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Escaping Sunderland’s reality with Football Manager: Part Two - January to May

Part one saw me end the year in 6th place, clinging to the play-offs and hoping some big sales would give me a cash boost. So how did it all end up?

Luton Town v Sunderland
I was hoping to emulate the 2006/2007 team and come straight back up at the first time of asking.
Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images

Football Manager is fantasy. This isn’t lost on me, for the record... but which one you wouldn’t love to write about selling Fabio Borini, Jeremain Lens and Darron Gibson in one transfer window? Maybe now you’re seeing the real motivation for this article.

For those of who you didn’t read part one, I ended the year in poor form, clinging to a Championship play-off place and hoping I could generate funds, whilst releasing some big wages. In terms of January, So...firstly, what were the ins and outs?

Somehow I persuaded a bunch of teams from the continent to pay me actually money for these wasters.

I completely mugged AC Milan for £6.5m as they made the Fabio Borini's loan move permanent. Dutchman Lens’ six month loan move to Besiktas came to end and long term admirers Fenerbache got a cut price £2.5m for the big sulk. The ever so British Darron Gibson’s injury problems, imminent contract expiry and complete lack of form meant I allowed him to move on. I allowed Vito Mannone to join Wolves to move on his wages too.

In terms of clearing out the shit I felt I didn’t do all that bad. Here’s the bad news. Ellis Short decided to pocket most of that income and my transfer budget went up about £1m at best; I didn't have much for wages either - this left me scouring the loan market once more. Disaster.

Needing a back up goalkeeper I brought Angus Gunn in from Manchester City on loan to provide competition to Jordan Pickford. Julien Ngoy moved on a six month deal from Stoke to challenge Jason Cummings up top. However that was it. The financial situation was seemingly worse than I had originally thought as I was notified by the board that money was having to be ploughed into the club to stop it from receivership. The impressive Tom Lawrence also had his season temporarily ended with a broken leg, meaning the club was down on luck, as well as spare cash.

In terms of form, I had a weird January. Beating top of the league Brentford and second placed Wolves, but losing away to bottom of the league Blackburn. In the FA Cup, a youthful side that included Ledger, Robson, Asoro and Krusnell went to St. Mary’s and beat a full strength Saints side 3-1! However I can’t help but think the FA Cup is where it all went wrong for me. That win on the south coast presented me with an away tie at Preston. At Deepdale we managed to throw away 0-2 and 1-3 leads, only to lose 4-3 in the last ten minutes.

Losing 5-2 away to Cardiff is how I imagine results next season under David Moyes going. I was horrified. It was also at this point I realised my ego was as fragile as our fearless Scottish leader.

With the FA Cup not being my aim, I was angered but okay with it - however the league form immediately tumbled. Star man Lewis Baker had - like most youngsters do - began to tire and have less an effect on the games he played. Somehow the defence had become much like the one we see now in real life - disorganised, disinterested and capable of self destruction. Papy turned in the kind of performances we all knew he was "capable" of, Paddy McNair alongside him was a complete disaster; conceding seven goals in just two games against Huddersfield and Aston Villa.

Cummings, Alexander Esswein and Didier Ndong however kept me in the promotion hunt. Cummings seemingly on a one man mission to keep me in the promotion hunt, Esswein battling it out with Duncan Watmore on who could provide him with the most ammunition and the Gabonese midfielder pulling the strings and providing the consistency required in the centre of the park. The defence however continued to struggle immensely.

Another formation change did provide an injection of hope into the flagging promotion push. The form of Didier Ndong was put to good use, Using him in the defensive midfield role of a five man midfield, his energy and passing accuracy would allow a problematic defence more protection. With a tightened back line, Jason Cummings helped me to four wins in a row, starting with table topping QPR, with nine goals in four games, including a two hat tricks. The league was tight though; each team from seventh to eleventh sat a mere three points behind the play-off places. One defeat could shoot you down to mid-table, whereas a win could push you into fifth. There was to be no room for error.

Although there were some good statistics for the likes of Cummings, Watmore and Esswein - ultimately, we fell short.

A team focused around youth I felt was always going to conk out at some point sadly, but I had hoped for enough points to muster one final push at those play-off slots. With the lack of investment, I felt the play-offs would be, at the very least, matching expectations. However, much like I had feared, the end of season run in caught me out in the cruelest of fashions.

Two last minute goals away to Wigan (1-1 draw) and Preston (3-2 defeat) pushed me down to twelfth and five points from sixth place. Although the continued form of Esswein and Cummings was enough to move me further up the table, I had began to fear this was only going to solidify my mid table obscurity, with home games to Middlesbrough and Leeds to come. Only a maximum of six points would do; even then, it may not have been enough.

A last minute goal in each for the away sides meant I ended the season with 0 points from the required six however, as the youthful first eleven sat in a respectable, but ultimately disappointing 10th place.

One positive was that the new signings were lauded as the three best players of the season. Alexander Esswein narrowly beating Jason Cummings and Lewis Baker to the POTY award.

With the season now at its end and promotion not even close, the standard "I want to leave for top flight football" transfer requests came in. Jordan Pickford, Lee Cattermole and finally top scorer Jason Cummings demanding, depressingly, that I help them move to someone like Watford or Bournemouth.

Of the players that moved on the beginning of that season, rather surprisingly Jermain Defoe had the worst year. He was released by Leicester after his one year contract came to end following only three goals, however Lamine Kone (West Ham), John O’Shea (Real Salt Lake), Jan Kirchhoff (Valladolid) and Seb Larsson (Lille) all had solid, if unspectacular, seasons. Victor Anichebe meanwhile smashed home 14 league goals for Bastia in the French Ligue 1.

Going into the second season, the board remains the same. Martin Bain overlooking the running of the club, with the generous Ellis Short giving me a war chest of 675k - thanks mate.

The Championship, as you can see, really is the place to be. Argh.