I'd had some good results of late with the epic victory over Sunderland crowning my achievements, but now I was about to enter the toughest period of the season. Christmas.
This time of year would always be tricky, the festive period has games coming thick and fast as December takes the accolade of being the most congested month on the footballing calendar. As Europe takes a break and players in the Spanish, Italian and French leagues have some much needed time off, the English decide to double their efforts as fans up and down the country just can't bear a holiday without their national sport. With the fixture list about to ramp up, my first task for Part 3 was to amend my training regime...
The training sessions in CM 01/02 are very basic, but in my opinion; they’re perfect! Let’s be honest, no-one cares about training – it’s all about the thrills of matchday. So why waste time setting out the cones and creating overly-complicated drills?
CM 01/02 simplifies this fantastically so that you feel your actions make a difference, without them taking a whole day to implement. It focuses on Fitness, Tactics, Shooting, Skill and Goalkeeping - each of which has 4 settings: None, Light, Medium, Intensive. In playthroughs gone by, I used a tried and tested system. 24 and under? Everything’s intensive! 25 and over, only 1 intensive session. My working theory was that younger lads had better recovery time before matches whereas the older guard needed to avoid being knackered come Saturday afternoon and would be more susceptible to injury on an intensive course.
Winter is coming and to cope I decided to change my system and drop the intensity in some of the sessions. With 6 games scheduled this month and an FA Cup third round game in the new year, I wanted to make sure that my players took life a bit easier so they had more energy and higher condition levels for the matches.
My new routine became Medium for all, with an Intensive in: Shooting for the strikers, ‘Keeping for the Keepers, Skill for the midfielders and tactics for the Defenders. Let’s see if this would yield some results…
Squad vs West Ham (Home)
Starting 11: Chiotis, Duff, Risp, Yepes, West, Dyer, Kerr, Bakircioglu, Shearer ©, Selakovic, Madeira.
Subs: Given, Barsom (on 5), Speed (on 76), Kallstrom (on 76), Robert.
Within 5 minutes of kick off, Alan Shearer went down clutching his hamstring, not wanting to take any risks with such an influential player, I made an early sub bringing on Barsom in his place. We didn’t seem to miss big Al and Newcastle took the lead shortly after through Kennedy Bakircioglu. Our midfield man following up on a goalkeeping spill from David James and tucking the ball home to make it 1-0.
Now, the irony of David James making a mistake and gifting me a goal in this virtual game wasn’t lost on me. In 1997, while on the books of Liverpool, James was checked into a facility to treat an addiction… It wasn’t for drugs, alcohol or gambling – in fact, it was for something quite obscure. The custodian, like FBT and I, was a massive gamer and had become addicted to Tomb Raider. It was influencing his footballing-form and after too many late nights spent with Lara on the PlayStation, he’d found himself making high-profile mistakes in important games. James dropping a virtual-clanger here seemed fitting and it soon got a lot worse for the West Ham keeper. James looked all lost at sea and appeared like he was trying to put in the Tomb Raider cheat codes. First, he took one step forward, then one step back, he turned around three times and jumped forward. Rather than skip him forward to the next level, he instead conceded another 4 goals. Selakovic bagging a perfect hat-trick (with his left foot, right foot and his head) before Madeira got in on the act, lobbing him from distance and leaving the poor keeper on the floor, licking his wounds. There was a late consolation from Freddie Kanoute, but nothing could take the shine off this glossy performance from a rampant Magpies side – seemingly fearing no-one.
The Shearer injury wasn’t too bad, but our Physio Derek Wright gave the word that he should be rested for a week as a precaution. Thankfully, we weren’t light up front and coming up against bottom of the league side Derby County in the next game, it was the perfect opportunity to bring some fresh blood into the side.
Matches against bottom of the league sides could always be a Banana skin. Particularly when it comes to this midlands side. In 2007/2008, Derby County became officially the worst club in the history of the Premier League, taking a record low 11 points from a possible 114 in the 38 league games they played. Derby managed one win in that entire season and guess what? That win came at their home ground of Pride Park against none other than Newcastle United. With omens against us and with a squad boasting Champions League winner and celebratory shirt-lifter Fabrizio Ravanelli – Derby might not be the easiest team to brush aside.
In the absence of Shearer, I had a call to make on the captaincy. I decided to give it to Madeira and it proved to be an inspired choice…
Squad vs Derby (Away)
Starting 11: Chiotis, Duff, Risp, Yepes, West, Dyer, Kerr, Bakircioglu, Selakovic, Madeira ©, Gomez.
Subs: Given, Barsom (on 68), Speed, Kallstrom (on 68), Robert (on 68).
My banana-skin scare was quickly forgotten when stand-in skipper Madeira scored a pearler of a shot 15 minutes into the match. Picking up a loose ball and hitting it from 30 yards into the top corner of Mart Poom’s goal. Kieron Dyer was next to get in on the action, scoring from close range just before half time. The victory was confirmed and the game effectively ended on the 70th minute. Bakircioglu scoring directly from a free-kick and pushing the black and whites up to the lofty heights of third in the table – but still some way behind leaders Arsenal…
Next up, Blackburn Rovers were travelling to Tyneside but before I could prepare for the game, I had some off-the-field issues to resolve. Chelsea had offered a contract to two members of my backroom staff. Alan Irvine and John Carver. One of the amazing things about CM 01/02 is that when it comes to staff, money talks. It’s not hugely about the prestige or reputation of the offering club. Negotiating your staff contracts simply comes down to how much you’re willing to pay per week. Irvine had tremendous stats so, for that reason, I offered him my ceiling of £2k per week. He snapped my hands off and signed a 5-year deal. However, Carver would be trickier. The once, self-proclaimed “Best Manager in the Premier League” was a lot of things but a great coach? I wasn’t quite so sure. I gambled he’d accept a moderate weekly wage of £900 knowing full well that Chelsea could have easily matched it. Thankfully they didn’t and I kept my backroom staff in one piece.
Squad vs Blackburn Rovers (Away)
Starting 11: Chiotis, Duff, Risp, Yepes, West, Dyer, Kerr, Bakircioglu, Selakovic, Madeira ©, Shearer.
Subs: Given, Barsom, Speed (on 56), Kallstrom (on 51), Gomez.
Big Alan Shearer had finally shrugged off his injury and returned to the starting line-up, but in all the kerfuffle of my backroom staff contracts I made a cardinal sin – I forgot to give him back the armband. I can only imagine how Alan must have reacted, I mean, this is a man that once knocked Keith Gillespie out with one punch just for knocking some cutlery off a table. Fortunately, he couldn’t complain too much as Madeira carried on his rich vein of form – knocking in a first half brace to make it 2-1. Matt Jansen made it 2-1 late on, but it proved nothing more than a consolation.
December was proving to be a good month for me, going into the hectic Christmas period with 3 wins in 3 and next up was the return visit of the Tractor Boys.
After the close-run game against Ipswich at the start of the season, I decided to go for something a little different and start three at the back with Egyptian Said, Nigerian West and Columbian Yepes as the rear guard. I had still retained Gomez on the bench from the last game but was suddenly blocked from submitting my team. Sadly, it was here that I got my first glimpse of the post-Brexit future of football management games.
In 2001/02, FA rules on Non-EU players in the Premier League stated you could only have 3 at a time in a matchday squad. This was to encourage the production of Homegrown talent. This changed in 2010/11 where clubs instead were ordered to include eight Home Grown players out of an eligible squad of 25. Regardless of your position on Britain’s exit from the EU, I really fear for the future of football management games if the restricted free-movement of workers means I’ll be applying for permits for those coming from the mainland. I mean, it’s hard enough as it is to get a competitive squad together on a shoestring budget and without the Nordic market to exploit I’d be royally screwed. In order to carry out my plan, Gomez would sadly have to miss out…
Squad vs Ipswich Town (Home)
Starting 11: Chiotis, Said, Yepes, West, Lee, Dyer, Kerr, Bakircioglu, Selakovic, Shearer ©, Madeira.
Subs: Given, Barsom, Speed (on 62), Kallstrom (on 66), Duff (on 45).
It worked a treat. Madeira and Selakovic scoring in the 19th and 44th minute, respectively. Madeira’s was a trademark 1-on-1 while Selakovic scored from an uncharacteristic header. I’d been mainly concerned by the goal-scoring prowess of Marcus Stewart and wanted to control possession, but an injury on the stroke of half time to Taribo West meant I had to revert to a back 4. Duff came on at Left Back and Dyer slotted in on the right.
As originally feared, the extra space centrally meant Stewart could pull one back, but when Yepes nodded in a corner in the 61st minute, we had a nice cushion to see out the game. Speed came on in place of Bakircioglu and we never looked like conceding. Madeira even had a chance to score his second and he obliged, adding the cherry on the icing on the cake. 4 wins and 14 goals in 4 December games had pushed us up above Man Utd in to second place. Liverpool had just inflicted Arsenal’s first defeat of the season too... who knows… maybe Santa would bring us a little bit of luck after all and our title fight might still be alive...
Nah, the only thing that came out of Santa’s sack was the news that Taribo West’s injury was worse than feared and a torn groin muscle would keep him out of action for three months! Typical. I couldn’t risk Robbie Elliot coming back into the team and I had very few options in reserve but, before I could delve once again into the transfer market, I had the small matter of a Boxing Day trip to White Hart Lane.
Squad vs Spurs (Away)
Starting 11: Chiotis, Duff, Said, Yepes, Bernard, Lee, Kerr, Bakircioglu, Selakovic, Shearer ©, Madeira.
Subs: Given, Barsom (on 79), Queresma (on 79), Kallstrom (on 79), Risp.
I opted to bring Olivier Bernard up from the reserves. The former-Lyon academy prospect had spent the back end of the previous season on-loan at Div. 3 side Darlington and had scored twice in 10 games to help them survive and remain in the football league. He had big boots to fill, but his pace and crossing stats meant he’d fit right in to an attacking 4-1-3-2 formation.
However, he didn’t have the best of games – being 5-rated by half time with us 0-2 down. Sergei Rebrov was having the game of his life and netted very early on. It went from bad to worse when curly-haired Welsh winger Simon Davies doubled their lead, beating Bernard out wide before cutting inside and hitting a long-range effort into the top corner. I was at some cross-roads. Everyone was playing well and I didn’t want to knee-jerk my reaction. I took the gamble to keep faith in my midfield and my strikers... Boy did they repay me…
Within seconds of the restart we’d pegged one back, Shearer capitalising on a poor back pass and knocking the ball past keeper Kasey Keller. The skipper’s persistence had the desired effect and I was watching ratings rise in real time as everyone stepped up their game. By the 60th minute we were level. Ibrahim Said smashing home a bullet header from a free-kick to make it 2-2. The comeback was well and truly on. As we approached the 79th minute it was still level, but our possession for the last 5 minutes was at 80%. I decided to roll the dice, making a 3-man wonder sub. Kallstrom, Queresma and Barsom emerged onto the field and it was Barsom who made the most immediate of impacts. On the 82nd Minute, Barsom whipped in a lovely cross from out wide to Shearer who smashed home the ball to make it 3-2 to the Toon and we weren’t done there... Barsom again the provider as Kennedy Bakircioglu beat the offside trap and put the game to bed with just seconds left on the clock. A fantastic win against a difficult side and one that made it 18 goals for December. The Toon were in red-hot form!
To really top off a fantastic December, there was a little surprise in store…
Getting out of my seat, clutching a coffee cup in my hand with glee, I proceed to give my cliché-ridden acceptance speech. “Thank you, thank you, I couldn’t have done it without my players and my backroom staff.” An Emotional TheMorty continued, “I’m not in it for the awards and I’d trade it in for a win in the 3rd of the FA cup against West Ham.” I told the fans what they wanted to hear whilst also keeping the players sweet. Mind, not that they heard it. The only person that did overhear my speech was the wife who looked at me in a cocktail of shame, disgust and pity. CM 01/02 doesn’t do acceptance speeches, probably for the best…
The winner of the Player of the Month award for December was Joe Cole. A player I’d desperately tried to sign earlier in the season but West Ham were just too reluctant to sell - and rightly so. He was a fantastic player and arguably the missing link in my team, but It was typical that we’d be facing him in top form as we traveled to the Boleyn Ground for our 3rd round tie in the FA Cup.
The FA Cup – the world’s oldest football competition. Since The Wanderers first beat the Royal Engineers 1-0 in 1872, the competition has had a special significance on the footballing calendar. It has an undeniable magic, a magic Newcastle know all too well about. Despite not winning the trophy since 1955, In 2001 Newcastle were joint 4th on the all-time winners list, having lifted the cup 6 times in 13 final appearances. The black and whites had also been on the end of a few famous losses, uttering the words “Ronnie Radford” on Tyneside would almost certainly earn you a trip to the RVI. The FA Cup was a thing of marvel but sadly, it’s lately lost a bit of it's pizzazz. The Final is no longer the season ending showpiece it had so gloriously once been and in recent years we’ve even seen 5:30pm finals on the same day as Premier League fixtures. Teams play weakened sides to forfeit and concentrate on the league and, most horrifically, we’d seen the end of the FA Cup finalists’ songs! Long gone were the collaborations with Sting or Status Quo and the Anfield Rap was never to be heard again...
The Board of Directors wanted Europe, but there’d be no weakened team from me - I wanted the Cup and I was going all out to get it…
Squad vs West Ham (Away)
Starting 11: Chiotis, Duff, Said, Yepes, Speed, Dyer, Kerr, Bakircioglu, Shearer ©, Kallstrom, Madeira.
Subs: Given, Barsom, Risp, Selakovic (on 75), Gomez.
Our referee for the game was Gerald Ashby. Sadly, Mr Ashby would not have been able to take charge of the West Ham game in real life as he tragically died shortly after CM 01/02’s release, suffering a heart attack in December 2001. That said, this game proved fitting for the guy who was famously the man in the middle of Everton’s epic victory over Man Utd in 1995. There’d be no 1-0 repeat today though, instead he’d preside over a 9-goal thriller!
From the word go it was end-to-end stuff and within 4 minutes the deadlock was broken. Iron’s veteran Steve Lomas nodding home a corner at the far post to make it 0-1.
The Magpies fought back and were dominating possession. Coming agonisingly close to the equaliser, first Shearer fired inches wide before Madeira hit the post. It wasn’t long before we finally made the pressure count… GOAL! Shearer Scores! It’s another header as the big man crashes home a Kallstrom free-kick inside the box. What a game this was turning into.
As I’d feared Joe Cole was starting to pull the strings in the heart of the Hammers’ midfield and could have easily had a Penalty when Said fouled him in the box, but fortunately Mr Ashby waved away the protests… GOAL! Madeira! Not one to allow Shearer to take all the glory, Madeira slotted home from 12 yards to give Newcastle a goal advantage, but it didn’t last long… Bloody Joe Cole with the instant reply to make it 2-2. It was edge of your seat stuff as two phenomenally exciting teams went toe-to-toe and traded blows. Both throwing caution to the wind and neither backing down from a fight.
The deadlock remained until the 58th minute and it was that man again, Joe Cole with a beauty from long range to restore West Ham’s advantage. It was typical, the player I’d tried to sign was coming back to haunt me by having a 10-rated game and scoring for fun. It didn’t look like it was going to be Newcastle’s day. Just then, GOAL! Madeira turned up again, rounding David James and slotting home to bring us back on level terms. A game for the neutrals and one you couldn’t look away from.
PENALTY TO NEWCASTLE UNITED. A fantastic through-ball from Madeira sets Shearer through one-on-one, he’s only got the keeper to beat when out of nowhere Laurent Courtois trips him. It’s a Cynical foul and one that see’s the Frenchman get his marching orders. 63rd minute, a Penalty and a 1-man advantage. If Shearer Scores this is it, we’ll be into the next round, surely? It was a battle of two giants:
Alan Shearer – scorer of the most penalties in PL history (56)
David James – saver of the most penalties in PL history (13)
Who would win, the boot or the glove?
!!!!!!! GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAL !!!!!!!!!!! SHEARER SCORES! Of course it’s the boot who comes out on top as Shearer smashes to the keepers right and James is absolutely helpless. Maybe if he spent less time playing Tomb Raider and more time playing ISS Pro Evolution Soccer, he might have stood a chance…
4-3 and both Shearer and Madeira are at the double. 10 v 11 and Newcastle were in the ascendancy but, against the run of play disaster struck. Future Mackem and perennial pain in the arse Jermaine Defoe hit a long-range effort past Chiotis to level things up. You’re kidding. All that hard work and we’re on the verge of a replay, who knows, maybe even a defeat? This was not how I wanted my FA Cup run to start off. We had to do the business and we had to do it soon. I decide to go for broke. I bring on Selakovic and behind the in-form front two and go for broke.
It’s the 82nd minute and West Ham have a corner. The ball comes in and Shearer heads it clear, the ball lands to Madeira on the edge of his own box. “DRIVE” I yell at the screen as he gets his head down and sprints, knocking the ball in front of him and running as fast as he can, like the lovechild of Steve Guppy and a wild gazelle. He only has one defender back and that’s Lomas. Madeira breezes past him on the half way line and bears down on goal. James is in no mans land and doesn’t know whether to come or go. He stands on the penalty spot, waiting to see if help will get back. Help never comes. It’s Madeira vs James for a place in the FA Cup 4th Round. Madeira shoots…
Goal flashes up on the screen. He’s done it, Madeira has sealed his hat-trick. West Ham’s heads have dropped and they play out the last 8 minutes of the game in utter disbelief. The referee blows the final whistle and Newcastle are victorious. Edging the goal-fest in dramatic style and securing their ball in the hat for the 4th round draw.
Semi of the League Cup, 4th Round of the FA Cup, 2nd in the league and the ranking manager of the month. Things are looking good for the mighty mags, but can we keep it going? Can we go that extra yard and secure the first piece of silverware since 1969? Find out next week… but for now, I’m going to bask in my winning streak.