Matchday arrived for the first time for me in charge of Sunderland.
This early-round FA Cup matchup had the potential to be a tricky tie. It was against National League club Chesterfield so I was eager to avoid an upset and leave a good first impression on the fans.
Plus, a defeat that early would have been a serious blow to my KPIs. The board had tasked me with reaching the final 64 of the cup.
In the end, even with the magic of the FA Cup swirling in the air, I was able to navigate my way through the situation comfortably and the team performed, easily winning 4-0 against the Spireites.
I drafted under-23 squad member Adam Bale immediately into my starting XI and he performed. It became clear though that my ‘boy’ was going to be American midfielder Lynden Gooch.
Playing an advanced-midfield role, the 22-year-old struck twice and continued that form in the ensuing fixtures.
Following that were wins against Accrington Stanley, Fleetwood Town, Wycombe Wanderers and Bristol Rovers across League One, the FA Cup and the “unimportant” Checkertrade Trophy.
Gooch was fast becoming the main man in my team and his goals tally climbed into double-digits before the end of November. At which time, too, I had moved from fifth in League One to third and was just a win off the top of the table.
I was flying and the morale in my squad was tremendous. So far so good. Irishman Aiden McGeady was also proving to be a useful outlet on the left-wing.
Behind the scenes, I was beginning to scout players and needed an injection of depth, so i started off by scouring the free agents market – an extensive catalogue of footballers worldwide from amateurs right up to professionals.
Being Australian, I had grown a familiarity from years of watching A-League and the Socceroos so I took a look at which Aussies were available. I was presented with a vast mix of semi-professionals from the National Premier League as well as recently-released pros.
I stumbled across a name in the Australian game that has been forgotten somewhat thanks to the particular player’s miserable injury history: Eli Babalj. I was after some new strikers so I offered the now 26-year-old a trial.
That was to last for two weeks and at the end of it all, I simply had to anticipate that my assistants and backroom staff’s assessment of the player would hardly be glowing having not played for a club since March, when Babalj played for Czech club Mlada Boleslav.
Stay tuned for Part 4 of Frooch’s blog from the Sunderland hot seat in Football Manager 2019.