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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
Good story man.... :)
Love it!!
tenthreeleader's avatar Group tenthreeleader
8 yearsEdited
Thanks very much, gentlemen! Still chugging away on this ...

The coaches had held a brief gathering at the training ground after the team had gone home on that Wednesday night. Cheltenham was next and Kyle expected three points.

That meant making the team work on a holiday evening. There was a short session scheduled for New Year’s Day as well and Kyle had made it abundantly clear that any player who showed up for training in a delicate state would leave that training in a more delicate state.

The mood was good but subdued as a result. That was the way Kyle wanted it.

“New Years comes and goes,” he told Fazackerley. “A player’s career does not.”

So he went home to spend a quiet evening with Jenna and at eleven o’clock, his mobile phone rang.

It was Stacy.

“This is an unexpected surprise,” Kyle said to his wife, in a greeting that was warm even for him.

“Just wanted to call and wish you and Jenna a Happy New Year,” she said.

“That’s kind. What are you up to this evening?”

“Oh, just watching the telly,” she answered. She sounded tired, which was understandable given the changes in her life.

Kyle decided to take the chance.

“So, Stacy, tell me, what will it take to bring you to Oxford? Isn’t it time to end all this nonsense?”

There was a brief silence on the other end of the line.

“I’m not ready for that quite yet, Kyle,” she said. “I’ve a good job here in London and I like what I’m doing. You can’t expect me to just pitch all that and run to you.”

“Well, we are married,” he said, in a teasing fashion. “Aren’t we supposed to live in the same house?”

But Stacy wouldn’t budge.

“I’m happy here,” she said. “Can’t you try to get a job in East London?”

“I’ve been employed by Oxford for six weeks,” he said. “And you want me to find another club already? That won’t fly. And I’ve told the chairman as a condition of my employment that I won’t look for another position for a year. They’ve had five managers here in the last twelve months.”

It seemed like such a circular argument. Kyle was ready to ask Stacy to come home and that was something for him to admit. And, it seemed to him that his wife was being her usual obstinate self.

Stacy thought Kyle was bending. That was good. But he wasn’t willing to bend far enough, which was typical of him. She thought that he might really be in the right occupation to suit his dominating personality, but his on-the-job persona didn’t match well with his primary role as husband and father.

“Well, what about if we looked for a similar job for you here?”

That was real compromise. Stacy thought for a moment.

“I don’t think it would pay the same,” she said. “And after all the family does need money to try to rebuild our finances.”

She has a reason for everything, Kyle thought to himself.

“Well, how about we talk about it next time we see each other?” he asked. He felt he was really trying to resolve the issue.

“All right,” she said. “You have a good night, yeah?”

“You too,” Kyle said. Just then, he heard a noise.

The toilet had flushed in Stacy’s flat.

At that moment, Kyle knew his wife was not spending New Year’s Eve alone.

# # #
3 January 2015 – Oxford United (8-5-10, 15th place) v Cheltenham (2-7-14, 24th place)
Sky Bet League Two Match Day #24 – The Kassam Stadium, Oxford
Referee – Darren Drysdale

It wasn’t really a happy New Year for Kyle.

He stewed over what he had heard in Stacy’s apartment for the entire next day, and even Jenna’s prodding couldn’t prise out of him what was wrong.

On the one hand, he couldn’t prove anything. On the other hand, if she was with a man, part of Kyle thought he deserved what he was getting for the trouble he had caused.

And if he could have had a third hand, that hand would be defending himself. But he didn’t have that option, so he simply sat and stewed.

The players could see something was bothering the boss at the New Year’s training and again during the tactical workup on Friday. He was very upset.

There was some nice news for him professionally, though, as he earned a richly deserved Manager of the Month gong for rescuing his club from the depths of the relegation contest. Maddison earned another richly deserved award as Young Player of the Month.

Jake Wright signed his contract on reduced terms, which helped the bottom like. Matt Bevans and all the staff up for renewal also agreed new terms for the next year at modest increases. The board informed Kyle that the Financial Fair Play rules had been met easily and so far, everything was going just great at the Kassam.

On the field.

Off, well, that was another matter.

So it was that the tail-end club in League Two, Cheltenham Town, came calling on the Saturday – a team Kyle had seen once already and watched his team eviscerate.

That was a word which could also have been used to describe his private mood.

As for changes, well, there were a few. Whing was returned to central defense after going a week free of concussion symptoms. Bevans, who had just signed his new deal, returned to right back and the carousel at striker continued with Hylton supporting Hoskins.

Otherwise, the eleven was unchanged from Plymouth. There was a nice feel to the squad now, with players settling into defined roles and performing as they were expected to perform. Every manager loved that feeling and Kyle was no exception.

Town entered the match in desperate straits. They needed points in a hurry and their hope was to catch Oxford on an off day and then hope they would rebound against Dag and Red. It was a tall order.

The crowd was bigger by about 800 fans than for the last home match against Shrewsbury, and Kyle wanted them to see a show which would bring them back. Five minutes into the match, Hylton got them out of their seats with a well-placed headed finish from an O’Dowda cross from the left.

That was how to handle last-place opposition, Kyle thought, and he settled back for the inevitable hiding he knew was in Cheltenham’s future.

Only it didn’t come.

The visitors earned a surprising amount of possession after Hylton’s goal and suddenly Kyle realized an important fact: his players were mirroring their manager’s complacency.

That brought him out of the dugout like a jack-in-the-box after Mathieu Manset burst through the defense and was denied by a sterling save from Ashdown in thirteen minutes.

“Concentrate!” he yelled, stabbing a forefinger against the side of his head as he did to make his point. That helped for a bit, but soon it became apparent that the visitors were made of sterner stuff.

They proved it in twenty-seven minutes, when Oxford couldn’t defend a set piece. It was simple stuff. Jordan Jones took it, Will Summerfield towered over both Wright and Hylton, who had come back to help, and gave Ashdown no chance.

Kyle stood, as stunned as anyone else in the crowd, at the ease with which the visitors had equalized. He turned to Fazackerley, and the frustrations of the last few days began to simmer.

“If we don’t see better play soon, nobody’s going to be bloody sitting down when I give the half time talk,” he snapped. Fazackerley chose to take the brighter outlook, which didn’t exactly endear him to his boss.

“We’re taking their best shot and we’re still level,” he offered, but Kyle would have none of it.

“We need to throttle this lot,” he said, his voice barely below a snarl.

For their part, the Us responded better after being pegged back, and as the match moved toward halftime, they were nearly acceptable to their boss.

As referee Darren Drysdale signaled for one minute of added time, Oxford struck. Hoskins’ ball to the right found the run of Bevans, and the youngster whipped a ball into the box for MacDonald. The Scot let the ball play off his chest and down, and he volleyed into the net in 44 minutes to restore Oxford’s lead.

That stayed Kyle’s hand a bit at halftime – but only a bit.

“I’m not liking what I’m seeing from this team, I’ll be honest about that. You have so much better in you and we saw it against better teams than this lot you’re playing now. Take this bloody match by the scruff of the neck and show me you haven’t dropped your performances.”

The second half began and immediately, the visitors were in the ascendancy. John Nutter, Theo Wharton and Asa Hall all came close within the first fifteen minutes with nary a reply from the Us on the field.

Or the Us off the field, for that matter. As the Americans would have said, the Oxford dugout was deader than Kelcy’s Nuts, and the only one who was showing any passion was the manager. That was an ominous sign.

Bevans was having a particularly hard time dealing with the Cheltenham wing play and as a result Kyle hauled him off, his new contract perhaps slowing him down, in 71 minutes for Mullins.

It hardly helped. Cheltenham generated more chances and finally got the equalizer their play deserved through Wharton – just after Kyle had changed to 4-2-3-1 to try to hang on for three points.

Mullins was the culprit, though not intentionally, when he headed the ball trying to clear his lines, but only as far as Wharton about twenty yards from goal. His thunderbastard beat Ashdown over his right arm, and it was a 2-2 match, marking Wharton’s first goal for the club.

Kyle threw his head back in disgust and yelled for Wright. The captain trotted over to him, and nervously leaned in for his manager’s words.

“You know what I want to see,” Kyle said. And with that, he waved the captain away.

Wright did know what Kyle wanted to see, luckily for him. And two minutes later, the Us provided it when Maddson, moved to a forward left position in the 4-2-3-1, burst into the Cheltenham area and was bundled to the floor by defender Lee Vaughan, who somehow avoided a card for his trouble.

Referee Drysdale gave the penalty, though, and it was confidently dispatched into the top corner by Rose to make it 3-2 to Oxford five minutes from time.

Now dropping deep to defend, the Us looked good value for their lead.

For three minutes.

Amazingly, Cheltenham surged forward and forward Zack Kotwica, a substitution after the penalty, broke Kyle’s heart with another surging finish. Maddison had slid to block tackle the ball off the feet of Wes Burns, but couldn’t regain his feet in time to challenge Kotwica. Since Maddison was the only Oxford player in the vicinity not ball-watching, this gave the on-loan Udinese teenager a clear shot at goal.

He did not miss. Kyle wanted to scream.

Three minutes later, it was all over. Oxford had dropped points against the last-placed team in the Football League.

And Kyle Cain was not happy.

Oxford United: Ashdown: Bevans (Mullins 71), Whing, Wright (captain), Skarz, Rose, MacDonald, Maddison, O’Dowda, Hylton, Hoskins (Meades 81). Unused subs: Clarke, Dunkley, Ashby, Hoban, Godden.

Oxford United 3 (Hylton 5, MacDonald 44, Rose pen 85)
Cheltenham Town 3 (Will Summerfield 27, Theo Wharton 83, Zack Kotwica 88)
H/T: 2-1
A – 5,453, The Kassam Stadium, Oxford:
Man of the Match: James Maddison, Oxford (MR 8.4)

# # #
“Who here in this room wants to someday get out of League Two?” Kyle asked.

Not surprisingly, every man in the room raised his hand, including the coaches.

“Well, it won’t happen like that!”
Kyle thundered. His sudden burst of unrestrained fury had the desired effect – the eyes of almost everyone in the home changing room grew as big as dinner plates.

“Look, we’ve had a great run,” he said, beginning to pace, which was always a bad thing for anyone unfortunate enough to be in Kyle’s path. The evening’s rain had plastered Kyle’s hair to his forehead, and the players sat, in their still-wet uniforms, waiting for permission to start their post-match routines. “We’ve had a great run but the bottom team in the entire f**king Football League is celebrating because they pegged you back not once, but twice. In the last ten minutes. On your f**king ground!”

He fell silent and since no one wanted to get in the way of his exterminating anger, they sat silently and tried to figure out where their manager was coming from.

“Anyone who thinks that result is acceptable should just tell me and I’ll take you out of the squad,” he snarled. “There’s no reason – at all – why this club should not have held these people off. And if you want to get promoted some day, that is the kind of team you will handle.”

He fell silent, his face red. Then he stared at each one of his players. Beyond the far wall, a lot of noise could be heard coming from the visitors’ changing room.

“Listen,” he said. “Those people in the other dressing room are celebrating. They are celebrating because they took away two of your points. You gave those points to them. What are you going to do to be sure that never happens again? Now, get changed. Training Monday morning at nine. Injured players in for treatment at ten tomorrow morning.”

The next day, quotes from Whing showed up in the Mail detailing what Kyle had said to the squad.

After thinking it through, Kyle decided not to formally discipline the player who had spread locker room secrets. In this particular case, he didn’t mind people knowing about his expectations for the team and his exact thoughts about its performance.

The only punishment for the player whose contract Kyle had just renewed was to lose his place for the coming match. He couldn’t abide that kind of discipline breach completely, and he had no intention of doing so.

After a short and one-sided conversation with Whing, Kyle went home to brood about Stacy.

He even asked Jenna for her thoughts.

“Dad, it could have been nothing,” was his daughter’s reaction. “You shouldn’t be so paranoid.”

“Someone was in the place with her,” Kyle said, and as he did so, he realized how defensive he sounded.

“So? People have guests, you know.”

“On New Year’s Eve, an hour before midnight,” he said. “Jenna, you know you’re the apple of my eye but I really don’t like how this sounds.”

His daughter sighed, her shoulders rising and falling heavily. She didn’t want to argue.

“I can see your point, Dad,” she finally said. “So, supposing it’s true, what are you going to do about it?”

Kyle smiled, but not in a way Jenna was used to seeing. It was a half-smile, almost an expression that indicated he understood the entire concept of irony.

“I couldn’t possibly comment,” he finally said.

# # #
Like Arya Stark, Kyle was starting to keep a secret list.

The Game of Thrones character’s nighttime prayer was a listing of people she wanted to see struck down. Kyle hadn’t gone quite that far in his thinking, and his list was considerably shorter, but a dose of valar morghulis wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world for certain people.

As he lay in bed, sleepless, the night after the Cheltenham match, he thought a little karmic cleanup on Aisle 3 would suit him just fine.

He knew something was going on with Stacy. He was sure of it. He couldn’t prove it, but he was going to find a way. In terms of his obligation to Jenna, valar dohaeris thus became the words of the day.

Kyle felt that Stacy deserved better. He hadn’t been perfect, God knew, but he had repented, and tried to redeem himself. In response, Stacy had held his transgression over his head and used it as a cudgel whenever she wanted her way – which, Kyle had to admit, was all the time.

The anger he now felt motivated him. It was starting to drive him, and Kyle had to remind himself that he shared an equal obligation to Oxford United, the people who were giving him the opportunity to find what he wanted the most in the world, which was redemption from a footballing standpoint.

On the pitch, somehow Ashdown made the Team of the Week when it was released the next day, which caused a bit of sardonic laughter from the boss when he read the sheet. However, it also included all three of his forward midfielders, and Kyle thought that was wonderful. They deserved some recognition for powering the team’s resurgence.

A look at the table showed that the dropping of two points at home hadn’t really damaged the team’s place in the table. Oxford was joint fifteenth place, level with Cambridge United and Mansfield Town, but trailing both clubs on goal difference.

There were a number of things about which Kyle could be pleased. His team hadn’t been held off the scoreboard yet in his tenure, and when you can score, you always have a chance to win. So there was that.

But he felt justified in being hard on the squad for the late-match breakdowns against Cheltenham. His goals were starting to change, even though he hadn’t told anyone about that yet – including, and especially, the board, and most certainly not the players.

Kyle thought there was no reason in the world his team couldn’t challenge for the playoff places if it continued to win. Now, how extraordinary would that be?

The thoughts about success, he kept to himself. Kyle was not by nature an optimist, and so the thoughts he was having were in a way foreign to him.

Jenna understood, but then she always did. She seemed wise beyond her years, especially when it came to how to reach inside her father’s mind.

She thought him sweet but too strict in areas where he didn’t need to be. She felt his mental discipline was prone to wandering – something, perhaps ironically, he would never accept from his players – and he was very prone to seek revenge where she thought that leaving well enough alone would have done.

That was the case with Moore. The two got along like oil and water.

True to the chairman’s instructions, Kyle tried to change his attitude toward the younger woman. He didn’t know, and he didn’t ask, whether the chairman had spoken to Moore about the senseless personal insult she had thrown Kyle’s way.

He didn’t feel like a ‘boss’. He felt subservient.

And he hated that feeling.

He had to swallow his pride, and he hated that feeling almost as much.

Their paths, perhaps mercifully, didn’t cross often but when they did, Kyle went out of his way to be as polite as he possibly could.

He was so polite, in fact, that Moore went to Eales again.

The chairman knocked on the door to the manager’s office the day before the team left for Dagenham and asked if he could enter.

“It’s your place, Daryl,” Kyle said.

“I need to talk with you about Diana Moore again,” he said, entering to sit in the chair in which she had sat, across Kyle’s desk. “She’s uncomfortable.”

# # #
Kyle sighed. In general, that wasn’t the right reaction, but it was understandable, at least to him.

“She says you’re being sarcastic,” Eales said. “I really do need to know what’s going on before she lodges a complaint against you.”

That got Kyle’s dander up, and it was only by the hardest that he managed to keep his temper, and thus his job.

“Mr. Eales,” Kyle said, retreating into the world of formality to make his point, “you directed me to be nicer to the lovely, charming and talented Ms. Diana Moore. I’ve done this to the very best of my ability.”

“I know you have,” he answered. “And she’s unhappy about how you did it.”

Kyle sat back in his chair and tried to compose himself. “Mr. Eales,” he said, “with all due respect …”

“…Kyle, you need to relax,” Eales said. “None of this ‘Mr. Eales’ business when you’re nervous.”

“I’m not nervous, I’m angry as hell,” Kyle said. “And I was taught to be respectful to my bosses. And now with all due respect, I have to ask you if any of what’s happened here could possibly be her doing and not my doing?”

“Yes, that thought has occurred to me,” Eales said. “But she says your heart isn’t in it and she isn’t happy.”

“My heart is not for Diana Moore to read,” Kyle answered. “And I really do need to draw a line under this right here.”

“Can’t you just let go of what she did to you?” Eales asked.

“Which time?”

That caught Eales unprepared.

“I guess I do see your point,” the chairman replied, running his fingers through his hair.

“In point of fact, if she wants to play her little HR games, I could register a complaint against her as easily as she could register a complaint against me,” Kyle said, now standing on slightly better ground.

“So, what are your suggestions for fixing the issue?” Eales said, and then made a valuable insight into the mind of his manager.

“I understand that you don’t necessarily need to be the one to provide a solution,” he added quickly, and at that Kyle relaxed noticeably. “I do understand that. But if you can rise above the issue for a moment, how would you want this fixed?”

Kyle thought for a moment.

“I didn’t start the issue when she was at Hemel Hempstead,” he finally said. “And I didn’t bring up the issue of my past. She brought up both of those issues. I reminded her of what she did to me when she came here, and I was nice to her when you told me to be. Evidently she doesn’t like nice men.”

“Kyle, please,” Eales said.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t answer your question. I’m willing to apologize to her if she is willing to apologize to me first,” Kyle said. “I realize that sounds childish but I most certainly did not start this issue. So, I don’t feel I need to apologize to her. I’ve been quite kind, actually, and if she can’t handle that well, then that’s not my problem. It’s hers.”

It was Eales’ turn to sigh. Kyle had a point, even as ham-handedly as he had tried to express it.

“Couldn’t you be a gentleman?” he asked.

“I could.”

“But you won’t? I guess that answer doesn’t satisfy me.”

“I didn’t say that. Mr. Eales, I’ll do whatever you tell me to do. I’ve been kind to the woman at your request. She threw it back in my face. Now, you told me that I was the boss. If she’s going to be disrespectful to me and insubordinate, I have to defend myself. But if you want to end this, I’ll end this. All I ask is that she goes first.”

It seemed too much to ask.
# # #
For a change, Kyle did not travel with the squad to the match. He drove himself, and he took Jenna with him.

Dagenham is about ten miles east of the City of London so the trip gave Kyle the opportunity to bring Jenna to see some of her friends. And, he had to admit, time with his dear daughter was better than time on the coach with the players.

The team traveled on Friday morning and Kyle took his daughter to her best friend’s house to spend the night. He would pick her up after the match.

He had an errand to run before he met the team at the hotel.

Soon Kyle was near his old home, driving down Ruckholt Road to turn an upturned middle finger at the allotments where he used to live. From there, it was a hop, step and a jump onto the A106 heading west, turning south on the Cambridge Heath Road.

Soon, he pulled up in the parking lot of the Bethnal Green Library. He had someone he wanted to see.

Kyle strode through the main doorway and headed to the reception desk.

“Is Stacy Cain here today?” he asked, smiling kindly at the lissome young thing whose gaze now met his.

“She is,” the young lady responded. “She’s at the information counter.”

She had failed to recognize Kyle, which once was highly uncommon in this part of East London, but which now was not such a big deal. The lady had pointed off to the right side of the main lobby, and Kyle looked over to where she was pointing.

There he saw his wife, sitting at a counter working at a computer screen. A man stood behind her. He was nattily dressed, almost to the point of being a dandy.

And he had his hands resting on her shoulders as she worked.

The young lady looked at him.

“Did you want to speak with her, sir?” she asked.

Kyle turned to her, and this time the expression on his face was much darker.

“No, that won’t be necessary,” he said, turning to leave. “I’ve got all the ‘information’ I need.”

# # #
Oooooo, not what you want to see :O
No, Jack ... not good at all.

10th January 2015 – Dagenham and Redbridge (3-7-14, 23rd place) v Oxford United (8-6-10, 15th place)
Sky Bet League Two Match Day #25 – Victoria Road, Dagenham
Referee: Peter Bankes

If Kyle’s players thought their boss was angry before the Cheltenham match, well, they hadn’t seen anything yet.

Professionally, Kyle kept his mood away from the players, and that was necessary. But personally, things were not going well at all.

He hadn’t expected to see Moore before the team left for Dagenham, so when she didn’t show up he wasn’t disappointed.

But Kyle was more concerned with finding out who was handling Stacy when he dropped into the library. It was no ordinary touch. It was what the kids would call a PDA.

That thought burned its way through Kyle’s mind as he headed to the team hotel. Once there, he called Jenna to see how she was doing, reminded her to be ready after the match for the return to Oxford, and threw himself into his work.

That work, for today, was finding a way to turn Dag and Red into Dag and Wreck. He was getting angrier by the moment and he really wasn’t sure how to handle it.

One thing he was sure of, though. Meades was back in Kyle’s good graces, and he wanted to make sure the player knew it.

The day before leaving for Dagenham, the player had asked to see the boss and had apologized, in person, for his recent behavior. Kyle took that on board, noticed a renewed commitment from the player in training, and before the match Kyle returned the favor by asking Meades into his office.

“You’re in the team,” he said simply. “I’ve been very impressed with you lately and as short as I was with you when we had our discussion on the touchline, it seems to me that you deserve better when your play warrants it. You’ve earned this chance and I am happy to give it to you.”

Meades nodded and smiled, promised not to let the boss down as all players do after they get their chance, and went to the changing room to prepare for training.

There were other changes to the team. Clarke was back in goal, Mullins went to right back to replace the disappointing Bevans, Dunkley went into the back line to replace the equally disappointing Whing, and Hoban went up front to try to make a dent in the net.

Those were a fair few changes. Kyle told the team he was expecting a much better performance – and playing away from home, he felt the lads might just feel relaxed enough to give him one.

From the beginning, it was rough and tumble.

The Daggers, fighting for their League Two lives, came out strong, tough in the challenge and hard to break down. Whatever their coaching staff had put in their Wheaties at the morning meal had evidently been good stuff.

Zavon Hines gave the home team its first good opportunity in sixteen minutes, whipping in a corner which found the head of Jack Connors – and thankfully, the hands of Clarke after that.

Two minutes later, referee Peter Bankes went to his cards for the first time as Oliver Kemen sent MacDonald flying with a running body check on a foray down the right. Seven minutes later, it was Damien Mozika in the book for bringing down Meades in full flight with a scything tackle that got exactly none of the ball about thirty yards from goal on the left.

From Maddison’s free kick, Meades found MacDonald, who crossed for Hylton, who found the back of the net. Easy as pie. One-nil to the Us.

Even Kyle had to be impressed with the workmanlike way his players had nearly passed the ball into the Daggers’ goal. He turned to Fazackerley and, rarely enough for him in recent days, cracked a smile.

“Who kidnapped Kyle Cain, and what have they done with him?” Fazackerley teased in reply. Kyle, in a good mood, retained his smile.

What people dreaded seeing was the half-smile he sometimes cracked, showing that he either got a joke or worse yet, was mulling something over and was thinking about how to react.

But for now, all was well, the smile was genuine, and the Daggers, having been breached, covered up instead of going to the attack.

Meades celebrated his role in Oxford’s goal by getting himself booked for a retaliatory foul on Mozika three minutes after the opening goal. He evidently thought Bankes would forget the first foul, but the referee hadn’t done that. His hand on Meades’ shoulder and the clear words “no more of that” from his lips indicated that he remembered all too well.

And to his credit, Meades trimmed his sails. Perhaps he had remembered his promise to Kyle and if he had, fair play to the lad.

In thirty-five minutes, André Boucaud got the first real chance for the home team, but was stymied by a solid, strong-handed save from Clarke, who dove to his right to bend the Trinidadian’s low shot around the post.

A minute before half, Hines gave away a silly foul on the right wing, and got himself booked in the process, the Daggers’ third caution of the half. Maddison stood over the ball and put a perfectly-taken effort right into the middle of the six-yard box.

There Dunkley rose for it, heading home his first goal for the club and acting exactly like it, to give his team a two-goal lead at the break.

Kyle had, to that point, gotten exactly the effort he had been seeking.

Sending his squad out unchanged in personnel and virtually unchanged tactically, Kyle dared the Daggers to come out and do their worst.

Service to the venerable, 39-year old striker Jamie Cureton, playing for his fourteenth club in a long career, was starved early on, so the home team had to look for other options. Thankfully for Kyle, the Daggers weren’t particularly adept at finding those options – one reason why they were 23rd in the table.

In fact, it was Oxford which had the better of play even as Dag and Red tried to climb back into the match. Just before the hour they were celebrating again. It was particularly pleasing because to start the effort, Maddison won a physical challenge for a second ball before sending O’Dowda away down the left. His early ball into the box found Hylton, who had ghosted between two defenders to volley home in 57 minutes.

His ninth goal of the season tied Hylton with Hoban for the club lead, and the points looked all but assured.

A few minutes later, however, the defenders – and Kyle – were shaking their heads after a fine effort from Ashley Chambers bounced up and down inside the Us goal after a thundering effort banked down off the crossbar and home in 68 minutes to get the home team on the scoreboard.

Still, though, it seemed vain hope and Kyle’s shouted instruction to keep things tight at the back seemed determined to make it such.

And then it was Meades, who was already playing on a yellow, who ended Chambers’ day for him with a crunching tackle in 70 minutes that had the home fans screaming for a second yellow. Kyle, seeing Meades’ blood was up, got the defender off the park a moment later to avoid the possibility of just such an occurrence.

His handshake with the defender told Meades he was still on good ground, and as Whing came on and Will Hoskins trotted on in place of Hoban behind him, it looked to be only a matter of time.

It was just that. Nice and boring, just the way Kyle wanted it. And when word came over the tannoy that Cheltenham had won, Kyle’s Oxford left Dagenham consigning their hosts to the foot of the table.

Oxford United: Clarke: Mullins, Dunkley, Wright (captain, Rose 87), Skarz, Meades (Whing 72), MacDonald, Maddison, O’Dowda, Hylton, Hoban (Hoskins 70). Unused subs: Ashdown, Bevans, Ashby, Godden.

Dagenham and Redbridge 1 (Ashley Chambers 68)
Oxford United 3 (Hylton 25, 57; Dunkley 44)
H/T: 0-2
A – 1,510, Victoria Road, Dagenham
Man of the Match: Danny Hylton, Oxford (MR 8.8)

# # #
“How does the top half of the table feel?”

That was the Mail.

“It feels good, and we’re making hay while the sun shines as the saying goes.”

The Oxford Mail changed reporters frequently to cover matches, but now that the team was on one of its best runs in recent memory, the face was getting more and more familiar.

Victoria Young was her name. She was hard at work, taking down Kyle’s words with great verve. For the paper to dedicate a reporter to the team on the road was a big ask for a smaller publication, and Kyle did his best to help her because he knew she was on deadline.

She was the very prototype of a football reporter – slightly disheveled clothing from travel, mussed hair – though her jet-black hair in this case was pulled back into a simple pony tail with individual strands sneaking out here and there – and a small catsup stain from her press box lunch near the waistline of her blouse that she would rather nobody had seen.

Her jaw sloped in a most pleasing way, with high cheekbones, a slender and sensitive nose, and deep brown eyes. If Kyle didn’t know better, he’d have said you could have gotten lost in them.

Still, “Vic”, as the players called her, seemed a decent enough sort. She had been fair to Kyle and his team and now that she was on the beat on the road, it seemed like she was the person Kyle needed to cultivate for the best coverage for his team. He had already given his players a “hands off” warning regarding her.

And for himself.

“You did a professional job today,” she continued.

“We certainly did,” Kyle responded. “I’m very proud of these players for going away from home and getting a result after a very difficult set of circumstances against Cheltenham, which I understand won today.”

Kyle wanted to make the point that if Cheltenham could play well against his team, they could play well against other teams. In a way, he was making an excuse for the home draw even while not overtly saying so.

“Yes, they did,” Young answered, “but let’s talk about your team instead.”

Kyle liked that kind of direct approach.

“Fair enough.”

“Maddison has been a revelation.”

“I’m very impressed,” Kyle immediately responded. “He’s a fine player and I do hope we can get even better out of him. He’s got real talent and he makes us go in the middle of the park.”

That was about as far as Kyle ever went in praise of a player, and Young was sure to note it. She then took another step that showed she knew what she was about.

“You are in the middle of a good stretch against bottom teams,” she said. “Your next two matches are against Southend which are 22nd and Exeter, which are 20th. Are you at all concerned that once you play stronger opposition your good run will vanish?”

“You go out to get three points against everyone,” Kyle responded. “We don’t control the fixture list. The only thing we can control is how we play. It is true that the vast majority of our schedule in recent weeks has been against the bottom of the league but I would add that the club we play next week occupies the position in the table we held when I got here. These are matches that confident, successful teams win to build more success and confidence.”

He thought for a moment.

“Though I should note, Vic, that nobody asked me that the converse of that question after we did the double over Shrewsbury and Plymouth.” For Kyle Cain, converse was a big word and he hoped he had used it correctly.

It was a fair response to a fair question, and the reporter didn’t fail to note that either.

With that, Kyle left the team to Fazackerley and drove to East London to pick up his daughter.

It had been a good weekend for everyone.
# # #
Eales sat behind his desk. Kyle Cain and Diana Moore sat beside each other on the opposite side.

“Kyle, Diana, thank you for coming here,” he said, like either one of them would have considered any other alternative.

Diana had indeed filed a complaint against Kyle, who had done his level best to not anger the woman any further. It hadn’t mattered.

Not only had she not honored Kyle’s request for a simple apology, Moore had taken the next step, complaining against Kyle for harassment.

Despite his threat, Kyle had not counter-claimed. He could see what was coming, and he wanted to claim the moral high ground.

And as such, both of them had been hauled to the chairman’s office.

“This needs to stop,” Eales said plaintively. “I can’t have two key staff members at each others’ throats.”

Kyle said nothing. He let Moore do the talking.

“I’m not at his throat,” she said. “He won’t do what you told him to do.”

Eales frowned, his heavy-set brows seeming to meet in the middle of his forehead.

“But I believe he has,” Eales said. “I told him to behave more correctly to you as you said you wanted, and by account of everyone I’ve talked to, he has done this. Everyone, that is, except you.”

Moore’s gaze seemed to go past Eales’ left ear and out the window of the chairman’s office.

“Does it not seem so to you as well?” The chairman was getting exasperated.

“You know what I want,” Moore said. “The complaint says exactly what I want and what I will require to avoid filing suit. I want his apology, and I want access to his team information and future plans when I want it, not when he decides I’ll get it.”

That was a rather stunning thing to say, and everyone in the room knew it.

Still, Kyle said nothing in reply. One of the two was going to have to be first.

Eales looked at his manager, who gave no clue at all as to his intentions.

Kyle was thinking seriously about telling Eales what he could do with his job if he lost this argument, but then that single word popped into his head again.


The unemployment line. No job. A history at his last job that included a complaint.

He would be finished in football. He couldn’t bear having to wait again for another job, of sitting in front of unthinking and unfeeling employers who didn’t care about their applicants as people – or anything else for that matter.

There was Jenna to think about. There was his child.

There was Stacy, and whoever was giving her a massage. But that was a whole different kind of thought. Three of those four people, he cared about. The fourth, he wanted to throttle. His mind was a turmoil of emotion.

All kinds of thoughts flashed through his head. Pain. Neglect. Hurt. Anger. Charlotte Weber, though he didn’t really know why. Reading Moore’s e-mail.

“Kyle, I need your thoughts,” Eales said. “You are part of this conversation as well.”

Kyle remained silent. Moore pounced.

“He’s got nothing to say, because he knows his conduct is beastly,” the younger woman said. “This can all be over if he’ll simply see reason.”

Kyle gave her the half-smile in reply. No one in the room had ever seen it, and it unnerved Moore.

This smile was different. Kyle’s blue eyes bore in on Moore, who suddenly felt quite uncomfortable indeed. The right corner of his mouth trailed up toward his ear, with just a hint of his white teeth showing between his lips.

“Why, of course, Miss Moore,” he said, with a voice as even and as quiet as he could muster. “I’ll propose a compromise, here and now.”

# # #
“No compromise,” she said. But Moore didn’t realize she wasn’t dealing from a position of strength. Kyle then showed why.

“I’ll apologize to you on the condition that my team plans remain my team plans,” he said. “Surely Mr. Eales would not approve of unfinalized team plans – which I guess would be ‘when you want them’ -- made public. I’m certain Mr. Eales would not want information about contract negotiations, which players I plan or do not plan to tender, that sort of thing, in the hands of the marketing department instead of the football staff. These are issues that affect the stability of the chairman’s business and I don’t think he would wish to see them compromised.”

He was forcing Eales to take a position.

The chairman hadn’t seen reason from Kyle’s point of view. Well, now he was going to have to.

“Mr. Eales, you and I are busy men,” he continued. “You don’t want a lawsuit, I don’t want a lawsuit, and I have a football team to run that is doing quite well at the moment. Since we’re all here to see Oxford United succeed, would that compromise seem reasonable to you?”

Moore did not fail to note that he had not said everyone in the room was busy, and she rankled. That was too bad for her, Kyle thought.

Eales looked at Moore.

“That seems reasonable to me, and it is certainly fair to say that the manager’s plans are the manager’s plans. There are items in the long-range plans of this club that are not within your purview, Miss Moore. It seems to me as though you are trying to hold something over Mr. Cain’s head and that’s not how we do things at this club either.”

Eales had forced Moore to either remain an outlier – in which case he would terminate her, she would file suit and the chips would fall where might, which more than likely wouldn’t be very far – or like someone who had just had a rage broken with a faceful of cold water, Diana Moore would need to move her position.

She drew another dark straight line on her note pad and thought things through.

“Very well, Mr. Eales,” she said. “And to make things easier, I would like to work with Mr. Fazackerley on matters of club interest in the future.”

The two looked at Kyle.

“I won’t accept out-of-channels interference in selection or policy matters,” he said. “The team sheet is made at my discretion and decisions on players and their contracts are made jointly by myself and the board. Miss Moore can continue to work with me, because as I am sure everyone in this room will agree, an apology will be enough to end this matter, yeah?”

The East London fighter in the manager was nowhere to be found. That was what Moore had counted on seeing, and it was exactly what she wasn’t getting. She had no option.

“Yeah,” she said sullenly. “I mean, yes.”

“Very well, then,” Kyle said. Bile rose in the back of his throat as he said his next words.

“I formally apologize to you,” he said.

Moore offered no apology in return. Kyle noted it. Eales noted it.

“Then that’s settled,” Eales said, motioning for them to leave. Kyle allowed Moore to precede him out of the room.

As the woman turned left to her office and Kyle turned right to head to his office, the manager had one thought.

“There’s no way in hell this is ‘settled’.”

# # #
It's amazing how much you can write off-the-field, I love it!
Thank you, Jack, I appreciate your reading along!

Kyle was looking for loan players. And he let no one know his plans.

Despite a senior arrangement with Manchester United, Kyle’s new friends to the northwest had no intention of letting any of their u-18s or u-21s head to the Kassam. That was annoying.

Failing to make a deal with United, Kyle turned to their hated rivals from across the Pennines, Leeds. There he found Scott Woolton, a fine player who was on the fringes of the Whites’ first team but who would look great in Oxford yellow.

He played holding midfielder and defense and those were two areas Kyle wanted to see strengthened. His talent for the League Two level was undoubted and better yet, he was listed as available for loan.

But Leeds insisted on twenty percent of salary and that was too much for Eales. He told Kyle a ten percent contribution was all the club could afford, and Kyle did his best.

It wasn’t nearly good enough.

Neither was an offer for Bolton’s Filip Twardzik, who could do the same things as Woolton but without the salary contribution.

Twardzik straight-up wouldn’t come to Oxford. That settled that.

The next day, Fazackerley suggested that Kyle look at Izak Ssewankambo, a Swedish-born midfielder playing for Derby’s reserves.

“You’ll like the lad, I’ve seen him a couple of times. Great physical specimen, bags of pace and stamina, just needs some polish I’m sure we can give him.”

He could also play fullback, and that certainly helped. Derby required no contribution of salary, the player wanted first team experience – and this loan came through.

Kyle was pleased. He usually played his team in 4-1-3-2 but wanted an option to switch to 4-2-3-1 to kill off matches or to give a quality opponent a different look. Ssewankambo would allow Oxford to do exactly those things.

His problem was that he didn’t have enough players he could trust to play two holding midfielders and hold a decent backline in the process. This was an important step.

He notified Moore in due course about the team’s new signing so she could prepare the appropriate publicity – along with a note that the Swede’s last name did in fact begin with two “Ss” – because he figured she would double check and he really didn’t want to talk with her unless it was absolutely necessary.

As such, the season-long loan was made just before the match against Southend and with the player in transit to Oxford, the Us prepared to try to extend their run.

# # #

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