?”

“Completely inappropriate on company time,” I said. “Please give her my regards and tell her that I hold no ill feelings toward her.”

“And if she asks for a return call, which she has also done twice?”

“Give me the number. I’ll decide what to do about that when I’m not here, if anything.”

She did as I asked, and smiled at me almost with a sense of pity.

“Bobby, I’m sorry this happened to you,” she said. “I’d be bent out of shape over it too if I were you.”

“There’s nothing to be done about it now,” I said. “I think I lost a friend over it already. Let’s make sure the number stays at only one, shall we?”

I then headed into my office to figure out a team sheet for Brentford.

This is an important match for the board, which wants the Third Round out of the youngsters. That seems reasonable, but I’ll give the youngsters Bogdán in goal just to provide a little extra steel. Being at home, we should be favoured to advance.

Lonergan has done well when called upon but Bogdán seems to have ironed out the issues he faced in the friendlies. I want to see him in a Cup tie now.

The issue now is what to do with Mason, the hottest scorer I have. He needs to play and with six goals already he deserves to play, but I’d rather he play with fresh legs in the league when we travel to Elland Road.

I’ve realized now that my initial read on the player was completely, and unalterably, wrong. I didn’t rate him at first but now I can see why he’s here. Used properly, the boy can tear up this league and that’s something I found out almost by accident. So, shame on me.

Mason’s was the first name I wrote down on the sheet. After picking ten more, I headed home.

There, I picked up my phone and made a call.

“Ms. Caldwell, this is Bobby Malone,” I said, when my call was answered. “Thank you for reaching out to me. I want you to know I’m okay with what happened but there were some repercussions for me personally that I hope the newspaper you posed for doesn’t see fit to report.”

“Again, I’m sorry,” she repeated. “But thank you for calling. I had a nice time at the event and even with all this, it was very nice to meet you. I’m a West Midlands girl myself.”

“That’s nice,” I replied. “Good people there.”

“I grew up supporting Villa,” she laughed, and my heart sank in yet another ‘here we go again’ sort of way.

“Well, I won’t hold that against you,” I said. I might well have said “that can be cured at birth now” but I didn’t want to cause even more trouble for myself. A rare bit of discretion, that.

“I’d like to make it up to you,” she said, almost blurting out the words.

“Second City Derbies come from birth,” I replied.

She laughed. “I didn’t mean that. I mean, how about we meet for a coffee someplace quiet?”

I thought about Kim Pickering and her response to me, and I wasted no time.

“That would be lovely, Miss Caldwell.”

# # #
Haa.. Have that Ms. Pickering!
Neener neener :)

26 August 2014 - Bolton Wanderers (2nd place Championship) v Brentford (10th place Championship)
Capital One Cup Second Round – Macron Stadium, Bolton

In the end, it was a cup tie. As such, I had to prioritize between that and the league, and as such the Cup got a bit of a short shrift.

That said, the Bees were as shorthanded as we were, having also played at midweek.

I indulged myself with Miss Caldwell the evening after we talked, and she was as good as her word. There was no malice in the young lady, and for her to admit that she fancied a Blue was probably as difficult as admitting she wanted a good case of scurvy.

But the coffee had been very nice. She picked a very quiet café on the outskirts of the downtown and I bought the beverages.

The whole idea was to do it without being seen, since I surely didn’t need the aggravation that the tabloid press could have created – and she knew that if it happened again, we might not talk again. As in, ever.

It went very well. For a divorced man such as myself, it felt nice – though it wasn’t like Sam Baldwin singing “Back in the Saddle Again” in Sleepless in Seattle – and not being judged by anyone for having made the attempt certainly felt night as well.

A few other things happened which nobody else saw that night, and that was a very good thing.

Those thoughts were in the back of my mind as we took the pitch. It was a mixed bag of players, but definitely young.

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

We didn’t start well. We struggled to find our feet and after a bit of defending for which we may become infamous if we aren’t careful, we conceded just after twenty minutes.

It started with the most innocent of crosses, as Bees skipper Kevin O’Connor whipped in an effort from the right wing which found the midst of our packed defence. So it was doubly annoying when those four gentlemen couldn’t get our lines cleared, the loose ball falling at the feet of Tommy Smith for the simplest of finishes in 21 minutes.

Our answer was not long in coming, though, in fact less than two minutes.

It was directly up Route One – but it was on the floor, with four beautifully played balls in a row from Wheater to Trotter to Vela to Clough – and to that man, Mason, who got the ball with a defender on his inside shoulder seventeen yards from goal. No matter, as he scored yet again to get us level.

It stayed 1-1 until halftime and we were being played to a dead standstill by the visitors. So, the players got the ‘do it for the fans’ talk even though the fans had decided to miss this match by the thousands.

We started the second half much better than the first, with Clough providing for Trotter down the left, and when his lead ball for Hall found the winger just short of the byline, it would take a special cross indeed to make something out of it all. Yet that’s just what happened – and instead of finding the head of Danns, it found the unfortunate French defender Raphael Calvet, who had no option but to turn the ball into his own goal – the second straight game someone had scored on our behalf wearing the opposing colours.

It was a wonderful break and we grabbed the chance with both hands, holding Brentford at bay with some ease.

Chung-Yong and Beckford came on for Danns and Mason with twenty-five minutes to go and when Tierney went off for McNaughton fourteen minutes from time, things looked very good with a strong defensive group on the pitch.

But then Vermijl limped off after a kick in the calf two minutes after McNaughton came on, and I got the signal he could not continue. Ten men.

The problem was that even though I could still put four defenders out there with Wheater, Mills, Trotter and McNaughton, I couldn’t put four midfielders out there since Clough, now trapped on the pitch, couldn’t play any position in midfield and neither could Beckford.

So, it became a race against time – us trying to kill it and Brentford trying to preserve it to exploit our weakened state. Clough drew the short straw, dropping into central midfield but it wasn’t at that spot where we were exposed.

Sadly, it was at the back, and it showed when Alan McCormack found Spanish striker Jota completely unmarked with a diagonal pass to his left. McNaughton was nowhere to be found, and there was certainly no defender to mark the wide-open Alex Pritchard, who gleefully volleyed home Jota’s perfect cross ten minutes from time to get them level.

It was going to be a difficult finish. Suddenly they were all over us and it was looking fairly difficult to find a goal from this group given the way we were suddenly playing.

In the end, we couldn’t get a corner defended either. Pritchard returned the favour, floating a good ball to the edge our six with Jota getting his head on it in the middle of a mob of players, heading the ball into the ground and over the despairing lunge of Bogdán to give them the lead, and eventually send us out.

Three goals. Three ugly defensive errors. Two while we were trying to close out the match. There was no excuse for any of it.

Those present whistled us off the pitch. We deserved it, and the post-match conversation was not pleasant for anyone.

Bolton Wanderers 2 (Mason 23, Raphaël Calvet o/g 48)
Brentford 3 (Tommy Smith 21, Alex Pritchard 80, Jota 90)
H/T: 1-1
A – 13,105, Macron Stadium, Bolton
Man of the Match – Jota, Brentford (MR 8.1)

# # #
Ahh, unlucky with those injuries who cost you the match.. Although there definitely could be positives out there :)
It happens in the game, but Bobby's reaction is a bit different, In fact, it's downright defensive ...

“Unacceptable. I don’t care what level it is, I don’t care what competition it is, coughing up two goals in the last ten minutes – at home – to go out of a Cup competition is just not acceptable.”

If I had thought the post-match conversation with the players was difficult, it was nothing compared to the interrogation I got from the press.

“You had to finish with ten,” King said. “Any regrets about that last substitution before Vermijl’s injury?”

“The last substitution was like-for-like for a fullback, McNaughton,” I said. “We had four defenders out there at the end. We would have preferred to finish with eleven, but sometimes these things happen in football. Tactically, we wanted to make the final switch and of course Vermijl didn’t hurt himself on purpose. But that’s as may be. We have to hold that lead, even with ten, and it’s really just that simple.”

You didn’t have the right people out there to hold the lead after the injury,” he continued. “Do you bear any of the blame for that?”

“We would have had the right group out there with eleven players, which makes us a victim of circumstance in that regard. But again, these are professional players and they need to understand that closing out the match at home, even with ten, should be a given. They understand that now. Ten or eleven, it shouldn’t have made a difference.”

“David Wheater said there were words in the changing room after the match.”

“David Wheater is right,” I said, making a mental note to remind my vice-captain that what is said in the changing room stays there. “There were words. And I spoke every one of them. If that issue we saw tonight is ever repeated, people are going to lose their places and that’s not a threat, it’s a promise. The key to understanding all this is how the players respond to the challenge I gave them. They were not pleased with themselves, which tells me they understand that professional players need to close out the match.”

“Do you feel you’re giving Brentford enough credit?” In terms of the line of questioning, this was not going as I had hoped.

“They deserve credit for coming back,” I said. “But we let them do it. For some reason, the things we had done all night with eleven players we suddenly could not do with ten. The errors came in basic marking and there’s no excuse for that. We still had four defenders out there and four people who could have played midfield positions better than they did. They needed to get men marked.”

“This is the club’s first loss with you in charge,” I was reminded. “Are you being too hard on these players?”

“We expect to win. That is what professionals do. I know that what I saw in the room from these players is a determination that this won’t happen again.”

With that, I headed back to the room with final instructions for the next day’s training.

And the next day, King wrote what he thought. I hate when reporters do that, at least those who don’t know what they’re talking about.

King did, to a point. He wrote that we collapsed – which was correct. He also wrote that I had been caught with my managerial trousers down – which was not.

Sometimes, you get hit with the Flying Fickle Finger of Fate in this game. Vermijl’s injury did that.

I didn’t put our remaining ten players in the best position to hold the lead and the players doubled down by not performing. If I’m culpable, it’s in the positioning I had us hold with ten men, not with us going down to ten.

I’ll learn from it. And the players should, too.

# # #

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