A Season with Merthyr Tydfil (part 4)

Part four of my attempt to travel back in time to save Merthyr Tydfil FC by travelling back in time to the 1994-1995 season. With the pre-season over its time to get serious….. 

The Merthyr bus is on the road
The Merthyr bus is on the road

And it starts at Huish Park, in Yeovil getting off to a dream start as Merthyr rush to a 2-0 lead, the goals scored by Tucker, a player who wasn’t wasn’t even meant to be in the starting line-up; in Premier Manager 3 unless you reset the line-up manually you automatically start with the team you finished the last game with so if you bring a sub on he stays in the line-up for the next match, but if I’m worried that this mistake means I can’t really take any credit for this piece of good fortune Yeovil make it academic by grabbing an equaliser in the second half. Still an away point isn’t bad. The pink bus can drive back to South Wales happy.

Back in the office the fax machine spits out some stats to help me make some sense of the game. I haven’t got an analyst on the pay roll so I can only guess there’s some intern lurking round Penydarren eking out an existence on discarded match-day pork-pies. What I’ve got isn’t quite Opta, but its message is simple and clear, my passing is awful: out of 63 passes only 28 were ‘good’, whereas Yeovil managed a more respectable 43 ‘good’ from a total of 69.

I’m not panicking yet, despite losing both my next two games; my first home game against Southport and a close 1-0 defeat to early pace-setters Stafford Rangers, but worryingly Merthyr are sliding down the table to 21st place. As it is only the champions who get promoted a good start to the season is crucial. I badly need a win to avoid dropping out of contention before the season has properly got underway. Some relief comes in my very next match against Telford. After going a goal down two second half strikes see Merthyr record their first win of the season, finally we’re moving the right way up the table to 15th, but I need to sign some quality players to keep the momentum going.

A 1-1 draw with Welling is followed by a 2-1 defeat to Bath and it’s looking like my win was just a blip. With the next game against another table-topping side, Bromsgrove, things aren’t looking good.  I decide to spend some time getting my tactics right. I decide on an uncompromising approach, setting all tackling to ‘hard’ and  I switch my defenders from zonal marking to man marking at the same time increasing my wide-men’s percentage of running over passing, but I have to confess that  I don’t know what I’m doing.

It seems however,  I must have done something right as despite going a goal down early the Hutch equalises just before half-time and Tucker then goes on to snatch a late winner. It finishes 2-1 for my second win. I’ve also managed to sign my first player a reasonable – though not remarkable –  young striker, Penney, from Crewe Alexandra who has an overal rating of  ‘Good *’. He costs me £48k and I give him his debut in the final 15 minutes of the Bromsgrove game. I’m still a long way from the squad I want though and continue to receive rejections from clubs and players alike.

In frustration I call Bournemouth and make a loan offer for a midfielder, Robinson. I’ve no idea what he’s like as I’ve not scouted him, but at this point I’m past caring.  My first approach is for 12 weeks which Bournemouth reject as being too long – agree on 6 weeks. Know nothing about him, just trying it to see what I get. He’s twice as good as what I’ve got with a passing rating of 44 – I now have my playmaker. Emboldened I get straight on the phone to Birmingham City making a loan offer for Steve Claridge and am turned down flat. Sights adjusted accordingly I persuade Bradford City to part with their third choice ‘keeper for nine weeks.

Next however, comes a truly bizarre, and slightly surreal turn of events. Having decided to appoint a new captain and vice-captain I carefully sift through the player ratings which seem most relevant. The top candidate is a defender, Gorman. With a high morale and aggression rating I reason that Gorman will be the perfect kind of grafting, battling and experienced leader to take on the robust rigours of the Conference. Fully confident I’ve made a great choice I click the mouse button to make him my new captain. The players response to this honor  A fax comes through just before the next match, an FA cup game against Third Division Hereford informing me that Gorman has for some reason best known to himself decided at this moment to take early retirement to to the Costa Del Sol.

I immediately hand the armband to my vice-captain Hutchinson and appoint tough-tackling defensive midfielder Benbow as his deputy. Fortunately the captaincy shenanigans have no effect on the team who record the best result of the season. Robinson scores on his debut and Tucker gets two goals. A late consolation from Hereford makes it 3-1 at full-time but I’m delighted with the giant killing. I know it’s only Hereford, but then I’m only Merthyr so it’s all relative.

Robinson is beginning to look like a great signing. Inspiring the side with a man-of-the-match performance he scores again in the next game against Farnborough with another goal from the new captain Hutchinson sealing a 2-1 win. Next up Merthyr beat Gateshead 2-0 a result which moves the team up to seventh in the table – only six points behind the leaders Kettering Town. Things are looking good indeed. If Merthyr can keep it up we’ll be challenging for the top spot.

Catch up on the Merthyr Tydfil story; If you haven’t already seen them parts one, two and three can be found here

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