Well I hate to sound arrogant but I’m absolutely smashing it here. After five league games we sit joint top with Oxford United having won every game bar a 1-1 draw away at Wimbledon. Our next game is Oxford so should give us a good indication of where we stand.
The 4-1-4-1 wide with Maguire or McGeady playing as an inside forward has worked a treat, we’ve been getting goals from all over the pitch. In fact opening day against Charlton ended in a massive 5-2 victory with none other the goal-scoring maestro Reece James bagging a hat trick. Let me say that again in case you (like me) cannot believe it. Reece James scored three goals in one game.
We followed that up by banging 4 past Luton in a game where we kept a clean sheet and then back to back 2-0 wins over Scunthorpe and Gillingham sent us top of the league.
The rest of the squad have naturally been performing well. Lee Barry has chipped in with a couple of goals and assists as he blossoms into the best regista in world football. Power, McGeouch and Bali Mumba have all made significant contributions from midfield and the defence has been pretty damn solid. McGeouch’s contribution was even recognised by winning player of the month. Maguire managed runner-up in goal of the month and I picked up manager of the month.
On top of strong domestic form we’ve made it into the third round of the Carabao Cup courtesy of a 2-0 win over Walsall in the opening round and a very impressive 3-1 win away at Premier League Fulham. The reward for our efforts? A home tie against Unai Emery’s Arsenal. Might have to resort to all-out shithousery for that one.
Unfortunately all this joy has come at a price as Watmore, Loovens, James, Flanagan and King Maguire are all currently on the treatment table and will miss most of September. A disappointment yes however this provides a good opportunity for some of the youngsters to step in and develop which was one of my targets going into this.
So, as August comes to an end, I’m just about on track to be there or there about come the end of the season. Sat in third place, I’ve managed to go unbeaten in the league even despite ANOTHER Max Power red card.
We all know how the actual Sunderland side did against Charlton on the opening day but my first game in charge ended with the away side grabbing the late goal, leaving me with a feeling of having dropped two points. The frustration of the late goal was soon rectified as we bagged four away to Luton, not an easy game by any stretch of the imagination.
In a Walsall style fixture pile-up, I then played Luton again in the Carabao Cup, ultimately going down 6-5 on penalties as I played a slightly rested team. I didn’t fancy a run in the traditional League or FA Cup competitions anyway so this may give the lads the odd midweek off where some of my rivals could become fatigued.
There are three players in particular that are worth a mention from a relatively successful August: The first being Charlie Wyke, who has been the standout performer with 5 goals to his name so far, a sign that my Wing Play system may well be working as the Target Man is in fine form.
Secondly, Max Power has not given me too much of a problem with his first (and hopefully only) red card of his career as he’s managed to provide us with three assists already so he will undoubtedly be a prominent feature in the side come September.
Finally, I afforded George Honeyman a chance in the side as Catts got injured in pre-season. The idea was that as soon as Lee returned to the first team, I would be packing out the centre of midfield to look to dominate teams but the form of Honeyman has made it impossible for me to drop him, already scoring four league goals.
Well f*ck... that didn’t quite go to plan.
The season started with a defeat against Charlton (despite leading), and after four games I only had four points. Only Cattermole, Power, McGeady and Maguire came out of these opening games, and the former Wigan man was ruled out for 3-5 weeks with a training injury.
After this poor start I decided to go back to the drawing board and create some new tactics. I was keen to keep these four in the side, whilst also finding a way to get Gooch and Watmore in the same team.
I took some inspiration from Jack Ross and opted for two alternatives to the 4-2-3-1, both with an asymmetric five at the back with Gooch as a Defensive Winger on the right, and a traditional wing back on the left.
In first alternative, a 3-4-3 formation, I chose to play without a striker – opting for Watmore as a Shadow Striker instead, and Maguire as a Ramdauter to offer another goal scoring threat.
I also thought it necessary to include a tactic which had room for a proper striker, and chose a narrow 3-4-2-1 with a Shadow Striker and an Advanced Playmaker operating in behind a Deep-Lying Forward.
To help with this transition to a three-man defence, I started training Matthews, James and Robson as central defenders, as well as training Gooch as a right midfielder and Watmore as an attacking midfielder.
This change of formation made a positive impact as goals from Watmore (operating in the aforementioned Shadow Striker role) and Power ensured a 2-0 win over AFC Wimbledon, before the month ended on a high with a 1-0 win over Northampton (using the new 3-4-2-1 formation) thanks to Josh Maja’s 89th minute winner, and a stoppage time penalty save from Robbin Ruiter.
The only negative from the Northampton game was a broken arm suffered by McGeouch; ruling the Scot out for 7-9 weeks - thankfully Cattermole and Sinclair should both return from injury during September.
So, despite a bad start to the season, I ended the month in a bit of form and hopefully September will see us advance in both the Carabao Cup (despite being drawn away to Manchester United) and the Checkatrade Trophy, whilst improving on our 13th place in the league.
I ended August with feelings of confusion and frustration. In all competitions I have kept 5 clean sheets out of 7 matches, yet I find myself 11th in table way below my target of promotion.
My main issue has been scoring goals - 6 goals in 5 league games is simply not good enough. I may need to sacrifice the defensive-midfield role in favour of a number ten such as George Honeyman or Lyndon Gooch to play behind Josh Maja. Although I have been tempted to give more game time to both Charlie Wyke and Jerome Sinclair, I firmly believe Josh Maja is my best prospect going forward.
As you see from the image above, I have failed to win at home so far, scoring a late equaliser against Charlton as well as struggling to break down Scunthorpe who are bizarrely top of the league. My away form started promising as I secured wins against Luton and Gillingham. However, losing to Wimbledon via two goals from 35-year old ex Celtic forward Scott McDonald had me contemplating throwing my phone away!
One positive so far has been my progress within the Carabao Cup. I slaughtered Yeovil 3-0 after making eleven changes, before inflicting the shock of round through a 1-0 win away at Crystal Palace. Chris Maguire scored in a win which proved to be the highlight of a disappointing month, although I would have traded my cup success for a win within the league.
Going forward, it is crucial that I win my next two home games against both Oxford and Fleetwood. I need to ensure my team becomes more ruthless in front of goal and I believe adding a more advanced midfielder should ensure this comes to fruition.
My goal for September is to push the club into the playoffs and ensure we are competing for promotion.