In late 2008 a young and innocent Will Sharp tossed aside his well-worn copy of FIFA 09 in favour of Football Manager 2009, eager to test himself against the juggernauts of managerial simulation. What he envisaged being a simple transference of skills and a continued domination of the digital football world soon descended into chaos as he found himself unable to even compete. Unsuccessful save after unsuccessful save cut short, the intervals between hopeful attempts grew exponentially until eventually, he stopped logging on altogether. Truly vanquished, he vowed never to attempt to conquer Football Manager again. Until now.

If you missed chapter 1, check it out here. Chapter 2 is here. You guessed it, Chapter 3. Chapter 4 is hereChapter 5. Chapter 6 is hereChapter 7.  Chapter 8 & here's Chapter 9. Read Chapter 10 here

Chapter 11: Cloudy With A Chance Of Promotion

Captain's Log, 1 April. Before the game at Oakwell, with our playoff hopes very much in the balance, I spent most of our journey looking around the coach at the players I am travelling beside, wondering just who may have it within them to shrug off the pressure that has been weighing down heavily upon us in recent weeks and deliver a match-winning performance. God knows we need it. But who, I wonder, just who could become the Solskjaer to my Ferguson; the Agüero to my Mancini?

As I look at the lads at my disposal, maybe a little unfairly, I fear that perhaps nobody is capable. Though Lees, Jones, Hutchinson, Forestieri, João have all earned my trust on the field over the course of this long hard season, perhaps none will come to my rescue, here, away at Barnsley, when a win would mean so much more than just three points.

Thankfully my fears are allayed, my prayers answered, by none other than Lucas João, whose 61st-minute goal earns us an invaluable 1-0 win, stopping the rot, and allowing us to refocus our aim upwards towards at the teams above us rather than being fearful of those clambering below.

Once again I take the time to commend João on his excellent contribution to the team, though this time I do so with just one simple nod. His reciprocation, in the form of a similarly subtle acknowledgement, tells me he knows just how much I appreciate him. To paraphrase Irish philosopher Ronan Keating, sometimes the best way to say something is to say nothing at all.

To my unconcealable joy, try as I might to remain stoic, our win at Barnsley is swiftly followed by another 1-0 win away to Rotherham. Again João finds himself at the centre of the action, this time providing a pinpoint assist for David Cotterill who chooses quite an occasion to grab his first Wednesday goal of the campaign.

This particular result takes on the indisputable shape of a 'smash and grab', not exactly how I’d planned to defeat the league’s basement side, though at this stage of the season how exactly we secure the three points matters, not in the slightest. Carried away slightly by the nature of the away win I lift a single finger to my pursed lips as I break into a small jog down the touchline towards the tunnel. I'm forced to duck several crumpled pie dishes and plastic pint glasses along the way. All in good taste though, eh. It was good of the Rotherham lads to join in the banter. No harm was done.

Then comes to Hillsborough the ominous visit of Newcastle United. I would, I hope, be forgiven for presuming we'd soon be seeing all three points disappear in a poof of monochrome smoke, as a win in Sheffield would see the seemingly insurmountable Newcastle break the fabled 100 points barrier; the very same barrier I, all those weeks ago, made eyes at before the league season got underway.

Instead, it is the Owls who draw first blood, through João, naturally, and the surprise lead gives us just the shot in the arm we needed. Out on the pitch, we look every bit as capable as our artificial counterparts. For a short period, Newcastle look undoubtedly human, riddled with fear and doubt.

Sadly we're unable to hold onto our lead for more than a few minutes, as Paul Dummett punishes some lax defending at a corner and restores their confidence, but his goal ends the day’s scoring meaning we’re able to claim a valuable point. Ultimately we’re just pleased to have come away from a game against the champions-elect with something to show for it. Even on our own turf, a win seemed far more than we’d be able to manage. A draw will have to do.

In the next game against Cardiff, I am once again suitably nervous as our previous meeting with the Welsh club saw us thrashed 4-1; our heaviest loss of the season to date.

Again, though, I am pleasantly surprised. Just after half time, Forestieri links superbly with Jack Hunt on the right-hand side; sending the ball into space, encouraging an early cross, before meeting said cross with a brilliant near-post volley to give us the lead. Cameron Brannagan draws Cardiff level a while later but time enough remains for our lord and saviour Lucas João to rescue us yet again with a fine strike 20 minutes from time, in the process adding another three points to our hopefully still-growing total.

After the Cardiff game, I tell the boys that our first and only priority is staying disciplined, taking each game as it comes and maintaining 100% focus. At this stage there is simply too much at stake and with only another four games to go there is absolutely no room for complacency.

What there absolutely is room for, though, is a night out with the boys at Sheffield's finest ten-pin bowling establishment. Who doesn’t love bowling? Besides, the team spirit needs to be at an all-time high if we’re to go up and with no points to spare I’d hate for any of the players to go on strike… Hahaha! God, I’m stressed.


By Will Sharp. Chapter 11 coming next Thursday,  April 28th. Header image credit goes fully to John Lord.

If you missed chapter 1, check it out here. Chapter 2 is here. You guessed it, Chapter 3. Chapter 4 is hereChapter 5. Chapter 6 is hereChapter 7.  Chapter 8 & here's Chapter 9. Read Chapter 10 here