Fresh off the back of his League Cup win TheMorty entered the business end of the season.
A place in the FA Cup final and a Champions League spot were up for grabs. To get there he'd need to get one over on the best team in the league - Arsenal.
RED CARD! Mark Kerr is sent off.
How did I get here? 36 minutes into an FA Cup semi-final against the runaway leaders of the league and I’m down to 10-men with nearly an hour left to play! I was way out of my depth. Henry, Bergkamp and Ljungberg would no doubt tear me apart. I felt like I was no longer playing a football management simulator and instead was deep into The Evil Within or Dead Space. As I feared for my life with each kick of the ball, I’d see the on-screen commentary read “van Bronckhorst beats his man” and fall to pieces. I’d been cock-sure of late, experimenting with match tactics, formations and line-ups but within 36 minutes I’d become a nervous mess that was one flashing light away from a full-on breakdown.
Maybe it was a mistake getting back into this game and I should have just ended my play-through when lifting the League Cup. I’d become accustomed to the FM 2018 3D match engine, the mid-match team talks and the modern day Arsenal who get beaten by bloody everyone! Maybe I should just quit and imagine this never happened… end the review on part 5 and try and finally finish Mafia III…
A week ago everything had been rosy. I’d won the first ever piece of silverware in the clubs modern history and I was excited to load up the game and crack on with the rest of the season. I was eagerly anticipating taking on a Leeds United outfit who had arguably one of the best squads in the game. A young Harry Kewell and a prime Mark Viduka were fearsome, but little more than puppies in comparison to my strike force of Shearer and Madeira that would leave even Vinnie Jones filling his pants.
Squad vs Leeds (Home)
Starting 11: Chiotis, Duff, Risp, Yepes, Crainey, Dyer, Kerr, Bakircioglu, Shearer ©, Kallstrom, Madeira.
Subs: Given, Solano, Selakovic, Barsom, West.
My confidence last week was at an all time high and beating Leeds was nothing more than a formality. 2 goals to the good before half time – we were strolling.
Yepes opened the scoring with a header from a Dyer cross and Madeira got in on the act just before the stroke of half time, finishing a neat 1-on-1. Even when Viduka reduced the deficit with a tap-in midway through the second half, Newcastle never looked like conceding another and it was another three points for the mags that would almost certainly confirm our Champions League place for next season. Stephen Crainey made his full debut and played a solid 7 rated game as the defence played a blinder in keeping the Whites’ attack firmly on a leash.
There was a slight piece of bad news after the game and it was on a personal note for my players with none of them making the official Team of the year. Shearer had made the bench but there was no place for Madeira (who had scored more goals than Henry this season) and there was no place for Kieron Dyer who had been fantastic all term. Instead it was the big clubs that dominated, with Aresnal and Manchester United taking over half of the starting berths between them.
While the omissions were frustrating, we had a more pressing matter at hand…
The last time Newcastle and Arsenal had met in the FA Cup was in May 1998, when both teams contested a fantastic final at the old Wembley stadium. Newcastle were unlucky in that game, having more possession and hitting the woodwork twice, but Arsenal’s class shone through and after a Marc Overmars opener, Nicolas Anelka sealed the win finishing well past Shay Given.
Now CM0102 is renowned for many of the great players in its database and Nicolas Anelka is undoubtedly the most infamous player in the game. He can be playing the best football of his career, scoring goals for fun and playing 90mins every week – but will always find something to be unhappy with:
If you’re not top of the league - “Worries that the club’s poor league position will affect his reputation”
Lose 2 games in a row - “Has lost confidence in his managers ability”
As soon as ANY club on the game is interested in him – “wants to be transfer listed”
If you transfer list ANY of his team mates – “Believes the manager’s treatment of players is affecting the team morale”
Drop him at any point – “Unhappy with his manager”
Playing well and scoring goals for fun? – “is having trouble motivating himself”
Sign ANY striker, regardless of their ability – “Worried about his future at the club”
To be fair to Sports Interactive, they got this one pretty much spot on. Anelka played for 12 different clubs in his 19-year playing career and had a reputation of being a trouble maker. So even if he comes available on the game - sign this player at your peril!
You could say Newcastle had some unfinished FA Cup business with Arsenal and even though Anelka had moved on to PSG, the remaining French contingent were just as dangerous. I approached the game with a level of nervousness. Sure, I’d beaten Man Utd to lift the League Cup but I felt lucky. Manchester United a man down for an hour certainly helped me and I’d wondered if I’d have taken to trophy over an evenly matched 90mins. I needed some redemption and an unlikely win against Arsenal might just be it.
The FA CUP Semi-Final
Arsenal vs Newcastle
Pride Park, Derby
Saturday 7th April, 2002
As Wenger and I prepared to go toe-to-toe, I decided to approach the game cautiously. I knew Henry and Bergkamp would be dangerous and wanted to make sure they were man-marked at all times. I went for a 5-3-2 formation, with three centre-backs – Risp and Yepes instructed to mark, while Said was free to pick up the spare man zonally.
Starting 11: Chiotis, Duff, Risp, Yepes, Said, West, Dyer, Kerr, Shearer ©, Kallstrom, Madeira.
Subs: Given, Crainey (on 62), Selakovic (on 36), Speed, Bakircioglu (on 27).
I’d really thought this one through. I had my tactics spot on. I gave myself every chance of progressing to the final and just 6 minutes into the game I had the lead…
GOAL! Madeira is the Scorer !!!
YES! We’ve taken the lead and it was an expert finish. Counter attacking from a defensive clearance saw Shearer and Madeira 2-on-1, the former squaring for the latter to tap into an empty net. However, the good news didn’t last and we picked up an unfortunate injury 29 minutes in. Kallstrom landing awkwardly after competing for a header and having to leave the field. Bakircioglu came on in a like-for-like swap, but just 7 minutes later – disaster struck.
How did I get here? 36 minutes into an FA Cup semi-final against the runaway leaders of the league and I’m down to 10-men with nearly an hour left to play. I had to react, and I had to react quickly. I moved for a defensive approach. Pushing Dyer into a deep-lying DM role and brought on Selakovic for Shearer. It was a tough call, Alan is a much better target man and would hold up the ball but Madeira had the legs and could run the ball on the counter. I opted for the latter as my tactic and even though I’m sure Alan was inertly furious at being subbed, he was ever the professional and knew it was for the good of the win. We got to half time 1-0 up, but I knew the worst was yet to come…
As the game resumed for the second period, Arsenal came racing out of the traps. It was like Normandy Beach on D-Day, as shots were firing from all angles and whizzing inches wide of the target. Newcastle defended resolutely, but Arsenal weren’t letting up. 60 minutes in and their last 5-minute possession was at 95%. Henry had 2 goals chalked off for offsides and Taribo West and Freddy Risp were both on yellows for dangerous tackles. We couldn’t risk another sending off but I only had one sub left. I had to use it wisely. If they score once, it’s extra time and I might need the fresh legs for that… so much was going through my mind.
In the end, I rolled the dice. I’ve got the lead, lets defend it. I took off the cautioned West and brought on Crainey for his FA Cup debut. It was a tough game to come on in but he managed it well keeping Jermain Pennant quiet. Arsenal through everything at us and thought they’d snatched the draw in the 86th minute when substitute Nwankwo Kanu was fouled in the box by Risp, but the referee waved play on.
THE FINAL WHISTLE BLOWS – NEWCASTLE HAVE REACHED THE FA CUP FINAL
Incredible scenes. Had I genuinely just out-managed Arsenal? I had the complete reverse scenario as I had against Manchester United but still managed to get the same result. My confidence and my love of all things Champ Man had been restored.
Thanks to a Matt Jansen Hat-trick, Blackburn had beaten Everton and would be our opponents in the season ending showpiece – I couldn’t wait!
It was now 11pm on a Monday, I had work the next day… but come on… I was loving it! Just one more game…
In the aftermath of the game I was faced with an action point – what to do about Mark Kerr. I could discipline him, he did nearly cost us a place in the final – or I could shift the blame to the ref and appeal it. I figured my luck had been in so far – so what not chance it. The FA oddly agreed and decided to revoke Kerr’s 3-match ban. Result!
As you may remember from last week, the Arsenal Premier League game had been shifted to accommodate the Arsenal FA Cup game, so within 4 days of that epic victory – The Gunners had their chance for revenge…
Squad vs Arsenal (Away)
Starting 11: Chiotis, Duff, Risp, Yepes, Crainey, Dyer, Kerr, Bakircioglu, Shearer ©, Selakovic, Madeira.
Subs: Given, Solano, Lee, Barsom (on 79), West (on 66).
…And bloody hell did they take it. Arsenal swept aside Newcastle with ease. Henry with the goal on 37 minutes as Arsenal dominated from start to finish. Not even Martin Keown’s red card in the 78th minute could take the gloss off their performance as they bossed almost every category in the stats. This is what I love about CM 01/02, you just couldn’t make up some of the results. I beat Arsenal 1-0 with 10 men, then Arsenal beat me 1-0 with 10 men.
To be honest, I wasn’t bothered. I had a 7-point cushion from Liverpool in 5th with a trip to Anfield still to come. I had already secured a UEFA Cup spot from my merits in the League Cup and satisfied all the boards ambitions - but I still had a professional job to do on my way to the FA Cup final. Games against Chelsea, Liverpool, Sunderland, Derby, Blackburn & West Ham were next up and I needed 3 wins and a draw from 6 games to be certain of bringing Champions League football to Tyneside next season. Easy, right?
Squad vs Chelsea (Home)
Starting 11: Chiotis, Duff, Said, Yepes, West, Dyer, Kerr, Bakircioglu, Shearer ©, Selakovic, Madeira.
Subs: Given, Robert (on 82), Solano, Barsom (on 82), Risp (on 91).
Well it certainly seemed that way. Before Abramovic’s billions rolled into West London, Chelsea were a walkover! Madeira getting the first half goal and Newcastle cruising to a 1-0 victory at St. James Park.
So now just 2 wins and a draw needed for Champions League football… next up were our closest rivals – Gerard Houllier’s Liverpool. Win this and pretty much one more win would seal the deal. But we’d be up against a Red’s outfit fighting for the chance to play against Europe’s elite and up for it they were indeed.
Squad vs Liverpool (Away)
Starting 11: Chiotis, Duff, Said, Yepes, West, Dyer, Kerr, Bakircioglu, Shearer ©, Selakovic, Madeira.
Subs: Given, Robert (on 72), Solano (on 72), Barsom (on 45), Risp.
Okay… So that didn’t go to plan. Michael Owen scored twice and Igor Biscan got the third as Liverpool ran riot at Anfield. Shearer pulled one back from the spot but the whole team had underperformed. It was almost like they were already on the beach. Madeira was disgraceful and was hooked at half time after a well below par 4/10 game. Barsom didn’t do much better and the game ended in a humiliating defeat. The board were furious. This was Newcastle’s reputation on the line…!
Results elsewhere meant that Southampton, after their 3-2 loss to Chelsea, had been relegated with 4 games to go.
The battle to avoid relegation was getting fierce and Sunderland had almost certainly moved away from danger after a fantastic 2-0 victory over Everton at the Stadium of Plight. Steve Stone and Daniele Dichio getting the goals as the Mackems mathematically avoided relegation.
What followed was very odd, but all too familiar…. After their 2-0 WIN, Chairman Bob Murray had sensationally SACKED Peter Reid Monkey’s Heed. It was a very odd move, but then it dawned on me. Who are they playing next – NEWCASTLE.
See that’s how realistic CM 01/02 is, it’s even wise to the old enemy’s devious tricks. Sunderland have a knack of changing their manager just to get a little rise before the derby games. In reality, they’re so obsessed they don’t care how bad they perform all season as long as they beat their arch rivals. IRL, the mackems had sacked 5 managers on the eve of the Tyne-Wear derby to try and get a lift out of their Team. O’Neill, Di Canio, Poyet and Advocaat were all given the boot before the Newcastle match and it seemed even in 01/02, the chairman was sticking to the plan.
I’d spoken of the importance previous of this game. My teachers, my classmates… this game meant everything to both sets of supporters and to lose would be unthinkable. After the success I’d had in the last game it was the chance to do the first double over Sunderland in decades and I was bang up for the challenge. After the lacklustre performance against Liverpool, I made wholesale changes to the squad and brought in a few familiar faces. Anyone that had scored against the mackems previously – was in!
Squad vs Sunderland (Home)
Starting 11: Given, Dyer, Said, Yepes, West, Lee, Kerr, Solano, Speed, Shearer ©, Ameobi.
Subs: Chiotis, Barsom, Risp, Madeira, Bakircioglu (on 78).
I bloody went for it. The Mackem Slayer and Shearer up top. Speed, Lee and Solano in the middle and bringing in Shay Given for his first game in god knows how long.
What a performance it was too. Shearer getting us off to the perfect start, crashing home a header 17 minutes into the game. Ameobi was pulling the strings and was having a 9/10 MOM performance. We were cruising… that was, until the 77th minute when Kevin Phillips got an equaliser firmly against the run of play. Unbelievable. I reacted and switched up the tactics bringing on a Bakircioglu in behind the strikers in place of Kerr. It was an inspired move.
GOAL! BAKIRCIOGLU HAS SCORED !!!
90th minute and Kennedy pops up with the goods. A draw would have been okay, but a win had me ecstatic. That will do nicely…
So there we were. League Cup Winners, FA Cup Finalists, 3rd in the league and had beaten Sunderland twice. Could this season get any better? Next up was the FA Cup Final...
Toon in next week to find out