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.  Click here for Chapter 11. 

Chapter 12: It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad League

Captain's Log, 17 April. Here we are again. Back down south in the Big Smoke. The capital. London town. Home of the Queen and all her Park Rangers. As it happens that's exactly who we play today, QPR, away at Loftus Road, and we arrive raring to go and ready to get our 43rd league game of the season underway.

Last time we faced off against today's opposition, back in October, we fell behind to an early goal from Sylla—surprise surprise—and never quite recovered. This time around, though, we're eager to put things right as a loss would see us slip out of the play-offs, only be replaced by QPR, and at this stage of the season that simply isn't an option. I'm not willing to even contemplate it.

Come full time sadly I'm forced to do more than just contemplate the scenario, I'm made to live it as again, like a hideous recurring dream, as we lose 1-0 to Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink's men.

Indisciplined in defence; evidenced best by Lee's dismissal, our first red card of the season, and without any creativity or cohesion in attack, to tell the truth, we're deserved losers.

After the game, I point out to the lads, just in case they weren't already aware, that abandoning our fine run of form and surrendering easy points at this stage of the season isn't exactly ideal given our hopes of promotion. The majority of the dressing room appear unmoved by my sarcasm. More worryingly a couple of them look not angered but informed; as though genuinely educated by my cajolery. Still, 43 down, three to go.

On 22 April we invite Derby County to Hillsborough having just seen them ship six at home to Huddersfield in a 6-3 defeat. I'm torn as to whether I should relish the opportunity to heap on the pressure with a goal glut of our own or be fearful of a resolute response from McClaren's men. The uncertainty of it all unsettles me dreadfully so, to prepare for the impending pre-match press conference, I retire to my sleeping quarters for a quick nap beside Oscar.

Rested and rejuvenated I appear in front of the journalists in good spirits, eager to appease the press with swift efficiency. After quickly denouncing under pressure Forest boss Philippe Montanier and reassuring the public that we can, of course, still secure promotion, my work is done for the day. I can return once again to trying to figure out how I could incorporate the shape of an umbrella into our following match's formation. Gaining the psychological edge for our game against McClaren's Derby may prove vital.

The match itself proves frustrating. I am unable to fashion the shape of an umbrella into a feasible formation (neither the 6-1-1-1-1 or its natural antithesis, the 1-1-1-1-6, seem usable) and in the end, our typical 4-2-1-2-1 is only enough to earn us a point.

Going behind to a George Thorne strike didn't exactly do wonders for our confidence but what positivity we held before the game was quickly salvaged by a fine David Jones free-kick, not for the first time this season. Despite a flurry of late chances, we're unable to wrestle the advantage fully in our favour so we're left to settle for another disappointing point at home.

Nonetheless, with teams around us also dropping points it means the league table, with two games to go, could scarcely be tighter.

Though Villa have joined Newcastle in the two embarrassingly far off automatic promotion spots—despite themselves being 29 points behind Benitez's side—Derby remain on 71 points, beneath them sit Brighton, QPR, Fulham and ourselves all on 68 points. Behind us, Huddersfield, Wolves and Blackburn boast 67, 66 and 65 points, respectively.

Seven teams still fighting for what is just four available spots. There are certainly going to be plenty of tears come the final day of the season. I can only hope they aren’t ours. Talking of which: can owls cry? They have eyes, but, is that enough? Do they have tear ducts? Do they even have eyelids? I don’t think I’ve ever seen an owl blink.

Anyway, in the lead up to our game away to Ipswich the midweek fixtures confirm the seemingly inevitable relegations of Barnsley and Rotherham as well as the automatic promotion of Aston Villa. "Unlucky fellas," I find myself saying aloud as I read the news of the two clubs relegated. "Ooh look at us, we're a massive club, our manager won February Manager of the Month and we're too good for the play-offs," I impulsively curse at the announcement of the other.

Before we play Ipswich another result rolls in from the midweek fixtures: Fulham 2-1 Brentford, the win taking the Cottagers three points ahead of us. The pressure-o-meter in our dressing room is cranked up to seven.

I consider taking it down; the pressure-o-meter. It's undeniably amateurish in appearance and is probably quite an unnecessary distraction for the lads. Still, it is fun—winding the arrow up towards the green or down into the red—so I'll leave it be for now.

Away at Ipswich for the season's penultimate weekend the intention is to cast aside our recent frustrations; avoidable slip-ups against QPR and Derby, by winning our way back into the playoffs. Only this game doesn't go quite out the way either.

We take the lead through a fierce Adam Reach strike, firing through a crowd of players into the roof of the net, just shy of the half-hour mark. But before the game is an hour old Ipswich find their equaliser through David McGoldrick and end up sharing a point with us.

The result leaves us stranded somewhat in 7th, achingly close to the play-offs, but not without hope. The season’s fixtures, whether kindly or cruelly, ensures we retain a power over our own destiny with a final-day home game against Fulham; a team just two positions and as many points ahead of us. This, of course, means that a win at Hillsborough, in any fashion, will take us into the top six and see us participate in the play-offs. This is it, lads.

Hillsborough, KO 12:00. The clouds hang in the sky almost nervously as the stadium below buzzes with a cautious optimism. Both teams line up in a 4-2-1-3 formation. The Wednesday team sheet reads as follows; Westwood; Palmer, Lees, Sasso, Hunt; Poyet, Lee, Jones; Matias, Cotterill, João.

It'S end to end football. Our first promising move ends with Cotterill crossing into keeper’s hands. Seconds later Fulham’s Woodrow smashes one against the bar. More Fulham pressure; Westwood saves from Ayité. Neither side can find a breakthrough.

After the break, Forestieri enters the fray at Cotterill’s expense. Suddenly, penalty to Sheffield Wednesday, Sigurðsson bringing down João in the box. The Icelandic international goes into the book. Jones steps up, Jones scores! Advantage Wednesday. We switch from a controlled approach to a counter-based ethos; defend our lead, nick another if the opportunity arises. Arise it does but Forestieri blazes wide. Chris Martin comes on for Fulham and immediately grazes the post with a fierce free kick. We switch to a 4-3-1-2, packing the midfield. Put in on goal by João, Matias misses from 8 yards. We just can’t seem to find that second goal. I pray one will be enough. It isn’t. As the clock eases into the 91st minute Woodrow breaks Wednesday hearts, finding the net with a smart back-post header. The traveling Fulham fans go ballistic. Wednesday hearts sink. Three minutes added on. The boys can’t find another. Full-time: 1-1.

Dejection doesn't quite do the feeling justice. Neither do other ‘D’ words like desolation, deflation, demoralised. Finishing in 8th, just one point behind 6th place Brighton, knowing a win in any one of our final four winless games would've seen us finish in the coveted top six, is painful. Agonisingly short of the mark, our Premier League dreams felled by three consecutive 1-1 draws, the very last lost in the season’s final seconds.

I long to kick open the dressing room doors and run home as fast as I can, dive into my room, and begin crafting the most hideously realistic voodoo doll imaginable, made in the image of Cauley Woodrow. I want to hand stitch a tiny Fulham FC away kit for him to wear and a little acute cruciate ligament for him tear and tear again as I laugh and laugh and laugh and cry. But I haven't the energy or the materials or required know how to do so. Instead, we just wallow in our sadness. In silence, we reflect in what time we have left together. I fear not much remains.

On 8 May it’s back to work as the squad and I hold a team meeting. I tell them not to dwell on the Fulham match, telling them that beating themselves up about it will do no good. I remind them that while they have all earned their holiday I want them to focus on the challenges ahead as we won't be accepting a finish outside of the top six next season.

Though to my delight, the entire squad shares my ambitions, and the meeting goes down without a hitch, I can't help but admit to myself that I may not there to embark upon next season's journey with them. Mr Chansiri made his wishes very clear in pre-season and they certainly didn't include finishing 8th.

Less than two weeks later, however, on 23 May, I receive an email from Mr Chansiri with the words ‘contract extension talks’ in the subject line. “Mr Sharp,” it reads “the board and I would like to offer you an extension on your current contract, until 2018...”


By Will Sharp. Chapter 13 coming next Thursday,  May 4th. 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.  Click here for Chapter 11.