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FM17 - Out of His League

Young manager Chance Morrison meets the Class of '92
Started on 13 January 2018 by tenthreeleader
Latest Reply on 27 June 2018 by ScottT
“Entertaining? Sure. But I’d rather us be a little less entertaining at the back.”

There were a few reporters at the post-match news conference this time – as befitted a team leading its league. There was no doubt that Salford was lethal going forward but at the level of football in which they played, high-scoring affairs could happen at the drop of a hat.

A look at the numbers told a lot. Salford topped the league in goals scored but was fifth bottom in goals conceded.

They could beat opposition at this level that way, but where the Class of ’92 wanted to go, that kind of play simply wouldn’t do.

“So, what will you do about it?” he was asked. “Players coming in?”

“Not entirely that easy,” Chance said, not ruling out new players but not wanting to alarm his current squad, which was long on numbers but short, evidently, on marking ability.

“We need to get better at the things we need to do better,” he said, trying to be cryptic but instead making his meaning crystal clear.

“Well, since you scored seven goals today it doesn’t take a brain surgeon to figure out what those things are,” he was informed.

“You’d be right,” Chance said. “I mean, seven goals is incredible, amazing, wonderful, but we can’t keep giving up two, three goals in a given match and hope to get where we’re going.”

“What about going full-time?” Reporters. Can't live with 'em, can't shoot 'em.

“Talk to the chairman,” Chance said, his good humor starting to evaporate. “We just need to be better in our own defensive third. That’s our goal.”

Chance was so upset, he asked the scouting team to start looking at potential center halves for acquisition. That would take a bit of time for a part-time team, but the resources were there to make a signing and it was the area that stood out like a sore thumb to even the casual observer of the Ammies.

But for now, seven goals were enough to make anyone smile.

It certainly made Sara smile, as Hall and Oates might have sung in a different context.

They sat, as always, in the Duke of York, but this time seemed easier than the others. He enjoyed her company and when they followed their drinks with dancing at the club this time, it was with much less reticence on Chance’s part.

He even tried a faster song, which for Chance was a big deal. When the DJ played Justin Timberlake’s “Can’t Stop the Feeling,” she grabbed him by the hand and led him to the floor.

He worked off his last ale, and before long they were doing a passable job of respecting the art form.

They stayed out there for a few songs, until Chance realized that he wasn’t as fit as he had been in his playing days.

“Mind if we step out for some fresh air?” he asked, and she smiled, taking his hands as they walked to the door.

Soon they were outside and taking a brief walk around the block. They traveled behind the club, and Sara smiled up at her friend.

“So,” she said, “when are you going to get around to kissing me?”

Chance flushed. “Well, I…” he began, but Sara just grinned at him.

Like a flash, she backed him against the back wall of the club and fell into his arms. She pressed softly but firmly against him and they kissed for the first time.

“I was hoping you wanted that,” Chance admitted once they finally came up for air.

“Now,” she cooed, leaning her head against his chest, “that wasn’t so bad, was it?”

# # #
Now she’s my girlfriend,” Chance said to Morley the next morning.

“What made the difference?” his assistant teased.

“Well, a good-night tonsillectomy had a lot to do with it,” Chance grinned.

“Naughty boy,” Morley replied, as the two men walked side-by-side to the training ground, where they were assisting the grounds crews with daily work. Salford City was still a small-enough club where volunteer labor meant a lot.

Since the players wouldn’t report for training until the next evening, that meant there was work to be done that morning, even though it was a Sunday.

The pitch was still holding its firmness well, despite the recent action seen upon its surface. The two men rolled the pitch with a large roller, working side by side, and Chance had a chance to think

Finally, he turned to Morley. “She kisses me, and I’m the naughty boy?” he said.

“Now, you never said that,” the assistant replied. “They don’t bite, you know.”

“A bloke shouldn’t kiss and tell, especially in this day and age,” he answered.

“Well, don’t worry about that,” Morley answered. “Nobody told me anything.”

The two were starting to mesh, it appeared. Chance could almost overlook the fact that he had once been let go by Morley, and Morley could almost overlook the fact that he was second to someone he had once dismissed as unfit for purpose.

Both had had to make changes to their belief systems for that arrangement to work, and work it had. At least to this point. So maybe the Class of ’92 had had a point when it made the change it had.

After the grounds work was done, though, Chance had a more important meeting to attend – with the scouts, whom he had asked to find him a center-half.

The combinations hadn’t worked. Grand worked hard, God knew, but he was struggling to hold his own in the Conference North. Should Salford move up, what would become of him?

There just wasn’t a lot of quality to pair him with, either. Players like Brough at fullback, Green in midfield and Deon Moore up front were surely of a higher standard, but they were loan players and there were very few men at the club who could hold a candle to any of them.

Chance was playing with borrowed money, and that didn’t appeal to him. He wanted players under contract to the club – and that was a problem.

The Class of ’92 had money and the overseas owners had even more, but they had put in all of what they intended to put in for the season. It was a simple question of ambition.

For the time being, the fixture list figured to be kinder to Salford than it had been. Kidderminster was next, away – and if you were looking for a team to keep a clean sheet against, Harriers were as good a candidate as anyone.

They had scored one goal in their last five matches. On the other side of the ledger, though, they were fourth in the league in goals conceded, with only eight against in nine matches. It was no wonder, then, that they were mid-table but competitive in every match they had played.

Playing away from home, though, Chance knew his team needed to be careful. This was a match where one mistake could cost two points or more.

So it was that the manager focused his players on their defensive responsibilities in training heading up to the match. Even though Harriers would make the proverbial 98-pound weakling look like Gregor Clegane by comparison, it was a tricky fixture far from home.

# # #
Kidderminster Harriers (3-2-4, 15th place) v Salford City (7-0-2, 1st place)
Vanarama Conference North Match Day #10 – Aggborough, Kidderminster
Referee: Declan Ford

Only seven minutes into the match, Skapetis was on the scoresheet, the red-hot striker netting from fifteen yards with a seeing-eye ball that seemed to find its way through half the Kidderminster defense on the way to its home in the back of the net.

But as positive a harbinger as that should have been, Salford flattered to deceive. Harriers found their stroke, which they hadn’t found in nearly a month, and created a parade of chances and opportunities in front of Albinson, who at first started to yell at his defenders and finally was reduced to shaking his head in disbelief.

It was a clown show at the heart of the Ammies back line. Grand was awful and Howson not much better – but as good as they were in attack, Kidderminster still couldn’t find a way through.

That was due to those big white things called the goal frame. The home team struck two parts of it solidly in the first half and should have gone to the interval in the lead.

Salford, after its goal, couldn’t string two passes together and looked lethargic. So despite being in the lead at the break, Chance asked for more from his team.

Walker was the only player who listened, doing so three minutes into the second half with a well-taken volley that on any other day would have killed off the game.

Sadly, though, Walker picked up his fifth yellow card of the season shortly afterwards and would therefore miss the match at Chorley, but what was much more distressing was how easily the low-scoring Harriers were picking apart the Ammies back line.

They had hit two goalposts in the first half. They hit another in the second, plus a crossbar for good measure. By some miracle, Albinson had a clean sheet as the match headed toward injury time but Salford was playing like a punch-drunk boxer; covering his head to avoid the kill shot and hoping the ropes will save him.

Inevitably, Harriers scored. Jordan Lonchar, who had accounted for two of the struck goalposts in the match, finally managed to avoid hitting one and hitting the back of the net instead, in hitting a well-struck volley four minutes from time.

That brought the crowd to its feet – and it was of decent size, so it made a difference – as Harriers surged forward looking for a late equalizer.

They didn’t find it, though it wasn’t for lack of trying.

Kidderminster Harriers 1 (Jordan Lonchar 86)
Salford City 2 (Skapetis 7, Walker 48)
H/T: 0-1
A – 1,382 (96 away) – Aggborough, Kidderminster
Man of the Match – Sam Walker, Salford City (MR 8.3)

# # #
A nervy game but a good result in the end, nonetheless. Looking very good for Salford at the moment.
Used up a month's worth of luck. At least. :)

“They should have bloody manhandled you!” Chance exclaimed in the changing room after the game. “They didn’t, and that’s football, but sometimes it’s what happens. You were damned lucky to win this game today so be thankful for that on the way home. We’re going to the bottom team in the table next week and if you aren’t better, it’s going to be f***ing embarrassing for you lot. Now get showered.”

When it was all right for someone else to speak again, the assistant manager finally broke the silence.

“Did we win?” Morley finally asked, with just enough of a smile to avoid getting punched in the mouth.

“I think we did,” Chance replied, his annoyance showing through. Yes, he was the good cop, but sometimes it’s not wise to prod any kind of cop, good or bad. He was angry and had every reason to be.

He saw on his phone that Fylde had found the range five times against FC United, to stay two points back in the table.

And, he was thinking about the upcoming trip to Victory Park in Chorley. As they boarded the coach for the ride home, Chance turned to Morley.

“Where we’re playing next week, if a player throws up his arms after scoring, the pitch is so small he’s liable to punch someone’s lights out by accident,” he said.

“Small pitch,” Morley admitted. “And they can’t stop anybody scoring, so being small is the best way they have to park the bus.”

“We’ll have to figure it out,” Chance replied, sitting in his usual seat in the front row opposite the driver.

As he did, he saw a text message from Sara waiting for him. Her smile made his smile bigger, and he was always delighted to hear from her.

“Got lucky today,” she teased, telling Chance nothing he didn’t already know.

Can I be lucky enough to take you out for dinner when we get back?” he replied.

Never know how lucky you might get,” she answered, which made Chance blush.

He had thought of that before, but didn’t think they were far enough along in their young relationship to bring the issue up for discussion, so to speak.

So things were going well on a lot of fronts. As the coach rolled home, Chance thought he might as well enjoy the end result of the match since it had, after all, been a good day.

She was waiting for him in the car park when they got back to Moor Lane. As the players claimed their bags and personal items from the storage area, they too met their wives and girlfriends. It was a nice feeling not to be alone any more.

“Hey you,” Sara said, wrapping her arms around Chance and kissing him. “You did win today.”

“And I’m winning tonight,” he said, returning her kiss and winking at her. “Let me get my things and let’s get out of here.”

# # #
Chorley (1-2-7, 22nd place) v Salford City (8-0-2, 1st place)
Vanarama Conference North Match Day #11 – Victory Park, Chorley
Referee: Ryan Johnson

Sometimes records don’t mean a whole lot, and Chance’s goal the whole week prior to the Chorley match was to make sure his squad realized that.

They had dodged a bullet at Kidderminster and before coming home to face Bridgnorth in the FA Cup, Chance wanted a smart, sharp performance to get them ready for the Cup tie.

There were two training sessions that week – a rarity – and Chance pounded defensive positioning through their heads. They had been poor, though relatively unpunished, in recent games, and the search for another central defender was starting to pick up.

In short, Chorley, which had won only one of its first ten matches and was firmly at the foot of the table, was a banana skin.

And when the team finally left for the match, it was still a banana skin, after a lethargic week of training. Victory Park wasn’t anywhere close to full, even with the leaders as the visitors, and fewer than 100 visiting fans made the trip as well.

In short, they all expected this to be exercise. Once the match started, though, it was clear that it wouldn’t be.

Ryan Johnson was the referee, and the lad seemed to be wearing Chorley-covered glasses in the early going. Within the first half hour, three Salford players were in the book despite a first half that had been full-blooded in both directions.

Then, eight minutes from the interval, Nottingham picked up a card. Unfortunately, it was his second of the match, and with things still scoreless, the tie turned from tricky to downright dangerous.

Chance threw up his hands in disgust, as much at the referee as at Nottingham, who had put himself in a position where the referee could send him off, and had to do some quick thinking.

Moore, the loanee, was up front with Skapetis, and he was sacrificed as Wassi, who was being given the day off, came on to finish a match in which he hadn’t expected to feature.

Right away, Chance noticed that something was dreadfully wrong with Salford’s shape. The back line was all over the place and he couldn’t wait for halftime to try to put it right.

Right as the match turned over into injury time, Wassi sprinted forward from his right back position, first into midfield and then alongside Skapetis.

“What in the hell is Wassi doing?” Chance half-yelled, half-groaned in Morley’s direction. But then, Wassi took a pass from George Green and drove it home for a goal for the ten men.

The bench erupted in cheers, and Chance turned to Morley again.

“Never mind,” he said.

They got to halftime still ahead by a goal to nil, and at this point Victory Park’s small surface was playing as much to Salford’s advantage as it was to Chorley’s with eleven men.

“Nice, tight and compact,” Chance pleaded. “Keep your shape. Let’s hold this lead and get out of here.”

Chance wasn’t optimistic. It had been six weeks since Salford had kept a clean sheet – against Fylde, which allowed them to lay claim to a spot at the top of the table – and playing away from home with ten men, he wasn’t sure how long this new advantage would last.

For the first time in quite some time, Chance was actually uneasy as the team took the pitch for the second half. He hated the feeling.

And Johnson wasn’t a hell of a lot better in the second half either. He handed out three more cards to Salford and only one to the home team. Seven out of eight is a good percentage in most sports but in this case it was a very bad ratio for Salford.

Chance had two more substitutions and despite using them to try to cover for carded players, he was still looking at two carded midfielders and two carded defenders among his ten men as the match moved past eighty minutes.

Then Green went down after getting his foot stepped on while he completed a long run – uncarded, naturally – and a quick shake of the head from the physios meant that Salford would have nine men for the final ten minutes of the match.

That isn’t to say the referee didn’t think about it. He peered in, gave the ever-popular wash-out signal, and play resumed after Green was assisted to the touch line.

“Boss-eyed,” Chance said with disgust, waving his arm in the general direction of the referee, to the full attention of the fourth official.

“Mind yourself,” he called, and Chance walked slowly to him.

“Two teams on the park playing hard today,” he said quietly. “One is being punished.”

He walked back in the other direction, half-expecting to be sent to the stand. But no further words came from the fourth official, probably because he realized he didn’t have an argument.

Not needing to score, Chance aligned his men with four at the back and three in the middle of the park, with Skapetis at the tip of a pretty small spear in case the chance availed itself for him to thunder the ball up the park.

Chorley hammered away – but one reason they were tail-end was that they couldn’t take their chances. They didn’t on this day, either, and the nine men walked off the park with their heads high and their first clean sheet in nearly two months in the books.

Chorley 0
Salford City 1 (Nottingham s/o 37; Wassi 45)
H/T: 0-1
A – 927, Victory Park, Chorley (77 away)
Man of the Match: Nick Haughton, Salford City (MR 7.8)

# # #
Good result all in all. Avoiding overconfidence is always an issue and to keep a clean sheet with 10 men is also impressive.
Can't complain. Winning with ten men is fun, and doesn't happen often for me. This team does seem to have the ability to score for fun against most of this league.

“You’re being fined for failure to control your players,” Bailey said to start the post-match comments.

“Lovely,” Chance said. “There’s 500 quid we’ve just binned off. I’d prefer we ask whether all those cards were really yellow cards or if…”

His voice trailed off and Bailey didn’t miss his chance.

“Or if what?”

“…or if they were errors,” Chance finished, looking straight at the reporter.

“Must have been some errors,” Bailey muttered. The statistics had been pretty stark. Despite playing with ten men for nearly fifty minutes, Salford still had a slight possession edge. Whenever they lost the ball, it seemed they fouled, and as often as not, they wound up in the book.

“How’s George Green?” Bailey asked.

“He’s got a cut on his heel and we’re going to be careful with him,” Chance said. “He got clipped from behind while on the dribble and it’s the kind of thing that should go in the book. In my opinion.”

Green was already a doubt for the Cup tie with Bridgnorth, but the thought was that he shouldn’t be needed against lower-level opposition. However, Nottingham, who had played well in fits and starts in relief of Wassi, would also miss and that meant the team was a bit short on players with a seven-man bench allowed.

Meanwhile, Fylde had defeated Stockport two-nil away to keep pace with the leaders, with goal difference in their favor to boot. Salford had scored 27 goals in their first eleven matches, while Fylde had scored 22, but the Ammies’ 14 conceded far outstripped the six goals the second-placed team had conceded in eleven matches. Thus, Fylde held a +16 to +13 advantage in goal difference.

Better defending was not merely important, it was necessary. On certain days Salford could score for fun, but new tactics and more importantly a couple of new players could help with the defensive side of the game.

As such, there was an interesting negotiation to be held the Monday following the Chorley match.

The Class of ’92 had given Chance permission to hire a youth development director and he was amazed at one name which had shown up on the list of applicants.

Luther Blissett, the 59-year old striker who held most records that truly mattered at Watford and who had also played for Milan and Bournemouth while being 14 times capped for England, was one of the hopefuls.

It didn’t take long for Chance to bring in the Jamaican for an interview – or more precisely, a cuppa at the club offices.

“I like where the club is headed,” Blissett had said. “And I know that if it is to keep growing it’s going to need a better youth system than it’s got.”

He couldn’t have been more correct. There was money in the owners, but not necessarily money in the club, at least not over and above what had already been placed there, and youth was where the club needed to be allocating at least some resource.

Blissett was also attractive as a candidate for another reason: he knew how to get promoted. While a Hornet, he was one of four players to play for the club in all four top-flight divisions under the late Graham Taylor.

Blissett signed on the dotted line, and Salford had instant credibility in the youth side of the game.

Now all they needed was some money to spend.

# # #
Time to get the money out Giggsy and co! It's not like they haven't got enough, surely! :P

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