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.
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