After a difficult November, I was extremely worried about the prospect of playing no fewer than eight games in December. I cannot begin to explain my sheer amazement when I got through the gruelling schedule unbeaten!
Six wins and two draws in total has left me lurking just outside of the automatic promotion places, although two of these wins were in cup competitions.
Barnsley are absolutely flying and look nailed on for promotion, so my short term aim is to make up ground on Oxford wherever possible to fight my way into the Championship. Eventually, I’m hoping to overtake the Tykes to conquer League One at the first time of asking, though.
Checkatrade Alert! I went slightly away from my usual full strength team in this competition due to my poor league performance the previous month, but a strong showing against a battling Crewe side saw me overcome the League Two side 2-1, setting up a home tie with Burton in the next round.
December’s exhilarating form earned myself the Manager of the Month award, while the King earned the Player of the Month with Max Power finishing third in those proceedings.
Power’s loan deal has became permanent at the end of December while I have also recruited experienced midfield options in Ben Watson and Grant Leadbitter. Not bad business for only £1.7million.
On the other hand, Glenn Loovens kicked up a fuss about wanting to end his career in Holland so I had to let him leave on the cheap. Stewart Donald has reacted to losing a starting centre half by putting in a bid in excess of £6million for Middlesbrough’s Aden Flint, so hopefully that ones goes through!
We’re on our way!
Yes that’s it I may have finally cracked it as I managed leave December with a 100% record in all competitions.
The month started with a comfortable 2-0 win over non-league Halifax in the FA Cup 2nd Round, setting up a 3rd Round clash with Premiership Wolves.
In the Checkatrade, Wolves’ youth team was swatted aside 4-0 thanks to a hat trick by teenage sensation Bali Mumba.
Sandwiched in between these two cup games was a 1-0 win at Accrington (which thankfully wasn’t postponed) before the month ended with four straight league wins – after giving myself an optimistic target of 12 points, I’m chuffed to have come away with an even better total of 15.
December truly is the most wonderful time of the year – I was awarded the manager of the month award and we now lie in 6th position, just three points behind second placed Burton and eight points behind Scunthorpe (WTF?) who are top.
There was also some movement on the transfer front as former Juventus keeper Marco Storari was brought in on a free transfer to replace the Robbin Ruiter when his transfer to Utrecht goes through on January 1st.
In the outgoings Donald Love agreed to leave to Peterborough for £190k, I’ve decided to retrain Luke O’Nien at right back meaning I had no need for the former Manchester United man – fly well sweet prince.
The main blemish on the season so far is the fact that Lynden Gooch still hasn’t signed a new contract, something which is making me sweat. Neither have Adam Matthews and Ethan Robson but the latter has been offered terms which he should accept, and I am happy enough to sign a replacement for the former.
Going into January, I’ve decided on some targets:
- Cameron Brannagan from Oxford United – To replace Cattermole and allow Robson to leave on loan;
- Marcus Maddison from Peterborough – A player I’m hoping to retrain at attacking midfield to put pressure on Honeyman;
- Lewis Morgan from Celtic – A possible alternative to Maddison, or replacement for Gooch;
- Scott Hogan from Aston Villa – A championship level striker who I may choose to replace Sinclair;
- Lawrence Shankland from Ayr – A cheaper alternative to Hogan;
I’m yet to decide on my target for centre-half, and if no one is available at a good price I may opt to bring in someone on loan.
Well this month I went agonisingly close to winning every single game but the lads felt it necessary not to turn up for the final game of December and draw that one 0-0 against Shrewsbury.
That said we’ve now won 6 on the bounce in the league to put us 14 points clear at the top and we’ve progressed in both the Checkatrade Trophy (thanks to a 3-1 win over Port Vale) and the FA Cup (thanks to pumping 5 goals past Chorley with no reply).
That FA Cup win was particularly satisfying as I opted to play a heavily rotated team and was rewarded by Kimpioka, Robson and Mumba in particular putting in stellar performances, I think they will be featuring a lot more in the second half of the season as we’re in a position where I can afford to give the youngsters more opportunities.
Stats-wise our top-scorer is now Chris Maguire (probably down to him taking the penalties) and Duncan Watmore is currently holding our highest average rating.
Now this in particular interests me as on Watmore’s scouting report he is inconsistent which leads to me usually being happy to sell him (it’s important to note that I never sign players who are inconsistent or aren’t up for big matches therefore Marcus Maddison, who is both, is a no-go for me).
The fact that he is defying his own scouting report is a huge bonus as Lynden Gooch is asking for an astronomical new contract so I will have no hesitation in selling him this January.
The trouble is though if nobody comes in for Gooch and Watmore does receive a big offer from a club up the leagues then I might left without a right winger come next summer.
In January my main transfer target is a defender who can play both left back and centre half or failing that, one player for each position otherwise I’m happy to only sign players who are strong enough to push for promotion in the Championship.
I’m so confident in the squad based on what they’ve achieved so far this season that I’m more than happy to roll with them. The only way this will back-fire is if the injury situation doesn’t clear up. Glen Loovens has only just recovered from his injury which kept him out for 4 months and both Reece James (2 months) and Bryan Oviedo (7 months) are a long long way from the first team picture. I’ve lightened up the training load to see if that makes a difference.
One other thing worth mentioning is that Stewart Donald has extended my contract to 2021, he knows a good manager when he sees one obviously.
WE ARE IN THE PROMOTION PLACES!
After months of lingering around the playoff places, four wins out of five league games in December has seen the lads propel into the top two. After criticising Duncan Watmore for not scoring enough, he has made me eat my words scoring five times this month, including a brace away at Portsmouth which was the team’s biggest win of the season so far.
After a great run in the League Cup, we were dumped out of the FA Cup by League Two side Cambridge which was highly disappointing. Having said that, Robbin Ruiter’s penalty heroics placed the lads into the last 16 of the EFL Trophy, a competition I would love to win.
Now we are in January, I can reveal my plans for the window as I would like to sell anyone I could not see myself playing in the championship.
- The current transfer budget is very limited at £1.6m meaning my transfer business could be highly restricted unless I can barter prices down so what I deem acceptable.
- Andrew Nelson has been sold to Norwich for £1.1m, with Ethan Robson joining Birmingham for £140K and Benjamin Kimpioka joined Mansfield for £12K – all three were surplus to requirements.
- Reece James, Glenn Loovens, Connor Shields and Max Stryjek are all on the transfer list as I am looking to raise money rather allowing them to leave on a Bosman.
- Youngsters Elliot Embleton and Luke Molyneux will compete for a place in the first-team rather than being loaned out again.
- Max Power has returned to Wigan and will not be signed permanently, but Jerome Sinclair will remain at Sunderland until the season concludes.
- Lamine Kone is the highest valued player at the club, but he does not a recall clause in his contract meaning I must wait until the summer to sell him.
All you can see it will by no means be an easy transfer window, but If I can sell players and find bargain buys there is no reason why I cannot strengthen the team.