Championship Manager 01/02 - Part 5

Part 5 - Jesus Saves... Shearer Scores

After the high of winning in the League Cup Semi-Final, TheMorty is brought back down to Earth with a bang - facing off against England's toughest opponents in a tense battle for silverware

Performance-based incentives are the norm throughout life. It’s drilled into you since childhood. When you finished all your tea, you got a dessert. When you got a good report card at school, your parents bought you a toy. Tidy room? Go out and play… Extrinsic motivation is a big factor in life – and as a 30-something man who’d grown up on the parental reward scheme, I was no different. I’d just qualified for the League Cup Final in my first season as Newcastle United manager - I deserved a treat! So off I went shopping to spend my hard-earned cash, not on jewellery, cars or clothes. No, I was browsing for something much more valuable – I was in the market for a left back.

I’d been putting off the acquisition of a left-footed fullback for a while now, insisting I could get by playing square pegs in round holes. As much as the Speed/Bernard rotation was working, it wasn’t going to be good enough long term. Taribo West had been a fantastic signing, but he was making a habit of getting himself injured. I set out to find a long-term replacement that was under 21, had future potential but also hit the ground running and bolster my options.

My scouts came back with a couple of candidates close to home. Top of the pile was a player from across the tyne-wear divide, Julio Arca. A fantastic full-back that loved the North-East and after 150+ apps for Sunderland, would go on to play a similar amount of games for Middlesbrough and eventually find himself the captain of non-league northern outfit South Shields. His attacking and defensive stats were incredible and he fit the age requirement but sadly, there were two major obstacles standing in the way of his acquisition.

First, his nationality. My attacking options were already restricted thanks to the 3 non-EU player ruling, I had a Nigerian, an Egyptian and a Columbian making up three quarters of my defence – meaning poor old Costa Rican Ronald Gomez couldn’t even make the squad! Secondly, Sunderland would never sell in a million years.

Seldom does a player cross the rivalry-border. Sure, there’s been a few in the past, Paul Bracewell was went from Sunderland to Newcastle and back to Sunderland again and it was relatively low key, but when a bigger name makes the move like Jack Colback or Lee Clark, it stokes a fire that’s not easily extinguished. In the latter’s case, it had taken a club record fee to bring Clark to Wearside and after just two seasons he was dumped by the club - for the controversial act of appearing at Newcastle’s 1999 FA Cup final wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with a mocked up Newcastle logo saying “SMB - Sad Mackem B*stards". It’s instances like this that instantly jack up the price of any player transferred between the clubs, so I’d be looking at a £15m+ price tag to sign Arca and, while he was good, he wasn't THAT good.

The second name in the frame was Stephen Crainey, a Celtic youth team player with blistering pace and equally high defensive stats. He was available for £2m, I thought that would be the best option so proceeded to close the deal. A nice little reward ahead of the League Cup Final. Although the confirmation of my opponents soon turned my mood…

Manchester United. Are you kidding me? The team standing in my way of silverware were the only team to beat me twice. The current league champions that had an £80m war chest in the summer, spending £30m on Veron from Lazio and nearly £20 on Dutch International Ruud van Nistelrooy from PSV. In fact, those two players alone cost more than my entire squad!

Before I could even start thinking about Manchester United, I had the distraction of 4 domestic games against Boro, Bolton, Derby and Leicester. I decided to use these match-ups as a vehicle for change, to try new things in a relaxed environment. They were all beatable opponents and it was a good chance to try out formations and tactics ahead of the biggest showdown of my short CM 01/02 managerial career.

The first of my experiments was a CM classic; man-marking the keeper.

Squad vs Boro (Away)

Formation: 4-3-3

Starting 11: Chiotis, Duff, Risp, Yepes, Speed, Dyer, Kerr, Bakircioglu, Shearer ©, Gomez, Madeira.

Subs: Given, Barsom (on 88), Selakovic (on 74) Solano (on 88), Lee.

I brought in Ronald Gomez as a third striker to play alongside Shearer and Madeira and I set his individual status as Playmaker - meaning he’d get the ball more. I then proceeded to give him the defensive duty of man marking Mark Schwarzer - which meant he’d play very, very high up the pitch. The downside to this tactic is that you’ll see a lot of off-sides, but the plus is that he’ll get a truck load of chances.

The first half didn’t go quite as planned, with Mark Summerbell opening the scoring for the home side after just 17 minutes. However, we were soon level when Alan Shearer headed home in the 24th. It didn’t stop there for Shearer as he buried his (and our) second on the stroke of half time to send us in at the break with a slender advantage.

I was starting to doubt my tactics. Gomez was consistently offside and didn’t really seem to have many chances, but I was determined to give him 90mins and not panic by changing the tactics. My persistence paid off with the Costa Rican scoring a second-half brace, both 1-on-1s and neat finishes past the Aussie custodian.

4-1 flattered us and while Gomez had scored goals, I felt the number of off-sides caused by the individual tactic might cost us against better sides. That said, it was a successful experiment and we did get the win.

My next match welcomed Sam Allardyce’s Bolton Wanderers to Tyneside. Just before the game, we found out congratulations were in order. Kim Kallstrom had picked up the Young Player of the Month Award for February after some fantastic performances and important goals against Aston Villa, Everton and in the FA Cup against Leicester – although clearly the awards panel must have forgotten about his early bath in that one!

Kim made it two-in-two for Newcastle, after Mark Kerr had picked up the award for January.

Kallstrom’s reward for his personal accolade was a place on the bench as I tried yet again another tactic in preparation for Manchester United. This time it was a containment approach to the game, playing 2 defensive midfielders and just one striker. Goal-scoring Gomez retained his place in the side with Madeira making way for an extra midfielder.

Squad vs Bolton (Home)

Formation: 4-2-2-1-1

Starting 11: Chiotis, Duff, Risp, Yepes, Speed, Dyer, Kerr, Bakircioglu, Shearer ©, Gomez, Selakovic.

Subs: Given, Barsom, Madeira (on 68), Kallstrom (on 68), Lee.

The defensive approach didn’t seem to make much difference to how we played, controlling possession quite comfortably. We scored two goals in the first half, with Selakovic and then Kerr finishing smart moves to make it 2-0 to the Toon.

We had most of the possession but only 2 shots on target in the entire game and when Per Frandsen pulled one back in the 80th minute, there were fears we might throw the lead away. Fortunately for us, it ended there and we held on for all three points.

My two defensive midfielders, Dyer and Kerr had played very well – one picking up a goal and the other the MoM award. However, I still wasn’t convinced about this approach. Just two shots on target in the entire match wouldn’t cut it against a side that scored goals for fun. My next match was against basement side Derby County and I had to attack.

Squad vs Derby (Away)

Formation: 4-1-3-2

Starting 11: Chiotis, Duff, Risp, Yepes, Speed, Dyer, Kerr, Bakircioglu, Shearer ©, Gomez, Selakovic.

Subs: Given, Barsom, Madeira (on 45), Kallstrom (on 69), Lee.

This wasn’t just another nothing Premier League game, this was an FA Cup Quarter Final. While I wanted to experiment, nothing was more important than victory. I reverted to the classic 4-1-3-2 for this one, but with an extra instruction for the team to attack.

First Gomez opened the scoring after 5 minutes then Shearer doubled the lead 26’ into the game. It was a stroll in the park for Newcastle as County rarely got out of their own half. Substitute Kim Kallstrom marked his brief appearance with a goal late on to confirm Newcastle’s status in the Semi-Final of the competition.

Results elsewhere had been fantastic, Blackburn, Reading/Everton and Arsenal were the remaining teams… A game against Reading or Everton would be preferred, but obviously, lady luck was not my friend…

I mean come on. Seriously. There’s two sides to this, positively if we were to win the Semi then it’s a very good draw in the final but conversely if we were to lose the Semi it would almost certainly hand Arsenal a domestic double – something we did in 1998 when they beat NUFC in the same competition. The semi was a way off and with a bird in the hand, I shouldn’t be worrying about another in the bush. There was now just one game between me and the League Cup final – Leicester Away.

Championship Manager does often throw up a little bit of comedy, so imagine my amusement when I got the following notification:

Okay, So I was due to play Arsenal on that day anyway… okay… now I feel a little bit better 😊

Squad vs Leicester (Away)

Formation: 4-4-2

Starting 11: Chiotis, Duff, Risp, Yepes, West, Dyer, Kerr, Quaresma, Shearer ©, Solano, Madeira.

Subs: Given, Barsom, Gomez, Kallstrom (on 55), Lee.

It was the final game before the League Cup Final and I had one last trick I wanted to test. I opted for the traditional Mike Bassett formation of 4-4-2 with attacking wingers and fullbacks. Bringing in Quaresma on the right and Solano on the left to drive up and down the wings.