The Football Manager Project is back. A new manager, a new team and a new challenge. Editor of The Set Pieces, Chris Evans, has entered a fantasy draft competition with six real-life coaches and managers.
But can Tromsgodset Pieces upset the odds and bring the inaugural TSP Conference home?
Tromsgodset Pieces move up to second. It’s a message I never thought I’d see on my screen.
But as Stefan de Vrij powers a header into the back of the BC net, that’s what the beautiful blue update says.
Second place? With this team, after the start I’d had? It’s scarcely believable.
As the big Dutchman runs to the corner flag to celebrate, I look back to the last time I played Chelsea coach Ben Cole. He battered me and left me seriously considering if I was just going to meekly finish bottom after taking only one point from my opening three games. Now it’s all so different.
As often happens to me on Football Manager when I’m on a good run, I start daydreaming about how good my team really are. How nobody can handle the way we’re playing. How much success we could enjoy.
This is usually followed by a bump. Not always immediately but, trust me, there’s always a bump coming.
It’s a little bit like when you’re several pints in on a night out and you’re feeling invincible. This could be the greatest night of your life, you’re telling the funniest jokes, your hair is on point and you’re destined to pull. But somehow, the night always ends with you lying in a puddle of your own vomit, wondering quite whether you’ve got enough energy left to get home.
So, yeah, spoiler alert, there’s chunder coming. I just don’t know it yet.
I’d earmarked this match against BC as my most difficult home match so far. Cole’s side – along with AJCFC – appear to be streaking clear at the top of the table and were probably the best side we’d faced.
So I was relieved to see Chris Smalling was back (I still can’t believe I’m saying this) from suspension to replace Gabriel at the heart of my defence, while I decide to draft in Francis Coquelin into midfield in place of Federico Valverde to add a bit more steel. I also want to get a bit more from Jordan Henderson, who has been pretty average so far, regardless of if I play him as a box-to-box midfielder, a ball winner or, as I’m doing today, as a deep-lying playmaker.
In my buoyant mood, I start to think I’ve cracked it as Henderson duly starts a lovely move that carves open the BC defence in the opening stages, only for César Azpilicueta’s effort to be scrambled wide by Kasper Schmeichel.
Chances come and go for both sides as the half progresses, until that de Vrij moment as he heads in Marco Asensio’s corner. And as we coast past the half-hour mark, I’m dreaming of what a great story this is.
I’m still feeling all self-congratulatory when Marvin Plattenhardt’s deep free kick picks out Kurt Zouma in the centre circle. His header sets Neymar off and the Brazilian ghosts Azpilicueta and is upended by Mr Midfield Mettle himself, Coquelin, to give BC a penalty that Lionel Messi duly converts. I’m still good, right?
The next 15 minutes tell me I’m not as BC start to stamp their authority on the game. Messi and Leon Goretzka both go close as I pray for the half-time whistle. Just as I think I’ve made it to the break, Paul Pogba picks up the ball and rams a delicious 30-yard piledriver into the top corner.
Tromsgodset Pieces have dropped to fourth in the table.
I don’t change anything and simply try to spur on my troops by assertively telling them I want to see more from them in the second half. They look riled up by my rallying cry, but it’s probably quite harsh of me considering not so long ago I was booking an open-top bus tour when we won the TSP Conference.
What follows is a 10-minute spell that’s reminiscent of the onslaught I suffered last time I played BC, which we thankfully survive without things getting worse.
I decide to bring on exiled captain Harry Kane for Tammy Abraham and ask him to play as a deep-lying forward in order to provide a better link between midfield and attack.
The change only temporarily stems the tide. Neymar exposes a serious lack of defence in our right flank as he weaves a way through my backline and is only denied by David Soria’s unorthodox save, while another flowing move opens me up again, with the Spanish goalkeeper called upon again to stop Messi.
I bring on Valverde and Gerard Deulofeu for Coquelin and Asensio in my final roll of the dice. There will still be no change to my tactics. Brexit means Brexit, after all.
And would you know it, it nearly works. Plattenhardt fires in a free kick that lands perfectly for de Vrij, with the defender heading an effort past Schmeichel. And against the bar.
Cole makes some changes that nullifies any hope of an equaliser. A wayward Salah effort is the closest we get as the final 15 minutes disappear with very little incident.
The post-match statistics tell a chastening tale. BC had more of the ball and more than double the amount of shots. All that after such a strong start to the match, which goes to show how vulnerable my team remain to be when somebody works us out.
From heading into the top two, I’m now back in fourth and have lost my unbeaten home record. Remember the bump I promised? It’s come sooner than I envisaged.