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[FM15] Raising Cain

The story of a failed young manager's attempt to resurrect his career ... and his life.
Started on 1 September 2015 by tenthreeleader
Latest Reply on 12 August 2016 by zappo137
Kyle deserves a chance to be happy; he's lived his life in the shadow of a mistake which his wife has held over him for too long. He deserves the chance to be happy and Allison deserves the chance to make him happy.

She'll look good on his arm atop an open top bus to boot! Good luck in the second leg!
Thank you :) We'll need it.

There was a public rally on the Monday evening. It was very well attended.

This was like the old days, Kyle was told by senior staff. When Oxford played in the old First Division, it had been something like this. The energy was there. The interest was there. The town stopped when United played. That night, people thought about the old days.

They gathered at Frys Hill Park, which was just across the parking lot from the Mail stand at the Kassam Stadium. There were several thousand people there, to hear Kyle, and to a lesser extent Eales, Wright, and Whing address them about the morrow’s match.

As the event began, those in the southwest corner of the park could look across the Guelder Road to see the Luton team coach arrive at the Holiday Inn Express immediately adjacent to the stadium. Flitcroft was taking no chances – he wanted his team comfortable and ready to play in the morning instead of boarding a coach like Kyle’s men had done.

Yet the night wasn’t about the visitors. It was about Oxford United, and Kyle wanted it to be about the fans. His words to the players before the event were to say whatever they could think of that wasn’t profane to make the night about the supporters, since a packed and loud house the next day would make things that much easier.

Since he had to be around the stage, Kyle wasn’t asked to work the crowd, and that made him happy. He wasn’t a glad-hander in any event, but some of the more extroverted players had no problem at all with doing just that.

The evening was calm, placid and warm, which led to an even more festive atmosphere. The next night promised to be perfect in terms of weather, with a sellout crowd expected.

So Kyle had an upbeat message when his turn finally came.

“We want to put on a performance tomorrow night that you supporters can be proud of,” he said. “Our players have worked very hard all season for this moment and now that it’s here, we know you’ll be right there with us as our twelfth man. We’re pleased with the first leg result and we know if you can help us to a win tomorrow night we’re all off to Wembley.”

That drew the predictable cheer.

So did his next statement.

“When I came here in November the team was struggling, but I want to commend each and every one of the players for buying in, learning the system we installed and making the effort to pull themselves up by the bootstraps. You deserved better football to watch and these players gave it to you. It’s been a fun ride and a fun rise toward the top of the league. Root us over the line tomorrow night.”

Wright and Whing said their pieces and Eales did the chairman’s duty, to golf-clap applause from the assembled, who weren’t there to hear the money men. They were there to celebrate the team and rightly so.

So it was that the players got to sign autographs, the club got to sell a few more shirts, pennants and scarves, and Kyle got to think about other things.

Allison was there.

In the company of a male friend.

Kyle felt like he had been kicked in the stomach when he spotted her, with some muscle-bound thirtysomething trying to climb inside her outfit as she pretended to resist him. He wondered who he was, decided that he had been down that road once before with his wife, and decided to let the matter drop.

Of course, that was easier said than done, given what the woman had said to him just two nights before.

So when the event was done, Kyle headed home, distracted in the worst way possible on the night before he would take charge of the biggest match of his career.

He looked at the ceiling in his bedroom while Jenna played video games until the wee hours. She was young. She could do that.

Kyle felt old. And he couldn’t sleep. Neither fact surprised him.

# # #
.... and with that, she has just turned heel ha!
I suspect that might be the ex husband, creeping around. Allison might not have arrived with whoever her unwelcomed guest is, they may just know one another and just have bumped into each other at the event... I'm clutching at straws aren't I?

At least he'll have the crowd on side!
Kyle would certainly sleep easy should Oxford overcome their opponents in what will certainly be the biggest game of the season to date. I sincerely hope he can claim victory!
It's squeaky bum time. Wait, wrong club ...

12 May 2015 – Oxford United (1-1) Luton Town
Sky Bet League Two Playoff Semifinal Second Leg – The Kassam Stadium, Oxford
Referee: Tim Robinson

It had been a long morning. Or a longer night. Or something.

Kyle was up early to see Jenna off to school and then got himself to the stadium so he could hide.

That didn’t sound terribly manly and Kyle recognized that, but it was a big day and he wanted total concentration.

Yeah, right.

He sat in his office at lunch, with a sandwich and soup from the cafeteria sitting uneaten on his desk in front of him.

He wasn’t hungry. At times, he was nauseous.

That morning he had checked his teeth, to see if there was anything growing in them which might repel those of the feminine gender. He had taken the events of the previous evening hard, and a younger Kyle might have resorted to the bottle as a way to drown his sorrows and fears.

Who knew, he thought. They might be just friends. But if there was one thing he had learned from his life, in his own experience and through others, it was that promises are words. Just words.

So he tried to drown his worries and fears through one more look at match video.

He watched the entire first leg over again, for what seemed like the tenth time, looking for any advantage he could possibly find from the Hatters’ approach.

He thought about how Ricky Miller had caught lightning in a bottle and how he was going to do everything he could think of to be as sure as he could that it wouldn’t happen again.

It was a masterstroke for him – his first goal in League football, coming quite nearly out of nowhere, at the perfect moment for his team. Had it been in the second leg and sent Luton through, it would have made Miller a cult hero and Kyle Cain’s name somewhat less than a blessing around Oxfordshire.

His lunch remained, uneaten, and finally Kyle fell asleep at his desk, his door closed. He was exhausted and it was the wrong time for him to be at anything less than the top of his game.

Yet, when the big match comes you find the energy, and so it was that he awoke at 3pm to find the earliest arrivals already making noise on the other side of the wall, to the changing room.

He was quite pleased that there had been no smart comment from Diana that morning. Had there been, she might have seen Kyle’s very worst side and nobody wanted to be around when that side got shown. It was rare, but when it happened it was epic and there was no doubt about Kyle’s feelings when it was done.

He headed through the side door of his office into a small adjunct office which adjoined the changing room and contained his personal matchday dressing space. This time, he was going all-out.

Kyle had never been one for tracksuits, but then he had also never been one for the coat-and-tie. But this match was special so that’s what he wore.

He wore a navy blue suit with a silk white dress shirt, gold necktie and pocket square, and no, Jenna didn’t have to tie the knot for him. He did it himself, looking online to find the best kind of knot and learning it himself.

At 4pm, he was ready, and sat in his main office with the final team sheet in front of him and Fazackerley across from him at the desk.

“This sheet will do itself, Kyle,” Fazackerley advised, and Kyle knew the older man was right. There wasn’t much need to change. Hoskins still wasn’t at one hundred percent after his injury but he couldn’t be risked in a u-21 match at this point and so he needed to find fitness in other ways.

At long last, the time came to meet the officials and turn in the team sheet. Flitcroft was taking this match every bit as seriously as Kyle – he was dressed to the nines as well – and as the two men exchanged team sheets and handshakes, it all hit Kyle. It was time to really play for something.

Heading back to the changing room, Kyle noted with a start that Ricky Miller was not in Luton’s eighteen. It was a vastly different group.

Flitcroft had made five changes from the first leg. Faye got the start as one of three center-backs in a 5-1-2-2 alignment. Tyler Connolly, a substitute in the first leg, moved to the XI, as did Pelly Ruddock, veteran Luke Guttridge and Paul Benson. It was a much, much different Luton look.

Yet Kyle had changed too – to 4-2-3-1, which his team had never used to start a match at home. Again, Potts moved to the right to give Oxford two real threats at the full back positions, but with Maddison playing off Hoban as a shadow striker and Hylton replacing the injured O’Dowda on the left.

Finally, it was time for warm-ups and Kyle heard the first warmup song of the night heading over the tannoy. He liked it – quite a bit, in fact – and his phone flashed as the media department sent a gif of the night’s playlist over Twitter, an oldies-heavy, high-energy fun show that almost made Kyle want to skip his office prep.

It included a three-fer from three of the greatest bands ever to come out of Oxford, which was a nice local touch:

Oxford United Pre-Match Playlist

League Two Playoff Second Leg – 12 May 2015

A Little Less Conversation – Elvis Presley vs Junkie XL
Karma Police – Radiohead*
Alright – Supergrass*
Cassius – Foals*
Ode to Oi – TJR
Rum ‘n’ Coca Cola (Shake It Up Well) – Tim Tim
Shut Up and Dance – Walk the Moon
Skills – The Beatbullyz
Come With Me Now – Kongos
In The Mood – UC 64
Jungle – Jamie Commons and the X Ambassadors
I Don’t Wanna Stop – Ozzy Osbourne
The Fight Song – The Young Goulets
Nowhere To Go – Arch Leaves featuring Randy Coleman
Let’s Go Crazy – Prince and the Revolution
(*Oxford musicians)

There was no doubt that by the time the warmup was over, the crowd would get the message as to what was being asked of them. Not that this group needed prompting – the Kassam Stadium was stuffed to the gills and the atmosphere was electric as the warmup concluded.

The team talk was predictably simple.

“The first time you played this team this season, you lost to them four-nil. That was before things turned around. Now you’ve got two draws on the spin against them, once in the league and once last week. Tonight is the night you show them you’re better than they are.”

Warming to his task, Kyle looked each man in the eye as he circled the room.

“You know what’s ahead of you after you make your point tonight, gentlemen. It’s a big prize. We all know that. But concentrate on the moment and know that they have to come in here tonight and take it from you. You have the advantage. Use it. Put your boots on their necks and stomp. Get yourselves to Wembley because you deserve to be there. Now, hands in and let’s go.”

The teams took the pitch to the predictable strains of Lux Aeterna and Kyle shook hands with Flitcroft as the teams went through the pre-match ritual of pretending to wish each other good luck.

Finally, there was nothing else for it. It was time to get the match underway.

# # #
Actually nervous for you, good luck and lets hope the team play the way we know they can!
You have given me more than a few songs to check out!
Thanks, fellows ... we might need some luck.

Pelly Ruddock showed he wanted to play early on, and was too emphatic about it in Kyle’s mind. Sliding through Maddison’s legs to chop down Oxford’s Player of the Year candidate was not a popular move in front of eleven thousand Oxford supporters even if the one thousand or so Luton fans in the away section didn’t mind so much.

That was forty-five seconds into the match and already Kyle was off the bench and in the ear of the fourth official, Peter Bankes.

“How on earth is that tackle on?” Kyle asked. Flitcroft sat in his dugout with a pensive expression, not wanting to inflame tensions early in the match but realizing that his player was lucky to avoid the book within the first sixty seconds.

Potts retaliated with a hard challenge on Jordi Ortega, cleanly taking the ball from him on Luton’s first foray, and starting a counterattack that nearly resulted in the first goal of the game, with Maddison firing wide after being teed up by MacDonald.

It was a full-blooded start, with Luton earning the first corner after Skarz turned Stockley’s cross behind in seven minutes.

The crowd was loud and supportive, but Kyle hardly heard it as he immersed himself in the match. He wasn’t even looking for Allison in the Mail stand – Oxford wasn’t attacking in that direction anyway in the first half and as far as he was concerned, it was just something that didn’t interest him.

His attention was jerked back to the match when Paul Connolly got the ever-popular ‘washout’ warning from referee Tim Robinson for a hard foul on Hylton in ten minutes that set up the Us for a set piece just outside the Luton area which came to nothing.

For his part, Dunkley couldn’t leave well enough alone a few minutes after that, challenging Benson hard in a decent set piece position. Robinson seemed determined to let the teams play to the greatest extent he could, refusing to book Dunkley and bringing Flitcroft to the touchline for the first time.

The managers paced like caged animals in their respective technical areas, willing their teams to that extra effort that might give the edge in the tie.

Maddison got the first shot on target in sixteen minutes, but Arran Lee-Barrett collected comfortably. That was enough to start the fans yelling again, so it counted for something.

Ssewankambo and Skarz then both shot over within the next few minutes, but Luton’s five-man backline appeared to be restricting Oxford to chances from range. Both managers had the same idea – Luton’s back five with a holder against Oxford’s back four with two holders.

Yet it was the home team that was the more fluent, even if it was also the more wasteful. Hoban shot over in twenty-three minutes after the team’s second corner of the match.

Finally, though, Robinson couldn’t keep his cards in his pocket when Connolly tripped Hylton in full flight for his second hard foul against the same player. The yellow toned Connolly down a bit and helped focus the Us.

Hylton had an effective first half down the wing, forcing the second card of the match as well as the first when Pelly Ruddock brought him down in thirty-six minutes, referee Robinson playing advantage only to see MacDonald’s ball run long down the right. He brought play back, rightly, and booked the Luton man.

It wasn’t exactly Premiership stuff, but it was nail-biting, tactical in its way, and very emotional on both sides. Just the sort of play you’d expect.

Bankes held up a board indicating one minute of added time and then Luton made its bid, with Ssewankambo completely whiffing on an interception attempt and sending Ruddock away right up the middle.

Whing moved over to close him, though, and the midfielder’s shot was seen wide by Ashdown, who had the angle covered. Ssewankambo reacted with disgust and instead of yelling at him, Whing simply put his hand on the loanee’s shoulder and had a quiet word.

That’s a teammate, Kyle thought, and nodded with satisfaction as Robinson blew for halftime.

That said, it was still nil-nil. The first ball into the onion bag might well be one for Wembley.
# # #
Tense stuff, very tense... will get even worse when our lad turns around to see Allison getting it on in the stand haha
Extremely tense.... anything can happen now!
A nervy affair... Neither side wanting to risk too much; might take a spark of genius to separate the two.
“Good work,” Kyle said. “You had better chances, you had a lot more of the ball, and you did a great job keeping them away from Jamie. Right now this is your tie to win. We’re going to need to find a way through five at the back to get it, though, so Derek has some ideas for you. But as always, keep your eyes on the prize. I love how you are working for each other. Keep doing that and let’s celebrate when this is done.”

Fazackerley stepped to the front of the room and the veteran assistant manager outlined a new tactical plan to deal with five at the back. It was going to be a numbers game up front, and it involved both Ssewankambo and better ball movement, but not necessarily in that order.

Flitcroft’s plan was simple: make Oxford come forward, hit them on the counter and smash and grab. They would have to defend well, of course, but every away playoff team has to do that. As long as the Us shot from distance, they were no threat.

Fazackerley wanted the ball deep into the six-yard box and Kyle concurred. The idea was to make a little mayhem in front of Lee-Barrett, since the Us were getting so much of the possession. That meant Ssewankambo would need to be a true box-to-box midfielder and he would need to help make something happen when he got forward.

It had to be someone, but that player couldn’t be Whing, whose lack of pace would be cruelly exposed in such a scenario. He was playing well shielding the back line so there was no harm in keeping him in that role.

There was a decidedly tense atmosphere as the second half kicked off. There was all to play for but Dunkley limped to the touchline almost immediately after kickoff after initiating contact with Paul Benson and coming out the loser for it.

The defender could continue, though, and then it was Stockley coming off with a knock in 52 minutes, replaced by Nathan Oduwa, the teenage Spurs loanee having not featured in the first leg. The Nigerian slotted in next to Benson and became Wright’s responsibility.

He had just gotten comfortable when Oxford came forward for the first time in the half. Maddison earned a throw in the Luton half and took it himself, finding Skarz ahead of him. His ball into the area seemed to disappear into a mob of players.

And then there was Robinson pointing to the penalty spot, with Potts on the ground near it, underneath Luke Wilkinson, who had put him there. Everyone in the Kassam Stadium seemed to lose their mind at the same moment, for different reasons.

Faye rushed the referee and was immediately carded for dissent, while Ortega barely avoided a second card at the same time.

But then, Whing had a job to do.

The player who couldn’t be brought forward for extra numbers due to lack of pace now had all the time he needed, from twelve yards, to try and break the deadlock.

Lee-Barrett shifted from side to side on his goal line, trying to make the veteran defender guess the direction of his dive. He even tried to get the referee to order a re-spotting of the ball to try to throw Whing off his stroke, risking a card in the process. Robinson warned the keeper, who returned to his place to await events.

Whing kept his eyes forward the entire time, not giving away his idea, and then sent Lee-Barrett the wrong way. Both players went to their left, and in Lee-Barrett’s case, it was the wrong direction. The penalty was perfect, perhaps unstoppable even if the keeper had guessed correctly, and Oxford led in 52 minutes.

Whing stood in the middle of the penalty area, arms crossed on his chest while the Mail stand fans broke into a ribald oldie-but-goodie chant regarding Posh Spice, her husband, and her purported sexual preference for the Oxford defender.

And just like that, Flitcroft’s match plan changed. Luton had to come out and play now, and Hylton finally got his revenge against Connolly from the first half, sending the Luton man flying after catching him in possession in 55 minutes. He got the same warning from Robinson that Connolly had gotten after his first foul against the Oxford man.

Ssewankambo then moved up and found Hoban with an artful little ball in 59 minutes that sent the Irishman in free and clear – until Wilkinson caught him from behind with a perfect tackle, one that took no small amount of stones to make from a player who had already conceded a penalty.

Oxford surged forward now, the 4-2-3-1 holding its shape nicely while creating chances through Maddison, who found he liked playing a bit further forward. His dummy off a Skarz cross created a chance for MacDonald, but the Scot shot wide in 63 minutes, putting paid to that chance.

It was at that point that Dunkley really started to drag, his knock from the start of the half really affecting him. Kyle walked down to the edge of his tactical area to where players warming up were heading up and down the touchline.

He grabbed Johnny Mullins, who looked a bit surprised, but he was the man Kyle had in mind.

“Swap positions with Andy,” Kyle said. “I want you shielding the back line. Tell Isak I want him to drop back like in the first half. You two are going to break their attack before it hits Jamie. Have you been watching?”

“Yeah, boss!” Mullins replied, trying to shoulder his way past Kyle to the fourth official. The manager liked the aggressiveness, but he wasn’t done yet.

“Do not let Oduwa behind you unless you see a free central defender between Oduwa and goal,” Kyle said, straining to make himself heard over the din. Then he smiled.

“Or better yet, just don’t let him beat you,” Kyle grinned. No sense overthinking it.

He mussed Mullins’ hair and gently pushed him toward the fourth official. Bankes held up the board, bringing off Dunkley to a nice ovation from the fans.

Cheyenne Dunkley had had a hard time breaking into the eleven when Kyle arrived. Now he was a big part of the plan, and his handshake with the boss was heartfelt as he headed to the bench and the training staff.

Almost immediately Griffiths crossed for Benson for Luton, but Wright threw the striker off his stroke and he headed wide. Mullins showed he had been listening early on by outmuscling Oduwa for a header from a long punt by Faye as the match passed seventy minutes.

Jake Howells came on for Griffiths in 75 minutes for Luton and immediately Oxford surged forward, with MacDonald’s piledriver missing in 77 minutes as Lee-Barrett got low enough to turn it behind for a corner.

Luton cleared its lines, but only as far as Maddison, who sprayed the ball to the right for MacDonald. The Scot’s cutback found Ssewankambo, the late arriver, and the Swede took two steps to his right before shooting.

His rising shot cannoned off the bar, and fell at Hoban’s feet for the easiest goal of his life. Twelve minutes from time, Oxford led by two and the Kassam seemed to shake from the thunder of the fans.

The Mail stand was in raptures, Hoban had scored the 19th goal of his season, and it was all over bar the shouting.

Kyle didn’t even feel the need to use any more of his substitutions. The players were running on adrenalin now and they were more than good enough to hold Luton for the remaining minutes. The singing started, and right on cue, Tim Robinson’s whistle sent Oxford United to Wembley.

Oxford United: Ashdown: Potts, Dunkley (Mullins 67), Wright (captain), Skarz, Ssewankambo, Whing, MacDonald, Maddison, Hylton, Hoban. Unused subs: Clarke, Bevans, Grimshaw, Long, Ashby, Hoskins.

Oxford United 2 (3) (Whing pen 55, Hoban 78)
Luton Town 0 (1)
H/T: 0-0
A – 12,573, The Kassam Stadium, Oxford
Man of the Match: Pelly Ruddock, Luton (MR 7.4)
GUMP: Andy Whing

# # #
And rising up from the Mail Stand a crescendo -

We love, we love you, we love you

and when you play

we follow, we follow ,, we follow
cause we're Oxford, we're Oxford, we're Oxford

and that's the we we like it, like it, like


Bring on Wembley!

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