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[FM15] - Malone Again, Naturally

Started on 22 June 2015 by tenthreeleader
Latest Reply on 25 January 2016 by tenthreeleader
First of all, what a story. Read it all in one go and throughly enjoyed it :D Secondly I think Bobby should beat the living daylights out of Darin just because of how rude and irritating he is. Finally hold on to Clough if you can will become a world class player for you! Loving the story man :D
Thanks very much! At this point in time, Bobby doesn't like Darin but can't figure out what to do with him without winding up in the clink. And I do like Zach Clough a lot. The only issue I have is utilizing him correctly in the tactic I'm playing. He's not a Complete Forward which is what the tactic calls for. Still, hoping that extra training and a bit of luck will make it all come good.

And Jer, yes, quite an intense match and one where it was hard to settle for just a single point!


“Definitely a point gained, given how we started,” I told King. I was ebullient, but really shouldn’t have been.

“Yes, but three goals conceded in 33 minutes must be alarming.”

“It’s mortifying,” I said. “We’ve done that to other clubs but it hasn’t been done to us until today, so we have a job on to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

“Your defence could have been cast in stone for a good part of the first half,” he said. I couldn’t argue.

“We weren’t very good, I will admit that,” I said. “We did tighten up at the back after that, thankfully, but as we have played better in our own half over the last month I’m not prepared to throw all of them under the bus just yet.”

“So how do you fix this?”

“Let’s stay positive, shall we?” I asked. “We came back from three goals down to get a draw and I for one am pretty well chuffed about that. We knew these matches against Derby and Fulham were going to be difficult but we have the first one out of the way and have a point in the account. Now we worry about Fulham. But yes, we do have work to do and it involves our defenders being more active when the ball is in our eighteen. We did a lot of standing around on their goals.”

“Will Adam Bogdán keep his place after his error?”

I was hoping he wouldn’t ask that question. Adam has been like the ‘Little Girl with the Curl’ – when he’s been good, he’s been very, very good but when he’s been bad, or out of position, we’ve suffered for it. Their third goal should never have happened and it was a total team effort.

“Andy Lonergan is a good keeper and he’ll be ready if called upon,” I said. “Adam knows that and he knows he has to work hard every match and every day in training to keep his spot. That said, he’s human and he made a mistake that cost us a goal.”

Adam is my number one, and he knows it. But I can’t afford him making mistakes like that and he knows that too. In that regard, Brandon King had read my mind.

Leaving the ground, I walked through the car park to my vehicle, deep in thought. I climbed inside my Jaguar F-Type and started the engine. As I did, my phone buzzed. Staying parked, because nobody wants a ticket for driving while on the phone, I checked my messages.

It was from Kim. “Dinner?” she asked. I smiled.

“Come on over, we’ll order in,” I answered. Feeling a bit better, I shifted the car into gear and drove home.
# # #
Doing so well with the Wanderers! Keep it up! Bogdan can improve still for sure, but Lonergan is a great keeper at this level and could easily be a first team keeper if you want to cash in on the ginger Hungarian.
Thanks! I like Lonergan, but Bogdan has just edged him in a few key areas and so he's first choice. But I am happy in that Bolton have two keepers who can keep me in most matches.

All things considered, it was a very nice night.

Aww, hell. Who am I kidding? It was perfect.

I ordered in from Star City on Thicketford Road and waited for my company to arrive. The food got there just before she did.

Which, actually, was the first part of the evening’s perfection. As I uncovered the food, the doorbell rang and I let her in. She looked fantastic.

Her long, curly blonde hair was tucked in the same neat pony tail as I had seen in the exercise room, and her blouse and matching skirt flattered her wonderfully.

“Hello,” she said softly, handing me a bottle of wine. “Thanks for the invite!”

Her voice turned playful. “How do I look?” she giggled.

I stood aside to let her in. “I don’t know, I can’t look past your eyes,” I joked, and she flushed a bright shade of red. She entered my house, and headed toward the sitting room down a single step.

In my place, the kitchen is on the immediate left after you enter, with a dining area attached above the sitting room/conversation area, which is set into the floor at the centre. A large bay window still further ahead offers a view of Bolton, with the master bedroom and bath to the right. It’s a corner apartment in a well-heeled complex, and I like it a lot. Now I just need to see how long I can keep it.

“How was the time with Blake?” she asked.

“Very nice, thank you for asking.” I smiled at her and pulled two wine glasses out from a cupboard, moving to a drawer for a corkscrew.

“He’s a cute little man.”

“Must have got that from his mum,” I laughed, and she gave me a cross look.

“Don’t you dare, Bobby Malone,” she said. “What would your father say if he heard you say that?”

I put down the corkscrew and looked at her for a long moment. I thought it through.

“You know, nobody ever talks to me about my dad.”

Her face took on a look of alarm.

“Bobby, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to …”

“No, it’s all right, Kim. I meant that in a good way.”

I popped the cork from the wine bottle and poured two glasses, handing her one. “I think people don’t even want to approach me about it because of how it all happened. It’s sad, because I have no brothers or sisters, and really nobody to talk to about him.”

“Let me help you with the food,” she offered, crossing behind me and into the kitchen to assist.

“I guess I’ve felt alone,” I blurted.

I was surprised that those words were coming out of my mouth. I had never let such thoughts pass my lips before.

“If I may venture some friendly criticism, you tend to give off that aura.”

She gave me a soft but still dazzling smile, and helped set the table, carrying food and plates as she passed.

“How so?”

“Well, you carry off the role of the loner quite well,” she replied. “And what I’m trying to tell you is that it’s time to stop doing it. It’s not good for you and if you don’t mind my saying so, it’s not good for Blake, either.”

Her concern for my son was both apparent and touching.

“Do you have any suggestions?”

“I do indeed,” she said, moving to me. “And I think you have a good idea of what the first one might be.”

# # #
I was glad we had the Sunday off, for more than one reason.

The wine was good. Kim was even better.

My plan for a quiet evening at home had turned instead into one rather a bit more raucous than I had supposed possible when it started.

It also meant I had to make another personal statement to the chairman, but I didn’t mind that at all. Bosses don’t need to know everything.

She woke with her head tucked into the crook of my arm. So neat and tidy when she arrived, her hair was now as delightfully rumpled as her clothing, which was haphazardly strewn about the master bedroom, mingled with my own.

If I had wanted to be crude about it, I’d have said we ended a losing streak. Since I don’t, I simply thought about what a lucky man I was for a change.

Yet, part of it was something deeper. I felt good about that as I watched Kim wake up in my arms. It was very nice.

She’s been good to me. She’s been good to my son. If she wanted to be better to me, I thought it might not be the worst thing in the world to let her try.

We talked quietly for a few minutes as she woke up slowly. Our conversation centered on whether we were really going to go through with it after what had happened the night before, and perhaps amazingly, she didn’t run away screaming at the idea.

That meant a lot. It had been three years since my divorce and I guess I hadn’t realized that trying to keep a stoic exterior was really a bad idea. She had showed me that in more ways than one.

When we were done talking she slowly, happily, rose from the bed like Aphrodite from the foam and headed into the bath to take her morning shower. That was an amazing sight.

What was a little more difficult was the text exchange I had with Gartside while Kim and I ate breakfast.

On my end, it wasn’t anything like “Hi, Phil, I just slept with your PA”. That would have triggered a very quick invitation to pick up my P45, along with my head, on my way out the door. Instead, I was more tactful.

“I know I said I wasn’t looking, but Kim Pickering and I have started a relationship,”
I texted him. “Please let me know if this creates any difficulties that I have not foreseen. It is not my intention to reflect negatively on the club through a workplace relationship.”

After a few minutes, my phone buzzed.

“With respect, I thought this might happen,” he said. That wasn’t exactly positive. “I understand your desire to avoid impropriety but you must know I will expect you both to be the model of decorum while on the club’s time and property. I will make this clear to Kim as well when I see her on Monday.”

Wordlessly, I showed Kim my phone and she giggled.

“That sounds like Mr. Gartside,” she said. As she looked at the screen, I received another text message. It was from Amanda Caldwell.

Hey, Bobby! How about a night on the town, handsome?” she texted. Kim’s eyes grew wide and then very narrow as she looked at me. Evidently, Amanda wanted to be back, and had picked exactly the wrong time to announce her intentions.

“Did I make a mistake last night?” Kim asked.

Instead, I simply smiled back at her. “How about you answer her?” I asked. “But be nice.”

I handed her my phone. That melted her icy expression, and she thought for a moment before responding.

“Bobby is taken, thank you very much,” she wrote. “Enjoy your Sunday. I know I’ll enjoy spending mine with him. Kim Pickering.”

She hit the ‘send’ button and we enjoyed our Sunday very much indeed.
# # #
Love that you've got all the staff and what not written up as characters. Makes all of your stories more than just an FM story, they are actual stories. Great work.
Thanks very much. One of the things I enjoy most about my saves is taking the time to learn about clubs, their traditions and even finding out about certain staff (some of whom I invent for story writing purposes). I think it makes for a better read.

1 October 2014 – Fulham (7-0-2, 2nd place) v Bolton Wanderers (7-2-0, 1st place)
Championship Match Day #10 – Craven Cottage, London

The capital is always a fun place to travel, but I’ve always thought that in the higher leagues, it provides an advantage for those teams who play there.

This season, there are six Premiership clubs that are based in London – Arsenal, Chelsea, West Ham, QPR, Crystal Palace and Spurs. There are three more in the Championship – Charlton, Millwall and Fulham, with two more nearby in Watford and Reading.

Those clubs have travel advantages over ours. When they play big matches against each other, their players can sleep in their own beds for longer, they have fewer coach miles on them, and it’s not as much of a disruption to play on the road. Those are all nice things.

The rest of us just have to get on with it. That said, I enjoyed the trip more than I otherwise might have, because once the work was done I had the opportunity to share a few moments with Kim on the phone. That was very enjoyable. It made me feel nearly human.

With only a few days separating the Derby match from this one, there wasn’t a lot of time for media pressure or buildup. And as such, the hype being done for the top-of-the-table clash, there really was nothing else for it but to get out there and play.

Fulham is still a Premiership-level side in my mind, even if they don’t have the current divisional pedigree, so we knew we were in for a difficult day at the office despite riding a nine-match unbeaten streak in the league.

The players were all business at the hotel as we met for breakfast and a short meeting to discuss the Cottagers before heading to the ground. It’s one of my favourite grounds due to its unique location, layout and Archibald Leitch design. Should a player somehow manage to clear the roof of the Riverside Stand with a clearance, the ball has a half-decent chance of winding up in the Thames. Makes it a bit hard for the ball boys.

But as we dressed for the match, I had a decision to make. All the way from London, I was flirting with the idea of giving Lonergan his shot, but in a very big game. There were other changes in the XI that I had in mind, due to playing two games on a short schedule, but the question in my mind all the way to filling out the team sheet was who was going to be in goals.

“Sometimes, you have to take a chance,” I mused.

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

I was actually taking two chances. I told Bogdán before the match that I was thinking of sitting him and he said he understood but didn’t like it. I told him I didn’t like it either, if he caught my drift, and he said he did. Then I pulled the trigger.

The other thing I did was change our alignment. I added a second holding midfielder in place of a striker and started us inviting them on so we could counter. I wanted to switch everything up because the entire league had seen us in 4-1-3-2 and I thought the element of surprise might help us in a match as big as this one.

Mason kept his place, but in a different role. This time he played as a shadow striker behind Craig Davies, flanked by Hall and Chung-Yong. Medo and Trotter were the two holders in front of the back four and Lonergan.

I let the Fulham bench absorb that bit of chicanery as we kicked off to start the match. We met their strength with a solid counter with Davies shooting over the bar six minutes into the match.

Unfortunately, we were too clever by half, as the home team piled on and drew first blood in fifteen minutes through Brian Ruíz. It was a better goal than we had conceded against Derby, though, a real cracker of a drive from twenty yards that beat Lonergan to the top right corner of his goal. Nothing to be done about that.

But the players hung in there, and less than ten minutes later we were level. It came through Mason, who stole a square ball high up the park and made a straight-ahead feed to Davies. It was a classic counter, with his strike low, along the floor and into the far corner of Gábor Kíraly’s goal.

It seems that whatever role I put Mason in, he finds a way to shine. We then took over the match for the remainder of the first half. The counter was working beautifully and we were generating not just chances, but explosive ones. We were in the ascendancy as we approached the end of the first half.

They worked the ball into our end in the last minute, though, and then picked up a huge break. Wheater was accused of pushing into Ruíz on an entry ball into our box. The attacker made it look good, sprawling to the ground in the sight of referee Lee Probert, who was trailing the play and gave the penalty.

When I say “accused”, I actually mean “tried and convicted” because Probert’s opinion was the only one that mattered.

Mine certainly didn’t, as I gave the fourth official an earful. Ruíz took the ball out of Lonergan’s hands, which nobody in our colours cared for, and had the ball placed on the spot before referee Probert had even turned to him.

“Look at that,” I fumed to Spooner as I retook my seat in the dugout. Ruíz sent Lonergan the wrong way from the spot to give them a wholly undeserved 2-1 lead at intermission.

Several of my players remonstrated with Probert at the halftime whistle and I had to go onto the pitch to get them separated. I was seeing plenty of passion, which I liked, but I would have liked yellow cards for dissent a lot less.

“I’ll handle this, gentlemen,” I told the players, shooing them ahead of me to the tunnel at the cottage corner of the stadium. I then had a quiet and quick word with Probert as I headed to the tunnel myself.

“He made it look good, Lee,” was all I said, before I jogged away.

Probert’s words, “No, he didn’t, Bobby,” bounced off my back as I went to tend to my angry players.

I told them the result would come since, with the exception of one error by my defence and another by the referee, we had been much the better side in the first half.

By the numbers, we should have been blowing them out. By the scoreboard, obviously we were not.

In the second half, the good chances continued to flow even as Fulham dropped back a bit to protect the lead. They didn’t have the high-intensity of the first half in terms of their attack and we were left to rue squandered opportunities in front of goal by both Hall and Mason.

Then they hit us again, and they did it in the way we had. They caught us with both full backs forward and hit us on the counter, with numbers. We couldn’t get everyone covered and Ross McCormack was sent in by the ever-present Ruíz, and one v one against Lonergan the keeper couldn’t stop him.

That was big trouble. After that, the Cottagers simply sat in their shell and dared us to find a way through. We could not.

Our frustration mounted, the chances we did generate were either spurned or snuffed out at the defence, and even a change to 4-3-3 at the end of the match couldn’t find us a way through.

It was over. The unbeaten string was gone, Fulham had vaulted us to the top of the table – and we left the pitch beaten, but with a sense of injustice.

Fulham 3 (Brian Ruíz 15, pen 45; Ross McCormack 60)
Bolton Wanderers 1 (C. Davies 24)
H/T: 2-1
A – 23,758, Craven Cottage, London
Man of the Match: Brian Ruíz, Fulham (MR 9.0)

# # #
Painful loss. I can feel the lads itching for a comeback!
So many updates so little games! shows how much depth you go into to make sure the readers understand and almost feel like they know the characters!
Thanks so much! I like the idea of readers getting involved with characters I create. For me it is one of the most enjoyable things about writing!

“I wish,” I told the press, “that the penalty had not changed the game. I felt we were more than good enough to win today.”

The numbers showed it. We had 24 attempts at goal away from home with eight on target to their 12 and five. We had more possession. We were the better side for vast swaths of the match.

Yet we were going home in second place, and there was little we could do about that. It stung, because even though we had been dominant, we had also been wasteful.

“Do you feel it was a penalty?”

“I think it’s a foul that on another day isn’t a foul,” I said. “Lee Probert has a hard job. I get that. But in a top of the table game, I wish it had been more clear-cut because to me, anyway, it certainly wasn’t. But he called it and we had to deal with it. We played the second half differently because we started it trailing instead of 1-1 and maybe things turn out differently if we play that way.”

“David Wheater really looked upset when you took him off.”

“Well, the penalty affected him, didn’t it?” I said. “Here’s a fellow going up for a header and he’s judged to have pushed the player. The referee can’t see the contact because he’s trailing, the player goes down and the official calls what he sees, which is a player on the ground in our area. I can see why he gave the penalty but obviously I wish he hadn’t because there was really not much in it for me. David took that to heart and unfortunately it may have affected his play because he was really upset. He felt he hurt the team when the truth of the matter is that he was simply defending.”

I was riding the ragged edge on officiating comments and I knew it. But I was going to defend my vice-captain.

Thankfully, the press let it go at that, King had nothing to add, and I headed back to the changing rooms to meet Kenny Jackett for a glass of wine.

He’s trying to bring his team back to the Premiership after the disaster of a season ago. Brought in to replace Felix Magath, who had replaced René Meulensteen, he’s the club’s third manager in less than a year.

But now he’s top, and was gracious to the team he had defeated. He could afford to be.

“Sometimes you don’t always play your best and win anyway,” he said. “It will be a good struggle between our clubs.”

“Thank you,” I replied, raising my glass. “I look forward to another chance to play you.”

“As you should, Bobby,” he laughed. “If I were you I’d want the same thing.”

I couldn’t argue, so I simply smiled in return. Heading back to the coach as a losing manager for the very first time, my head and heart burned in equal measure. We were going to have a long ride home to think about this, and maybe that’s not the worst thing in the world.

Silently, the players filed onto the coach, finished with their cooldowns and plunge pools. The physio staff was there to apply ice and heat to the players where appropriate, as we started for home.

I plugged a set of Bose headphones into my phone and turned on my music for the ride home. Behind me, Spooner was already downloading match video for Saturday’s match at home to Bournemouth. We’ll need to be better to keep pace. I allowed myself a few moments of relaxation before turning to my deputy and asking what he had seen.

As I did, I got two texts from Bolton. The first was from Gartside, commiserating but expressing disappointment at the loss. That was to be expected. “Of course,” I texted back.

The second was from Kim, asking me if I needed her comfort that evening.

Of course,” I texted back, for an entirely different reason.

# # #
Saturday’s match will be our last for two weeks as there’s an international break in the second week in October, so three matches in eight days will be asked for some players.

I’m already wondering how Rotherham is going to make it through. The Millers have one win in the league and crashed 6-0 at Blackburn yesterday. So as bad as my players felt today as they reported for stretching and a very light training session, it could certainly have been worse.

Arriving at work this morning, I got an award that, in retrospect, seemed a bit odd. I won Manager of the Month for September as well, giving me another little bauble just like the first one from August. The same people showed up for the same pictures, but it felt a bit odd to be smiling and holding up a trophy after falling out of the top spot just the preceding day.

Jose Riga of the Championship’s ultimate surprise package, Blackpool, finished second and Jackett, who just beat us, was third. Somehow I don’t think he’ll be third this month.

Blackpool are fascinating. As our Lancashire rivals, we aren’t keen on seeing them do terribly well but you do have to hand it to Riga. Somehow, the Seasiders were down to only eight players under contract just before the friendlies started and tongues were really wagging at that point.

After an indifferent start, they beat Wolves, Watford, Brighton and Norwich within a two-week span to start a rise up the table. Even though they’ve lost their last two including the midweek 0-1 home loss to Cardiff they are 6-1-4 for 19 points which is sixth in the league, two points behind third-placed Millwall, which is the league’s other early surprise package, and only seven adrift of us.

Millwall are the hardest team in the Championship to score against, having conceded only nine goals in eleven league matches including a 1-0 win over Derby at midweek, which was sure more than we could do. We don’t see them until just before Christmas, when we get to go to The Den to face them and their fearsome reputation.

But as for me, another match I’m looking forward to is on the 25th October, when we get another shot at Brentford at the Macron. Of course, they knocked us out of the League Cup and I’d love another chance to crack them in a league match.

But first things first: Bournemouth and their scoring star Brett Pitman, who has already netted ten times in all competitions and means as much to them as Mason does to us. That’s uncomfortable from a defensive standpoint, because we haven’t been good there at all in the last two matches.

My meeting with the board was just a shade uncomfortable as well. The best part of it was seeing Kim, radiant as ever, waiting for me to arrive after I started the players in training.

“Well, look at you,” I smiled, and she gave me a cat-eating-the-canary grin in return.

“Mr. Malone,” she replied playfully, her eyes twinkling. “I hardly think it’s acceptable for you to address me in that manner in the office.”

“I beg your pardon, Ms. Pickering.” Neither of us was serious.

She waited for the little red light to flash on her desk phone before telling me, as always, that I could go inside.

With the club doing well, it wasn’t completely uncomfortable, but with the loss in London still hanging over everyone’s heads, I had had happier meetings.

“We aren’t going to win them all,” I said, in response to Bradley Cooper’s question about why things had come to that end. “We were good, probably better than they were, but they got a big referee’s decision and we didn’t. That helped them, but we didn’t take our chances and they did.”

“These things happen,” the chief operating officer admitted. “But there are other things we need to discuss with you this morning relating to finance.”

This wasn’t going to end well.

“We do need to look at cutting costs,” Finance Director Anthony Massey said. “The numbers are in from last month and even though we had three home dates – in fact, possibly because we had three home dates – the loss was quite large, over a million pounds. For the time being, it’s sustainable and we are still projecting money in the reserve fund at season’s end, but the need to reduce the playing staff is becoming apparent.”

I nodded. ‘I understand,” I said. Really, what else could I say?

“So what are your thoughts on this matter?” It was Gartside, expecting me to be prepared.

“Well, as you know, Mark Davies was wanted by Fulham during the August window but they never made a bid,” I said. “And unfortunately, Lee Chung-Yong has told me that his agent thinks Leicester will bid for him soon and he wants me to accept it. If those two players go for valuation, that’s £8 million right there.”

“And how would the squad fare without them?”

“We could manage, though I’d prefer not to have to manage since they are both quality,” I said. “Hall plays both sides of midfield and I think that Dean Moxey serves us better in the midfield than at the back because he’s so good going forward, so he could play in Hall’s current spot on the left. And if the board continues its policy of making ten percent of transfer revenue available, I could use 800,000 quid on a couple of younger players to fulfill the board’s wish for youth in the team.”

“You’ve thought a bit about this,” Gartside said with a slight smile.

“I have. Every manager has a backup plan. But I also hope to have a more positive conversation in the event we are promoted.”

The P-word. I had used it in formal conversation.

“Do you think that’s a possibility?” That was Massey. All finance guys like the idea of promotion. It makes them salivate like Pavlov’s dogs.

“We’re second, there’s a lot of season left but overall I am very pleased with our start,” I responded. I shifted in my chair, leaning in now that I had their attention.

“It should always be the goal,” I said. “I know what my expectations are from you and I’m fairly sure we can handle them, but just in case, I want to put that idea in your heads. It’s possible I may come to you in January looking for a pure striker, a dominant centre-half, something along those lines, and I don’t want you to be taken by surprise if that happens. I think this club could be in it for the long haul.”

I let that sink in, as I sat back in my chair.

“Something to think about, Mr. Malone,” Davies said. He liked that for a couple of reasons: first, his abiding love for the club and second, that club owes him approximately £150 million. A trip back to the Premiership would help retire debt.

“It’s early days yet, Bobby. Don’t go getting ahead of yourself.” Gartside looked at me with a stern but friendly expression. He was trying to help. “Many a young manager has overestimated his team’s capability and paid the price for it.”

“So has many a wily veteran, Mr. Gartside. Anyhow, yes, at this time it is only something to think about. But in January, it might not be.” Indirectly, I was making an argument for keeping both players, and indirectly, they all knew it.

# # #
Don't let Davies go! He's a bad mo' f'er. I love Mark Davies.
4 October 2014 – Bolton Wanderers (7-1-2, 2nd place) v AFC Bournemouth (4-4-2, 8th place)
Championship Match Day #11 – Macron Stadium, Bolton

Young Josh Vela approached me as the squad gathered for the morning meeting today and informed me that he would like more playing time.

I decided to be kind, since it was match day, and a fairly important match day at that, so instead of raking the lad over the coals, I told him the score.

“We have a log jam of players in the centre of the park, as you know,” I said. “I appreciate what you have done and you are definitely part of the long term plan of this club. But as of now we have players who are in the team for a specific purpose and when you fit that purpose and you show me you fit that purpose, you’ll play. So what I need you to do is get your head down in training. You’re young and you will get your chance.”

He didn’t look happy, but he didn’t have a lot of choice in the matter. And I thought his timing was atrocious. That was the other thing I told him.

As a result, Vela was not in the eighteen. Sooner or later, these guys are going to learn that trying to tell me my job is going to cost them playing time rather than gain it. And the competition I have for places in the midfield is strong enough now that doing or saying the wrong thing may well get a player a spot in the stand watching rather than a spot on the field playing.

Kim and I came to the ground together this morning for the first time. That was very nice. She and I have come a long ways in a few short weeks and it was nice to feel a bit better about myself in that area, from my personal point of view.

She headed upstairs to the Director’s Suite, where she was watching the match on my pass list. I headed to the lower level, to my office and the team sheet which was waiting for me upon my arrival.

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

Bogdán had his place back and he was mindful of it. Lonergan hadn’t played poorly but my message was clear to both men: to the former, we needed him to play at a top level, and to the latter, he would get chances in important matches if he kept working hard.

The morning meeting was short and to the point: I expected better especially after the disappointment of Craven Cottage.

“You were the better team in that match but you got nothing out of it,” I said. “I will expect you to bounce back and play like the team we all know you are. You’ve got a chance today to show that you’re in it for the long haul. Now show the fans you aren’t to be trifled with.”

Sadly the loss in London seemed to affect the crowd, which appeared to be the smallest non-Cup gathering of the season. It’s really too bad that it seems like we have to run the table to draw well, but there you have it. About the top-third of the stadium looked empty as the teams finished warm-ups and in my final team talk I reminded them of that fact.

“Looks like there are some people who don’t believe in you,” I said. “Make them believers. Now, get it done.”

This start was a bit brighter than against Fulham, as the players responded well to the challenge.

I suppose it seems repetitive to say that Moxey started us, but since he always does, I suppose it’s fair. Nineteen minutes into the match he outmuscled two Bournemouth players on the touchline to win the ball and forged ahead with Tierney trailing from the full back position.

Tierney put a great ball into the box and two Bournemouth defenders sagged onto Mason as he moved onto the ball. But Mason played a brilliant little dummy, letting the ball sail just over his head and onto the foot of the unmarked Chung-Yong to his right, and he had the simplest of finishes past Lee Camp.

Mason had got the respect his goal tally deserved, and he had used it to help someone else get us onto the board. It was a very unselfish play and it gave us the strong start I wanted to see after our defeat away.

Yet we couldn’t hold on, and we were punished for it less than ten minutes later. Winger Junior Stanislas shook loose down his right flank and pushed the ball forward for Yann Kermogant, star of “A Song for Yann Kermogant” fame on YouTube for his infamous penalty miss in the playoff a few years back when he was with Leicester City.

Kermogant could evidently deliver a cross for the Cherries better than he could take spot kicks for the Foxes, and he found the head of Pitman six yards in front of Bogdán’s goal. Pitman had slipped between the central defenders and Kermogant found him. Simple as that. His eleventh goal of the season got them level and even though we respected Pitman as they respected Mason, he had still found a way to score.

That said, we were better in attack and creating more and better chances. It would have been a shame to go to half still level, and Chung-Yong made sure we didn’t.

Again it was Moxey doing the providing, with a seeing-eye through ball to Craig Davies on the right side of the Cherries’ area. His first touch let him down, though, and he was nearly at the byline before he brought the ball to control. With no angle to cross, he dropped the ball back to Moxey at the edge of the eighteen, and the onetime Palace man first-timed the ball across the box to the South Korean, who scored from almost the identical spot he had done earlier.

Lee’s penchant for cutting inside had paid dividends in the form of a first-half brace and we went to halftime a goal to the good, as we deserved to be.

I told the players to keep their performance levels up at halftime. No more slips, and they seemed to react reasonably well even though I’m sure they would have preferred to be told how good they are again.

Right after the second half kickoff, we threatened again through Craig Davies, who brought the ball right through the centre of the park without so much as a peep from the Cherries’ midfield. He sent Neil Danns through and the forward’s shot was saved by Camp but the rebound wound up at the feet of two defenders.

They both tried to clear at the same time and the attempt wound up hitting Davies, who had followed the play. The defenders crashed into each other and fell and that put Davies one v one against Camp, and there was only ever going to be one winner there.

That made it 3-1 and with the team playing well and smoothly, we prepared to counter the life out of the match.

I brought Jay Spearing on for Danns for his first action in about six weeks, and the crowd reacted well to the captain’s re-introduction into the side. I wanted him to give me half an hour after a full reserve match with no setbacks, and he didn’t disappoint.

Tierney ran out of gas on the hour and came off for Vermijl in another like-for-like substitution, and then Bournemouth finally found a way to stop Davies. It came through an ice-hockey bodycheck from defender Tommy Elphick, and referee Stuart Attwell showed him a card. Unfortunately for Elphick, it was his second, and that certainly helped us.

I brought on Dorian Dervite for the tiring but effective Manns ten minutes from time and we prepared to see out the match against ten men. Would that it were that easy.

As Mason sent Trotter away up the middle, he had to leap to avoid an awkward and late challenge from the Cherries’ Andrew Surman, landing awkwardly on his left leg. I could tell it was bad when Trotter immediately put the ball out of play.

A lengthy wait followed and our fans probably held their collective breath right along with me as we waited for the word on our leading scorer, who was stretchered off after a few minutes. Chief Physio Mark Leather shook his head as Mason was carted off and stopped for a quick word.

“I don’t think it’s broken, Bobby, but he’ll need a scan. Sprained left ankle for sure.”

That did not improve my mood. And for the second time this season, a late injury had put us down to ten men, at home.

This time, though, it didn’t matter nearly as much since we were already playing against ten. But with the prospect of my leading scorer on the sideline for some time to come, this may have been a Phyrric victory.

Bolton Wanderers 3 (Chung-Yong 19, 45+1; C. Davies 47)
AFC Bournemouth 1 (Brett Pitman 26; Tommy Elphick s/o 81)
H/T: 2-1
A – 19,539, Macron Stadium, Bolton
Man of the Match: Lee Chung-Yong, Bolton (MR 9.2)

# # #
“You seem to have bad luck with these late injuries, Bobby,” King said. Ever-obliging, that reporter.

“I wish I could get a handle on that,” I smiled. “But in seriousness, we just need to hope Joe is healthy again soon. It was a nasty fall and completely accidental. He rolled his ankle when he landed and that’s never a good sight.”

“Fulham lost 2-0 at Boro,” King said. “You’re back top now.”

“Well, thanks to Boro,” I said. “But what I think this shows is that it’s going to be a long season and these things are going to change. We just want to be in the mix at the end of the season and give ourselves a chance at something special. Performances like today will help.”

“Do you feel a bit thin at forward now that Mason is out?” King asked.

“We’ll find out,” I said. “We’re going to need to make a change to the senior squad while Joe heals, and we’ll find out what we are made of there pretty soon. It’s a big loss but we’ve got players who can help us out. That and we don’t play for two weeks so Joe will get a head start on his recovery during that time.”

“And your next match is at your old stomping grounds.”

“I’m looking forward to going back there, but I’d love to go back there at full health and we won’t,” I said. “We’ll need a special effort from these players and my hope is that they will give me one. They haven’t really let me down this season so we’ll see how it goes.”

It was a fairly perfunctory post-match interview, which was nice, because I had a player to attend to. Mason sat on the physio’s table as the other players took their post-match plunge pools and grimaced as the staff began treatment on his injured ankle.

“What’s the word?” I asked, seeing the on-loan man white-faced with pain.

“It’s as we thought, Bobby, a bad sprain,” Leather said. “He’s just back from his scan and we want to ice this and get a set of crutches that fit because he’s going to need them for a bit.”

“High-ankle or low-ankle sprain?” I asked. The higher ones were worse as they sometimes involved bone damage. I held my breath while waiting for Leather’s answer.

“Low,” he said. “Which in this case is bad enough. We’re looking at a month on the shelf here.”

Mason’s look of disappointment told me everything I needed to know.

“Don’t worry, Joe, you won’t lose your place by injury, you know the policy on that,” I said. “I just want you to concentrate on healing up and getting back into the eleven. It’ll be all right.”

But as I left the downstairs area at the Macron for the comfort of Kim’s arms at the board’s post-match gathering, I couldn’t help but feel apprehensive.

She greeted me with a kiss, something she had never done when anyone else could see, and I found that both refreshing and nice.

Gartside had the same questions I did about Mason and I answered them in the same way Leathers had answered me. “We’re going to need players to step up,” I finally said.

“Young Clough hasn’t scored since the opening match,” he reminded me. He was, of course, correct, and not just because he was the boss.

“He’s pressing, but he’s going to get some playing time while Joe is out. I’ll try to find situations where he can get his confidence back. The issue isn’t so much with that as it is with the ‘hole’ striker, which is now Craig Davies by default unless and until we can figure out a different way.”

I smiled at the chairman, though, and he wondered what I was up to.

“Well, you want youth to get a chance, and Georg Iliev is sitting in the u-21s waiting for his chance,” I said. “He’s going to get a chance now, and after the international break he’s going to be a full Bulgarian international.”

Gartside nodded. “We didn’t loan out everyone, I see,” he said with a thin smile. I wasn’t sure how to take that.

“You can’t,” I said, taking a Bank Top Dark Mild from a waiter and tipping him the now-customary fiver. “This is why.”

Kim approached from the general direction of the ladies’ room, standing right alongside me as we talked.

“Miss Pickering, you certainly seem attached to Mr. Malone,” Davies said, joining the conversation.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Davies,” she answered. “Sometimes I can’t help myself.”

As the conversation broke up, I whispered in my girlfriend’s ear. “If you really want to get attached, save it for later at home,” I joked.

# # #
As the international break began, we got more bad news on the injury front.

Pratley, who otherwise is the picture of physical fitness, is hurt again, straining his back and having to be stretchered off in Jamaica’s 2-2 draw with the United States. This latest injury should put him out for at least another week after he gets back from duty. Beckford scored one of the Jamaican goals, though, so there is that. And he didn’t get hurt.

And then there was Bogdán, who blocked a point-blank shot in Hungary’s match against Ukraine with his face. Knocked rather senseless by the blast, he was removed from the match and hopefully now doesn’t look like the loser in a Looney Tunes cartoon encounter.

So we go from nearly a clean bill of health to this, in the space of just a few short days. It never seems to end, does it?

That doesn’t even take Stuart Holden into consideration. The American international is still on the shelf for another month or so with torn knee ligaments he picked up last year and is here despite being out of contract, for his medical treatment. He’s yet another central midfielder in a position where I already have too many candidates.

But the time away from the squad is good. I gave everyone who wasn’t traveling for internationals two days off after the Bournemouth match to recharge a bit.

I got some time with Blake, which was nice – and with Kim, who enjoyed being around both the Malones in her life. For me, that was every bit as nice.

We watched movies, played board games, and even went to the park near my apartment for a little kickabout.

It was then that I noticed Blake was moving a little gingerly.

He wasn’t running like he usually did, even though he enjoyed his football as he always did. He was trotting, jogging, walking with the ball – and not running as he always had.

I watched him struggling, and finally told him to stop.

“Blake, hold still for a moment,” I said, and advanced to my son, pulling up the left leg of his shorts.

There was a large bruise on the back of his thigh, right on the hamstring, discoloured and blotchy. I frowned.

“What happened to you, Blake?” I asked.

He frowned. “I got kicked at my last match,” he said, with a surprising amount of lucidity for one so young. “Right in the leg.”

I nodded. “Well, you’d better not run on that,” I said. “It looks painful.”

“It hurts.” He was trying to keep a brave face. He wore his little Bolton shirt proudly and wanted to have fun while wearing it, but he just couldn’t run.

“Okay, mate,” I said. “Come here, let Dad carry you to the car. We’ll go home and get some ice on that, okay?”

I picked him up, and he let the injured leg dangle while I tried not to put pressure on the bruise. The farther I carried him, the more discomfort it looked like he was in, so I slowed down my walk to the car so as not to bounce him so much.

‘That’s a nasty knock,” I finally said, settling Blake in his car seat before starting for home. “We’ll take care of you. Your matches are pretty competitive, aren’t they?”

“Yeah,” he said softly. “I’ll never try to score a goal again!”

# # #

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