And for Christmas this year, I got two lumps of coal in my stocking. o____o Our record setting streak of games without a loss ended at 23 with a late loss at home to Luton. Once again we lost composure in the dying minutes, this time surrendering the eventual game-winning goal in the 83rd minute. We managed to bounce back with a win vs Kidderminster, then the strain of a congested schedule set in again. Four days after that win, we drew vs Gateshead, had two FA Trophy games thanks to a drawn first match, then fell flat vs Braintree for our second loss of the month; again in front of our home fans. We ended the month on an upswing, however, salvaging a draw in our next match then beating Hereford 3-1 away in a televised game.
Our FA Cup run continues as we dispatched Dartford, marking the second time in a week that we have eliminated them from a cup competition. Our opponent in the third round is another BSP side - Tamworth. We were drawn as the home team so I'm hoping our home crowd propels us one round further where we will all but likely be drawn against an opponent from a higher league. And while that will likely signal the end of our cup run, it will also be a nice payday for us, especially if we get to play the game at home!
The FA Trophy game, on the other hand, wasn't nearly as straightforward. We were gifted a relatively easy draw against Tonbridge, even though it was away. We opened with a goal in the 1st minute, but Tonbridge leveled 14 minutes later. We took a lead into the half with a 31st minute goal, only to concede 2 minutes after the restart. Then in the 54th minute we fell behind as Mikel Suarez bagged a brace. It wasn't until the 75th minute that Aaron O'Conner salvaged a draw. Four days later we won 1-0, but the damage had been done. With a ton of league games, we really couldn't afford to play another 90 minutes of football. The replay against Tonbridge cost us a league game three days later, but those are the breaks. We're into the third round against semi-pro side Faversham and we should really advance without any problems. Then again, that's how I felt about Tonbridge!
We are now just past the halfway mark in the league as we turn the calendar year to 2013. And while we maintain our seat at the top of the BSP table, those two losses we suffered in December saw our points lead cut in half to 4. We still hold a 17 point lead on sixth place and the final promotion playoff spot. With six league games on tap for January we have a chance to extend our lead at the top again. We will face off against Forest Green (6), Wrexham (18), Lincoln (21), Barrow (20), Woking (12), and Southport (17).
The transfer window opens once more but I don't think we'll be dipping into the market much, if at all. If I were to readjust my budget I could take on an additional 1k p/w and have about 48k in the transfer kitty. More realistically, I will look at free transfers as we can add about 2k p/w in salary with the transfer kitty emptied. Here is the lineup that I think I have settled into. As you can see, the majority of the players are the same from the start of the season.
One change is having Lee Evans at the left center mid spot instead of Lee Minshull. Both players are similar in terms of technical ability, with Evans being slightly better in dribbling and long shots. Mentally, Minshull is better in terms of flair, teamwork and work rate; two things that I thought would make him the better option. Evans is more creative, however. Evans is also better phsyically, with better agility, pace, and stamina. Statistically Evans as put up better numbers with a 7.16 average rating to Minshull's 6.94. Also, in 10 less games, Evans has bagged two goals and four assists. Minshull has no goals and three assists in 21 games.
The other change is at left wide midfield, where recently signed Thomas Butler will start in place of Ben Swallow. The comparison shot speaks for itself - outside of some trivial technical rankings (for a wide midfielder), Butler is clearly the better player. Statistcally, these ratings have translated into promising play on the pitch as well. In 8 appearances, Butler has bagged 3 goals, 1 assist, and a 6.96 average rating. In 19 appearances, Swallow has bagged 2 goals, 7 assists, and a 7.1 rating. Swallow has far more assists, but he also has the benefit of having been in our system and with his teammates for more than twice as many games as Butler. In time, I think Butler will put up better numbers as he gets more in tune with his new environment.