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[FM15] - Malone Again, Naturally

Started on 22 June 2015 by tenthreeleader
Latest Reply on 25 January 2016 by tenthreeleader
Seems like Lee Chu Young is in a dark spot now with your wingers taking their chances!
There is a chance waiting to be grabbed with both hands if someone is willing to work for it. We'll see how things go.

“Hey, I found your nose. It was in my business.” - Anonymous

“Yes, Holly, I’d like to have Blake with me after the game Tuesday night. He’ll be the guest of the club, and you and Darin are welcome too.”

“It’s not your night.”

“I realize that. But it’s fan night, there are extra things going on for kids, and besides, the boy might have fun. Is there something wrong with that idea?”

“Of course not.”

“Then, what’s the problem?”

“I don’t care for how you’re conducting yourself. Neither does Darin.”

“Darin has nothing to say about it, and if I were not such a nice man, I’d say neither do you,” I replied. “And if you’re going to say that my posing for a picture that wound up in a newspaper without my knowledge or consent, even if it’s entirely innocent, is a bad thing I’d ask you to please adjust your reception if you catch my meaning.”

If only she knew.

“That’s not funny, Bobby.”

I took a deep breath. “Neither is this unwanted, and out of bounds, criticism of my life. So, what’ll it be? I’ve been very good about you wanting Blake on the weekends, and of course while we’re away, I can’t have him with me at all and you know that. It’s a weeknight, and it would be fun for him.”

“I’ll ask Darin,” she said.

“Again, Darin has nothing to say about it,” I said. “If you’re going to hide behind him, I’ll go back to court and try to get my rights changed. I’ve been completely punctual, I’ve never missed a payment to you and never would, and what I’m not getting in return is cooperation.”

“Threats don’t look good on you,” she said.

“Then don’t make me threaten.”

“Sure, make it my fault.” This was the way our conversations usually went these days, and it was starting to frost my shorts.

“Holly, I guess I don’t understand the hostility,” I said. “We both want what’s best for Blake, and if I’m any sort of dad at all, which I think I am, I’m going to tell you straight up that I love my son and I want time with him. Surely reasonable people can make accommodations with each other?”

She evidently had to think that one through, and I wondered what was going on in her head that could cause her to hate me so.

I settled on Darin. There’s really no better way for an insecure guy to make himself feel better than to tear down someone else. So it seemed to me that the guy who thought himself the second coming of Jeremy Clarkson might have a few needs in the feel-good department.

“With you it’s always football, football, football with Blake,” she said.

“It is my job, and as you know it’s a pretty intensive one at times,” I said. “Right now, if I’m going to have time with him, that’s the way it has to be. But I see your point.”

“I don’t want to drive him up the road all the way to Bolton on a night when he should be rested for school the next day,” she said. Now there was a point.

“All right,” I sighed. “You win.”


# # #
fkin hell, i hate her
She's a real gem, isn't she?

16 September 2014 - Bolton Wanderers (5-1-0, 1st place) v Rotherham (0-2-4 24th place)
Championship Match Day #7 – Macron Stadium, Bolton

The Millers are in a world of hurt.

Freshly promoted from League One last season, they have found life in the Championship to be ridiculously difficult in the first month of the season.

The oddsmakers made them 1000-1 shots to win the league this season, so it’s not terribly surprising that earning just two draws from their first six matches has left them rooted to the bottom of the table. And, for the second straight match we would play the worst defence in the Championship on our own ground.

They had conceded fifteen times in those six matches, a record that doubtless had fans and coaches alike concerned for the immediate future.

On the night at the stadium that was made special for kids, I wanted to start a young lineup just to keep things fresh and the board satisfied. It was a match we were expected to win comfortably, and my thought all day as we prepared for the match was that I should show some faith in the squad players.

My other thought was that I was pretty upset with my ex, but I managed to put all that aside for a time. We had a streak to continue, and that was more important while I was at the ground.

We met as a team in the morning, and while the hustle and bustle of workday Bolton moved around us, including at the Middlebrook Retail Park adjacent to the stadium, we went about our business.

While I liked the idea of youth, there were also veterans who needed to play, and this match gave me the opportunity to do that.

Playing an evening match on a weekday makes for a very long day, though, and the players started to show their edge late in the afternoon. They wanted to get out there and play, which is the disadvantage of playing a night fixture.

But finally, we were ready, and as the kids filed in at half price for Fan Day with their parents, we took the pitch to Katy Perry’s “Roar”, fitting enough for the youngsters in attendance. For me, it was a bit camp, but you can’t have everything.

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

The kids were excited and the place had a different atmosphere, I had to admit that. There usually is when that number of youngsters are about, and so my hope was to start them off with something to cheer about.

So, thank goodness for Craig Davies, who capitalized on his recent good form for country by translating it to his club. He turned in Hall’s cross from the left and home with exactly 55 seconds on the clock. You couldn’t have asked for better, and the kids screamed with delight as we took the lead.

The carnival atmosphere continued as we put pressure on the Rotherham goal throughout the first half. They were in a purely defensive 4-5-1, as Wednesday had been, and were quite content to look for opportunities to counter. We dominated possession, as you would have expected us to do, but for me the killer was always going to be finding a way to score a second.

Davies did that for us too, just after the half hour. He took a truly wonderful lead ball from Medo in the center of the park, brought the ball to ground with a terrific first touch, squared up, and scored from fifteen yards in 32 minutes. It was 2-nil to us and we were looking very good value for the fans’ half-price tickets.

We were so good, in fact, that I slipped up at halftime and didn’t really say much to the players. They were in the mood to be praised, and I misjudged the mood of the squad. I expected us to be in the driving seat and they expected to be praised for it.

As such, our second half wasn’t nearly as good as our first. That was disappointing to me, since I expected the players to pick up where they left off. Funny thing, expectations. Sometimes they work in strange ways, especially when they aren’t clearly communicated.

We suffered another injury in the centre of midfield too, as Medo went out with what I was told was a strained thigh after stretching like Plasticman for a ball headed over his head. I suppose I shouldn’t have wondered.

That said, we were still never under threat from Rotherham, which managed only four attempts for the match, only troubling Bogdán twice – and that, hardly at all. He didn’t have to make a difficult save in the entire ninety minutes – meaning we cruised, and kept our spot atop the Championship.

The run continues.

Bolton Wanderers 2 (Craig Davies 1, 32)
Rotherham 0
H/T – 2-0
A – 24,032, Macron Stadium, Bolton
Man of the Match – Craig Davies, Bolton (MR 8.8)

# # #
As I gave the players a ‘well done’ after the match which seemed to lift their spirits, I checked the other scores and got my eyebrows raised a bit.

Derby, now under Steve McClaren, is making some real noise. They thrashed Stuart Pearce’s Forest 5-0 tonight at the City Ground before a crowd over 30,000 – which were not happy in the slightest. Chris Martin scored four times including once from the spot in a truly dreadful effort for the home team.

The Rams and Fulham are both quite strong sides – and we play them in consecutive matches later this month.

Fulham is recently relegated from the Premiership after the debacle of last season which saw even the great Felix Magath unable to keep them in the top flight. Derby was spectacularly bad in the top flight a few years back but has made steady progress toward trying to get back. Their fast start indicates that this might be their year.

But we do get them back-to-back, and if we’re still unbeaten after that stretch I’ll know we might have something special on our hands here. We may not be hitting on all cylinders offensively, but we’ve kept two clean sheets in a row – yes, against weaker opposition – and defensively we look better.

As such, we are doing better than I had any reasonable right to expect at the start of the season. Unbeaten in our first seven in the league is a nice place to be.

King was pretty perfunctory in his post-match conversation with me – it sounded like he had expected us to win too, judging by the tone of his questioning – and as I finished with the press I got a text from Gartside inviting me to the Hall of Fame Suite on the mezzanine for a drink. That’s another nice place to be.

It’s second in the club’s pantheon of suites, behind only the Platinum Suite, but that runs nearly the whole length of the pitch and was too big for the kind of quiet celebration Mr. Davies had in mind.

The attendance had been decent – 2,000 fans better than the previous match, though still not a sellout, and it was on a Tuesday instead of the traditional Saturday. So perhaps Vaughan’s decision to hold the special event on an odd night paid more dividends than I gave him credit for. And that gave the money men a little reason to smile.

I figure it’s only a matter of time before Mr. Gartside starts selling players out from under me, especially if we’re doing well enough where we can absorb a little hit to the playing staff, so soirées like tonight’s were good to have while the getting was good.

The board was there, as were some of the local sponsors. The Macron representative was even there, and even though we hadn’t been televised, a fair number of websites and publications are starting to cover us since we’re winning. So there was plenty of product placement to keep them happy.

“Bobby, fine job tonight,” the chairman said, as a waiter arrived to take my drinks order. I tried a Bank Top Dark Mild and found it to be more than satisfactory, tipping the waiter a fiver for his trouble.

“Thank you,” I replied, taking a second pull from the glass and looking out over the pitch, which now was being watered down by the grounds crew. “The boys did well.”

“It’s a lovely run we’re on, Bobby,” Davies said, approaching from the opposite direction, hand extended. “This kind of play will make people start to talk. That’s good for the club.”

“And good for me,”
I thought to myself, shaking his hand and enjoying my bosses’ favour. That sort of thing can be fleeting in this business too.

But for now, it was simply time to enjoy being unbeaten in seven. And it was then that a third person joined the conversation.

“Congratulations, Bobby,” Kim said, standing beside her boss, the chairman. “It’s fun to come to the ground when things are going this well, yeah?”

I smiled. “Credit the players,” I said. “They deserve it.”

“So do you,” she said, as Gartside and Davies excused themselves. They left and we were standing alone by a large bay window that overlooked the pitch.

She then shocked me by giving me a hug, in a room full of people. She felt wonderful, but as they say, it wasn’t the time or the place.

Gartside and Davies had their backs turned so that was a good thing, but she blushed a bright red as she dropped her embrace.

“I’m sorry, Bobby,” she said quickly, smoothing down her outfit as she stepped away. “I couldn’t resist and I got a little carried away. I’ve been a fan of the club for such a long time, and I haven’t been this excited since we were in the UEFA Cup.”

I took a deep breath. If ever the ball was in my court, it surely was now. These days, the UEFA Cup wasn’t anything to get really excited about, but Kim Pickering certainly was.

I looked at my e-mail again, perhaps a bit forlornly. I hadn’t heard from Amanda Caldwell in nearly a week, despite repeated texts and e-mails. I wondered where she was, whether she was still interested in me, and any of the host of other things that men who say they aren’t insecure but really are think from time to time.

“Kim,” I finally said, “we need to talk. Openly and honestly. I’m in a quandary and if this goes any further, I will need your understanding. And I think you know what I mean.”

# # #
That ending though! Hopefully they won't sell your top players, from what I know Clough becomes world-class in a couple of years, so keep him!
I like Clough in this game. He fits some key roles and hes a young player in the first team so that will hopefully keep the board off my back while I sort out this squad.

It’s another stretch of three matches in eight days for us. The extra eight matches in the Championship schedule are a pretty significant pain in the rear end for us but it could be worse. We could still be in the League Cup.

That’s the problem Derby faces when they come here in ten days’ time. They will have a Third Round cup tie at home to Arsenal three days before they play us, and that will hopefully soften them up a bit. Yes, the board is disappointed that we are out of the competition, but we don’t have to play next midweek. Derby will have to.

In the meantime, we are getting ready for our trip to Molineux to take on Wolves. The home team is newly-promoted back to the Championship after being in the Premiership just a few short years ago, and Kenny Jackett has them headed in the right direction. Right now they are 16th and have a pair of wins to their credit so things look okay for them in the early days.

Of course, we’re looking to keep our own run going and I personally am looking for another hug from that very nice young lady upstairs.

Which is what I talked with her about. I told her what happened between me and Amanda, and I want everything above board so the wrong things don’t get said.

The last thing I want is my name in the papers for the wrong reason. To cite the most famous example of why, Sven-Goran Eriksson’s entanglement with Faria Alam and their whole issue with Mark Palios and the FA took quite a long time to settle down. I haven’t risen to that level yet, if you’ll pardon the expression, and have frankly no intention of doing so.

There are reasons for that, and one of them is named Blake Malone. I can’t afford the issues that being seen as a playboy might have on my visitation with my son. Holly can be merciless and I don’t need the aggro. In short, I can’t screw this up, and I need understanding on that front.

I had a bit of a reputation before Holly and I were married -- nothing I had to live down, mind you, but I was quietly famous among teammates for liking to have fun. I can't dance worth a lick but liked to have fun when the situation was appropriate in a nightclub -- for me, it was all part of growing up.

I also need to concentrate on my job. Doing it well is going to build a reputation for me and hopefully, get Bolton promoted someday. You know those nerds who don’t seem to do anything but sit and watch video and have no life outside of the game? Some of those people are the best at what they do, and there’s a reason for that.

My hope was that Kim would understand that. She is insecure, in that the other person with whom I’ve been linked is rather famous. Or, as Kim said it, “As of this morning, Amanda has 176,000 more Twitter followers than I’ve got. And don’t get me started on her Instagram.”

“Followers don’t matter, unless they’re the ones you want to have,” I said. That made her smile.

But above all, I asked her to be patient. She thought she knew why, but when we were done talking, she knew it was for more than one reason.

And, I also informed Gartside that I was now seeing his PA socially.

“I thought you weren’t interested in that sort of thing,” he said.

“I wasn’t,” I admitted. “Now, that’s not to say it’s headed anywhere, but it won’t affect how I do my job.”

“You must see that it doesn’t,” he said. “And we both know that. All I’m interested in for the moment is that neither of you are harassing the other. We can’t have that and you know it.”

“Of course,” I said. “And it is most certainly not the case here.”

“Please see that it stays that way,” he said.

With that, I retreated to the training ground, which was a place I could forget about the personal life and concentrate on the professional life I wanted and needed.
# # #
I love the character development in this story. All the nonfootball stuff is great!
Not to say the football related stuff isn't great! It is also awesome! Great story.
Great update!
Thanks very much, gentlemen ... glad to have you along, squirmy, and Jer, you're easily my most faithful commentor :)

20 September 2014 – Wolverhampton Wanderers (2-2-3, 16th place) v Bolton Wanderers (6-1-0, 1st place)
Championship Match Day #8 – Molineux, Wolverhampton

It’s only 88 miles from Bolton to Wolverhampton in the West Midlands, so we planned for an easy Saturday away.

Breakfast was at seven sharp, with bus call an hour later. By 10:00 we were ensconced in the visiting dressing room at this beautiful stadium, just across the A4150 from the University of Wolverhampton.

Molineux has been home to the club since 1889, but was renovated from top to bottom starting in 1991.

I grew up with a healthy antipathy toward Wolves, being a Birmingham lad. I used to love winning a good West Midlands Derby but even though I bore no love for the club, their ground was something else again.

A quick walk of the ground by the team upon arrival showed a fast track and with a good weather day expected, we could count on a fast game – good for the way we like to play.

I looked up into the two-tiered Stan Cullis Stand and saw the split phrase “THIS IS OUR LOVE / AND IT KNOWS NO DIVISION” across the façade of the upper deck and smiled. Today would be fun, I thought.

The players thought so too. We were going well, the defence was antiseptic – and then the match started.

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

The eleven was different in a couple of ways. I’m still trying to find out where Moxey does us the most good, whether at full back or on the left side of midfield. He’s been great in both places and it’s a tough choice.

Feeney also got a start today, and Craig Davies got a start in a place I haven’t used him – leading the line.

In all his previous action for me, he had played in the hole behind the front striker, and he’s had the most success paired with Beckford. But he has been in good form lately and I wanted his legs and enthusiasm out there so Jermaine could get a breather.

We started slowly. Very slowly, in fact, as the home team took it right to us, thankfully spurning both possession and good scoring chances at the last for about the first fifteen minutes. I felt we were riding our luck.

On our first real foray into the Wolves half, we made something happen. It was Ream who did the work, chugging up in a box-to-box sort of role that really isn’t called for in my tactic, but I appreciated his effort. I further appreciated his 1-2 with Vermijl that found space down the right.

The on-loan United man then slid the ball back to Ream at the top of the left edge of the Wolves’ area, and when the defence rather inexplicably collapsed onto him, slid the ball right back onto the run of the full back on the right. Now in a great deal of space, Vermijl crossed into the six, where Moxey had crashed in to volley home with his right foot in 19 minutes.

We hardly deserved it, but we were ahead. And then Wolves really took it to us.

They held possession not just for moments but for minutes. We fouled them in inopportune areas. And if Bakary Sako could have hit a cow’s arse with a banjo, they might have scored on any one of the three free kicks we gave them just outside our penalty area in the first half.

We led at half, but in the process had graduated from “hardly deserved to lead” to “in no way deserved to lead”. That wasn’t exactly progress.

I kept things calm at half but still informed the team that I wasn’t happy with how we were playing. Both the Davieses took that to heart, but when the second half began, neither were anywhere to be found.

It was clear that Craig wasn’t completely comfortable with his position and that was my fault for not putting him in a position to succeed. It was clearer still that Mark seemed to have lost his motivation after I told him in the changing room that he needed to clear the gunk out of his engine and lead us on the pitch.

I even took us out of the 4-1-3-2 and dropped a second midfielder back to create a countering 4-2-3-1 alignment and get us more men behind the ball. We were playing very poorly, Wolves were playing very well, and I could sense something bad was about to happen.

To make matters worse, both my central defenders wound up in referee Scott Mathieson’s book, and Sako continued his afternoon of frustration by putting two more free kicks over Bodgán’s crossbar. We’ve now received twelve cards this season and Matt Mills has somehow contrived to get four of them, leaving him one short of a suspension.

It soon got worse, though, as Wolves finally got the equalizer their play deserved when Tommy Rowe fed the ball ahead to Nouha Dicko.

One of Wolves’ Malian strikers, Sako, had had a horrible day. Their other, Dicko, now produced a marvelous turn-and-shoot that arrowed into the top left corner of the goal in 71 minutes. It was an artfully placed shot that might wind up Goal of the Month, sadly enough for us. Anyhow, they were level, their crowd was into the match and I turned to Spooner.

“We need better,” I said, and thought back to my West Midlands derby days. “I’ll be damned if we get run off this pitch.”

I got up, yelled at the team to show a little passion, and moved us back to 4-1-3-2. Things improved almost immediately.

Hall, who had played a lot of football and so was rested for as long as possible, came on eight minutes from time. He lofted a ball into the box that Wolves substitute Leon Clarke hoofed as far as he could. The ball found Mills’ head at the halfway line and the defender’s effort wound up at the foot of Neil Danns. His lead ball hit Hall in space just outside the Wolves’ area, and the winger looked up to find Mason on a diagonal run into the box.

It was over that quickly. Three minutes from time, Mason did it again, and after a bit of added time, we were in a hell of a big hurry to get out of Molineux.

It had been a near-run thing. We hadn’t played well – at all – and we still had found a way to win. This place is beautiful, but it’s even prettier when I leave it with three points in my back pocket.

Wolverhampton Wanderers 1 (Nouha Dicko 72)
Bolton Wanderers 2 (Moxey 19, Mason 87)
H/T: 0-1
A - 27,056, Molineux, Wolverhampton
Man of the Match – Nouha Dicko, Wolves (MR 7.8)

# # #
I came right out and said it after the game. I thought we were damned lucky to win.

The press told me that Tony Mowbray, who for some reason isn’t keen on me, had said we were fortunate. I replied that Tony Mowbray, for whom I hold no particular animus, was right. Let’s see how he handles that.

“Wolves deserved much more than they got today,” I said. “Adam Bogdán was very good and the Mason boy certainly knows when to stick his nose in there, doesn’t he? I’d like to think that this team is dangerous until the very end of the match.”

“Was this a smash-and-grab, then?” I was asked.

“I don’t see any other way to phrase it,” I admitted. “I told the team after the match that we’re going to have to be much, much better in our next two matches because they’re very important and we’re playing two excellent teams who can really damage us if we aren’t sharp. I think they got that message.”

“Yet in the end, it’s three more points.” That was King, ever-prescient.

“It is,” I smiled. “It’s a funny game like that. I’m sure down the road we’ll have a game where we dominate and get nothing out of it. That’s football.”

With that, I noted that Mowbray had not invited me to share any beverages after the match, which smacked of poor sportsmanship. If he’s got it in for me, he’s certainly showing it in all the right ways. So we got on the coach and went home.

Not that I need a beverage, mind you. It’s just the principle of it all.

But when I led the team off the coach at the Macron just before six, this time it was a bit different. Kim was waiting for me by the players’ gate. I wasn’t used to that.

Amanda still hadn’t returned any of my texts or e-mails. Kim was there. That told me all I needed to know.

Also, Holly, Darin and Blake were there for our scheduled drop-off. Sunday and Monday were going to be my days with the boy, but this was the first time someone else had actually been present during the transfer.

I waited for my staff to exit the coach and had a quick word with Spooner about training – I wanted the players who had taken part in the match to have Sunday off in case part of their lethargy was simply due to tired legs – and then headed to the players’ entry door.

Blake ran to me, which I’m sure annoyed Darin to no end. I scooped him up and swung him around in the air, while he giggled and swung his legs wildly.

“Hey, mate,” I said, hugging him to me while the staff and players passed behind us and into the stadium. A small crowd of well-wishers, wives and girl friends was there to welcome us home so the lot wasn’t entirely empty. “Big boy!”

“Hi, Daddy!” he exclaimed, wrapping his arms around my neck. “What are we going to do tomorrow?”

“I thought we’d sleep in, have a nice breakfast and go to the cinema, what do you think about that?”

His grin and wild nods of agreement indicated that not only was my son excited, he was frankly up for whatever was on the agenda.

I nodded to Darin and Holly and advanced to Kim, who smiled at the reaction her appearance had given me.

“Hi, there,” I smiled, and she hugged me as best she could considering I had my arms full of squirming son at the same time. “Thanks for coming out!”

“You certainly get around,” Darin spat. “Star Babe, now this lady, you really play the field.”

This drew a reaction not only from me and Kim, but surprisingly, also from Spooner, who was now approaching.

“Leave off, mate,” he said, crossing behind me to the door. “Quit being a prat.”

“You’ve got nothin’ to do with this, and I’m not your bloody mate,” he called over my shoulder, and for a moment he looked like he was ready to have a go at my assistant manager, which would have been very bad on a number of fronts.

“Darin, mind yourself,” I said, firmly. “I’ll call security and you’ll be evicted. And if you make one move toward any of my staff I’ll have you arrested, and it’ll make the papers. Am I clear on this?”

He stopped, as suddenly as if someone had punched him in the solar plexus. His face returned to its normal color and he took a deep breath.

“Of course, Bobby,” he said. “My apologies to the lady.” He turned to my ex-wife and extended his hand.

“We’ll be off now,” Holly said, trying to make the whole event sound as normal as possible.

“You already are,” Kim said. She couldn’t resist. Even as funny as the line was, I didn’t want to start a fight and absolutely couldn’t afford one in front of Blake.

“Kim, please,” I finally said. “Let’s go inside and get things squared away so we can go home. Would you like to come over for a coffee?”

“I’d love to,” she smiled. Blake looked up at her and smiled, evidently recognizing her from the last time he had visited the ground.

The three of us walked together into the stadium and Holly and Darin walked in the opposite direction. That seemed natural, somehow, and I didn’t mind that a bit.

# # #
For once, I get to say “I told you so”. I wish I didn’t have to in this particular case.

Goalkeeper Lee Grant, who has been ever-present for Derby this season, did in fact play at midweek against Arsenal in the Cup, and suffered a fractured skull which will keep him out for three months.

As such, 19-year old Jonathan Mitchell played a full half in Derby’s surprisingly credible 1-nil defeat, did well by all accounts, and will almost certainly start against us. In terms of experience, their problem in goals is profound.

After Mitchell, 22-year old Kelle Roos is next in line out of five potential replacements. Roos is the oldest, and aside from Mitchell’s single half against Arsenal, none of them has played so much as a moment with the first team.

We get them at home. The stars seem aligned, and that’s fine with me. I’m looking for a much better performance than I got against Wolves and that will be easier to get if Derby is having problems in goals.

If that sounds bad, I’m sorry, but my job depends on getting points for Bolton Wanderers Football Club and if that means turning the screws, then that’s what it means. I’m sure Steve McClaren would do the same thing to me if he had to.

Derby has won only one of its last five matches overall, but they’ve got a weapon we have to account for in Chris Martin, who leads the league with seven goals. He’s got one more than Mason, so the match may well come down to those two.

We also got good news from the injury front ourselves, which may lead to bad news later on. Spearing and Pratley are back in training, and that certainly helps, but the problems I have in the center of midfield are pretty profound.

Right now we have eight players who can play two open positions. The players who aren’t playing are grumbling, and I don’t blame them, but the way the club was set up before I arrived was to play with three central midfielders at a time.

My alignment cuts that number to two. That means people like Josh Vela and Neil Danns aren’t getting the time they want and I expect to hear about it soon.

But at least for a day, I forgot about all those things, since Blake had a day off from school and was with me and with Kim. That was very nice.

She came over for that coffee after the match and we spent into the early evening just watching television. Finally, she left and I got some time with Blake that had nothing to do with football.

As bad as things have been recently with his mother and her new husband, I had to admit that Holly had a point. Especially during the season, Blake’s relationship with me centers a bit too much around football.

He needs a dad. So on the Sunday, he got what he needed from me. We watched DVDs, we played games, we even colored in books together. His was better work than mine.

And for a day at least, I got to forget about Financial Fair Play, complaining players, demanding fans and media, and concentrate on what’s important in life.
# # #
28 September 2014 – Bolton Wanderers (7-1-0, 1st place) v Derby County (5-2-1, 3rd place)
Championship Match Day #9 – Macron Stadium, Bolton

There was plenty of reason for optimism.

Derby is a strong side, in the Premier League as recently as 2008, and even though they were epically bad at that time, they’ve certainly snapped out of it since. They are second in the league in goal scoring to us.

Positively for us, they have known defensive deficiencies and it was very likely we’d see a teenager in goals for them. Neither of us have been playing especially well so it was a chance for us to get healthy.

At least, so we thought.

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

The whole of the defence in terms of game plan was detailed to dealing with Chris Martin. So imagine my surprise, shock and anger in watching Bogdán fishing the ball out of his net after only seven minutes.

Craig Forsyth started it, with a strong run down the left and a good cross – not a great one – into the box for Martin. It was too strong. Wheater headed the ball away but headed over it – into the ground and straight back to Martin, who beat Bogdán to put them ahead.

As good as Wheater has been, that was an horrific play and it left his keeper hung out to dry.

Sadly for us, that wasn’t the first time it happened. Just after the half hour, we gave them a free kick on the left about forty yards from goal. Paul Coults took it, and my entire defence stood and watched Ryan Shotton run onto it for an absolutely free header that gave Bogdán less than no chance. 2-nil in 32 minutes.

That brought me up and off the bench, to the touchline as we tried to regain our composure to kick off. We hadn’t been behind by two goals all season, and none of us liked the feeling.

So imagine the consternation when they made it 3-nil less than sixty seconds later. Hall surrendered another free kick on our left side, their right, and again Coults took it. This ball sailed over the wall and onto Bogdán – who couldn’t hold it.

He spilled the ball, and again the defence simply stood there. Martin ran onto it, shot again – and was denied by a great save at feet by Bogdán, desperately scrambling to retain possession. Sadly, there was still no one there to handle the rebound so Martin simply steered it home to put us three goals down, at home, in 33 minutes.

The crowd was shocked after the first goal, buzzing after the second and howling after the third. In that regard, they matched me.

Three-nil down with just over half an hour on the clock, at home. My mind was spinning. There was nothing we could do. They were rampant, they were in our passing lanes, they were so much the better side it was ridiculous.

The crowd, after its negative reaction, was stunned into silence. The Derby fans were screaming and singing and who could blame them?

“Quit ball-watching!” I screamed. It seemed to break the spell my defenders were under and managed to wake up the crowd. Nobody had heard me raise my voice on the touchline before and now … well, as they say, there’s a first time for everything.

The players should have expected a roasting for the way they had started, but then I started to encourage and cajole them. We haven’t been shut out this season and I wasn’t about to let them quit on themselves.

Five minutes from halftime, we showed some life. Bogdán hit a tremendous goal kick which traveled to just in front of the Derby box before being headed by defender Zak Whitbread. It only went as far as Mark Davies, though, and he found Danns down the right.

Danns, a player who has already told me he wants to play more and started today in place of the want-away Lee Chung-Yong, found Mason in the right side of the box, who conveniently had Whitbread tucked on his inside shoulder. The loanee didn’t miss, giving us a lifeline five minutes from the break.

That brought the crowd into the match and we piled forward as the half came to an end. Danns again tried to find Hall on a ball into the box that was too tall for Mason, but a defender clattered him to the floor. While we yelled for a penalty, Moxey never stopped playing. He picked up the rebound at the left and put his usual useful ball right back into the box. That ball found Mason and he gleefully volleyed home for his tenth goal of the season in the last minute of the half.

We had a match again, and while I piled on the defense for its shoddy work and on Bogdán for a howler for their third goal, I reminded the players that finding two more goals was certainly not beyond the capabilities of this team and sent them out for the second half.

Eight minutes after the restart, we were level, courtesy of a wonderful free kick from 25 yards taken by Dean Moxey. He struck the ball sweetly and at head-height, so the centre of the wall flinched. The ball had just enough carry to not decapitate anyone on the opposing team, and with the keeper Mitchell well and truly stranded by his own defence for a change, we were back to blank paper at a highly unlikely 3-3.

One player who did seem like he had nothing left in him was Beckford, and that was surprising. The knock on Jermaine is that sometimes he mails it in, and today was sadly one of those days.

I got him out of there on the hour and put on the goal-starved Zach Clough on the hour, hoping for a bit of youthful magic. He rewarded me by putting a fizzer of a shot just inside the right post in 68 minutes – only to see his fellow teenager Mitchell claw the ball away with a save worthy of any first-team keeper in the league.

After six goals in 53 minutes, the remainder of the game wasn’t anywhere near like the beginning had been. The teams were spent. And we can’t wait to go to Pride Park for the rematch.

Bolton Wanderers 3 (Mason 40, 45; Moxey 53)
Derby County 3 (Chris Martin 7, 33; Ryan Shotton 32)
H/T: 2-3
A – 21,748, Macron Stadium, Bolton
Man of the Match – Joe Mason, Bolton (MR 8.8)

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intense match

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