Hi. And welcome back! No winter blues here at Newhall Park. Just a high level of expectation since the recent success. An expectation to uphold the success.
We left the last episode at the end of November. Dave Hackett had been tasked to go to Sainsbury’s and grab a load of advent calendars for the lads, one of many things done to help with team and staff bonding at the Youth Club.
December came without any winter blues. Well not on the pitch.
We started the month in Wales, against Newport County. Jon Davies claimed a hattrick and Lee Sticks provided the assists, along with the fourth goal just to add an extra nail to the coffin in a 4-1 win.
We would then travel up north to Scunthorpe in the second round of the Checkatrade Trophy. Our performance was a disjointed one due to the mass changes I had made in the defence and midfield. Even though Stamp and Dasilva played well the cohesion between Radcliffe and Crisp was concerning. The back four only managed to connect with 48% of their passes, which was the reason for our struggle to kill the game. That and the twenty-eight fouls we went on to commit. Connor Burgin was our bright spark. The boy bagged a brace. We ran out 2-1 winners.
We would then go on to demolish Mansfield Town at home in a 6-1 mauling of the Stags where Burgin bagged his second brace in two games.
This increase in confidence then ran into our FA Cup Second round fixture with Frank Lampard’s Wigan. Dion Dublin had drawn us out of the hat first to give us a home tie to excite the TS supporters. We looked to take the game to our guests. I also kept an in-form Connor Burgin in the side ahead of our top goal scorer Jon Davies. The gamble succeeded. With Sticks scoring from a freekick inside 13 minutes for deep lying playmaker Vic Penn to grab a rare goal to double our lead after the half hour mark. Six minutes later December’s form man Burgin grabbed his FA Cup goal. The three goals would see us progress into the third round.
The next match would be the start of the return fixtures in the league. Plymouth at home. We won 2-0 and that boy Burgin scored a penalty to make it six goals in four matches.
We also managed to get away with an away win at Cambridge and Notts County during the festive period.
Away from the pitch.
When the transfer window opened, I made a big bold sign saying, “Nothing In, Nothing Out!”
I did not want to be forced in to changes whilst we were still fighting on three fronts. Gary Berhinger was put on witness protection as he had been singled out by Tottenham and Everton. Both would put low bids in that would upset the boy. Once he realised, I had turned them down, we sent him to Bob Barsby, to put him up in his caravan and keep him out of the spotlight. Gary eventually came back but he missed most of the second half of the season due to his head firmly turned against wanting to stay at the Youth Club.
We did sell Tyler Walker to Peterborough. He went for £34K. We let him go as he had become disappointed with the amount of first team football he was getting, and with only six months left on his contract we had to get something out of him.
We held tight until the final day of the window. Daniel Radcliffe then became the next rabbit in the headlight. A host of Championship teams started bidding from him, Norwich, Preston, Sunderland and Bolton. Bolton were the only serious contenders who would listen to our demands. I fixed our valuation of Radcliffe to £1m. Bolton would eventually get to that amount and offer a few add ons to sweeten the deal. Pep Clotet would get his man. And we would look to the under 23’s to plug the gap in the squad.
Growing frustrated with the entire squad being looked at by every club during the last few transfer windows I began to look at changing things. I saw that the Torino Job was available. Armed with recent lower league success and a fresh Continental Pro Licence I applied but kept the media guessing with little comments being made. I must say I was surprised when they accepted my application and invited me for an interview. I felt nervous. The last interview I had attended was for the Hearts job 12 months prior, but I felt the jump to Scottish football was not the one for me. We met in a hotel in London. And the interview went well. I was left with lots of hope and starting think about new kits and the opportunity to manage in the top flight in Italy. Needless to say, a few days later the call came that I had been unsuccessful. The feedback I had received was positive they liked my vision but were unsure of whether an English manager with no top-flight experience was the right move. They would go for the experienced Giovanni De Biasi from Piacenza.
Back to the pitch.
January kicked off with the Third round of the FA Cup. We had drawn fellow League Two team Oxford United. We were the away team but despite this disadvantage I felt confident of reaching the fourth round. We started the brighter, with Jon Davies scoring after 3 minutes. Oxford Striker Obafemi would equalise twenty-two minutes later. The chess like battle then commenced and it took until the 64th minute for Oxford to then take the lead through Paul Smyth. Thirty seconds later Lee Sticks provided another twist to the tale by hitting a screamer from the edge of the area. The match was now set for a ding dong battle for the last twenty minutes. Substitute winger Chisom Madu then came to the rescue, by placing a shot past the Oxford keeper on 88 minutes to catapult us into the next round.
Fresh from his FA Cup rest Connor Burgin then made the next league game all about him. He went on to score another brace in a 3-0 win against Wimbledon.
Clint Hill’s Fleetwood would then come to the Pirelli in the 3rd round of the Checkatrade Trophy. We won 4-0 which was inspired by the excellence of left winger Jon Banks. He would score two, Davies one and rightback Paul Newman would also score his first of the season.
We would then draw 2-2 against Cheltenham and win against Crawley, Rochdale and Crewe (in the league).
We would also meet Accrington in the Quarter Finals of the Checkatrade Trophy. We won 3-0 in a match where we would prove to be too strong at the back and too clinical for them up front. Burgin, Bose and Ben Strong scoring the goals.
February started like January with the FA Cup. We drew Newcastle United at home. And the Pirelli was packed. The half and half scarves were out in force and Burton was rockin’. The news had got out that I had applied for the vacant Torino job, but I was not distracted. And nor were the boys. We got off to the best possible start. Right Midfielder Robert Pheasant scoring after eight minutes. Robbie Di Matteo’s Newcastle would then wake up and start to get back into the game, Shelvey and McGinn trying to dictate the game at their pace. Swiss international Albian Ajeti would score on the 37th minute mark. And French defender Mangala would score in extra time in the first half to take Newcastle in to the lead just before half time. The boys went out of the dressing room fired up. Two minutes later Herman Maragh would receive his second yellow card and his marching orders to make the match more difficult. We would run out of steam and ideas with the man down, Newcastle won 2-1.
Martin Allen’s Boreham Wood were our tonic after the drama of the FA Cup. We would win 3-0. This win would be the start of a run that would last until the end of the season.
Further wins against Northampton, Ebbsfleet and Port Vale would see us grab a playoff place and then and an automatic promotion place in February.
March would spring open with the Semi Final of the Checkatrade Trophy. We would host Manchester United’s under 23 side. A team packed with promise from players like Aliou Traore, Aiden Barlow, Sandro Tonali and Romelu Lukaku. I went with a strong line up. And we went toe to toe with Diego Simeone’s youngsters. We were almost out of the tie in the 54th minute when Al Strong brought Dylan Levitt down in the box. Lukaku would see his penalty saved by Rafe Hands. Right Winger Lee Sticks then found an inner spirit to score deep into extra time to prevent the match running on to another 30 minutes or penalties. His freekick beating Dean Henderson at his far post. Celebrations were kept to a minimum as we were now going to Wembley!
In the league a home win against Accrington and an away win at Carlisle would see us crowned Champions of League Two.
The Stevenage match saw us cling on to a draw the match saw a few saw heads turn up for this game, but their heads were screwed back on the right way for the Lincoln match as we won 4-1 ahead of our day out at Wembley.
Forest Green Rovers had matched our path to the final beating some teams that were bigger than them. Wembley was not full but the 10000 people there in green and claret certain made their voices heard. We started the match with a balanced approach in a bid to not tire out too quickly on the halo turf. We went in at half time content but with little on the score sheet. I gave the boys some words of encouragement and advised them to play more positively. With the new instructions were broke the deadlock inside six minutes. Oliver Skipp scoring from inside the box. Billy Bose would double our tally 19 minutes later. With Sticks and Davies each scoring just before the final whistle. The result would see us comfortably win the Checkatrade trophy for the first time in our history.
April would see us play our final seven matches of the season like the Harlem Globetrotters. Paraded as double champions at away grounds with an expectation to entertain and win at the same time.
We would gone on to win five of those seven matches and draw the other two. This would not only demonstrate the team to be double champions but also invincible in League Two.
The closing weeks of the season saw many a weird thing happen. Firstly, Barcelona would sack Jorge Sampaoli for putting them in a position where fourth would be their best possible finishing position. Unai Emery would then jump from Arsenal to the vacant job in Spain. With my head now wanting a change I quietly applied. And to may surprise I got an interview. Like the Torino job I lost out to a bigger name, this time Pep Guardiola would take the vacancy.
Next, I saw that our parent affiliate West Ham United had sacked Manuel Pellegrini for a poor finish to the season which had seen them not win in their last eight matches. After being knocked back by Torino and then Arsenal I thought I would not bother and had decided to start making my plans for League One.
I then received an email from Dave Sullivan inviting me for an interview. I duly accepted, deep in the knowledge that I would probably get beaten by someone with more experience.
Dave Sullivan then came back to me to suggest the staff changes I would make if hired. I said that I would keep all at West Ham with a review to carried out at a later date, but I would like to bring two people from TS, Scott Parker and Inaki Bergara. Both had only been at the Youth Club for a short period and were due conversations regarding their contracts if I was to stay at TS Sports.
I can now say that after negotiating a contract I am now West Ham United manager going into season 2022/23.
So now there is a new chapter in the tale….
Catch me next time when I update you with the Ins and outs of West Ham United in Season 2022/23…..