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[FM15] - Malone Again, Naturally

Started on 22 June 2015 by tenthreeleader
Latest Reply on 25 January 2016 by tenthreeleader
Solid match! Getting Spearing on the goals chart is always fun. And a great performance by Beckford.
I love it when central defenders score too. They always make it look so graceful and easy :P

I had caught a bit of chill on the touchline in the rain, and Kim noticed as we got into my car to head home.

“Poor thing, you’re done in,” she said. “Let’s get you into a hot shower and some hot soup into your belly, you’ll catch your death of cold!”

I thought it was sweet, but we had lots to talk about and getting into my comfies was not high on my list of priorities before the conversation happened.

Yet her wishes won out. We arrived at home and she headed to the bath to start some hot water for me while I prepared to warm up.

“Sexy man,” she said with a giggle as I stepped into the hot shower, letting the water cascade over me with an audible sigh of relief. I really had caught a chill and was glad to be getting some of it steamed out of me despite more pressing relationship concerns waiting for me when I was done.

She leaned against the bathroom sink as I let the heat and steam flow over me, and when I was done she simply handed me a towel over the top of the shower surround.

“So tell me, sweetheart,” I began, and she put a finger to my lips.

“You want to know what happened to me,” she said. “Get comfortable, go sit in the warm sitting room and I’ll tell you while I make dinner.”

And she did.

His name was Peter Beck, and he was from Salford. They had started dating after she finished university and things had gone well for a couple of years, until he had asked Kim to marry. She said yes, and they were preparing for their big day until an old flame tried one last time to win Peter’s heart.

There was enough in it to make Kim upset – showing a facet of her personality I had already seen on more than one occasion – and their relationship deteriorated. After a month or so, Kim told Peter she couldn’t marry him.

That was when things got bad. He moved out of their flat as Kim took her new job with Bolton Wanderers FC, and she did her best not to let her failed relationship affect her job.

Yet, two weeks after she started, there was Peter, coming to the club offices to ask for forgiveness with alcohol on his breath. Leaving aside the stiff penalties for drink driving to get there in the first place, he was acting like a damned fool and she told him in no uncertain terms that he should leave.

He did. But he didn’t stay away.

Like a bad penny, he kept coming back. He would find her leaving work, having been banned from the property after his first transgression. He would find her in restaurants. He would find her online. It was a classic case of stalking, and she went to the police to try to find some relief.

Sadly, though, she didn’t do it quickly enough. On the night of July 9, 2004, Kim was returning from the cinema when he found her outside her apartment. He took her into woods across the street and assaulted her at knifepoint.

There she remained for the whole night, devastated and injured, until a neighbor heard her weeping the next morning and made the shocking discovery.

Charges were of course filed, and were not the slightest bit difficult to prove. It came out at trial that Beck claimed a broken heart as the reason for his complete loss of emotional control. Of course, that didn’t excuse his crime, and off he went to HMP Whitemoor, where he’ll stay for at least the next twenty years after being found guilty of rape and attempted murder.

But that didn’t provide full closure for Kim. Hers became something of a cause célèbre among advocates for stronger anti-stalking laws, and even for Kim herself.

I felt badly – though her case drew regional and even national attention, I hadn’t heard of it and now I was living with the woman. I felt like I had been so insulated in my career as a footballer I hadn’t taken the time to learn about things which were truly important.

But, the conversation wasn’t about me, it was about her. So I listened, and listened, and listened some more. It was nearly six o’clock before I asked a question.

“What is the best thing I can to do help you?” I asked.

“Well, as you may have noticed by now, I’m a bit skittish about a few things,” she said, her cheeks flushing red as she spoke. “All I ask is that you be trustworthy and be patient.”

The sun was setting beyond our apartment’s bay window, and she came to me, snuggling close in my overstuffed and oversized easy chair.

“I know that right now the game is your life and you’re doing the very best you can to fit me in right alongside Blake,” she said. I smoothed a lock of her curly blonde hair away from her cheek as she leaned her head against my shoulder.

“That’s actually all right with me, because I haven’t had a relationship like this in a long while and I need time to adjust. Just don’t ever forget that no matter what happens and no matter what I might say at a given moment, I love you. Okay?”

That seemed like a fairly big ask, but the woman in my arms seemed well worth that kind of sacrifice. She had earned the best treatment I could give her.

“I’ll do the very best I can,” I promised.
# # #
We’re going to have our hands full when we head to Norwich at the weekend.

Lewis Grabban is off to a terrific start for the Canaries and leads the Championship in goal-scoring with twelve. Getting him marked is going to be key for us, and since clean sheets for us are about as rare as hen’s teeth in recent weeks, I daresay it’s going to be vital.

We’re missing Mills through a yellow-card suspension, so I’m not terribly happy about that, and neither am I happy that Wheater pulled up lame in training the day before we left for Norwich. He has a twisted ankle that’s bad enough to rule him out for at least ten days – at a very bad time for us due to fixture congestion before the next international break.

We’re paper-thin at the back for this match, with my two first-choice central defenders both injured. Dervite and Ream will get places by default since they are my last two decent players at the position. McNaughton and Vermijl can both play there in a pinch but I’d rather not have to use either of them in that role.

Sir Alex Ferguson always said that the key to finding success with a team is finding two central defenders who can play together every week. I’m rapidly coming to see what he meant by that statement, since right now I just don’t have them.

Norwich are a good side. After a slow start, they seem to have things in order. They also lost to Fulham, but it was closer than our score (0-1), and since then they have racked up wins over Leeds and Sheffield Wednesday. We’ll need to be good, especially in their place where they draw well and have a loud and vocal base of support.

It will be a good test for us. Our battle with Fulham continues apace and we have to stay sharp and play well if we want to stay top.

And then there’s the striker issue.

Craig Davies hasn’t looked like he even wants to play in the last couple of matches, so it was my duty to tell him that he’s been dropped from the eighteen for the trip to Norfolk. I didn’t like it, especially given our shortage up front, but he’s been disengaged and disinterested and I can’t have that when there are players who want to play behind him.

Neil Danns will get the start in the support role, backing up Beckford, who is in form. He’ll need to stay that way, since Clough is the only other striker making the trip with Mason and Iliev still on the shelf. Neil has not started up front in his time here, so it’s another calculated risk I’m taking especially playing away from home.

We hope to get Mason back for the bench when Wigan comes to see us on the 7th November, in our last match before Remembrance Day and the international break. We need Joe back in the eleven because right now we’re putting a forward line out there with duct tape and space magic holding everything together.

It’s an odd senior squad I’ve got: more midfielders than I can play and not enough strikers or defenders. This appears to have been a squad built for 4-5-1 and 4-2-3-1 and under those circumstances, it’s easier to understand why the squad list looks the way it does. So I have work to do in that area, but without money to do it.

This match is a bit scary, with Norwich rounding into form and ourselves locked in a struggle with Fulham at the top of the table which looks set to last all season if we hold up our end of the bargain. There’s no room for a slip, that’s for sure.

As we rode to the southeast, I thought about what Kim had told me. She texts me regularly, but not constantly, when we’re away from home and it’s nice to think about her in conversation as well as in person.

But after our last conversation I couldn’t help but wonder if I was being good enough to her. That’s something I’m going to have to work hard to do, because she deserves it and I want to feel good about myself after years of being beaten up by Holly and now by Darin too.

She has real needs. So do I. Meeting them all is going to be a real challenge.

# # #
I love how shit hits the fan at the same time on and off the pitch for Malone. Makes for some cliff hanger type updates.
Awesome story, on and off the pitch. Just caught up with it, nice work, mate. :)
Thanks very much, fellows! Hellsdoom, welcome, always nice to have new readers!

1st November 2014 - Norwich (5-6-3, 9th place) v Bolton Wanderers (11-2-1, 1st place)
Championship Match Day #15 – Carrow Road, Norwich

Carrow Road is one of the Championship stadia that’s most often close to filled.

The Canaries have a colourful recent history, and are a bit of a yo-yo club in terms of promotion and relegation to and from the top flight. We’re trying to gain that promotion ourselves, the “yo”, if you will, so in that respect they’ve done what we are trying to do.

They have a history of squeezing every ounce of potential out of the players they have, and my message to the team at the hotel this morning was that they needed to work hard to get the result.

“You have done a fine job of that so far,” I said. “But today, on the road, with some issues we have to overcome, it’s even more important.”

I had full confidence in the eleven, and watching Danns was especially interesting for me. Here is a player who came right out and told me that he wants to play and he’ll give me results if I give him the chance, and then earned his spot by training in an unfamiliar position better than a person who ordinarily plays there.

The morning video presentation focused on Grabban; how he plays, where he likes to sit to find space, how they get the ball to him.

“It’s all about Grabban and Elliott Bennett,” I warned. Get them stopped, and three points are there for you today.”

With that, we headed off to the ground and our assignment.

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

Sadly for us, we seemed to forget those assignments alarmingly early in the contest.

Wes Hoolahan nearly started them off within the first five minutes, with his rising drive tipped over the bar by Bogdán in somewhat acrobatic fashion.

It was also fairly obvious that Ream was not having a good day in our makeshift central defence. Really, though, I was about out of options with Wheater’s injury and Mills’ suspension – Ream is a natural full back and it was clear he was having a difficult start to the match.

Tierney was the only defender on the bench, and he can only play the left side, so yes, my options were fairly limited.

Dervite was holding his own, but Ream had substantially more trouble. And in nineteen minutes, they all forgot the instructions as Norwich took a richly deserved lead.

Again it was Hoolahan doing the primary damage, finding Bennett with an admirably good lead ball to the edge of our area. The ball was so good, in fact, that it not only drew Dervite’s attention to the midfielder but also Ream’s, since Spearing was attempting to mark Hoolahan and couldn’t help out. This made Grabban an easy, and unmarked, target to find in the channel and Bennett did just that.

Bodgán was left high and dry and we trailed. It was just that simple.

These players have, in the main, done everything I’ve asked of them this season so a simple defensive lapse was not as hard to accept. But Spearing’s booking for a robust but (in my eyes) fair challenge against Gary Hooper was a bit more difficult.

So was their second goal, a virtual carbon copy of their first. Again, Ream overplayed, but stayed in the same postal code as Grabban right up until the ball came to him. And this time, Bogdán didn’t play his angle correctly, as I could see from the bench and Grabban could see from fifteen yards out, from which spot he scored six minutes from the interval.

This made my team talk short and sweet.

“I’m not really sure what I just watched out there for the last 45 minutes, but that was bloody awful and you know it,” I said. “We have a match plan for a reason, and that reason isn’t to give you something to read in place of the funny papers. Our marking on Grabban was appalling and our offensive play has been offensive, and I don’t mean that in a good way. I expect better in the second half, gentlemen. If I don’t see it, the coach ride home is going to be damned unpleasant.”

That was setting the bar quite high indeed. I also knew that part of the problem was Danns, who was long on industry but short on results. Still, he was putting in a full shift out there and my hope was that he would come to terms with his task before it was too late.

In the second half, he started playing better, teeing up the heretofore nearly invisible Beckford for a decent shot that bent agonisingly around John Ruddy’s left post just four minutes after the restart.

Norwich had done a nice job against both our wing players in the first half, but Moxey shook loose early in the second to cross for Beckford, whose header was turned behind by Ruddy for a corner. Chung-Yong took it, and scuffed it fairly badly, missing his target of the front of the six-yard box substantially.

But there was Vela, and the young midfielder scored with a rather stupendous header from a full sixteen yards, looping the ball first over a surprised defence and then an equally surprised Ruddy. It was one of the longest headed goals I had seen in competitive football, and Vela was just about as excited about scoring it as I was about watching it.

We were back in with a shout, and the pace of our play immediately picked up. Chung-Yong climbed into the match too, crossing for Danns to whip a shot wide of Ruddy’s right post right on the hour mark as we roared forward, re-energized and hunting for an equalizer.

That is, until Spearing picked up his second yellow card with a sliding tackle on Grabban that was, unlike his first offense, undeniable. Yet, he had to walk, and sadly removed the armband as he left, handing it to Ream, who transferred it to Bogdán.

He walked past me and I stopped him for a quick word as he left.

“Not your fault, Jay,” I told him. “First card wasn’t one. Let’s see if we can find an equalizer for you.”

I burned two substitutions as Spearing left – sacrificing Danns for Zach Clough as I went to two pure strikers up front, and Hall for McNaughton, moving Moxey to left full back to let my two young wingers try to create havoc.

We were essentially playing a 4-3-1-1 at that point, but the problem with that was of course the lack of an anchor man to front the defence. Down a goal, though, we had little choice.

Thing of it was, we continued to press forward, and Moxey’s crosses from the wing found willing heads in the form of Clough and Beckford. But Ruddy stood taller, cutting out crosses and saving from a low drive by Clough as the match reached 85 minutes.

We were in trouble. There was no denying that. And when Norwich hit us for pace on the counter, there was little we could do.

Bennett found the space in front of the defence Spearing usually occupied as the match ticked over into added time. Hoolahan’s long ball hit him in stride and the Jamaican easily outpaced the tiring Dervite and Ream to move in one-v-one with Bogdán.

There was only ever going to be one winner there, and we were beaten. It hurt. A lot. We should have been better and we were not.

The consequence was falling out of the top spot.

Match Summary: Bogdán: Vermijl, Dervite, Ream, McNaughton (Hall 70), Spearing (s/o 70), Chung-Yong, Vela, Moxey, Danns (Clough 70), Beckford. Unused subs: Lonergan, Tierney, Trotter, Medo, M.Davies.

Norwich City 3 (Lewis Grabban 19, 39; Elliott Bennett 90+1)
Bolton Wanderers 1 (Vela 54; Spearing s/o 70)
H/T: 2-0
A – 26,097, Carrow Road, Norwich
Man of the Match – Elliott Bennett, Norwich (MR 9.0)

# # #
“Of course I’m unhappy, what do you think I’d say?”

King was trying to sugarcoat things – as I had with the squad, to an extent – by noting that ten men don’t usually beat eleven, especially away from home.

“But Bobby, surely expectations aren’t that high, are they?”

“The expectation I have is that the team I put out there is going to play a solid ninety minutes of football. Jay knows that getting sent off hurt the team. He’s fully aware of that and I won’t need to remind him. I don’t fault him for it necessarily because we didn’t feel the first yellow he picked up was a carding offence. Yet, he’s our captain, he’s a big part of our team and just being back from injury, he now has to miss another match on top of it all due to being banned. But we were dross in the first half and that was what cost us this match, not Jay Spearing getting sent off. We had eleven men out there when that happened.”

King wrote for a few moments and continued his questioning.

“Fans are going to question your decision to play Neil Danns forward, where he is not as familiar with the position.”

“We need production from the hole striker position and we are not getting it with Joe Mason not quite ready to come back,” I said. “Craig Davies was watching today and I’m sure he’ll be ready when we face Cardiff.”

“Is this about Craig Davies?” he asked.

“It’s about having a string of matches close together and needing production from an important position on the park where we are affected by injury,” I said. “Craig has been a bit off form in his last couple of matches but I fully expect him to bounce back. He’s a professional and that’s what professionals do.”

“Were both of Spearing’s cards good in your eyes?”

“They were both bad,” I said, with the hint of a smile. “Nobody wants to see his players get carded. But in fairness, I didn’t think there was much in the first challenge but the referee did. The second challenge was a bookable offence for me but by then it was too late. We move on.”

“You did get some good news though, regarding Joe Mason. At least that’s the rumour.”

I wondered how a conversation that I thought was confidential between myself and Leather had been leaked to the press. But he was right, and it was good news.

“I can confirm that, yes,” I said, even as I made a mental note to talk to the training staff. “Joe is back in full training and he’s getting a runout with the u-21s this evening. If there are no setbacks, he may be available for the bench when we play Wigan in a week. I’ll get word on that from the staff tonight and we’ll make our decision after the match.”

Neil Adams was in a pretty good mood when I met him after the match. I couldn’t blame him, and since we were still in a better league position than his Canaries, I could afford to be gracious about losing. I didn’t like it, but at least I had the option.

They were better than we were, though, and I had the good grace to accept it.

“I do think we owe you one, Neil,” I allowed as I sat in his office.

“You’re welcome to try, Bobby,” he replied, pouring a cup of coffee instead of a glass of wine due to the autumn chill in the air. “You do get two chances a season in this league.”

“Thanks for the reminder.” I took a sip, and he looked at me pensively.

“What did you think of Fulham?” he asked. “We’ve not seen them yet, we get them in a few weeks and I’d like your opinion.”

Nothing like asking a manager you’ve just beaten for information on an upcoming opponent. That said, I wouldn’t mind seeing Neil’s team take the Cottagers down a peg for us, so I resolved to do something else in good grace.

I thought for a moment and remembered our other league loss of the campaign.

“What’s not to like?” I finally said. “Premiership side, basically. Good skill all through the eleven, Ruíz is a nice player, they got a penalty against us which really helped them, and I thought we deserved better than losing 3-1.”

“That’s what I was afraid of,” Adams smiled. “But we still get them twice.”

“Hopefully you won’t need your second chance to get a victory,” I mused, taking another sip of my coffee.

# # #
With only 72 hours between the loss at Norwich and our next match at home to Cardiff City, we had a chance to get the bad taste out of our mouths relatively quickly. Still, we’ve got challenges.

Even if Mason were healthy, we couldn’t play him against Cardiff since he’s their property, and we also won’t have McNaughton available either, since he too is a Bluebirds loanee.

We’ll have Mills back but Spearing is suspended, so we still won’t be anything like a full-strength side.

The advantage we have is that Cardiff is the worst offensive team in the Championship, having contrived to net only seven times in fifteen league matches. They’ve been decent enough in defence, though, which is why they aren’t bottom of the table while Rotherham are propping up the rest of the league.

The October awards were nothing to write home about. For the first time this season, I didn’t win the manager’s gong, but took third behind winner Slavia Jokanovic, who has Watford playing brilliantly after getting pasted by us, and Kenny Jackett of Fulham.

You have to feel bad for Kenny in that regard. He’s leading the table and hasn’t won the award yet, while I’m in second place having won it twice. I’d trade both awards to be top, though, and everyone knows it.

Chung-Yong was second in the player of the month balloting and deserved better, but now that he’s got his nose back to the grindstone and Leicester City seems to have cooled off a bit for him, I’ve got a player back in the eleven that I really need to have playing well.

This is the start of an important stretch for us. Cardiff are a team we should beat, and after that we host Wigan in a derby match that people are already looking forward to since the Latics are underperforming.

Uwe Rösler is in trouble there, according to the press, and chairman Dave Whelan is under pressure to make a move. Roberto Martinez’s old club doesn’t have the zip it had a couple of seasons ago, and they’re coming to the Macron where it will be my job to make it painful for them.

My friend Morris Vaughan, who tried to tell me a thing or two about team selection awhile back, sent me an e-mail telling me that the club expected its first sellout of the season for the Wigan match, with the heavy implication that victory would be a good thing.

Well, Morris, victory is always a good thing. That’s why we play this game.

I’m having a difficult time figuring him out. I mean, your average Bolton pubcrawler could cobble together a decent eleven sitting at a barstool with his mates, but Morris seems to think that the eleven I should be playing are those who can sell the most shirts for him.

I understand that the bottom line is important. Without a positive bottom line, the club goes into administration and that doesn’t help anyone.

But the way to make the most money is to get back into the Premier League. And as I’ve told Morris before, the eleven I choose to help us do that might or might not be the eleven that best pleases him.

In the end, that’s how I’ll be judged, not by any commercial director. So, sir, do us both a favour and back off.

# # #
4 November 2014 – Bolton Wanderers (11-2-2, 2nd place) v Cardiff City (3-5-7, 21st place)
Championship Match Day #16 – Macron Stadium, Bolton

Starting the day in second place wasn’t fun, but we had earned our spot in the table in more ways than one.

We had earned a lofty place in the table through solid play. We had fallen out of the top spot in the table through poor play.

As a result, Cardiff’s visit was a fairly important one for more than one reason. As was the case after our last loss at Fulham, poor performance in our prior match seems to have directly affected the live gate.

We hosted Derby just before we lost at Fulham and drew 21,748. Attendance at our next home match against Bournemouth was off by about 2,200 fans – over ten percent – at 19,539.

Our last home match against Brentford drew 19,385. After losing at Carrow Road, our announced attendance today was 18,228, a loss of 1,157 supporters.

To me, that’s a bit fickle but obviously I daren’t say a word. We just need to keep winning to draw more supporters to the ground.

There’s an element of truth to that, of course. The Greater Manchester Area has lots of clubs from which to choose, and the casual fan who has a choice can follow the 900-pound gorillas in the room – City or United – or any of a host of other area clubs including our own.

So if we want attention, we have to win and keep winning. So I had some decisions to make.

First among those decisions was to drop Bogdán, who now knows that he needs to play better to keep his place. Lonergan was champing at the bit and ready to go.

I also restored Danns to midfield to let him know I didn’t hold the Norwich game against him, and gave Medo the chance he’d been screaming for in the holding position in place of the suspended Spearing.

The other change I made was to give the armband to Tim Ream, which seems a bit odd on the surface given his recent play, but I wanted to spark both him and my former vice-captain, Mills, who lined up next to him on the pitch. Craig Davies also returned to the eleven, hopefully shaken into action after being dropped completely from the eighteen for Norwich.

Bolton Wanderers (4-1-3-2): Lonergan: Vermiil, Ream (captain), Mills, Moxey, Medo, Danns, M. Davies, Hall, C. Davies, Clough. Subs: Bogdan, Dervite, Tierney, Trotter, Chung-Yong, Vela, Beckford.

There was only one spare striker – Beckford – as the injury crisis mixed with Danns being ineffective in the ‘hole’ position brought us down to bare bones up front.

We kicked off, and we were as sluggish as the home attendance for the first few minutes. It was like we had a hangover from the Norwich match and it wasn’t long before I was up and to the touchline to try to encourage the lads.

It was a tricky thing. I believe that motivating players who have just lost a match needs to be done gently, or else they feel like the whip is being cracked unfairly, adding pressure to them. It was just basic stuff – “good job”, “nice ball”, “keep your head up,” that sort of thing.

Slowly, we climbed into the swing of things and the fans started to warm up too once Moxey buzzed the tower by barely missing David Marshall’s crossbar with a raking shot eleven minutes into the match.

That was sort of like a jolt to wake us up, and after that we started to play better. Perhaps a bit surprisingly, the player who got the most out of it was Craig Davies, who frankly hadn’t done much in his preceding few matches. A few minutes after Moxey’s drive, the Welsh international took a very nice little cutback from Moxey at the right edge of the Cardiff eighteen and slid a great diagonal ball to Clough on his right.

The teenage striker didn’t miss – and this time wasn’t offside, with no foul called in the buildup. The lad looked ecstatic and it was a wonderful sign for us, made possible by the heady play of two veterans – Moxey and Davies.

In fact, the player ran to me after getting his celebratory high-fives from his teammates to give me one of the same.

“Thanks, gaffer,” he grinned as he headed back to the position. “Appreciate the support!”

Indeed, I had put him out there and not dropped him to the reserves during his nine-match goalless string. Now he was on song, and ten minutes later he had the ball in the Bluebirds’ goal again, this time with an authoritative strike from twenty yards to Marshall’s left.

Clough seemed to have magically turned from a kid who was snakebit into a kid who couldn’t miss, which was of course just fine with us and our slightly diminished live crowd, which suddenly saw its heroes two goals up within 24 minutes after starting out in a somnambulant state.

Cardiff looked completely toothless. I wondered if they wished they hadn’t loaned Mason to us because, even though injured, he looked more likely to score than any of the three forwards they put out in their 4-1-2-3 alignment.

Craig Noone, Guido Burgstaller and Javi Guerra were starved for service, and not only that, their suppliers were hassled every time they touched the ball.

The lead allowed Davies the chance to do what he does best – pursue the ball and harass the opposing team’s back line. He’s a natural defensive forward, and his position as the second man – and the first behind the ball when we’re defending – allowed him to do his thing. And Cardiff had a dreadful time dealing with him.

Of course, being ahead two goals allowed us to be much more aggressive than we otherwise would be in pressing the ball high. We weren’t letting them have any purchase in the centre of the park, where our four completely dominated their four.

Unfortunately for us, three minutes before the interval, Danns went down in a heap with another knock to his previously deadened leg. He was really struggling and we finished the first half with ten.

Leather gave me the seemingly-usual “nope” expression as he examined the player at halftime so I nodded to Chung-Yong to get ready to go in. In terms of raw talent, it was an upgrade but in terms of resting a player I wanted to rest, it was no soap.

Still, we were playing well enough, so it was hard to really complain. Therefore, I shut my mouth and let my players do the talking.

As the second half began, we continued to press Cardiff heavily and they continued to not deal with it. They had enormous trouble generating any sort of meaningful pressure, with Lonergan having the answers on those occasions where they were able to foray into our penalty area.

His best effort came on what was a comparatively sizzling effort by Jones, with the keeper rising to tip the striker’s shot over the bar for a rare Cardiff corner in 66 minutes.

Lonergan looked sharp, but Cardiff gave him little to do. On our next foray down the field, Davies got the goal his play quite honestly deserved when Clough played a perfect dummy onto him from Chung-Yong’s cross in front of the Bluebirds’ goal.

Davies finished powerfully, and that finished Cardiff for the day. Unfortunately for us, right after the goal we suffered another injury loss as Medo left clutching his right thigh after stretching to receive a pass from Mills.

Now down two more men to injury, I wondered how much more of this we’d have to take – and whether one of my three remaining strikers would be the next victim.

Thankfully, we got off the park with no one else hurt, but with Wigan coming up on the Friday, we’ll need to cobble together an eleven for a derby match.

Good luck with that.

Match Summary: Lonergan: Vermijl, Ream (captain), Mills, Moxey, Medo (Trotter 72), Danns (Chung-Yong 45), M. Davies (Vela 81), Hall, C. Davies, Clough. Unused Subs: Bogdán, Dervite, Tierney, Beckford.

Bolton Wanderers 3 (Clough 14, 24; C. Davies 70)
Cardiff City 0
A – 18,228, Macron Stadium, Bolton
H/T: 2-0
Man of the Match: Craig Davies, Bolton (MR 9.0)

# # #
That evening, I got into my car and drove to London.

My mission was to scout Fulham’s match against Blackpool. We haven’t seen the Seasiders yet, and since they’re another local rival I’m keen to get a leg up on them as well. José Riga’s side has punched firmly above its weight this season.

Blackpool owner Karl Oyston, who can charitably be described as ‘colourful’, started the season with only eight players under contract. Since then he has cobbled together a senior squad and Riga has frankly been brilliant, getting his team to as high as fifth in the table before a recent dip in form has seen them drop to just above mid-table.

But now he had a real test on his hands, away to the Cottagers. Entering play, we’d be two points ahead of Fulham but they would be playing their match in hand, so there’s all to play for, as they say.

And for me, it was a chance to get out of town and I didn’t mind that. Kim was cozy at home and I had a chance to simply watch football, which is something I rarely get a chance to do any more.

Leather was texting me reports on my injured players as I drove, and of course I couldn’t read them until I arrived, but the news wasn’t good.

Medo is out for two weeks, but somehow has been selected anyway for Sierra Leone’s Cup of Nations qualifier – and he intends to go.

Sometimes you just can’t talk sense into a player, and this is definitely one of those times. Medo wants time here, and with Sierra Leone not a serious threat to qualify for the second round of the tournament, it does make you wonder.

It’s the same story with Danns, who has accepted an international callup despite being helped off the pitch in the Cardiff match. You do wonder where the priorities of some players lie – if not with their club or country, at least with their own health. What is the sense of aggravating injury and perhaps landing on the shelf for weeks or months for an international match that means nothing, or a friendly which means even less?

The call of the national team means something, though, and I certainly answered my country’s call when I wasn’t feeling up to snuff. “England Expects” is a powerful incentive, but with all the managers for whom I played, I was completely honest about my fitness. Failure to do so would have put the team at risk and I wasn’t willing to accept that.

But the next day, I watched Fulham play and they showed me complete dominance over a Blackpool side I would call average at best. They have had some issues of late as I’ve mentioned, but they did do one thing very well.

They stopped Fulham from scoring.

The official statistics sheet showed the home team with an advantage that was nearly obscene – 27 shots attempts to five, with ten on target to one. But the Seasiders got a super game from Joe Lewis in goals and that was enough for a goalless draw.

My presence at Craven Cottage didn’t go unnoticed, and though I was treated coolly by some as the manager of a league rival for promotion, at least I got a bit of respect while visiting the home of a club I’d dearly like to beat on the 10th February when they come to the Macron.

The match was important for two reasons: first, it was Fulham’s first draw in sixteen league games, and that was important because it meant they didn’t leapfrog us back into the top spot in the table. I entered the place as the manager of the Championship leaders by two points and left it as the manager of the Championship leaders by a single point.

One point or two – both are enough for me.

# # #
7 November 2014 – Bolton Wanderers (12-2-2, 1st place) v Wigan Athletic (6-5-5, 12th place)
Championship Match Day #17 – Macron Stadium, Bolton

Uwe Rösler has more important things to worry about than me, but he was evidently off trying to play some sort of mind game before his team came to the Macron.

He doesn’t like our direct style. So he went to the press in his news conference to complain about it. As a result, I had to handle a question in the tunnel before we took the pitch against our arch-rivals.

“I think Uwe knows he’s got some issues with trying to stop direct play,” I said, as plainly as I could. “He’s not going to unsettle me and he won’t unsettle my team.”

The Macron was sold out for the first time all season – 28,723 fans were packed into the place – and my best available eleven was out there for the festivities

Mark Davies still isn’t rounding into form so he made the subs bench in place of Vela, who has earned his shot to play. The Dynamic Duo of Craig Davies and Clough got another shot up front – with Joe Mason making the bench.

I wanted a change of music before the match, though, to get things going. I asked the media staff to give me some Fort Minor instead of Katy Perry (with the bad words removed, of course!)

This is ten percent luck, twenty percent skill
Fifteen percent concentrated power of will
Five percent pleasure, fifty percent pain
And a hundred percent reason to remember the name…

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

The crowd was festive and loud and that helped my lads right from the get go. And, we jumped on them.

Davies and Clough worked well from the beginning, with the former’s pass splitting the Wigan defence to find the latter in space just inside the area. Former Celtic defender Gary Caldwell bowled over my teenage striker, and referee Carl Sarginson immediately pointed to the spot with just over a minute on the clock. Clough took the effort himself, easily beating Ali Al-Habsi up high to give us the early lead.

Two minutes later, we were right back at them, with Tierney’s ball sending Clough away down the Wigan right flank, with Zach showing James Perch his heels as he caught up to the ball in the Wigan area. His cutback was wonderful and found Davies’ forehead with 4:32 on the clock.

The Macron was in hysterics, Rösler was up and screaming, and I did a little hop of celebration in the technical area, the closest I ever come to emotion after we score. Two goals up with less than five minutes on the clock!

We were cutting them apart, and soon it was Chung-Yong’s turn to get in on the fun, finding Davies down the right in far too much space for Rösler’s liking, as he was screaming as soon as the support striker got the ball. Davies’ cross found Clough again, and nineteen minutes into the match it was 3-0 and we could have any shot we wanted.

Clough was on fire, we were on fire, and our challenges were thunderous and final. As a result. Wigan couldn’t touch us, and our fans were absolutely jubilant.

Oriol Riera got their first decent chance 22 minutes into the match but he was immediately closed down by Mills and Dervite wound up in Sarginson’s book a few minutes later for a too-rough challenge on Andy Delort.

But for me the highlight of the first half was watching Zach Clough give Leon Barnett footballing surgery without anaesthesia. The kid was brilliant, with Al-Habsi denying him a hat trick with a superb save at feet in 36 minutes.

This time, though, it didn’t seem to bother Zach as it might have in previous matches, and we went to half ahead 3-0.

“Don’t you dare let them back into the match,” I warned as the players sat for halftime. “That half you played was bloody brilliant and I’m not watching it ruined by letting up in the second half. Don’t be the man who lets up on these guys.”

Three minutes after the restart, Mills, who has had his problems with concentration this season, easily dispossessed Riera and started Spearing away, with a lead ball to Vela. The youngster fed Davies in the left channel – where he was hacked down by the highly unfortunate Leon Barnett.

Again, Sarginson pointed to the spot and Clough couldn’t wait to get the ball in his hands. Moments later, he had cleanly beaten Al-Habsi for his first professional hat trick in 48 minutes. We were home and dry.

It was at that time that someone in the stand noticed that Wigan’s Irish winger, James McClean, was, in a sense, out of uniform when he entered as a substitute after Clough’s goal.

As was the case when he played for Sunderland in 2012, McClean wasn’t wearing a Remembrance poppy on his shirt as every other player on the pitch had done.

I was wearing one in my lapel, as was Wigan’s German manager, Rösler. Some of the fans made their displeasure known and the combination of ill feeling and the score made me wonder if there weren’t going to be additional fireworks.

McClean is from Creggan, but opted to play internationally for the Republic of Ireland, which had also caused the young man some trouble with regard to one of the true flashpoints in our recent history.

I was just hoping for a quiet finish to the match. Soon enough the whistling died down and we could concentrate on football again.

Seventy-one minutes into the match, with the outcome long since decided, I brought off Moxey and Davies, replacing them with Hall and Mason. I wanted to see what Joe could give in his first match action in a month.

That turned out to be an ill-fated decision, as Wigan’s Danish midfielder William Kvist became the first Latic player to catch one of my boys with a hard tackle. Too hard, in fact – he buckled Joe’s injured ankle with a sharp, studs-up challenge that was wholly unnecessary.

That got the crowd into things again, and my eyes flashed with anger as, out of substitutions after bringing Mark Davies on for Vela, we finished once again with ten men.

I watched Rösler closely, and when he looked back at me, tensions really rose.

“What’s your problem, Malone?” he asked.

“That’s pathetic and you know it,” I snapped back.

Immediately, the fourth official was between us but I wasn’t about to take a step toward him. Emotions were really running high by that point and when Sarginson blew the whistle for full time, I gave Rösler a perfunctory handshake before stalking down the tunnel to the changing room.

We had been great. But I had something to say, and I was going to say it.

Match Summary: Bogdán: McNaughton, Mills, Dervite, Tierney, Spearing, Chung-Yong, Vela (M. Davies 82), Moxey (Hall 71), C. Davies (Mason 71), Clough. Unused subs: Lonergan, Vermijl, Ream, Trotter.

Bolton Wanderers 4 (Clough pen 2, 19, pen 48; C. Davies 5)
Wigan Athletic 0
H/T: 3-0
A – 28,723, Macron Stadium, Bolton
Man of the Match: Zach Clough, Bolton (MR 9.5)

# # #
something tells me Rosler's about to get a verbal doing in the media

really great update man, as always
Dirty play. So to speak :D

“Yes, I thought it was dirty.”

The media, ever vigilant in its search for controversy, had found some, but this time they didn’t have to look very hard. I was a willing source.

“Joe Mason hasn’t played in a month and in a match we’re leading by four goals, he gets taken out five minutes from time in his injured ankle,” I said. “You tell me there’s nothing in that, I’m going to tell you that you’re full of something.”

“Is that the way Wigan play?”

“I wish it wasn’t, but it sure looks like it,” I said, “I think Uwe Rösler needs to do a bit of soul-searching instead of challenging me in the technical area. There was no point in what Kvist did. I’m sure he’s a decent enough lad but really, this is the kind of thing football is trying to get rid of. Joe is angry and upset because he’s just come back from injury and I don’t blame him. I understand playing hard until the final whistle but honestly, there’s no need to go in on an ankle like that, not when the match is decided.”

“Your thoughts on McClean and not wearing a poppy.”

“That’s up to the player and his club,” I immediately responded. “I’m not going to get involved in that. It’s an emotional issue and that’s all I’m going to say.”

“You’re holding the lead now and Fulham are chasing you again,” a Captain Obvious said. “Surely that pleases you.”

“Yes,” I said. I wasn’t really in the mood to wax poetic about the Cottagers.

The media saw that, and returned the conversation to where the juiciest quotes might be found – which was Mason.

“Does the Mason injury ruin the win for you?”

“No, beating the club’s rival is always good, and the lads are pleased as well they should be,” I answered. “We get some time off now to heal up and that’s good for us, especially in Joe’s case. We just need people to get healthy, especially up front. We’ve had trouble there in recent matches and for me, it can’t come soon enough.”

I then headed back to the trainers’ room, where Mason sat sullenly once more upon Leather’s table.

“This one doesn’t look quite as bad, Bobby,” the chief physio said to my surprise and Mason’s pleasure. “It’s a bad twist. Joe’s going to need most of the international break to put this right but there’s no structural damage. At worst, it’s a mild sprain and probably not even that.”

He slapped Mason on the shoulder. “You’re lucky, young man,” he said, and Mason just grinned at him. “You’ll need to stay off it for a few days to let everything settle down but after that you’ll be right as rain.”

With that, I went to the directors’ suite for a well-earned reception and dinner with Kim. The mood was good – and I was leaving for Madrid in the morning.

UEFA waits for no man.

# # #
I’m in a bit of trouble with the press for what I said about Rösler, but I could hardly care less. Emotions are still high after the match on a number of fronts.

First things first – McClean wrote a quite eloquent letter about why he didn’t wear a poppy yesterday to Wigan chairman Dave Whelan, which was published on the club’s website. It read, in part:

“I am not a war monger, or anti-British, or a terrorist or any of the accusations levelled at me in the past. I am a peaceful guy. I believe everyone should live side by side, whatever their religious or political beliefs which I respect and ask for people to respect mine in return. Since last year I am a father and I want my daughter to grow up in a peaceful world, like any parent.

“I am very proud of where I come from and I just cannot do something that I believe is wrong. In life, if you’re a man, you should stand up for what you believe in.

“I know you may not agree with my feelings but I hope very much that you understand my reasons. As the owner of the club I am proud to play for, I believe I owe both you and the club’s supporters this explanation.”

He’s chosen quite a way to make his statement, though. Two years ago at Sunderland, McClean got a death threat on Twitter for not wearing a poppy on Remembrance Day, and yet he stuck to his beliefs. I find that impressive, even if I don’t agree with the entirety of his position. I’m of the opinion that a lot of good men died to give McClean the right to express his opinion on his desire to live in a peaceful world.

So, while I respect his opinion, I wore a poppy. And I always will.

And speaking of not agreeing with a position, my friend Uwe Rösler has a peck of trouble on his hands.

As my flight left Manchester Airport for Madrid, the news broke that after the match, the Wigan manager fined poor Leon Burnett a week’s wages for unprofessional performance against us. Clough dominated him, and when he was switched to Davies, my veteran striker burned Burnett for a penalty.

That left a bad taste in Rösler’s mouth – and at the same time he defended his actions to the press, he sarcastically admitted that I had a point about Wigan’s rough play.

“You don’t want to see players injured,” he said. “It looked bad and that’s something we have to watch out for. But I’m not about to ask Bobby Malone whether it’s all right for one of my players to try to win a ball when we’re playing his team.”

Reductio ad absurdum isn’t funny, but the statistics don’t lie. Wigan have had five players sent off already this season, in only seventeen matches. They’ve also earned 31 yellow cards, tying them for second in the league. We aren’t exactly choirboys in that department either, having been carded 29 times, which is sixth, but have had only one player – Spearing, against Norwich – sent off, and none for violent conduct. Aggressive tackling is part of my match plan, but we aren’t out to hurt players.

There were a lot of fouls in the match – 39, in fact, with 20 of them going to the visitors. Yet, perhaps surprisingly, there was only one card awarded. With the exception of the penalties, referee Sarginson let the teams play. Naturally, my team got the card, which seems to be the rule these days.

But my point is made. And as I flew to Madrid, I was making notes for the UEFA class on dealing with the press. Rösler is in it pretty deep, as I mentioned. Burnett has already asked for a transfer and there are rumblings that the PFA might get involved.

I thought Burnett was exposed by us, but not to the extent that Rösler needed to lighten his wallet for him. He hadn’t played well, but that happens to professionals now and again. For example, I told Mark Davies before I left for Madrid that he needed to buck up his ideas, because he’s making too much money for me to be sitting him on the bench for lack of performance. That seemed to get his attention.

I did wish I could have taken Kim with me to Spain. Unfortunately, she’s not my PA but Gartside’s, and as such I couldn’t bring her on a field trip.

But once I reached the Barajas International Airport about eight miles from the stadium, everything was absolutely first-class. A club representative was at the airport to meet me along with a UEFA delegate and instructor, which was a lovely touch.

A quick cab ride deposited me at the Hotel VP Jardín Metropolitano, with my room facing the Santiago Bernabéu less than a mile away. Another nice touch.

My first evening there was spent in conversation with the UEFA representative, a kindly gentleman called Álvaro Margas Olmedo. We held that conversation in the hotel’s restaurant, which was a third great touch.

We talked quite a bit about how the course was going and the conversation eventually got around to my team.

“I see you are top of the table,” he said, looking like he actually was interested in England’s second tier league.

“We’ve played well,” I admitted. “So in the event we keep playing well and get ourselves promoted, it would be nice to successfully finish this course if I want to keep my job.”

“I’m sure even if you are not done, a waiver would be granted because you are already enrolled,” Olmedo said, missing what passes for my Midlands humour.

“I’m sure you’re right,” I said diplomatically, taking a sip of wine as I smiled to myself.

# # #
I couldn't even agree to disagree with James McLean. Thousands lost their lives so that he could have freedom of expression and he's completely shunned them. Not right at all

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