Championship Manager 89/90 Challenge: September ’89

Let’s not beat around the bush, August was tough. In modern football, I’d probably already be out on my ear, looking for a new job, and hated as part of the ‘Cockney Mafia’ in Newcastle. As it happens, probably only the last one is true at the moment. I should have taken the job at Leyton Orient. I know them. And they have no expectations. But here I am, more beloved Wearside than Tyneside, and it doesn’t get any easier. The international break won’t save me in the Second Division – seven games, five of the top eight. Including the top two. Great.

Tommy Wright was the only one who got called up, and I’m surprised that even one of our drab contingent got that honour. He was included in the Northern Ireland squad as they defeated a Wales squad including Neville Southall, Ian Rush and Mark Hughes. Just for the nostalgia.

We set up in this godforsaken formation one more time. Just in case. Dillon is injured so Kevin Brock comes in. We are definitely the entertainers, only Hull fans have seen more goals than the 12 ours have. Unfortunately most of them have been against us. And Wolves has real-life Italia ’90 star Steve Bull ready to tear into any and every defence he comes across. This could be a massacre.

We manage to stop the Bull, but Wolves are the better side, forcing Wright into one save after another. Amazingly, Lee Clark gives us the lead on 22 minutes, rifling in a Fereday cross, before Bull finds the net himself, only to be ruled offside. That warns us, and I tell O’Brien to focus on the frontman. Unfortunately, that leaves the rest of their side more free. We try to hold on until half time, but with the last kick of the half Dennison finds Andy Mutch in the box and Wolves are level. The second half begins in much the same fashion as the first, with Wolves dominant, and just past the hour I bite the bullet. A draw is no good this far down the table, so I hook Fereday, go more central, and send Dublin on. The result is utterly predictable. We pepper their goal with shots, get ourselves right back into it and in the last minute of the game Andy Thompson picks up the ball, unmarked, in the box, and seals the win for Wolves. Great.

The 4-1-3-2 is in the bin. It doesn’t work. We need to be stronger at the back. We need to stop conceding. And hit them on the break. That’s how we will turn this around. Three losses in a row isn’t good enough. Champions pick themselves up. And we will be champions. Or, at least, we will be in the top 6. Which is now 14 places above us. And West Ham are up next. They are second on goals scored. It would be ridiculous to try something over the top in this anyway. I’m sure defensive midfielders were the key to success in this game. I racked up hundreds of hours on it (ok, thousands). I’m sure of it. So we’ll double up. Two defensive midfielders! Nobody will see that one coming.

West Ham saw it coming. I’m not sure how. But they saw it coming. They were better in every single department. They don’t score many goals, but they are ruthlessly efficient. It takes half an hour of complete domination before they found a breakthrough. David Kelly picked up the ball in our area. Our defence was somewhere else. He slotted home. Now I really wish they were elsewhere. West Ham shut up shop, we threw on another attacker, and it made no difference. West Ham made for East London with a 1-0 win, still unbeaten, and we are above the relegation zone of goal difference. This is awful.

We could do with a break to reassess, but the games are coming thick and fast. But that’s just what we want, another chance to prove ourselves. But what we really want is a break to reassess. Or another game immediately. I may have lost my train of thought. It’s Hull next. League leaders, top scorers, undefeated. It’s at an inhospitable Boothferry Park, where they have a 100% record. As for us, it seems to be all or nothing. It’s mostly nothing. I’m not sure what to do. But Ray Ranson is back. That’s reassuring.

Maybe I’m not ‘wasting my life’! Maybe Newcastle is the place for me! Our double-delight formation works wonders, and we dominate the game. I didn’t expect that after the West Ham result. We start the brighter, creating six good chances before Hull get into our half. On 20 minutes, a rasping Lee Clark volley is palmed away by Hesford in the Hull goal, but only as far as the onrushing Liam O’Brien who forces it home. That would have been enough for me, but Ray Ranson is back with a point to prove. Right on half time he picks up the ball, jinks past two players and floats in a lovely cross, which Quinn puts away. Apparently its his first competitive goal for the club, but I hadn’t realised that. The second half was more even, but we held Hull at bay until the 90th minute when their consolation didn’t matter. We won! And what more, we won away, at the league leaders! The unbeaten league leaders! I didn’t expect that.

There’s not much time to celebrate. In fact, it’s barely worth leaving Hull before Tuesday, as we take on Fourth Division Scunthorpe in the League Cup on Wednesday. I’ll keep the double delight formation, and I’ll keep the same squad. No reason to upset a winning team. It’s been a while since I could use that reason.

It’s a simple win, but it should have been far simpler. Scunthorpe barely trouble us, and we put in a solid, professional performance. Quinn picked up a loose ball on 14 minutes to give us the lead, and although we spend the rest of the match creating chances we can’t increase our advantage. I feel confident enough in the second half to change it up, and we see out the game. Onwards and upwards.

Continued on next page

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