As you can probably see by now, this save is certainly something that comes and goes. Got a couple of other things going on at the same time that come and go in a similar nature. I've got back on the save recently and smashed out a few months and got to a point where I thought it would be a shame to leave this story unfinished, so it's high time we popped another update in here. There have been a lot of fixtures since the last update, so this update will have a list of the results, accompanied by a summary of how things have gone on and off the pitch. With that in mind, let's get into it:
As you can see, results have picked up since the last update. We've done well against those of the so-called 'Big Six' that we can reasonably expect to get any result from (all except Man City), particularly so when we took 10 points from a run of Man City (A), Man Utd (H), West Ham (A), Chelsea (H) and Spurs (A). The highlight of that run wasn't any of the wins however, it was the 1-1 draw against Man Utd, in which Fredrik Andre Bjorkan- covering an injured Kostas Tsimikas- scored a wonderful volley to level the scores in stoppage time.
As sod's law would have it, we went to Brighton near the end of a jam-packed February and lost to a side bottom of the form table and in very real danger of going down. I was furious with the performance at the time, but on reflection the players had put everything into getting results in what was a congested schedule and just looked dead on their feet by the time we got to the South coast. At one point, we had the 3rd longest injury list in the league and by this point, we had players recovering but not quite match fit and ready to play yet.
In the 16 league fixtures since the update, we've picked up 11 wins and not only rejoined the race for European football, but put ourselves right amongst the contenders for Champions League qualification, having risen to 4th. Tottenham have had another miserable season so far, drifting into mid-table again, 13 points adrift of Chelsea, who are just one place above them in 9th. It appears now as though we can say, with some certainty, that the Premier League title will remain in Manchester, with both clubs now head and shoulders above the rest of the division, but neck and neck with each other. Bournemouth are going off the boil now, falling away from the top two and down into 5th, they were also significantly less difficult to break down when we faced them again at Elland Road.
Onto the cups and the only competition we're still in (outside the league of course) is the Champions League. We were drawn against Crystal Palace in the semi-final of the Carabao Cup- on paper, an infinitely more enviable task than playing either Liverpool or Man Utd- but we let ourselves down that night. We started slowly and found ourselves 2-0 down inside 25 minutes to goals from Albian Ajeti and Wilfried Zaha. A brace from Yan Valery- in the 33rd and 89th minute- put us in with a second chance, but in the shootout that followed, Palace ran out as 8-7 victors. A tense affair, but one we could have avoided if we'd just shown up in the opening exchanges of the first half.
We were disappointing in the FA Cup, we made it to the Fifth Round by beating Grimsby Town and Oldham Athletic in the Third and Fourth Round, but fell as soon we hit any real challenge, losing 2-0 to Tottenham after extra time, in a night where Rob Holding was sent off for a harshly given second yellow card. We've faired a lot better on the continent. We were handed a Round of 16 tie against Inter Milan, which I thought would be a tough tie, but we came out the other side and looked good value for the aggregate win. We blew them away at Elland Road with a 2-0 win thanks to goals from Carles Perez and Odsonne Edouard, before a more nervy affair at the San Siro produced a 1-1 draw. Romelu Lukaku opened the scoring for the hosts in that game, on a night where they were always threatening to get an equaliser until on a rare break, Alfie McCalmont struck a brilliant effort from 25-30 yards out to kill off the tie on the 85th minute (the away goals rule meant they would have had to score another three to go through). It's been a fun adventure, but one I expect will come to an end in the Quarter Final, when we face Man City, a team seemingly hard-coded to beat us every time we meet.
We had a relatively busy January window, with four in and five out on a permanent basis, plus six loans out including two had their loans cut short in the interests of sending them elsewhere. I'll start with those two.
Shortly after the summer window closed, we announced a link with Luton Town, giving us a Championship club to send our more advanced prospects to before leaping them up to the Premier League. Loic Mbe Soh and Marco Brescianini were two players I felt would benefit from playing at that level in this country. Brescianini was arguably one of Lincoln City's better players in the first half of a season where they haven't quite hit the heights they did last year, so I felt he needed a step up in a higher league, particularly at his age. Mbe Soh was a standout player at Cultural Leonesa and one of the better players in the Spanish second tier, so it was decided he would be better served in the Championship, so we can get a better gauge of where his capabilities lie on this country's competitive spectrum.
In the other loans, Leigh Knibbs is a player that's consistently stood out at U23s level (regen, creative advanced playmaker, 18 years old) as one of the best players outside the first team. I'd like to see him transition into our starting XI over the next 2-3 years and decided that now was the time to start his senior football journey at Sincil Bank. Cristian Pena (actually pronounced 'Penya', but I don't have the n with a tilde on my keyboard) is another regen, a 19-year-old Colombian left-back signed for £1.4m from Junior in Colombia's top flight. He's expected to be first team ready in the next year or two and with over 50 senior appearances under his name already, first team football is vital to his development now. He's been sent to Luton to help with their push for the playoffs. Mathieu Serre's loan to Molde is the first that has been automatically signed off under the strict parameters that I set for offers for players we're not actively seeking a loan for, so we'll have to wait and see how that plays out. Luke Woolfenden has been sent on loan to Bristol City, with the ex-Ipswich man growing increasingly unhappy with his lack of game time with us. I have a feeling we'll have a decision to make over his future in the summer.
As for the permanent departures, Scott McTominay's time at the club has come to an end. He wasn't happy at playing second fiddle to Kalvin Phillips and it was decided that he was infinitely more dispensible than our best academy product since James Milner. It was a good idea that never really worked out for us, with the ex-Man Utd midfielder joining Chinese outfit Jiangsu for £20.5m. Joao Carvalho's limited impact at the club- a man signed at a time when we were crying out for creativity- has finally led to him packing his bags and leaving. He wasn't getting close to the starting XI any more and with the return of Mateusz Bogusz- now happy that he will be playing for us- the writing was on the wall for the man signed from Forest. He's gone on to Shakhtar for just over £10m. Jack Jenkins has signed for York City for £37,000. The realisation that he was highly unlikely to make the grade here was the deciding factor when the offer came in. Striker Matthew Stone (a regen) has left the club in a £6m move to Southampton. He'd been angling for the move for a while when I said he wasn't ready for first team football and it was decided a young unestablished player shouldn't be kept around if they're unhappy. Given my scouts now tell me he's unlikely to play above League Two, I see this as an astute bit of business if I do say so myself.
Moving on to the arrivals, I've discussed Cristian Pena earlier, so I won't waffle on further about him, we'll see what his loan at Luton brings. Boubacar Kamara is our most technically sound signing of the window. Carvalho and McTominay both left this window and with the ageing process now in full swing for Nacho, I saw fit to bring in a player capable of playing both in the centre and in front of the defence. Kamara is an assured player and oozes talent in this position. In the long term, I see his future at centre back but his covering job for Phillips- whose spell out injured was a big factor in the decision to bring Kamara here- was done to perfection. Ryan Walters is a regen that plays in defensive midfield, in the Phillips role. There's been a lot said about him by my scouts and all of it good, they reckon he'll be one of the better midfielders in this league in years to come. He comes from a reputable set-up at Charlton Athletic for an initial £2.5m and will be one to watch in a few years time. Our final signing- and our second on deadline day- is the re-signing of Brighton centre-back Ben White. White was a key cog in the side that got us promoted in 2019/20 and his permanent signing was deemed a never-never by Brighton at the end of that season. He has since become unsettled at the AMEX stadium and even frozen out to a point where we've been able to pick him up for £7m. He's likely to play more of a bit-part role this time around, but I feel he still has a lot more to offer than Brighton gave him credit for.
As mentioned previously, Mateusz Bogusz has had a change of heart and has agreed to fight for his place in the team. After impressing on loan at Brighton, we decided to recall him, lest Brighton trigger the £15m option to buy that was in the loan agreement. His decision to fight for his place was no doubt aided by the fact we've since offloaded Carvalho and McTominay, replacing them only with a player who can't play further foward than defensive midfield. Bogusz has repaid the faith shown in him so far, with two goals and three assists in the 13 appearances he's made since his return. He's earned a new contract and now looks to have a decisive long-term future at the club.
We're currently firmly embroiled in the race for Champions League football. More surprise contenders have been added to the race this year in Southampton and Bournemouth, demonstrating that football is alive and well on the South coast. With Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea still firmly in the running, it promises to be an interesting battle.
We'll return from the international break with a run of nine league fixtures to play in just over a month and a half. We have two of the so-called 'Big Six' left to play- Arsenal and Liverpool both at home, sandwiching the final run-in- and with trips to Southampton and Wolves still to come, it's absolutely vital that we get the run-in right. I'll stick my neck out and say we'll take it to the final day like we did last year, we'll have to pull off the same heroics in a clash against Carabao Cup winners Liverpool.
That's all for now. I'm aware the format has now largely differed, but with so much happening in the save since the last update, I couldn't go game-by-game. Hope you guys have enjoyed it though and hopefully it won't be too long until the next one!