I continued to stay unbeaten in League One on Football Manager 2019 for another two matches, against Blackpool and lowly Shrewsbury Town.
I was up against it versus the Tangerines. They flew out of the blocks and led 2-0 before half time. We were way, WAY off the boil and I had to let the players know. So an aggressive team talk it was.
That prompted a response, and my team pulled out two second half goals to bring things back to 2-2, and even had a chance to snatch it at the death through striker Charlie Wyke.
In the end though he missed that opportunity so a draw it had to be, and in fairness, we probably did not even deserve the point that kept us in the top two.
The next game against Shrewsbury – second-bottom of the table – was more straight forward in the comforts of home. We won 4-0 and never really looked troubled from go to woe. It was a decent way to bounce back and get some goalscoring form ahead of the biggest fixture of the season.
There was a bit going on behind the scenes as well. The transfer window was wide open and I needed some depth, not only to add to stocks but to upgrade on outgoing players who I placed on the unwanted list.
Some players were also getting upset over a dip in game time since I arrived and that caused some division in the squad. Players sided for and against, with some choosing to lambast my treatment of those on the fringes. My crisis resolution skills were put to the test.
Luckily I resolved the issues so my focus shifted back to the transfer market. I was severely lacking depth at the back still so had to act and stock up on both first team quality players and backups.
Western Sydney Wanderers left-back Raul Llorente was available so I snapped him up at the measly price of just £35,000 on a rotation contract. He was happy to become the ‘squaddie’ I needed in defence.
I approached Hull City to sign Czech defender Ondrej Mazuch with an opening bid of £300,000, and to this point, I am still awaiting a reply from club and player before moving onto the personal phase of negotiations.
Dipping back into the A-League, Curtis Good was also available from Melbourne City on the cheap. His contract was due to expire at the end of the season so I could have gone directly to him, but I needed him on the books now. Therefore, I had to shell out an extra £40,000 to get it across the line. Then I just had to sit tight.
Frustratingly, my two freshest signings needed some time before they were fully fit. Louis Moult, who I signed from Preston, wasn’t match fit so was restricted to cameos off the bench and time in the under-23s. Former Millwall goalkeeper Jordan Archer injured his foot in training.
I would have liked to have had them available for my FA Cup matchup against Leicester City but I was having such a good run that eventually, something was bound to go wrong, and when things did go wrong, they seemed to happen all at once.
It was rather heartbreaking, too. Fronting up to the press, I was all too aware that my side and I were underdogs. We had done our due diligence, scouted Leicester and had a clear plan of what we were going to do.
My assistant found the Foxes were weakest against a deep-lying 4-3-3 formation (or more specifically, a 4-1-4-1 DM wide), so I employed that system for the match, not too dissimilar to the regular tactic, only with a defensive mindset. The players were happy with it.
We zeroed in on Jamie Vardy too, and made sure he would receive the works. Get him on his weaker foot. Press high relentlessly. Tackle hard. Portuguese midfielder Adrien Silva also required extensive marking in the heart of midfield.
Half time came around. We were FLYING! I could scarcely believe it. We were 2-0 up against Premier League Leicester. I was delighted and so were the players. Maybe too delighted, as it proved.
We led until the 74th minute when it all crumbled. I introduced Llorente from the bench, who was my only new signing that was full match-fit and ready from the get-go. He gave away a penalty for a shove in the box, and Silva buried it.
Then the avalanche continued. Just three minutes later, Leicester scored again to equalise, and then again to lead in another three minutes. It was all agonising, watching the lead slip away like that. By that point, staring elimination in the face, there was no option other than to go with the jugular, but it didn’t work. We went down 3-2 for my first defeat in charge.
Stay tuned for Part 6 of Frooch’s blog from the Sunderland hot seat in Football Manager 2019 on Monday.